In the late 1970′s, after having done a bus and truck company of Hello, Dolly! and having played Carlotta on Broadway in Follies, Yvonne De Carlo 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.