On December 2nd, 1968,
Variety announced that Yvonne De Carlo would be heading the third national tour of Hello, Dolly! The show would open in New Haven, Connecticut on December 28th for what originally was supposed to be a five month tour. Yvonne was replacing Jane Russell who dropped out of the tour. Yvonne DeCarlo replaced Jane Russell when she dropped out of the third national tour in 1968. The reason Jane dropped out was because her husband of three months, Roger Barrett, who was to co-star in the show with Jane, died of a heart attack on November 18th, 1968.
She met Roger while doing the stage show, HERE TODAY in Chicago. The couple were contacted by the producer, William Fisher, to co-star in the DOLLY tour, which thrilled Roger. With fond recollection, Jane said that despite his rich, deep, speaking voice, Roger “couldn’t for the life of him carry a tune. So it was decided he’d talk the songs like Rex Harrison did in MY FAIR LADY.” Also, instead of touring on a bus or plane and staying in hotel rooms, they decided to buy a motor home. They were greatly looking forward to the DOLLY tour, when Roger, at the age of 47, suddenly died of heart attack right in front of Jane on November 18, 1968, only three months after their wedding. Needless to say, Jane was devastated.
What would set DeCarlo’s production apart from the others is that this production would not be produced by David Merrick. For some unknown reason, he licensed the show out to producers William Fisher, Budd Filippo, and Ken Gaston. Lucia Victor, Gower’s long time assistant was on board as director. The show was scheduled to continue on to San Diego, Fresno, Sacramento, and end in Phoenix in April.
Bruce Morgan, Yvonne De Carlo’s son shared his memories from a twelve year old boy’s perspective (his age during the tour) and memories from De Carlo’s letters and journals and conversations with him. He was somewhat of a confidant of his mother’s. Years later, Yvonne would return for a twelve week dinner theater engagement. Her understudy Australian actress and cabaret entertainer, Toni Lamond, shared her experiences as well which are also recounted in her memoirs.
De Carlo met with the producers in Park Avenue and signed on for five months. The show opened on a rainy drizzly night. The producers, Budd Filippo and Ken Gaston were on hand that night. Bruce seems to recall that William Fisher was not.
Variety also reported on April 10th of 1969 that the tour would end in Phoenix if they did not find a replacement for De Carlo. They did not find a replacement for her and De Carlo reluctantly agreed to stay on a little longer. According to Bruce, they kept extending. Five months became twelve.
He was present at rehearsals and he met Mr. Gaston, one of the producers, who appeared to be very young although he had an extensive list of credits prior to this which included tours of “Barefoot In The Park:, “The Subject Was Roses”, “The Odd Couple”, “Gypsy”, “Any Wednesday”, and “Double Image,” starring among others Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Morgan, Giselle MacKenzie and Betty White.
As this production of Dolly was being mounted, there was much uncertainty on many levels. De Carlo was aware of this and kept close by her side, her friend and hair dresser, Bob Ross. He was able to put together with De Carlo a picture of what was going on.
Bruce remembers seeing pictures of Channing’s production at the time which led him to believe that her production must have been the best one. He has never seen any other production. His only frame of reference is the original cast album.He feels that Gower’s signature is definitely the Waiter’s Gallop…of course, the climax to that number is Dolly’s descent down the stairs to the title song. It truly showed off Gower’s showmanship.
DeCarlo had a great moment during the Harmonia Gardens eating scene in which she would drop a dumpling down the front of her dress and into her cleavage and she would fish it out with a fork stopping the show every time!
One night the stage manager had to go on in De Leo’s place. It was an emergency AND it didn’t work.He was also an instigator and would sometimes bring people’s names up in a gossipy or bad way instilling many negative feelings among company members. Several people were trying to stomp out these rumors and at one time, it was even thought that Bruce was starting these rumors. He was just the canary in the coalmine. There was a lot of bickering going on and tensions were high. In a nutshell, the funding for the production was scarce…AND it was showing. It showed up in the costumes, the sets, and people being underpaid.
And in transportation. At one point during a snowstorm, the producers wanted De Carlo to take a snowplow to get to the theater on time which she wisely refused to do. With this particular tour, it was DeCarlo selling tickets, not “Dolly”.
One other aspect of this tour was that De Carlo did NOT want to travel by bus, which was the intent of the producers. She made a deal with the producers and had her own Sedan instead.
DeCarlo’s success in Dolly certainly had some bearing on agent Ruth Webb’s confidence in getting DeCarlo an audition for Follies. DeCarlo was definitely the reason for the show staying afloat and went through hell and back to make that happen. The show kept getting extended because of her. The show would have folded without her.
Bruce never met Jerry Herman but he does say it is good solid musical theater. You leave the theater singing these songs. “Very different from Sondheim which is a little more complex”.
He calls Jerry’s music “meat and potatoes….very good stuff.”When he saw Prince and Sondheim working on Follies, he saw a shift taking place. A place where more difficult topics were now being addressed in musical theater. That was a change he saw within two years. Follies was not as successful as Dolly! At the time, it wasn’t greeted as well by the general public. The powers behind Follies were originating something groundbreaking and new in the theater.
This was not, however, the best experience for De Carlo. Dealing with three producers who
seemed to be involved in nefarious dealings. Bruce saw her break down on more than one occasion over what they were putting her through. The “snowplow” incident is a perfect example. She lived up to and beyond her end of the deal. They did not always. When she ended this tour, her other son, the late Michael Robert Morgan, was with her.
Several years later, she would go to Anaheim to do a dinner theater production of Dolly! at the Grand Dinner Theater just across the road from Disneyland. Australian cabaret singer, stage actor, dancer and comedienne Toni Lamond was her understudy and has a chapter on this production in her memoirs. When she auditioned, she was told that they were looking for an understudy for De Carlo. Even though she had no desire to understudy, it was twelve weeks work. Since De Carlo had done the production, Lamond did all the rehearsals with the company. Very rare for an understudy!
Gary Davis, the director was so happy with Lamond’s performance that he wanted to open with her instead of De Carlo!
The producer was Frank Wycka. He was very nervous about the production, it being his first and he wanted to have insurance with a ‘name.’
At this point, it had been several years since De Carlo had appeared in Follies on Broadway and The Munsters on television. Four days before this production opened, according to Lamond, De Carlo appeared.
After the preliminaries were over, she got down to rehearsing. First of all she informed the director what she was not doing. The first to go was the initial soliloquy Dolly does to her dead husband, a very important establishing device of Dolly’s character, telling him of her plans and so telling us, the audience, that all of Dolly’s actions will have a hidden meaning. Secondly, she announced she would not be changing into the wedding gown at the end for the finale, short circuiting the thing the audience hoped for all night, to see Dolly nab a husband.
When they opened and there was quite a bunch of luminaries in the audience. Among them Dorothy Lamour, Katherine Grayson and Christine Jorgensen who had undergone the world’s first publicised sex change. Frank Wycka had also been her long time manager.
They settled down to their twelve-week run and not long after they opened, Yvonne took ill and Lamond was on! She put the soliloquy back in the show and changed into the wedding dress. The following night De Carlo was back on and having heard Lamond had worn the dress and reinstated the cut lines, she confronted lamond with it. ‘Why did you make a show of me doing all the stuff I cut?’ It was a sticky moment. Lamond knew it wasn’t smart to make an enemy of her so early in the run, so she took a deep breath and made light of it. ‘Oh Yvonne I figured this was probably the one and only chance I’d ever get to play Dolly, so I wanted to savor the full experience.’
According to Lamond, De Carlo eyed her for a moment and said something like ‘hmpf, and walked out of the room. “Whew! She appeared mollified, except for one thing. On matinee days she liked to rest in-between shows. There was a compulsory ‘Equity cot’, so named because Actors Equity had won the right in some dim dark past contract with management, to provide a stretcher bed backstage for anyone of the cast to lie on and rest, or if feeling unwell. But our equity cot was in the ladies toilet and not used unless you were REALLY ill! Yvonne had no couch in her dressing room because it was so tiny. So the next day she laid the wedding dress down on the floor and slept on that. I guess she figured she wasn’t wearing it!”
Her dresser was so incensed she had it cleaned and locked in the manager’s office for the rest of the run, only to be brought out when Lamond did the role. And Lamond did it nine more times, once when it was planned on Boxing Day because De Carlo had been invited to the then President Reagan ranch in Santa Barbara for Christmas. To the rest of the cast, she referred to Lamond as ‘the other one’, as in ‘you like the other one better than me don’t you?’ Lamond got to know her during the run and found that she had not had a perfect life. “Once you got past the defensiveness she was, although not a whole lot of fun, a pleasant woman”.
According to Lamond, “She seemed to get no joy from show business.” Yvonne had been a major movie star in the fifties, once billed as the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’, with Prince Aly Khan and a string of movie stars as lovers.
Far better to remember her for her stardom.
She warmed up after a while and stopped feeling threatened by Lamond. The only time Lamond saw her-really loosen up was when Alexis Smith, her close friend and co-star from Follies and her husband, Craig Stevens, came to see the show and came backstage. Yvonne obviously was very fond of Alexis and beamed with pride as she introduced them all to each other.