Charles Strouse on his Involvement with Hello, Dolly!

"The sun 'll come out tomorrow.
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…"

"Gray skies are gonna clear up.
Put on a happy face…"

"Boy the way Glenn Miller played.
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us we had it made.
Those were the days…"

Charles Strouse is a long–standing member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theater Hall of Fame and is one of America's most successful musical theatre composers.
Charles Strouse has had an amazing career and is such a vital part of our rich musical theater history.  The following is from his website. The music of Charles Strouse has touched the life of almost every American in the last half century. There may be no other living composer from America's songbook whose work is as integrated into the popular culture as that of Charles Strouse.
His music has attracted top recording artists such as Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Harry Connick, Jr., Jay–Z, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.
Strouse has written scores for over 30 stage musicals, including 14 for Broadway. He has also composed scores for five Hollywood films, two orchestral works and an opera. He has been inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame. He is a three–time Tony Award winner, a two–time Emmy Award winner, and his cast recordings have earned him two Grammy Awards. His song "Those Were the Days" launched over 200 episodes of All in the Family and continues to reach new generations of television audiences in syndication. With hundreds of productions licensed annually, his musicals Annie and Bye Bye Birdie are among the most popular of all time–produced by regional, amateur and school groups all over the world. That show produced hit songs including Put on a Happy Face, A Lot of Livin' to Do, and the fan anthem We Love You Conrad.

In 1970, Applause, a musical adaptation of All About Eve starring Lauren Bacall, achieved the same honors, earning Strouse his second Tony.
Annie ran on Broadway originally for 2,377 performances and yielded countless productions around the world, Strouse's score included Tomorrow, It's the Hard–Knock Life, You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, and I Don't Need Anything But You.
Charles has also garnered Tony nominations for his Broadway scores of Golden Boy (1966), an adaptation of the Clifford Odetts classic starring Sammy Davis Jr.; Charlie and Algernon (1980), a musical based on the Daniel Keyes novel Flowers for Algernon; Rags (1986), a collaboration with Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein starring opera star Teresa Stratas; and Nick and Nora (1991), a musical based on Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man characters, written with Richard Maltby, Jr. and Arthur Laurents.
Strouse's film scores include Bonnie and Clyde (1967), for which he received a Grammy nomination for Best Original Film Score, There Was a Crooked Man (1970), with Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas, The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), Sidney Lumet's Just Tell Me What You Want, and the animated feature All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989). 
His two biggest stage hits have also been adapted for the screen. Bye Bye Birdie (1963) starred Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann Margaret, Maureen Stapleton and Bobby Rydell, and was recently included in Entertainment Weekly's "Top 40 Best High School Movies." Annie, directed by John Houston and starring Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, and Bernadette Peters was one of the top grossing films of 1982.
Strouse is best known to television audiences for his song Those Were the Days. This concept that was originally devised by series creator Norman Lear as a means of cutting costs, and wound up making television history.
Strouse's other television credits include scores for the television musicals Alice in Wonderland, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day, and Annie–A Royal Adventure.
Four of Charles Strouse's Broadway musicals have been produced for television.

Theater aficionados and insiders have written about and speculated about Charles’ involvement in Hello, Dolly! Charles even has a chapter on it in his autobiography, Put On A Happy Face.  Even though I had read the book, in no way did I desire to plagiarize what Charles had already written although he gave me permission to lift anything from his book. This blog/chapter is solely from our interview.
Charles’ involvement in Hello, Dolly began when he received a phone call from Gower Champion in early November   1963 that Hello, Dolly, which was in its first performances in Detroit, was in trouble. The first thoughts that Charles and his collaborator, Lee Adams, had was “Does Jerry Herman know about this call?” 
Charles Strouse and Lee Adams
Their first concerns were for Jerry. They called Merrick. Looking back, they don’t know why they called him instead of Jerry. It may have had something to do with the fact that Merrick was taking care of the transportation and other details. They said they would love to do it on the one hand but that their only concern was that Jerry desired their help that Jerry was aware that they were coming out to help, that he would like to have their considered opinions and advice, and that was it. That was agreed to and they went to Detroit. The worst thing that happened was that they saw Jerry either in the theater lobby at The Fisher Theater or the hotel lobby. Charles admits that some of these details may get a little tangled in his mind. One thing that Charles remembers clearly is that when Jerry saw them, he turned white. His first words were, “What are you guys doing here?”   

The creative team behind Strouse’s first big Broadway hit, “Bye Bye Birdie” included, from left, director/choreographer Gower Champion, composer Charles Strouse, producer Ed Padula, writer Michael Stewart and lyricist Lee Adams. (Courtesy: Library of Congress)
They said, “Don’t you know that Gower…” He didn’t know anything about this. They were appalled and they said, “We are out of here.” Merrick had assured them that Jerry had been asked about their help and that he agreed. The reason Gower called them was that they had written a number in Birdie that had a lot of choral singing in it. He felt that perhaps that was a specialty of Lee’s and Charles’ and that they could come up with something that would solve the ending of the show, not Act One. Charles is not positive on that fact. Again, Jerry knew nothing about any of this. Charles and Lee said, “Jesus, Jerry! We are on the next train.”
It would take some time to get to this point
Jerry was an old friend of his. Jerry said” As long as you guys are here, why don’t you go see it tonight.” They did go to see it and they saw Michael Stewart and Gower at great length and there was a lot of trouble in the show. It was not the show. Gower was very depressed. There was talk that Gower was in trouble with a girl in the show. He seemed so unlike Gower, who was the most controlled “tight ass” guy Charles had ever known. His brilliance everybody knows about. He was never what one would call an open emotional guy.   There was definitely something bothering him. Charles’ best friend in this production was Peter Howard and Peter was a big gossip. Peter told Charles that this girl in the company was pregnant.
Charles and Lee were staying at this hotel that Merrick provided for them. They had not yet spoken with Jerry about their concerns yet. What transpired next was like a burlesque routine.  In the corridor as they were walking down the hall, Mike opened the door and said to them, “Don’t talk to Gower about anything.” When they got to Gower’s door, the same thing happened and he said, “Don’t talk to Mike about anything.”   
There was real inter quarrels among them. Jerry was not part of this. Everyone was telling them that there were big troubles. The main thing is that Charles and Lee saw the show and liked it very much. They thought that there was something wrong with the ending, indeed. Gower at this point said that he wanted them to stay on and see if they could come up with something. 
Gower was a silent producer on the show as well as a friend of theirs. At his behest, Lee and Charles stayed on and started doing a lot of thinking and working on the show. They came to the conclusion that Gower was wrong. What was wrong with the show was not that it needed a choral number to end the show. Lee was the most perceptive in finding what was needed. Both he and Charles went back to The Matchmaker and read it. 
There WAS something else that was needed at this point and the something else was the phrase, “before the parade passes by” which is in the original text. They explained this entire context as the arc of the play as they saw it to Gower and Gower said, My God! You guys have solved it. Of course, it needs a song. ” Gower asked them to go back to New York and write this song, Before the Parade Passes By, which they did. According to Charles, it was not a great song. It had the same spirit as the present one does. It redid the moment. They rewrote the moment in the show that it became. It became a prelude to Dolly’s speech to Ephraim from the original play. This moment became endemic and important. Emotionally, it became the right landing point for this ending and not what Gower had been envisioning. They told him their idea and came back with the song they wrote. They were now back in New York and sent the song they wrote to Gower with the full belief that Jerry knew all about this and that everybody else knew all about it. It involved a great deal of restructuring that part of the act. That was an important part of their “quarrel” on it. They worked hard on it. It was a creative work so they loved doing it. The show closed in Detroit. They had gotten moderately good reviews. It wasn’t a failure, but it was not a big hit. They opened in Washington the next week. They had done all this work and sent a song that they had worked on, new material, rewrites, and nobody called. It was around Christmas time and they were feeling a little bit left out. Charles especially because at the same time, they had their own show that was in trouble, Golden Boy. They had a lot of trouble getting Sammy Davis Jr. to sign and all that. Charles called Gower in Washington where they were in rehearsal. Mike picked up the phone. Charles wanted to know what was happening. Mike said, “I can’t talk to you, here’s Gower.” Charles thought that was strange. Gower got on the phone. Charles asked, “What happened with all this re-writing we did, the new song, and all?” Gower said, “It’s going in the show.” He wasn’t sure whether or not the song was going in. A lot of restructuring had happened at the end of Act One and a song called Before the Parade Passes By was going into the show in Washington. 

Gower didn’t know if it was their song or Jerry’s. Gower wouldn’t talk to Charles. He said, “I’ve got to go now.” Charles said, “Wait”, but Gower was gone. Charles called Merrick’s office and they pretended to know nothing about what was going on. Lee and Charles at this point were starting to feel over looked. Their feelings were hurt and they had, as far as they knew, no legal right to this material. 
They had not signed anything and did what they did as friends of Mike and Gower and Jerry. Nobody would speak with them. 
Charles tried calling again and Mike, particularly, started to get very irritated with Charles. At that time, Charles was known as “Buddy”. 
A recent pic backstage at Annie
However, on one of the calls, Gower said, “Now, look Mr. Strouse…”, or something like that. Charles said, “Wait a minute. What’s going on?” Charles knew they couldn’t legally do what they were doing but why didn’t someone call them to let them know what was going on? Why didn’t Merrick just send them an ashtray for their efforts? 
(L-R) Michael Feinstein, Lee Adams and Charles Strouse attend the celebration of Charles Strouse's 80th birthday and the release of his new book "Put On A Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir" on June 16, 2008 at The 21 Club in New York.
They have always used that as an example in hindsight. Charles smoked then. Why didn’t Gower, who was co-producer of this show, say, “Thank you, Guys. We are going ahead with all of these things you did.” They were very hurt. If someone had reached out, there never would have been any argument among them, but nobody ever said anything. Finally, Charles asked his lawyer if he had a case. 
She said, “Yes, but I can’t do anything about it because I am Mike’s lawyer, too.” Lee and Charles spoke to another lawyer about it. A telegram was sent to the Dolly company informing them that they could not use the material they had written unless they would let them know in some fashion what was going on.
They were now angry, hurt, and feeling left out. Christmas time added to their feelings. Finally, everything exploded and Gower got furious with Charles.
Gower started referring to him as Mr. Strouse instead of Buddy. 
Lee Adams, Sammy Davis Jr, Charles Strouse, Golden Boy
He wouldn’t even call him Charles. It grew into a real feud between them. Mike suddenly felt that they were trying to take advantage of his work.  The show opened but not until they agreed to give Charles and Lee participation. They never asked for this at the beginning. All they asked for at first was “what was happening?”
They were closed off. Jerry wrote a song based on the rework they had done. It is a wonderful song and better in Charles’ opinion than what he and Lee wrote which was a little more angular. 
They still felt mollified and hurt. Mike and Gower remained serious enemies with Charles and Lee until eight years later. Gower went up to see Applause. They embraced and Gower said, “Why have we been fighting all these years?” Charles said, “I don’t know.” In any case, everything was eventually solved. It was solved with Mike, too. His lover had died and Charles thought, “Oh, f!@k it. I’m just going to write him a note with my sympathies.” He did and Mike responded. They were friends long before Dolly and remained friends after they got over this long hurdle. It took all those years and it became a minor pimple in the history of the theater.  That is basically the story. Jerry is and was a total innocent in these proceedings. Lee and Charles contributed to shaping the show and planting the seed of Before the Parade Passes By.
(l-r): Charles Strouse and Lee Adams
Photo by Videler Photography
They got a good deal in which they got some compensation each week that the show ran. Charles and Lee own part of the song of Before the Parade Passes By.  Lee and Charles did nothing except try and be helpful.
It is hard to gauge the lasting legacy of a show. When Charles was working on Annie, for instance, he never dreamed it would reach the heights it did.
 He had only a moderate hit with It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman also based on a comic strip.

 Although Thornton Wilder was a great writer, The Matchmaker doesn’t excite Charles to the extent that Hello, Dolly does. It is a great musical and the score is fantastic. Jerry is a great man. Jerry was also sued after the success of Hello, Dolly.

Mack David (1912–1993), an Academy Award-nominated composer also known for his compositions for television, sued for infringement of copyright, because the first four bars of Herman's show number, "Hello, Dolly!", were the same as those in the refrain of David's song "Sunflower" from 1948. As he recounts in his memoirs, Herman had never heard "Sunflower" before the lawsuit, and wanted a chance to defend himself in court, but, for the sake of those involved in the show and the potential film, he reluctantly agreed to pay a settlement before the case would have gone to trial.
Charles knew Mack. After this suit opened, Jerry told Charles that he was just going to give him the money. Charles told him he was crazy. It is a phrase of music. You can find repeating phrases in Bach or Mozart and Aaron Copeland. There was no case, but Jerry was making so much money at that time that he told Charles he was just going to pay him and get it out of his system. That is the kind of guy Jerry is. He is very giving. Charles and Lee’s quarrel was NEVER with Jerry. Charles has two thoughts about sharing this story. It sounds as if Charles is saying something about Jerry’s creativity or Jerry’s part in this whole scenario, which, as far as Charles knows, was minimal.
Lee and Charles handed him the title and the place to go. They have been amply rewarded but the most part but at the times felt a major part of their anatomy was being cut off. They never understood the attitude towards them.

Pearl Bailey: A Dolly for the ages
Who could play Dolly today and sell tickets? Beyonce, Christine Ebersole, Linda Lavin; Anne Hathaway is a big name. Carol Channing was a unique anomaly, a product of her time. There is no body like her anymore. She was also a unique choice for Dolly.  It could be played on so many different levels when a good director sees it as a real actor’s piece. There are a lot of elder actresses still working who are not known for musicals. It succeeded as an all black production with Pearl Bailey. Perhaps that’s the way to go. It certainly would be very popular. There are a great number of black female entertainers who would be ideal.   
In Charles’ mind, it would be difficult to erase Gower’s contributions to Hello, Dolly! Dolly’s entrance down those stairs to those singing waiters is one of the greatest moments in musicals. As far as Charles in concerned, it is ingrained in his mind.  
Charles Strouse speaks at the celebration of Charles Strouse's 80th birthday and the release of his new book "Put On A Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir" on June 16, 2008 at The 21 Club in New York.
(June 16, 2008 - Source: Amy Sussman/Getty Images North America)
The experience of putting a show like this together very rarely happens in this way anymore. People are no longer called out of town. Since then, he has been asked for advice a few times when he has a relationship with the authors.
As of this writing, Annie is back on Broadway.  The biggest change that Charles has seen in the industry since his first big hit on Broadway is that most shows are now motivated by a pop rock sound.
That is one of the major changes. It doesn’t have the same emotional appeal. When Charles and Jerry were mounting a new show, they would sit at the piano for producers and play the songs. Today, everything is done in workshops. It has made a great distance between the appeal of musicals.
 In closing, Charles loves Jerry Herman. He has known him for years and thinks he is a great talent.

Thank you Charles Strouse for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

 With grateful XOXOXs ,

Thank you, Ellen Easton for arranging  this!
 Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!

I desire 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!

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 Artistic Director Roger Welch on  Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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

Please join me Monday night at The 28th Annual Bistro Awards at The Gotham Comedy Club at 6PM!

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!
Richard Skipper Celebrates

Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to Bonnie Franklin. May She rest in Peace!
 Bonnie Gail Franklin (January 6, 1944 - March 1, 2013) was an American actress, best known for her leading role in the television series One Day at a Time 


  1. Richard,
    Although my interest in the subject matter of "Richard Skipper Celebrates" is enduring and I'm consistently impressed with your writing and extensive research, I haven't left comments as often as would have been proper. That changes here and now.
    The feature piece on Charles Strouse and the story of his involvement with "Hello, Dolly!" was fascinating and insightful.
    BRAVO, for reminding us that no matter how big or small .e.v.e.r.y. dream requires a collaborative effort, .e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. reaches out for help and .e.v.e.r.y. time friends pull together ... Magic can happen.
    Lee Schiller
    Beverly Hills, California


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