Sunday, March 10, 2013

Michael Crawford: Cornelius Hackl and the film version of Hello, Dolly!

Michael Crawford and Marianne McAndrew
Michael Crawford (born 19 January 1942), originally Michael Dumbell-Smith, born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England; son of an RAF pilot and housewife; married Gabrielle Lewis, 1965 (divorced); children: Lucy and Emma. He  is an English actor and singer. 

He has garnered great critical acclaim and won numerous awards during his career, which covers radio, television, film, and stage work on both London's West End and on Broadway in New York City. Born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Michael Crawford began his career as a boy soprano in Benjamin Britten's Let's Make an Opera. 
Numerous television appearances and over 500 radio broadcasts later found him the popular star of television's Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, which, combined with his screen performance in The Knack, earned him the Variety Club Award for Most Promising Newcomer. For the sake of this blog/chapter, the focus is on Hello, Dolly!
From the opening up-tempo Just Leave Everything To Me, to the final So Long Dearie the songs are everything musical numbers should be.
Ernest Lehman and Barbra Streisand
Besides being one of the last of the old-time Hollywood musicals Hello Dolly!, at a production cost of approximately twenty-five million dollars (in 1968 currency), is also one of the most expensive ever made.
20th Century Fox lavishly recreated several blocks of New York's 14th Street, circa turn-of-the-century, on its back lot. In addition the Harmonia Gardens set cost a reported $375,000 dollars to build.
At any rate the end result certainly looks expensive. Despite its seven Academy Award nominations — including a Best Picture nod — the film was perceived as a major critical and financial disappointment. Gene Kelly handled the directorial chores, while Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau played the leads.
This much maligned movie musical is actually good.
It suffered from bad press due to escalating costs touting it as the most expensive movie musical of all time ($20 million) and a box office star who was obviously too young. MGM veterans: Gene Kelly (as Director) and Roger Edens (as Associate Producer) brought all the dazzling "spit and polish" of the Arthur Freed unit (famed in-house factory of MGM musicals) to the screen. 
In 1965, Zanuck purchased the film rights to Hello, Dolly! from David Merrick.
In the deal, Zanuck agreed not to release the film until the Broadway show ended its run.
Gene Kelly directed Walter Matthau for So Long, Dearie

When the film was completed, the original contract was renegotiated to allow for its release (at a significant penalty to Fox). The film did open in December of 1969 even though the show was still goin' strong on Broadway. Twentieth-Century Fox announced its purchase of the rights to film the musical on March 9, 1965 with Merrick, the producer of the stage musical, to receive $2 million dollars and 25 percent of the film gross. Hello, Dolly! is a 1969 romantic comedy musical film based on the Broadway production of the same name.  The film follows the story of Dolly Levi (a strong-willed matchmaker), as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder. In doing so she convinces his niece, his niece's intended, and Horace's two clerks to travel to New York City.  
It was based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 stage play The Matchmaker which had been previously filmed under that title by Paramount with Shirley Booth, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Perkins in 1958. It goes back even further. The Matchmaker was based on an updated treatment of The Merchant of Yonkers, which was based on a Viennese trifle called Einen Jux Will Es Machen, which came from a 1835 English comedy called A Day Well Spent. Hello, Dolly had opened on Broadway January 16th, 1964.  
Zanuck allocated a budget of $20 million, making Hello, Dolly! the most expensive  musical ever filmed.
The following, for the MOST part, is from Michael Crawford’s Best Selling Autobiography, Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String (Available on
In 1967, Michael Crawford was appearing in Black Comedy in London when he had the good fortune to meet Roger Edens, who came backstage one night to meet Michael and talk about his latest project. Roger Edens had just been named associate producer for the 20th Century Fox film production of Hello, Dolly!
Michael was asked to go with Dick Lester to San Francisco to promote How I Won the War, which had been selected to open the 1967 San Francisco Film Festival, and it was arranged that he should meet Gene Kelly during his three day stay in California. Just the anticipation of meeting that great American dancer was enough to tie Michael in knots.
According to his autobiography, he was turned completely upside down and inside out. He still has the piece of paper that was waiting for him when he arrived at the hotel, “Gene Kelly called. Will call later.” 
It was all he could think about.
THE Gene Kelly called him, Michael Crawford! He kept phoning down to the operators to have them repeat his messages.
Marianne McAndrew and Gene Kelly on the set
He told them they could send the messages to his room if they liked. Michael’s representative eventually called to let him know that Gene Kelly would be meeting him at the hotel at ten AM the next morning. The next morning, he took a long bath just to kill some time; he was up at six AM. He was ready at ten past seven AM. He needed something to do. He decided to take another bath…this time in slow motion! By the time he finished, it was quarter past eight.
Still hours to go. He couldn’t have another bath! 
He also shaved again with nearly disastrous results. He keeps changing his clothes over and over again, trying to figure out what is RIGHT for Mr. Kelly. He only has three sets of clothes. He was still changing when the doorbell rang. Now, he was in a checked jacket, floral shirt and striped trousers, nothing going with anything.
He stuttered at the sight of Gene Kelly. He invited him in and Gene Kelly never took his eyes off of him.
He stuttered for Gene Kelly to sit down after he was already sitting. Gene Kelly said, “Let’s cut the small talk.”Michael had not even said anything.
The first thing Mr. Kelly asked him was if he could dance. He tried to answer nonchalantly, but it backfired. His arm fell off of the back of the sofa and bounced off of his knee. Michael didn’t know how to tell Mr. Kelly that he had not danced a step in his life. He told him that he was not known for his dancing. When Mr. Kelly asked him what he WAS known for, he answered, “Nothing, really.” Then Mr. Kelly asked Michael to give him a few steps.
Michael getting on Barbra's good side
“Just get up and do something.” He made excuses. He hadn’t had breakfast yet. He was jet lagged.
Gene Kelly kept staring at him. He then got up, cleared the coffee table out of the way, did a few dance steps and asked Michael to replicate them. “Oh that?”, Michael said, truly panicked.
Gene Kelly watched attentively as Michael Crawford tried to clumsily repeat what he had seen Gene Kelly do but without much success. Kelly asked him to sit down. “Listen”, he said, “We are casting Cornelius Hackl. Cornelius Hackl is Horace Vandergelder‘s (Walter Matthau) clerk, a wonderfully innocent young man who has never found love and is stuck working in Yonkers with Barnaby (Danny Lockin), desiring only to find adventure and meet a girl. He was like Michael’s younger self. He’s an attractive idiot. Then he went on to tell him that his wife thought he was attractive. Then Kelly told him that he wanted him to go back to England and do a screen test. He told him that he would get someone to teach him to dance. After doing the screen test, he and the producers would take a look to see how Michael looked on film.
Michael was so ecstatic and jumped up and while shaking Gene Kelly’s arm nearly shook it out of its socket. Michael swears he heard Gene Kelly talking to himself as he exited his hotel room.
Michael yelled out to him that he never missed any pictures he did with Ginger Rogers!
Years later, Michael reminded Kelly of this.
He said that he had read it somewhere but that it never happened. If it had, he never would have lived to talk about it.
The ORIGINAL Dolly Levi with a "possible" Dolly, Elizabeth Taylor
One of the original West Side Story dancers, Leo Caribbean, worked with Michael on his dancing. Leo taught him some basic choreography. They put together a half hour screen test for Kelly and Twentieth-Century Fox which included some dancing and It Only Takes a Moment and waited. When the call came that he was going to be playing Cornelius, he went insane with excitement!
He signed a three picture deal with Twentieth Century Fox and felt that he was now financially solvent. Also, he and his wife Gabrielle were expecting a baby. The timing was perfect. 
Hello, Dolly was still going strong on Broadway when they began filming
They were able to make a mortgage on a home that they would move in to when they returned from Hollywood after filming.
Shooting began on April 15th, 1968 and ended 90 days later-but not before a series of challenges  that bespoke bigger trouble ahead.
Hollywood was changing drastically, however. The days of lavish movie musicals was ending. Along with that, the studio system and the movie mogul would soon be a thing of the past.
By the time that Michael had arrived in Hollywood, Twentieth Century Fox was trying to replicate the success of The Sound of Music with lavish musicals like Star! Starring Julie Andrews and Dr. Doolittle. Alas, neither would match the magic of The Sound of Music.
Determined to have another Sound of Music on their hands, the studio forged ahead on Hello, Dolly!  Written into the contract was a seemingly insignificant clause which stipulated that 20th could not release the film until the play closed on Broadway or until June 20th, 1971-whichever came first.
 They finished filming in 1968, but the film wasn’t released until almost two years later-and then, only after a large cash settlement had been made with Merrick. Life Magazine reported in its February 14th, 1969 issue that Richard Zanuck of 20th Century Fox desired to release it but David Merrick would not let him. The film would be released in December of 1968. Merrick was too shrewd a business man to play out this string much longer. He did, however, hold on as long as he could. His one goal was to break the previous record that My Fair Lady held as longest running show. He didn’t want anything to get in his way of making that happen.    
Gene Kelly and Streisand on the set
No expense had been spared on costumes and huge sets. When Barbra Streisand was signed on as Dolly Levi, it was done with all possible fanfare. At 25, Barbra Streisand might have been an odd choice to play the middle-aged widow Dolly Levi in the film version since the musical had won a Tony Award for Carol Channing. Channing was considered too zany and wacky to repeat her signature role for the screen. Having seen the result of Thoroughly Modern Millie, screenwriter Ernest Lehman felt her outsized personality would be too much for an entire film. Box office favorites who were considered and courted for the role before Streisand accepted it were Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor. Barbra was a fresh, new, and immensely talented performer, so giving her the chance to reinvent the age-old character of Dolly only seemed logical.

At the time of the planning stages, Streisand was shooting the film that would earn her the Best Actress Oscar, Funny Girl (1968). Unfortunately for Streisand she was seen as an "up-start" by those in Hollywood who felt she had stolen the part from Channing when Richard Zanuck announced her casting on May 8, 1967. Richard Coe summed up the feeling in the May 11, 1967 edition of The Washington Post writing, "Would you believe Barbra Streisand for the screen's Hello, Dolly!? Well, that's the knuckle headed fact...With all due respect to young Miss Streisand, the mournful Nefertiti is clearly not the outgoing, zestful Irishwoman whose vitality brightens Thornton Wilder's mature, life-loving Dolly Gallagher-Levi. The perversity of not choosing to get Carol Channing's musical-comedy classic on film is hard to fathom."
Channing later remembered, "I was doing Hello, Dolly! at Expo '67 at the time, and when they announced the star for the movie on that great day  I had the feeling I was Mark Twain and had just died and become an observer at my funeral."
Reports were also coming from Columbia Studios over Streisand's repeated demand for retakes on Funny Girl which supposedly cost the studio an extra $200,000.
Matthau with Crawford
Streisand accepted the role and went to the studio for wardrobe fitting on February 13, 1968.
Streisand was unhappy in the role, which she really didn't want and which Carol Channing desperately did. Channing, however, made one concession to Barbra in her 2002 memoir Just Lucky, I Guess. According to Broadway's Dolly, Barbra Streisand's singing in the film "was beautiful."
All in all, it was not a happy shoot.
There was an 89 day shooting schedule on Hello, Dolly!, and at the end of the first week’s shooting producer Ernest Lehman still did not have a completed budget.  This was only the second film he was producing. The first was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The disparity between the two films at the time overwhelmed him. From a four character film to this! Ernest Lehman (December 8, 1915 in New York City – July 2, 2005 in Los Angeles, California) was primarily a screenwriter. He received 6 Academy Award nominations during his screenwriting career. In 2001 he received an honorary Oscar for his works, the first screenwriter to receive that honor.  
For one gargantuan parade scene, over four thousand extras were hired.
Hello, Dolly went on location for a month in Garrison New York and the weather in the east was always a problem.
The budget for Hello, Dolly! had begun at $10 million and by 1968 had swollen to $25 million, $2 million alone was spent on the recreation of Fifth Avenue on the Fox lot.
Even before the feud over the release of Dolly, the film’s course from stage to screen was far from smooth. It was the most expensive movie musical to that time.

Michael Kidd was hired as choreographer and would film the title number on stage 14.
They created a Harmonia Gardens that no stage could match. This was suggested by the more lavish restaurants of New York’s gaslight era.
Fittings and furnishings were burnished gold and ivory, and curtains, upholstery and carpeting were crimson, pink and salmon.  
And a staircase that was unbelievable. It was at the top of these stairs that Barbra Streisand would descend in one of the most iconic moments of musical theater. Michael Kidd was unhappy with the set AND the heavy dress that Irene Sharaff had designed for Barbra for the title number. It was cumbersome and Streisand was not able to execute Kidd’s choreography.
Irene Sharaff designed the costumes for this film.
Winner of five Academy Awards and a number of Broadway Awards for costume design, she was an intense, formidable, chain smoking woman in late middle age.
John DeCuir was the production designer. He had already won Academy Awards for The King and I and Cleopatra. Neither Sharaff or DeCuir were concerned about the practicality of filming the scene. They were only interested in their creations.  DeCuir was not happy that Kidd had approved all of his set models and now he was asking them to change everything.  
One of the biggest problems during production seems to have been the hostility that developed between Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand.
He refused to be in the same room as Streisand unless they were filming and was quoted as saying, "I have more talent in my smallest fart than she does in her entire body." Matthau's dislike spread to co-star Michael Crawford with whom he would attend horse races on his days off. During one race Crawford bet on a horse called "Hello Dolly". Compulsive gambler Matthau refused to bet on the horse because he hated Streisand so much. When the horse won, Matthau wouldn't speak to Crawford for the remainder of filming.
Michael , on the other hand, was thrilled to be working with Barbra Streisand.
Streisand was always prepared, she had always done her homework, she was always well rehearsed.
The only time that Michael had “words” with Barbra-and they were friendly words-was during a scene in which he was standing opposite her when she entered.
She wanted to move him before a music cue. They went back and forth about this particular move. The truth of the matter was that she didn’t want to be filmed from a certain angle. She continued to argue with him. He finally blurted out, I don’t know what you’re worried about. You’re just as ugly on the other side.”
She snapped back” Whadda mouth! Do you eat with that mouth?”  He ended up standing EXACTLY where she desired him to.
As far as Michael is concerned, there was never a problem with Barbra.
The front office would ask, “Barbra, what would you like?’ We’ll get you a trailer, Barbra. Barbra, not being stupid, asked for a 30 foot trailer. Victorian? Just something simple? “I want the works.”
Then the studio brass went to Walter Matthau. “What do you desire? and How do you want it?”
Michael had third billing and no choice. How would he like his trailer decorated? It was painted pale blue. It included a couch and a mirror with lights around it.
Another unbelievable casting consideration was the role of Irene Molloy (a video screen test still exists!) portrayed by Ann- Margret. For Michael’s leading lady, Kelly had hired the beautiful and charming Marianne McAndrew. She had enormous style and class. She was dubbed.
Rounding out the cast are E.J Peaker as Minne Fay and Danny Locklin as Barnaby.
At the time, the TV series Peyton Place, starring Ryan O’Neal, was being shot adjacent to the Dolly set.  One morning, Michael jauntily crossed their set dressed, as Cornelius, said “Hello, Doctors!” and kept walking. He said he received residuals for years because of that cross over!
One morning, Michael arrived at the studio already in costume. When he got to the gate, the security guard asked for his name. After going back and forth, the Security guard told him that “Crufford” was already inside. He went home, called the studio, and said that when a guy named “Crufford” showed up, to please let him in.
Joyce Ames, Streisand, Tommy Tune
Years later, when Michael was starring in Phantom of The Opera in Los Angeles, he went nostalgically back to the lot where the Hollywood portions of Dolly were filmed. It is now totally lost. He drove around in circles until he finally found the sole remaining studio entrance near what used to be the back lot. As they got out of the car for a closer look, a security guard came over and yelled for them to get out of there. 
Michael said, “I was in Hello, Dolly!” The security guard snapped back, “And I’m Louis Armstrong. Now get outta here!”
Danny Lockin, Crawford, Streisand
It was eight months of hard work for the company, and an emotional time as well. During filming in Garrison on June 5th, news reached the set that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, which created a further distraction for the company along with the temperatures that hovered near 100 degrees. Kelly was crushed; he was a friend of the Kennedy family. According to Tommy Tune, Walter Matthau did not feel like filming when he heard the news, so they filmed the elopement scene involving him, Joyce Ames as Ermengarde, and Barbra that did. They were distraught but they worked through it.
Kelly believed in a lot of rehearsal, more than Michael had ever experienced before, but he knew right away that he loved it and it’s the way he has worked ever since. Michael says he owes Roger Edens a great debt; he gave Michael a confidence in his voice that he’d never had before, encouraging him in the easier, more ‘natural’ way he had of singing, rather than in the use of the somewhat stagy delivery (what he calls back-of-the-throat tenor) that had long been favored by juvenile leads in theater.
The romantic It Only Takes a Moment was Michael’s big song in Dolly, and one of the loveliest in Jerry Herman’s dazzling score. Cornelius a young man who finds himself in a park at midnight with a beautiful girl, he is a young man who has hardly even spoken to a girl before. Michael looked up at Kelly after shooting this scene and saw that he had tears in his eyes. “That’s my boy!”, he said.
Hello, Dolly! finished production at the close of summer in 1968, but it didn’t, at first, have the kind of success they had all hoped for.  It proved to be the very last of the big budget musicals and the end of the Hollywood era. The catch was that when they finished filming, the Broadway production was still going strong-revitalized by Pearl Bailey’s all African-American company-and at that time, Merrick had no intention of closing it.
 Hello, Dolly! was released on December 16, 1968 with a premiere at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway with at least one thousand fans jamming the streets screaming for Streisand.
It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Sound. This film, along with two other musical failures Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Star! (1968) wiped out all the profits Fox had earned from The Sound of Music (1965). Susan Sackett attributed the film's failure to the fact that "the movie-going audience was comprised of mostly under-30s, and young people just weren't impressed with lavish musicals. Costs seemed to escalate out of control. Fox took a gamble, and lost. So where did the "Dolly" film go wrong? A case can be made for the studio's, or perhaps director Gene Kelly's, reliance on overproduction. 
Two new numbers were added for Streisand to sing ("Love Is Only Love" - a discarded trunk song from Jerry Herman's original Broadway production of Mame) and Just Leave Everything to Me while other non-Streisand musical sequences seemed to go on endlessly. For all the criticism heaped on the film version of "Dolly," none could justifiably be pegged on Streisand's performance.
 With its recent theatrical re-mastering (and subsequent DVD release), "Dolly" is one of the most visually vibrant and exciting films available for home viewing.

Michael Crawford's portrayal in Hello, Dolly is so iconic that it was very much a part of Pixar's Wall-E. Michael had received an inquiry asking would he mind if they used him singing It Only Takes a Moment for a Pixar film, and he thought that was the end of that. Suddenly he gets a letter saying that they had used it and it was in this film and would he like to see a preview. 
So there he is in this empty cinema in London’s Soho with his three Australian grandchildren, and he's in tears at the opening title alone, it was so moving. Then he had dinner one evening with Andrew Stanton, the director, in Los Angeles. Stanton said that out all of the films he had seen, this was the most innocent and appealing love song.
 When he sang the song—when they recorded it—there were tears in his eyes; his face went all sorts of shapes! Here he was, a naive young man singing to this beautiful girl, and he couldn’t believe he’d found love. It was a delightful song to sing honestly and sensitively. When they finished it, Gene went “Cut!” and held him; he was the most wonderful man.

Sources: Michael Crawford’s Autobiography, Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String

Thank you Michael Crawford for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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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!


  1. Fascinating overview of the film production. Thanks for posting.

  2. Fascinating is the word. Really great post. I stumbled onto it looking for something else. I started reading and it just drew me in. Thank you.