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HELLO, 60TH! By Peter Filichia

So, what does January 16, 2024, mean to musical theater fans?

The 60th anniversary of the Broadway opening of HELLO, DOLLY!

Let’s celebrate with 60 facts, observations and rumors.

1. DOLLY was ostensibly adapted from Thornton Wilder’s 1955 play THE MATCHMAKER, but its true inspiration was the 1958 film version. Both dispensed with the play’s anticlimactic third act.

2. Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, envisioning Ethel Merman as his Dolly, wrote two songs with her in mind. Merman declined, saying that she no longer wanted to do eight shows a week.

3. The original title, DOLLY: A DAMNED EXASPERATING WOMAN, was retained so long that Broadway’s opening night tickets sported it.

4. Rumor: MAME’s “The Man in the Moon” was originally written to be sung by a Harmonia Gardens entertainer.

5. Herman’s melody for “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” was one he’d written earlier as “The Spirit of the Chase Is What It’s All About.”

6. Producer David Merrick asked rival producer Harold Prince to direct. Prince refused, partly because he thought the “Hello, Dolly!” production number was irrelevant. (!) So, Gower Champion became director-choreographer.

7. Champion asked Nanette Fabray to audition for Dolly. She refused, feeling that she, a Tony winner for LOVE LIFE, shouldn’t be put to the test.

8. Champion believed Carol Channing could play Dolly after he saw her in a production of THE MILLIONAIRESS. DOLLY made Channing a multi-millionairess.

9. Eileen Brennan had already appeared in a musical that 1963-64 season: THE STUDENT GYPSY, OR THE PRINCE OF LIEDERKRANZ. Had it run beyond 16 performances, Brennan wouldn’t have been available for Irene Malloy in DOLLY.

10. What a difference two months makes. DOLLY opened on November 16, 1963 in Detroit in such bad condition that Merrick threatened to close it.

11. Charles Strouse and Lee Adams came there and wrote “Before the Parade Passes By.” It wasn’t ultimately used; Herman took the title and wrote his own song.

12. Did Bob Merrill write “Motherhood” and “Elegance”? For the latter, “Hackl are” and “spectac-u-lar” is the type of stretched rhyme that Merrill loved.

13. I asked Herman about this. He hotly denied it. His face showed no signs of lying, but perhaps I missed that he had his fingers crossed.

14. Champion had promised David Burns that his song “A Penny in My Pocket” would end Act One. It brought 106 props onto stage to show how wealthy Horace Vandergelder had become.

15. After “Before the Parade Passes By” replaced it, Burns only had “It Takes Woman” and a reprise of the title song. Is this why he didn’t receive a Tony nomination?

16. After DOLLY opened to six Broadway raves, its original cast album was the nation’s Number One recording for more than a month. Some weeks, FUNNY GIRL was Number Two, but it never surpassed DOLLY.

17. At the 2:52 mark in “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” Channing sings “Er!” too early before she’s supposed to sing “Ermengarde.”

18. In “It Takes a Woman,” after male chorus members sing “femininity,” they shout “F-E-M! I-T-Y!” The abridged spelling remains Dolly’s strangest mystery.

19. On May 9, 1964, The Beatles’ 98-day run of having one of their songs charting at Number One ended when Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s recording of “Hello, Dolly!” landed there.

20. At 63, Armstrong became the oldest artist to have a Number One hit.

21. Mack David — Hal’s older brother — sued because he felt the opening bars of “Hello, Dolly!” were lifted from his 1946 hit “Sunflower.” When Time reported this, it headlined its piece “Sweet Sue,” referencing a 1928 song.

22. Herman settled out of court for $250,000. He maintained his innocence, but felt the suit would hold up the film sale.

23. Channing said that in the 15 years before DOLLY, whenever she walked into a room that had a live orchestra, the bandleader would strike up “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” as a tribute to her GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES song. She was now grateful to hear a different song upon her entrance.

24. If she felt that “Diamonds” had become shopworn in a decade-and-a-half, how did she feel about “Dolly,” which she’d hear orchestras play for the remaining 55 years of her life?

25. The annual Burns Mantle Yearbook: The Best Plays series sported 10 outstanding scripts from each season. Rarely was a musical included, but DOLLY made the 1963-1964 tome.

26. Its DOLLY synopsis included lyrics from “Come and Be My Butterfly” a number originally set in the Harmonia Gardens.  

27. Champion replaced it with a polka contest when Ginger Rogers succeeded Channing in August of 1965.

28. Channing and Rogers had appeared in the 1956 film THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY. Could they have ever imagined that they’d be the first two leading ladies of Broadway’s biggest musical hit?

29. A picture of “Butterfly” graced the back of the cast album’s first edition, set under a picture of Channing in her white curtain-call outfit. The second edition replaced both black-and-white pictures with a much bigger color picture of Channing in her red dress descending the Harmonia Gardens staircase.

30. Aside from Channing, the only performer to be Tony-nominated was Charles Nelson Reilly, who played Cornelius Hackl. Of DOLLY’s 11 Tony nominees, Reilly was the only loser. Jack Cassidy won for SHE LOVES ME, which was really part of the 1962-63 season, for it opened on April 23, 1963. But the Tony deadline in those days was April 15. Had SHE LOVES ME opened nine days earlier, perhaps Reilly would have won.

31. DOLLY’s 10 Tony wins was a record that held for the remainder of the 20th century, surpassed in 2001 by THE PRODUCERS.

32. Shepard Coleman won a Tony as Best Conductor and Musical Director, but Channing felt he was incompetent and demanded that he be replaced. (So said Peter Howard, who’d succeeded him.)

33. Eve Arden played Dolly (in Chicago) for many more performances than she did as Hedda in MOOSE MURDERS.

34. Mary Martin not only played Dolly in London but also Vietnam where she entertained our warring troops. Talk about getting your act together and taking it in the road!

35. Although Channing commanded, “Ambrose, let me hear that tonic chord,” Martin instead sang, “We haven’t missed the train, thank the Lord.” It was already in the published text, suggesting that Herman had had a pentimento.

36. Although in “So Long, Dearie” Channing sang, “I’m gonna learn to dance,” Martin instead sang that “I’m gonna learn to hoochy-kooch.” That makes better sense, for Dolly teaches dance in “Dancing” and thus wouldn’t later say that she plans to learn it.

37. Never before or since has a musical had one entire cast close on a Saturday and open with a completely new one on Monday, as Betty Grable’s company gave way to Pearl Bailey’s in late 1967.

38. Never before during a show’s initial run could consumers buy three separate recordings of a musical: Channing’s, Martin’s and Bailey’s.

39. An overture was added to Bailey’s recording. Some claim it was performed in the show; some say it wasn’t.

40. The least likely Broadway Dolly was Phyllis Diller, a comedian known for acerbic quips. (“I flew an airline so cheap that instead of showing a movie, they put on a high school play.”) Many who saw her said that she excelled, partly because she unexpectedly played it straight.

41. In 1970, Merman finally decided to play Dolly. Herman added the two songs that he’d originally earmarked for her. DOLLY’s “Deluxe Collector’s Edition” offers them: “Love, Look in My Window” and “World, Take Me Back.” (Frankly, what each song says is much covered in “Before the Parade Passes By.”)

42. Merman’s birthday was, coincidentally enough, January 16.

43. Dolly was the second role that Merman and Martin played in first-class productions: Martin toured as Annie Oakley in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN after Merman had originated the role.

44. Merman signed for three months, but remained until the end of 1970, allowing DOLLY to bypass MY FAIR LADY as Broadway’s longest-running Broadway musical.

45. When DOLLY closed after 2,844 performances, Merrick probably assumed that he’d never have a show run longer. But his 42nd STREET racked up 3,486.

46. DOLLY played its entire run at the St. James Theatre. Coincidentally, OKLAHOMA!, once Broadway’s longest-running musical, also played its entire run there.

47. DOLLY’s reign as Broadway’s longest-running musical lasted only nine months; FIDDLER ON THE ROOF surpassed it in 1971.

48. Never has a musical held the title for so brief a time. Chances are no musical will ever again reach the top spot and hold it for less than a year.

49. Funny that DOLLY had its tryouts in Detroit and then Washington, just as FIDDLER would.

50. When Herman wrote “Just Leave Everything to Me” for the film, he didn’t come up with the title out of nowhere. It’s a line in Michael Stewart’s book.

51. Louis Armstrong wasn’t forgotten when DOLLY was filmed; he’s the Harmonia Garden’s bandleader with whom Barbra Streisand harmonizes (delightfully).

52. Laura Benanti played Dolly while a student at Kinnelon (NJ) High School. She was the first recipient of The Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Star Award as Best Actress in a Musical. Even then, people knew.

53. Manhattan once had a restaurant called “Hello, Deli!”

54. In James Kirkwood’s DIARY OF A MAD PLAYWRIGHT, he tells of seeing a sign that said “Jesus Saves Us from Hell” until a graffiti artist changed to it “Jesus, Save Us from HELLO, DOLLY revivals.” Kirkwood saw it the day that his LEGENDS was having its first table-read with two Dollys of yore: Channing and Martin.

55. When the Bette Midler revival won the 2017-2018 Drama Desk Award as Best Musical, Hal Prince was a good enough sport to present the prize. Perhaps he was mollified because he’d produced FIDDLER.

56. “A Penny in My Pocket” made a renaissance in that 2018 revival. David Hyde Pierce did it as a solo in front of the curtain before Act Two began.

57. Midler won a Best Actress in a Musical Tony, but those who followed her had already won two: Donna Murphy (PASSION; THE KING AND I) and Bernadette Peters (SONG AND DANCE; ANNIE GET YOUR GUN).

58. Channing died 55 years after DOLLY’s final Broadway preview: January 15th, 2019.

59. Herman’s Playbill bios in the ‘80s stated that “There is never an evening when somewhere in the world the music and lyrics of Mr. Herman are not being sung by a lady in a red headdress descending a staircase.” Is that still true?

60. Well, the 2008 film WALL•E has Michael Crawford, Cornelius in the DOLLY film, singing “Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

WALL•E takes place in 2805. So, HELLO, DOLLY! is apparently still around 781 years after its 60th anniversary.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.