Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tommy Tune on Hello, Dolly!

Broadway’s legendary song and dance man, Tommy Tune, is now hitting the stage high stepping through his nine time Tony Award winning career celebrating 50 years on the Great White Way. He sings, dances, and laughs his way through those glorious musical moments that made him a Theatre Legend. Tommy Tune is possibly the tallest dancer in the country.  We sat down to talk last month regarding his involvement in the film version of Hello, Dolly!
Directed by Gene Kelly and adapted and produced by Ernest Lehman, the cast includes Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau (in his only movie musical), Michael Crawford, Danny Lockin, Tommy Tune, Fritz Feld, Marianne McAndrew, E. J. Peaker and Louis Armstrong (whose recording of the title tune became a number-one single in May 1964).

The film was photographed in 65 mm Todd-AO by Harry Stradling, Sr.
 Though she was definitely far too young for the part of Dolly Levi, Barbra Streisand shines in the part because of that golden voice allowing her to express the story going forward.
Tommy Tune was dancing in the chorus of How Now Dow Jones when Hollywood came knocking. George Abbott was the director and Michael Bennett had taken over as choreographer. Working with Michael Bennett was a privilege.The number that Tommy was in was cut for the evening performances.   
How Now, Dow Jones was a musical comedy by Academy Award winner Elmer Bernstein, Tony Award nominee Carolyn Leigh and Max Shulman. The original Broadway production opened in December 1967.
The casting director, Alixe Gordin, and Roger Edens were scouting New York talent for the film version of Dolly and came to a matinee performance.
with Joyce Ames

They saw Tommy do his matinee performance of a number that was cut and never seen again! 

It was probably performed seven times before producer David Merrick cut it. Gordin and Edens called the theater. They wanted Tommy for a screen test. He didn’t have an agent at the time.
Chorus boys didn’t have agents. Someone suggested he call an agent named Peter Cereghetti. He would not be able to do a screen test except through an agent.

The big movie studios protected themselves that way. If they see someone and they want them, and they haven’t done that much, they can be held up in negotiations. It was called “setting up a deal.” Through Cereghetti, it was arranged for Tommy to do a screen test and be flown out to Hollywood. Tommy, first of all, had to get permission from David Merrick.

Merrick, believe it or not, felt a little bad about Tommy’s number being cut from the show.
Tommy teaches Streisand  the joys of "Dancing,"
 in Hello, Dolly (Source: Arm Chair Actorvist Blog)
He did a number from How Now Dow Jones on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 14th, 1968, a Sunday night. A car was waiting for him at the stage door of the newly named Ed Sullivan Theater.  On December 10, 1967, to mark The Ed Sullivan Show's 20th year, the studio was named The Ed Sullivan Theater in honor of the great host.
Prior to that, it had been called the Manhattan Theater and Billy Rose’s Music Hall.

Tommy flew out overnight and rehearsed and shot the screen test missing the Monday performance (which Merrick had graciously let him out of).
The screen test consisted of what would be Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune)’s first scene in the movie. Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) telling him he is a six foot six nincompoop.

He didn’t film the scene with Matthau, but rather, with a very good character actor. Obviously, we know the outcome. Tommy was asked to sign a seven year contract to appear in that movie. When they finished that film, it truly was the end of the big Hollywood musical. They wanted to change Tommy’s name because it sounded too much like a musical comedy entertainer.
They wanted him to be the new Jimmy Stewart. None of what they desired him to do or become was not right for him.
He went to the powers that be at Twentieth Century Fox and said, “I want to go back to New York and Broadway. Is that OK? Y’all aren’t doing movie musicals anymore. ” The Nanny and the Professor was just not cutting it for him. He did not desire to do sitcoms. His heart was not in it. Twentieth Century Fox let him out of his contract. He wanted to see his screen test. No one had been allowed to see their screen tests. He felt that his screen test was better than what appeared in the final result because he did not know anything. The screen test was directed by Gene Kelly with full sets and costumes. It was just as if he was already shooting the movie. The difference was that TOMMY was the star of his screen test. It was all about screen testing him and getting the angles on him and getting him right. When it came to filming the movie, it was about getting it right for Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand in their scenes.

They tested twenty seven guys for this part. It was a different time. That would never happen now.

Tommy had done The Matchmaker in college and he had seen Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly on stage. He played Cornelius and knew the story very well. Tommy considers Carol the beginning and the end of everything. Carol is Tommy’s theatrical godmother. He had no desire to see any of the other Broadway Dollys. Tommy says in his great memoirs, Footnotes,“What a creation Carol Channing is! She is unique. What a blessing she is to the theater! A little of the Carol Channing vitamin goes a long way.”When they were shooting the Dancing number, Tommy received the single greatest advice from his career from Gene Kelly. Tommy wasn’t slacking off but Gene said to him, “Dance better.”
He wasn’t the choreographer. That was Michael Kidd. Tommy is the opposite of what Michael Kidd liked. He likes to have tall girls and short guys working together. It was a sex thing. He loves for the men’s heads to be right where the women’s breasts are. It was also an energy thing. It was just the opposite with Tommy and Joyce Ames who played Ermengarde. They didn’t interest Kidd as a couple and there were huge possibilities. It was the reverse of what he saw. Gene just stepped in to help. Tommy loved Gene and felt sorry for him. They would work with Barbra, get everything all set, and then he would get the angels as he saw fit as the director. In truth, he called Barbra, when she was not on the set and he was ready for her, he would say, “Bring on the dreaded Barbra.” He truly wasn’t a mean man. He would say that to the crew in earshot of everybody. She would come on, change everything, and he would go along with it.

Tommy found Kidd very busy , very “proppy”, very athletic…not three of Tommy’s favorite things. He likes simple, elegant, clean.

Tommy believes the movie has gotten better with age. He was totally embarrassed by the movie when it came out. Now he looks at it, and because standards have dropped so much in the world, he now goes, “That’s good!” or, “That’s really enjoyable.” He didn’t think at the time of its release that it was near good enough or imaginative enough.”
For one, he doesn’t feel that it was ideal casting for the movie. The match-ups didn’t all work. Roger Edens originally wanted Tommy for Barnaby. That role went to Danny Lockin. When they went to see Tommy in How Now Dow Jones, they WERE looking for Ambrose. After Roger saw Tommy, he told them back in Hollywood that he had found a Barnaby. He wanted them to spin their head around in a different direction. Roger thought that if Tommy played Barnaby, it would have taken the film to a different level. Tommy thought that he would have been better for Cornelius, having played the role in The Matchmaker.
That role had already been cast by Michael Crawford.  Of course, Tommy feels that Carol Channing should have done the movie. Imagine her opening her arms to Louis Armstrong during the title number. Her warmth and presence would have made that one of the most magical moments ever to be seen on film.
Tommy shot the film for six months.

Most of Tommy’s scenes were filmed on location in Garrison, New York. One of the toughest days occurred on June 6th, 1968. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a United States Senator and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, took place shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, California. Tommy found out when he was awakened early the next morning.
 He got a call that morning that the schedule was changed due to the fact that Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated and Walter Matthau did not feel up to filming that day. Tommy’s first thought was don’t they realize that he and the rest of the cast and crew were just as upset as Mr. Matthau.
Tommy didn’t make a deal about it. He got to the location site to find out that they would be shooting the elopement scene in which Dolly and Ambrose are climbing the ladder up to Ermengarde’s room. This would be taking place outside an actual three story building with him and Barbra climbing up the ladder. Gene had instructed Tommy that once he got inside and as he was pulling Barbra in, to be extremely careful. She would have some difficulty with the climb due to the petticoats and boots. No matter what, he was not to let go. As she started into the window and she let out a scream. He didn’t let go. He held on tighter. She screamed again. He. Again, did not let go. Eventually, she made her way into the window, stormed past Tommy and the crew and ran off the set. He thought, “Oh my God! What have I done?” Half an hour later, she returned to the set. He had broken her famous Barbra nails! They did the scene again in one take with Tommy being more careful.
A magical moment took place in Roger Eden’s Bungalow. Roger, Joyce Ames, Tommy, and Barbra, and the rehearsal pianist. Tommy and Joyce sat on either side of her.
Roger was musically directing them. They were working on the Sunday Clothes.
They had worked on their scene in which they are singing together on the street. She started singing, taking it to a whole other level. They were all holding their music and their laps and she started singing, “Put on your Sunday Clothes when you feel down and out” in this obbligato honey nouveau shape coming out of her. Tommy actually saw color coming out of her mouth and into vapor like a rainbow. “She has the voice of God.”  
Tommy has even considered directing  Dolly himself. The Weissler’s, Barry and Fran, had a wonderful idea: Hello, Dolly starring Whoopi Goldberg.
 When they asked Tommy if he would do it, he said yes and saw the entire show in his head. He saw it and it was unique. They asked him to talk to Jerry Herman about this. He didn’t desire to do it on the phone. He felt that he needed to be with Jerry to sell this idea.
He thought that Jerry might think it was too radical and it wasn’t. He hates when “revisals” are done that are so far from the intent of the original creators that it ends up being a different show. Tommy's instincts once again were right on. Jerry Herman nixed the idea.  

One idea that I'm glad was not nixed and that is Twentieth Century-Fox's decision to cast Tommy Tune so that we do have a record of his incredible dancing preserved on film. We are all blessed that they let him out of his seven year contract so that he was able to enrich the theater world with incredible work over the years. His nine Tony Awards attest to that fact. 
Tommy is also an incredible artist. I am lucky to have several of his lithographs in my home and in Danny's office. Unfortunately, Tommy lost much of his personal mementos (including letters and journals) and painting collections in the devastating Hurricane Sandy. He is a trouper and is now wowing audiences at Feinstein's. Here is the official press release:  

Contact: Miller Wright / Dan Fortune at (212) 977-7800







 NOVEMBER 18, 25, 26

“Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales” is the perfect title for Tommy Tune’s cabaret debut at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency, and he delivers plenty of all three. You know you’re in for an evening of savvy show business sass the minute the lights dim and he sails in singing “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues” in a red suit the color of a tomato surprise.
-Rex Reed, The New York Observer (Read Full Review)

Tall Tommy Tune, Broadway star-director-choreographer (winner of 9 Tonys) makes his entrance in his show Taps, Tunes & Tall Tales at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency strolling through the audience singing “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Blues.”  When he reaches the stage he does indeed tap all over the small Feinstein’s stage.  Because he is so tall, his red tuxedo including vest, tails, and red rose on his label, had to be custom made but it is strikingly effective.  His opening night audience was sold out with major Broadway stars in attendance.  Every one of his sometimes complicated lyrics was crystal clear and his physical movements were extremely animated.
-Joe Regan, Jr, Times Square Chronicles(Read Full Review)

FEINSTEIN’S AT LOEWS REGENCY, the nightclub proclaimed “Best of New York” by New York Magazine and “an invaluable New York institution” by The New York Post will continue its Fall 2012 season with the New York solo debut of Broadway legend TOMMY TUNE. Broadway's tallest tapper takes to the city's smallest stage, dancing, singing and tale-telling through 50 years of big time showmanship, all on only 4 square feet!  "You've got to see it to believe it" – P.T. Barnum. This intimate evening – featuring Musical Director Michael Biagi on piano – will run for four shows on three nights: November 18, 25, and 26 at the Loews Regency Hotel (540 Park Avenue at 61st Street).

TOMMY TUNE is known as one of the most prolific director/choreographers of the twentieth century. He has enchanted audiences for 50 years with his charisma, vision, and innovation. Tune has been honored with nine Tony Awards celebrating him as a performer, choreographer and director (Best Actor in a Musical for My One and Only, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Seesaw, Best Choreography for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, My One and Only, Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies, and Best Direction of a Musical for Nine, Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies). In addition, Tune has been awarded eight Drama Desk Awards, three Astaire Awards and the Society of Directors and Choreographers’ George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement.

His film credits include Hello, Dolly!, The Boy Friend, and Mimi Bluette…fiore del mio giardino. In 2009, Mr. Tune was designated as a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Tune is the recipient of the National Medal Of Arts, the highest honor for artistic achievement given by the President of the United States, and he has been honored with his own star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame. For the past three years Mr. Tune been touring around the country in his musical memoir Steps In Time, A Broadway Biography in Song and Dance.

FEINSTEIN’S AT LOEWS REGENCY will present TOMMY TUNE, Sundays, November 18 and 25, and Monday, November 26 at 8:00 PM with an additional 10:30 PM show on Monday, November 26. All shows have a $30.00 cover with $45.00 premium seats. In addition, there is a $25.00 food and beverage minimum. Jackets are suggested but not required. The club is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations and club information, please call (212) 339-4095 or visit us online at and
Richard Skipper,Wayne Gmitter, Peggy Herman, Tommy Tune, Franco LaCosta,Alex Reybeck  at Peggy Herman's CD Release Party at Feinstein's in May 2012 (Directed by Tommy Tune)
Visit the official website of Tommy Tune.        

Thank you Tommy Tune for the gifts you have given to the world and 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!

Do you have any pics to share?
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 Georgia Engel on Hello, Dolly!

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 comment:

  1. Fascinating interview. There they all were with two icons from MGM - Roger Edens and Gene Kelly. Sometimes one regrets, however, that talents clash. It would be interesting to see Gene Kelly's original direction. Thank you for recording this, Richard! Great to read as well, what Tommy Tune is up to and what a shame he lost so much because of Sandy. No one was exempt.