Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bobbie Freeman with her memories of her productions of Hello, Dolly (Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Lamour, Ethel Merman)

Bobbie Freeman, now Jaramillo, is happily married to her husband of almost forty-four years, and running a successful dance studio in Denver. However, her career started out by auditioning for Hello, Dolly!  A week later, she had her Equity Card and was on her way to join the Betty Grable company. She would go on to share the stage with Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Lamour, and Ethel Merman! Not bad for a young girl dreaming of a career as a dancer from Louisville, Kentucky!

Bobbie arrived in New York on her birthday, September 13th, 1966. On September 23rd, she auditioned for Dolly. They were looking for a new girl dancer for both Carol Channing’s company, now on the road, and Betty Grable’s company. Ginger Rogers was into her second month on Broadway.

Bobbie was sent out to join the Betty Grable/Max Showalter Company as a dancer and to understudy for Ermengarde. Bobbie knew nothing about Dolly prior to auditioning. She didn’t even know who David Merrick was. Bobbie’s life is divided into four sections. First, there was her ballet career in Louisville, which was huge. Then there was her theatrical career. Stage three was raising three beautiful girls. Now, in her fourth stage, she is a dance studio owner. She was raised in Louisville as a ballet dancer. She joined the Louisville Civic Ballet at the age of nine and worked her way from corps de ballet to prima ballerina, appearing in such ballets as Giselle, Les Sylphides, Pas de Quatre, Carmina Burana, and The Nutcracker. She has danced and worked with such legends as Mia Slavenska, Andre Eglevsky, Lupe Serrano, Royes Fernandez, Toni Lander, and Fernand Nault and has been mentioned in the book "Who's Who in the Ballet World". Bobbie began teaching dance at the age of fifteen and at age eighteen operated her own dance school. She also studied voice and piano at the prestigious Gardencourt at the University of Louisville. She went to New York with the idea that the world of ballet was a little too narrow for her. She wanted something a little bigger. She had studied voice and she was also a tapper. Her first audition was for A Joyful Noise. That show lasted ten days. That show was with Michael Bennett. She went to audition for Dolly, and although she was non-Equity, she made it to the final two to read for Ermengarde. Having never seen the production, she made a mess of her reading. She thought the character was a sexpot as opposed to “Awwwww!!!!!!” They accepted her anyway for whatever reason. She was staying with friends, and at her audition they gave her a phone number to call in order for her to go in and sign her contract. Bobbie wrote the number down wrong! When she called the number, she got a janitor. Bobbie was as green as green could be. She knew nothing. Linda Otto was the casting director. She sent Bobbie a telegram, they did have her address. The telegram said that if she was interested in doing this production, she better go in and sign the contract. She went in, read EVERY word of the contract, and signed it. Linda said, “Oh my God! I’ve never seen anyone read a contract, ever. They usually just sign.” That’s how that happened to be.

Max Showalter
Bobbie doesn’t remember the length of time between signing and flying off to start Dolly, but it was relatively soon thereafter. She flew to join the company in Kansas City. She remembers walking behind Betty Grable and thinking that she was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her waist was like twenty inches. Bobbie couldn’t believe her luck. She thought this was the best ever. There was a boy in the company who had been in the ballet company in Louisville. He had choreographed a production of West Side Story, in which Bobbie played Anita, for the University of Louisville. 
He took Bobbie under his wing. Bobbie appeared on the outside to be this confident gypsy who had been around. That was her “M.O.” But deep inside, she had no idea what she was doing there. She was just used to rehearsal and hard work.
She knew nothing of Dolly. All she knew was that she could make some money dancing. That was all she cared about.
She started out on the road with Betty which ended up in Vegas. When that closed, she went home for a few weeks. She joined Ginger Rogers’ company which opened in Denver where she now lives. Her husband, also in the theater, is from Denver. They became an item when they were part of Dorothy Lamour’s and Ginger Rogers’ shared company in Las Vegas. When that run ended, Bobbie returned to New York where she was eventually brought in to do the Ethel Merman company Broadway company which ended Dolly’s seven year run.
Bobbie says Hello, Dolly was the most wonderful experience of her life. It changed her life. It gave her everything a kid could possibly dream of in this business. She got to travel. She got to meet interesting people. She made money doing it! She was so lucky to go to New York. We’ve all heard the horror stories, however, of what can happen to a young woman on her own in the Big Apple. Some women, and men, end up starving to death. In Bobbie’s case, in ten days after arriving, she was off like everyone in Dolly, on an incredible adventure. In Betty’s company, she went on twenty eight times as Ermengarde. In Ginger’s company, she understudied Irene Molloy. That was a major achievement for someone who considered herself primarily a dancer. She understudied Ermengarde, Irene, AND she made extra money because she was part of the horse!
I asked Bobbie if she has revisited the show since closing with Merman in 1970. She hasn’t. Her daughter saw  Carol Channing’s last touring production in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio and loved it so much she went back twice proving that there is STILL an audience for this show. It was a national tour that she saw but Bobbie doesn’t know who was starring. Looking ahead, Bobbie doesn’t know who could play Dolly today and sell tickets. 

I was lucky to get this interview with Bobbie. She very rarely discusses her past. When she mentions Betty Grable today, sadly, there are those who have no idea who she is or Dorothy Lamour. Very few understand who these people were. All the women that Bobbie worked with were absolutely wonderful.
After Dolly, They both continued successful careers in the theater. Her husband, a prop man, was offered a job with the national tour of I Do, I Do starring another Dolly alumni, Mary Martin, and Robert Preston, who would have been a wonderful Horace Vandergelder. When that tour ended, he and Bobbie got married and his career was nonstop doing about fifteen musicals! He was involved in Company from the beginning. 
He also worked on Jesus Christ, Superstar from the beginning. Bobbie went on to do productions at the Westchester Dinner Theater, Meadowbrook Dinner Theater, she also went back home to Kentucky and starred in two productions at the Beef and Boards Theater. She did children’s theater.
Bobbie says Hello, Dolly! is absolutely among the top five shows that she did.Gower is absolutely a major part of that show. Bobbie remembers rehearsing in Denver for the Grable company. Dance captain Lowell Purvis, rehearsed everyone over and over and over again. They had to be exactly right like a well oiled machine. When you get a job as a replacement, which is what Bobbie was, in Betty’s company, you wear THEIR costumes. The girl that Bobbie was replacing was three inches taller than Bobbie was. She was thinner than Bobbie was, not that Bobbie was overweight. Bobbie weighed about 105 or maybe 110, tops. Her show size was a seven. Bobbie’s was five and a half. Bobbie was wearing her shoes until her shoes were ready. Bobbie fell down three times. One time going off, so no one saw it. The shoes were so humongous on her feet the way that she was meant to. 

With Gower’s choreography, you really have to move.  So here she is clunking along in these size and a half too big boots trying to move. She aptly nick named herself, “the fall down girl.” Once she had her own shoes, all was right with the world.
Bobbie was a good performer and loved her work. She was a valuable performer. Every night was like opening night for her. She realized that for some, sitting in the balcony, those tickets are expensive still for some. Bobbie says it was her obligation to always perform at peak performance which was never difficult. 
It was never work for her.
Bobbie absolutely continued to tweak her performance after getting the “job.”  She never wanted to phone it in and always wanted to be her absolute best. She always wanted to improve. When she got the job understudying Irene Molloy in Ginger’s company that was a big thing for her, a dancer. She got to go on. Irene in that company Mary Nettum. She had small children at home and was out of the show from time to time. She had weekly rehearsals as her understudy, but to actually go on was a big deal.  The orchestra changed keys for her which is virtually unheard of. The night she went on Van Clyburn was in the audience.  He asked to meet her afterward because he was so impressed. A groan normally goes through the audience when the announcement is made, “Tonight, the role of…will be played by.” 
He knew Bobbie was the understudy and he went back and was so delightful and wonderful. Bobbie still has memories of his huge hand extending out to meet her.  Bobbie has so many memories as Irene Molloy but going on as Irene ranks up there above all others. Her future husband was backstage that night, but he told her that the stagehands were all straining to see what was happening on stage during Ribbons Down My Back to see who was performing because it was a different sound.   Lucia Victor gave Bobbie the latitude to bring her personality into play. Mary Nettum was more of a soprano. Her style was very reminiscent of Eileen Brennan. They lowered the key for Bobbie. Bobbie doesn’t know if they sent to New York for different arrangements. 
She does know that they adjusted for her, which meant a lot. She was eager to go on. Because of Nettum’s situation, they knew that Bobbie would be going on. She didn’t let on to Van Clyburn that she knew she would be on that night. She did not take that moment away from him. She was well rehearsed.
The one thing that Bobbie adopted from her experiences with Dolly that she has carried forward throughout her career is discipline. She shares this with everyone who was lucky enough to be part of the Dolly family. You had to perform whether you felt like it or not. You have a responsibility to your audience AND your fellow cast mates. The audience has paid financially and with their time to come see this show. You HAVE to give them the best you can be.
Bobbie’s first thought on each Dolly:
Betty Grable: Awesome
Ginger Rogers: True Professional
A blonde Dorothy Lamour before they let her go back to her brunette hair
Dorothy Lamour: “I loved her.”
Ethel Merman:” I did not her well. She came and went through the back door.” It was awesome to be on a stage with her. That voice was quite something. She separated herself. The feeling of a touring company verses a Broadway company is very different. In one of my previous chapters, a member of Betty’s company spoke about taking her bowling. When Ginger Rogers Company was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, they took her bowling. Because of the number of people involved the cab driver kept driving back and forth until he got everyone to the bowling alley! Ginger got to know everyone in the company. Betty got to know some of the company. Bobbie was lucky when she joined the company. Betty’s hairdresser’s fiancĂ© was the one she was replacing. Bobbie ended up going out with them on social occasions. Betty was a real human being. She was very nice and very insecure. She couldn’t understand “what it was all about, the leg thing.”
Ginger Rogers
Ginger was very religious, a practicing Christian Scientist, also like Carol Channing. Bobbie’s husband used to tease Ginger unmercifully. He would put the mirror in front of her and say, “Would you like to see something funny?” 
She reacted quite well to that. Only he could have gotten away with that.
Bobbie has never ever seen any other woman play Dolly except those four.
In Vegas, they had to make the show shorter in order to do two shows every night. They did two shows a night, seven days a week, one at eight and one at twelve. 
With Dorothy, they cut the show a little bit, bringing it in at one hundred minutes. With Ginger, she did the full version but talked twice as fast. She didn’t want anything cut.
The Dolly number never failed to stop the show. Bobbie thinks there are several variables in play here. The first is the ramp.  The kids jumping over the orchestra pit brought audiences closer in than had ever been done before. Just seeing those great ladies descend the stairs certainly didn’t hurt either!

Betty Grable and Max Showalter
Bobbie loved the Horace’s she appeared with as well. Max Showalter was awesome. His real name was Casey Adams. Showalter performed as Horace more than 3,000 times opposite Carol Channing, Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers. Jack Goode, Merman’s Horace, was another wonderful man. Bobbie has nothing but positives for all of them! Coley Worth played opposite Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Lamour in Vegas when they split the performances. He was a wonderful Horace Vandergelder in 1967. Then, there was the awesome David Burns who also toured with Ginger when she took it on the road.  Max Showalter was good friends with Cary Grant. They had appeared in a couple of movies together. 
One night, standing in the stairs in the backstage area was Cary Grant. Max introduced Cary Grant, as if he needed an introduction! Cary told everyone that he was headed back to California and that if anyone in the cast were interested in going for the weekend, they could go as his guest…on his private jet! No one gushed. They had more dignity than to do that. They were respectful and gave the many celebrities that came backstage their space.  It was a wonderful moment but no one took him up on his offer.
Bobbie once went to Jerry Herman’s home here in New York. She can’t remember why. She is guessing that it was during the Merman run. It was just Jerry, his aunt, and Bobbie.
The business started changing drastically in the seventies. That’s why Bobbie, and her husband David Jaramillo, left New York. The last show David did on Broadway was Lorelei with Carol Channing.  That was 1974. Musicals were more and more rock musicals. The new voice on Broadway was Andrew Lloyd Webber. In Bobbie’s era, she considers Follies the last great musical. Everything was moving to more nudity on stage. There was also much more drugs available backstage during this free thinking era before everything came crashing down all around us. When David was working on Jesus Christ Superstar, a STAR of the show said, “Hey man? Would you like some coke?” one night backstage before going out on stage. David said, “No thanks, I’m not thirsty.” Bobbie and David’s life together in New York had been successful and they decided to have a baby. Superstar was nominated for four Tony Awards and although there were no winds, they both felt there was job security. 
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

A part was held and the Jaramillos attended, Bobbie was pregnant at the time. Even at the party, there was a lot of nudity and people wrapped in cellophane. 
It was definitely a long way from Hello, Dolly! They had gone through the drug era in San Francisco totally untouched. Perhaps their naivety helped.

Hello, Dolly! will always have a special place in Bobbie’s heart. Bobbie met her husband during her run in Dolly. They have letters from Dorothy and Ginger when the marriage was announced. When Bobbie called Dorothy to tell her that they were getting married, Dorothy said, “Honey, it will never last. It’s a show business marriage.” 
They are now coming up on forty-four years. Dolly made Bobbie feel extra special forever.

 Thank you Bobbie Freeman for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

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If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
My next blog will be... My Exclusive Interview with Josh Ellis with his Hello, Dolly! Memories

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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


Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!

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