Saturday, February 18, 2012

Memories of Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, and Carole Cook!

"Producer David Merrick saw enormous promise in Jerry Herman's score for Milk and Honey
The producer was planning a musical version of Thornton Wilder's 1954 play, The Matchmaker

That play was a revision of Wilder's 1938 farce, The Merchant of Yonkers
The titles alone show the shift in emphasis from the character of Horace Vandergelder to Dolly Gallagher Levi. But Wilder didn't originate the plot. 
He based his work on two plays: Einen Jux Will er Sich Machen by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy (1842), which was a rewriting of the 1835 English comedy, A Day Well Spent by John Oxenford.

(Source: Jerry Herman: A Celebration by Jerry Herman and Ken Bloom)


Happy Saturday!

Today, I wanted to share with you a sample chapter of my  upcoming book, Call On Dollys: The Legendary Ladies Who Played This Role (working title). 
I am so excited about the people I have been meeting and the stories they are sharing with me. I see this book unfolding as an oral history of what it was truly like sharing the stage with these legendary ladies who are stars in every sense of the word.
What was it like behind the scenes?
Photo courtesy: Stephan deGhelder

What was it like being on the road with them? 
What was it like being part of a show business that no longer exists. 
Over the course of the next two years, I will be interviewing the surviving Dollys, their directors, co-stars, family members, etc. Of course, this book is for YOU the reader.
I want your feedback and input along the way. 
This is a celebration, and I hope the ultimate resource, of what I consider the definitive Broadway musical whose goal was to entertain.
Carole Cook and Stephan on the stairs
Today, I would like to share with you the stories of Stephan deGhelder. Stephan made his Broadway debut at The St. James Theatre in 1967 in Hello, Dolly! starring, at the time, Betty Grable. 

When Betty Grable left the show, two weeks before Pearl Bailey's company rolled into town, Stephan appeared for two week's with the lady who had been standing by for Betty, Bibi Osterwald. Stephen went on to do the national tour with Dorothy Lamour. 

Dorothy's tour was the second national company. Carol Channing, of course, did the first. 
He would end up also appearing with Carole Cooke, even directing her in two productions. 
Carole Cook was the SECOND actress to play Dolly in Hello, Dolly! She led the Australian company which opened in 1965. 
His love and affection for these opportunities AND appearing with these incredible artists is infectious.

Other than Carole Cook, Stephan also was the assistant director/choreographer to Dennis Grimaldi at Maine State Musical Theatre which starred Mary Ellen Ashley (I'm interviewing her on Tuesday!)  and Choreographer/assistant director at Theatre Tucaloosa with a local actress named Ava Buchanan.
Stephan deGhelder with Mary Ellen Ashley
I asked Stephan what quality each brought to the role that set them apart from others. As far as Grable and Lamour are concerned, they each brought their own followers and fans,  and movie star personae, and a built-in audience, which is why Merrick utilized the star replacement trick over and over. Carole Cook brought a mastery of acting and comic timing.

Benjamin Middaugh







Meet their Horace Vandegelder(s)

          Max Showalter for Grable
          

Eric Brotherson for Lamour
          
Benjamin Middaugh for Carole Cook in Birmingham

None of the women who played Dolly in the Broadway and national companies, after Carol Channing, auditioned as far as Stephan knows of. Roberta Olden, Ginger Rogers personal assistant also told me that Ginger did not audition.

          I asked Stephan to describe anything if he could about each of these ladies approach to the role. 
Stephan says it is difficult to say for Grable and Lamour as he was onstage performing or offstage changing costumes to really observe their performances. 
He says that the one special thing Grable brought to the role was hiking up her skirt teasingly to show her legs to the audience during the “Dolly” number. 


The audience loved it.

I asked Stephan to share with me anything he could about his first performance with any of these women. 
These concern Stephan's first and second performances. 
He went in to the show in NY as a replacement in the chorus, along with another male dancer and a male singer. 

They rehearsed the show in one of those fabulous old studios midtown with a pianist and the dance captain, Vernon Lusby. We never had an authentic “put-in” rehearsal. 
Before their first  performance on a Saturday matinee, they met onstage before they opened the house and walked through spacing onstage, and met other cast members we would work with. 
Vernon would say, “Stephan, this is Dorothy. You do “Sunday Clothes” with her. This is Lee. You  dance the opening of “Dancing’ with her”, etc. Stephan says he would have been nervous had he been older and smarter, but he was very young, almost straight from Missouri, so he thought this is the way things are done on Broadway. 
It was Stephan's second Equity contract.
In the “Dancing” number, he was supposed to meet Miss Grable upstage left in three and waltz her to the center of the stage and out down left in one.  I had never met her until that moment arrived in the middle of “Dancing” during my first performance. He ran up left, waited in the wings for a few seconds and then Betty Grable arrived to waltz with him. 
They immediately started out onstage but he had never waltzed with her. 
He had no idea whether she wanted to waltz to the left or  the right, or what foot they started on! 
They waltzed onstage and he immediately stepped on her toe!
She kept smiling and they waltzed offstage and he ran to his next entrance, horrified. 
Later, in the second act, during the “Dolly” number, he made another horrible mistake. 

He was one of the dancers who had to run and  jump over the orchestra pit and land on the “passarella”, the runway, encircling the pit.
It was easy in the rehearsal room.   

There was no dark hole beneath me. In my quick “put-in” before the matinee, I kept fumbling the jump and couldn’t   figure out why. However,  in the first performance, when we got to the “Dolly” number, he ran, jumped in the air, landed perfectly in his kneeling position at Miss Grable’s feet, shouted “Dolly” as Stephan was musically rehearsed with a big smile on his face LOOKIN OUT AT THE AUDIENCE!  

Later that evening before the evening’s performance, he had two notes from the dance captain and they are the source of his two dearest memories of Betty Grable. 
The first note was that I was being replaced as her waltz partner in “Dancing”. Then he added, “and Miss Grable insisted that I be sure and tell you that it was not because you stepped on her toe. Dan Dailey, Cesar Romero and many others have all stepped on her toes. 
You’re being replaced because you’re young enough to look like her grandson!” 
It made the note a lot easier to take. 

The second note was that in the “Dolly” number, when you jump over the pit, land at her feet and yell her name, she would like you to look at her!” 
Stephan was mortified.  
How did he not look at the star in the title number?!! 
In that evening’s performance, we got to the “Dolly” number with all the attendant and deserved applause and adoration from the audience, and when they got to the place where he ran and jumped over the pit, he landed perfectly on one knee, posed and  yelled “Dolly” right at her and she winked privately at him. She was checking to see if he took the note and that wink said “Good for you”, and he loved her for it.

Stephan doesn't remember much about the first performance with Lamour. He knows they rehearsed in NY, while I was doing the show on B’way at night, then traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to start the tour. We did our dress rehearsal there, and after the dress rehearsal, while they were in costumes, there was a photo call to take the shots for the souvenir program and publicity well into the night. They gathered onstage after doing the full dress rehearsal and traveling and began following the schedule for the shots. 
After a couple of photos had been setup and taken with Dorothy, she stopped the proceedings and yelled out to the stage manager asking what the full schedule for photos was. 

He told her and she replied “No, that won’t do. 
Take all the shots with the chorus first, they work harder than any of us. 
Then take the principals. 
Call the bus now to come and pick up the chorus kids and we principals will stay late”.

And that’s the way it went. 
She was a lovely, kind, secure professional.

Closing night with Grable wasn’t really closing night for Stephan as the show was going to continue running with Bibi Osterwald as Dolly until the Pearl Bailey version was ready to open. 
That’s how Stephan remembers it.

He didn't really have a closing night with Lamour as Stephan became ill on tour and ended up in the hospital in Altoona, Pa with massive infections, sort of a walking pneumonia, he believes. He became ill from not knowing how to properly take care of himself on a grueling tour with a killer schedule and performing so hard.  
Since Grable was Stephan's first Broadway show, it was all so very special to him. 
He remembers her backstage at intermission visiting the men’s chorus room downstairs because her boyfriend Robert was in the chorus. 
She’d hang out in her black tights and black high button shoes, wearing her wig and a blue men’s work shirt in shirttails.  

For Bob’s birthday she delivered a washtub filled with ice and bottles of champagne to the men’s chorus room. We toasted and drank at intermission. In the second act, standing behind the scrim getting ready to do that monster of a number called the “Waiters’ Gallop”, when the lights popped up full and I felt the entire stage start spinning. I somehow made it through that and have never had a drink during a show or hours before a show since.

Doing “Sunday clothes” one performance, some malfunction occurred with the train to Yonkers. 
It was supposed to come on stage, hold until through the last chorus, then continue off into the stage right wing during the tag, and it would disassemble and be stored. This performance, it stopped and held even tho it hadn’t quite made it onstage which really messed up some of the staging, then it proceeded to head offstage too early. 
In his mind is the image of Miss Grable hiking up her skirt and chasing the train trying to get on and ride off into the wings as she was supposed to. 
Stephan says he stupidly, ran around  upstage and climbed onto the top of the second car as he was supposed to even the thing was tilting horribly. 
The end of the number was a total mess. 
And in the wings, the train was listing heavily. Stephan thought for sure he was going to die in his first Broadway show, but there was a nice burly stagehand holding his arms up to Stephan yelling “jump, jump! “.
So he did.
Once, Betty had invited some of guys to join her and Marlene Dietrich to see a drag show down at Club 82 after the show. 

Marlene was doing her one woman show on Broadway at the time. Stephan bought a new sports coat for the event, but it ended up not happening.

I don’t know about later years, but those early years of DOLLY, every performance had regular backstage calls ending with “Places”. 

Those in the opening number would go to stage and wait. 
Then Miss Grable would come from stage left where her dressing room was, warming up vocally by growling out “When a man with a timid tongue”..cough, hack, throat clearing…OK, I’m ready” and then the stager manager would call “Ladies in the horse, please.” 
Those words were the final call and the two girl dancers would be put into the horse costume to pull the trolley later in the number for Dolly’s entrance. 
Joan Shea, who played Mrs. Rose and understudied Dorothy Lamour in their tour, threatened to write a book about touring in DOLLY and title it “Ladies in the Horse, Please”.

Besides these mentioned above, Stephan's favorite memory of Betty Grable happened during a performance in NY. They were accustomed to her fans applauding wildly, but one evening there was an overly exuberant gentleman about 6 or 7 rows from the stage in the orchestra who yelled and applauded so much he drew their attention from the stage. By the time they got to the “Dolly” number he was wild. 
Stephan swears his eyes were glazed over and he was probably some poor shell shocked vet of WWII who still had pinups of Miss Grable at home.  

They got to the second chorus where the men line up left to right and Dolly begins to move down the line. 
Betty moved stage right, posed and hiked up her skirt as she always did, and the audience went crazy as they always did, and the wild gentleman in the orchestra stood up and applauded and stayed standing! 
They got to the point where Dolly circled him before returning to the line when the gentleman yelled out “I love You”!!!! Without missing a beat, Betty circled Stephan and said under her breath but loud enough for the chorus boys around her to hear:  “He means me”.

Dorothy Lamour was also a treat to work with. 

She gave them a Christmas party on the road because Merrick wouldn’t spring for one. 
Stephan believes she rented a conference room in the Howard Johnson’s where they were staying somewhere in Kansas which was a dry state. She had food laid out on two big tables with a punch bowl in the center of each table. 

She announced to the cast and crew that this punch bowl is “delicious”. But THIS punch here “is REALLLLLLLLY  delicious!!!” because she had spiked that one with bourbon. 
We had secret santas and one chorus boy, a dear friend, was also from Maryland originally, where Dorothy and her husband had lived for some time. 
The dancer’s father was something like the attorney general or state’s attorney, high up in Maryland politics. His secret santa had made him outrageously huge and gay earrings which he immediately put on and began modeling outrageously in the middle of the party. 
Dorothy began chasing him around the room screaming “I’m going to tell your father on you! I’m going to tell your father!!!”
She also arranged for President Lyndon Johnson and family to see the show when they played Austin, TX. The backstage was suddenly inundated with secret service men checking every nook and cranny, including the prop shotgun used in the opening number. A swarm of janitors descended on a backstage restroom right at intermission so the President’s son-in-law could use it without going into the public one outside. 

They all came backstage after the show and he got to shake hands with the President and Lady Bird. I remember thinking how tall he was, and what great eyes and silver hair he had.
When they played New Orleans, where Dorothy was born, a couple of dancers and himself were lucky to have lunch with Dorothy at the famous restaurant Court of Two Sisters. 
They were at a table in the courtyard which is surrounded by beautiful old buildings from old New Orleans and Dorothy told us a story that her mother told her.  
It seems her mother at some previous time, was sitting where we were in the courtyard and the waiter was trying to impress her with his knowledge of local color. He told her “See that window up there? That’s where Dorothy Lamour was born.”  

Dorothy’s mother, knowing that Dorothy was born in a hospital, asked him: “Really. And whatever happened to her mother?” The waiter replied: “Oh, she died years ago!”
Once backstage, some photographers had come backstage for some publicity shots when he walked by and found Dorothy standing on a chair. 
As they passed by, with obvious funny looks on their faces, Dorothy offered some advice: “Always have them shoot you from beneath. Especially if you have bags under your eyes like mine.”

Dorothy always finished each performance with a curtain speech, thanking the audience in whatever town we were in and personalizing it somehow, and then referring to her movie nickname as “the Sarong Girl” would tell the audience about one particular word in Hawaiian that means, hello and goodbye and love. 
Then she’d blow a kiss and say “Aloha”. Curtain. Once on tour, they were several cities away from an engagement in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

In their chorus was a female dancer named Sally Riggs who had left Little Rock to move to NY and pursue theatre, and evidently was fairly popular in her hometown. Sally showed me a copy of the newspaper announcing HELLO, DOLLY coming to town and was advertising “Little Rock’s Own Sally Riggs” and underneath was Dorothy’s name “also starring in Hello, Dolly! 
Sally was mortified. 
She even went to Dorothy and apologized in person and Dorothy just laughed it off and told her not to think anything of it. 
Well, they pulled into Little Rock and did their opening night performance. 


In addition to all the usual over-the-top audience response was an additional category of applause. 

It seems that every time Sally appeared onstage in a chorus number the audience would applaud wildly! It was outrageous!  After the curtain calls, Dorothy made her curtain speech as usual, but instead of ending with “Aloha”, she told the audience “You know. There’s someone in our cast whom you seem to love as much as we do. 
And I’ve been wracking my brain all day to figure out what we could do to show you. 
So I’ve decided to give Sally her own curtain call”. 
With that she walked over to where Sally was standing in the chorus in her Sunday Clothes costume for the curtain calls, took her by the hand and led her to the stage right end of the runway, gave a nod to the conductor, who struck up the famous title number as Sally walked the runway in a spot that was thrown on her. 
She stopped center of the passarella like a star, tears streaming down her face in front of her home town, and I think we sang “Hello, Sally”. 
It was a beautiful moment. Thanks to a beautiful lady, Dorothy Lamour.

Stephen and Carole Cook

In Stephan's experience, one has more fun being in the show than directing it, but I loved working with the divine Carole Cook. She’s a master of comic timing. We used to obsess over things like how many times to bang the bottom of the beet dish with the spoon, or how long a beat should last. Her monologues with Ephraim were beautiful and honest.  
Stephan used to love to visit her in the dressing room before the show. 
She’d be going through the script backwards starting with the last scene.  
She’d time it so that when “places” was called she’d be finishing the first scene and ready to start the show at the beginning. She had a wonderful private party one night after the show in Birmingham, AL at the beautiful old Tutwieler Hotel. TV movie host Bob Osborne had flown in, Carole’s family from Texas and two gentlemen who had done HELLO, DOLLY with Carole  decades earlier in Australia had flown from Australia to see her in the show again! 
A special night for her, I’m sure.
 
What one thing do you think each learned that moved them to the next level as an entertainer in their careers? 
How to deal with David Merrick.
  

Worst experience (if any with the show)
 Ending up in a hospital in Altoona, Pa with massive infections from not taking care of my health. 
The older gypsies were right. Everyone has to do at least one “bus and truck” tour to find out how much you love the business and to become a real “gypsy”.
 Stephan tells me he wishes he could have known Jerry Herman personally. 
Many, many years later, Stephan was in NY to do A CHORUS LINE, when it broke the record for the longest running Broadway show. 
It was at Ted Hook’s Onstage and Stephan's friend Gene Bland, the maitre’d there (and with whom he went to high school in KC, MO) introduced him to Jerry. Stephan told Jerry that DOLLY was his first Broadway show and how much he loved the show and admired him. 
Stephan believes he even thanked him. 
He could not have been nicer and more of a gentleman.
 
Gower Champion was such a genius, according to Stephan. 
When he first did the show in NY, he was simply dazzled by the whole experience, having beautiful costumes, being on Broadway, sharing the stage with Betty Grable,  working with some real Broadway gypsies. 

It wasn’t until many years later when he recreated Gower’s direction and choreography in some productions that he was able to analyze his work and be overwhelmed at his brilliance. 
Look at “Sunday Clothes” or “Dancing” or “Parade” and discern the construction, how he “builds” a number in excitement and interesting pattern work. 
It’s fantastic. 
In “Before The Parade Passes By”, Stephen was originally one of the 14th Street Athletic Association. 

In their turquoise tights and flaps lined with silver fringe, and sashes, striking turn of the century boxer poses with the pinky fingers choreographed to be curled and with a knuckle raised to look like an old photograph. 
Or the hands in “Dancing” staged to be “spoons”, fingers tight together so that no extraneous pinky or thumb separates to destroy the line of the moving arm. 
Stephan once had auditioned for Gower for the original chorus of “The Happy Time”. 
After dancing through some callbacks and spending all day on the St. James stage and being whittled down to about 5 or 6 boys, Gower said that he was going to ask them to do the most difficult thing they would ever have to do.  
He asked them to just walk in a circle around the stage and keep walking until he stopped them. It’s rather weird to just walk after studying dance and dancing combinations for hours and hours, but it was Gower Champion and Stephan guesses he just wanted to see a real person walking and not a chorus boy. 
It was mentally exhausting.
 
 Stephan tells me the first time he heard the score for Dolly,  he was in Kansas City, at a party in someone’s house after a performance or a rehearsal for the KC Circle Theatre where he really began his career. 

So many of them would buy the latest show albums and listen to them and dream of Broadway and New York City. 

Original cast albums were gateways to dreams then.
There are no star vehicles and no huge musical theatre stars, not like there used to be. 
Stephan considers himself lucky to have been in the show on Broadway when he did, because HELLO, DOLLY! was at the end of the “Golden Era” of Broadway musicals and musical theatre talent.

The original Broadway cast recording the cast album

Besides the Dollys that Stephan has worked with, he saw Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers and Carol Channing play Dolly.

 Stephan saw Martin in the show when it played KC on a brief tour (I think of 5 cities) before going to London and becoming the London production. 
It was a carousel of color and music and magic. 
He was absolutely dazzled. 
And he has to admit, it was seeing that production that made him decide to pursue a life in the theatre ( and give up his pre-med scholarship to Northwestern University much to his parent’s dismay...at the time!!)


Vernon Lusby, like so many others, is no longer with us. Stephan says he owes so much to him. He was the dance captain who put Stephan in the show in NY, who gave him those wonderful notes from Miss Grable, who took Stephan to Agnes de Mille and got him to spend some time working with her, and who made me his assistant choreographer and dance captain on another Broadway show, CELEBRATION

Stephan remembers Vernon telling him that when he dance captained the Pearl Bailey company, he had to hold the rehearsals when they did some numbers on the Ed Sullivan show.

He rehearsed the cast without Pearl Bailey initially and while he was standing in for Miss Bailey during the rehearsals, Vernon ( a very white guy from Louisiana) quipped:  “I feel like a piece of divinity in a box of fudge!”He shamelessly stole his line some time later when his date, Joaquin Stresseman, took Stephan to Harlem for his first time to see a performance at the legendary Apollo Theatre.

What Stephan would like to add would fit into the category of “Remember your first time?”  HELLO, DOLLY! has been such a thread in Stephan's life for so many years! He mentioned earlier what an impact the show had on him when he saw it as a teenager in KC.  (At the time, an actress from NY was doing a show with him at the KC Circle theatre. She knew the girl playing Ermengarde in the Mary Martin production, and invited her to a small party at another Circle theatre actor’s house. 
When Stephan met her he gushed about the show and how much he loved it, and then started gushing over the chorus numbers and the dancing and in particular one tall blonde dancer in the male chorus. 
She replied “Oh yes, that’s Ross. He got fired tonight.”  I said “Fired?!! How could that be?!  I couldn’t take my eyes off him!!”  
Without batting a lash, she replied “That’s why.” 

Then he moved to NY and DOLLY was one of the first shows he bought tickets for to see in NY. Then he got to make his Broadway debut in the show, and go on tour which really began his career. 
Will McKenzie, who was Cornelius when he did the show in NY, later directed a production of SWEET CHARITY, and hired him for the show, along with Tony Stevens with whom Stephaen had toured in DOLLY and….Ross Miles, the blonde eye catching dancer who was fired in KC. Theatre is a small world. Twenty five years after Stephan had played Stanley on tour, he assisted Dennis Grimaldi on a production in Maine State Musical Theatre which starred Mary Ellen Ashley, and he got to play Stanley again, undoubtedly the oldest Stanley in history! 
Then came some productions with the wonderful Carole Cook. 
Recently when his dear friend Tony Stevens passed, Stephen searched through his old pics and found some shots of him. At his memorial service, dear Harvey Evans spoke first, and Harvey was Barnaby when he did the show in NY. 
It’s the circle of life.
In DOLLY,  Stephen had his first NY chorus boy crush. He absolutely ADORED David Evans, also in the show. He had been in so many Broadway shows already, and had great stories, he used to go to his dressing area and sit next to him so he would just talk to me. He knew what he was doing to this little kid, and he didn’t mind. 
One of the things he had to do in the show, due to the vagaries of the St. James theatre, was in the “Dancing” number, at one point, Stephen would dance a section, exit Stage left, run downstairs stage left, pick up David’s derby, run through the locker room, go upstairs which let you off in the foyer of the business building next door, go through a glass door and into the private door which led to stage right of the St. James Theatre. 
Stephen wonders if that has ever been remedied? 
Anyway, David needed the hat to wear as one of the 4 “Minnie Fay Comedown” boys but it could only be preset for him after the number had started because of the changing sets. Stephan would then place his derby on the Feed Store unit offstage where he would run off during the number, grab the hat and high knee jog to places. 
Stephen eventually began buying pins with catchy little phrases and pinned them to his hat. One of them he distinctly remembers said “Be gentle with me. I’m a new girl in town.”   
He would show up at the theatre and David would have cleaned out his hairbrush and washed out his makeup sponge, things he didn’t know to do because he was so greeeeeeen!!!!

So those are some of Stephan's memories! I hope you enjoyed them as much as I have! 

 Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers will star in the Alhambra’s next performance, Hello, Dolly!  Ms. Struthers, who rise to acting fame began with the hit TV show All in the Family, is making her first appearance at the Alhambra and joins a growing list of stars that has recently included Jamie Farr, Barry Williams and Loretta Switt. First produced on Broadway in 1964, winning ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Hello, Dolly will open at the Alhambra on February 29. 

NO COPY WRITE INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!
Eric Brotherson, Dorothy Lamour's Horace Vandergelder


Betty Grable and Max Showalter

Tomorrow's's blog will be... Oscar Gold with George Chakiris

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Now, GO OUT AND see Carol Channing: Larger Than Life  now in theatres.



Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING  and HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS

TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


                                
This Blog is dedicated to all the Dollys: Past, present and future! 













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