When I was a young girl, my father often had business in New York City. He was an investigator for various government agencies. Often his work was not pleasant, but I think there was something about New York that he liked although he didn’t name it.
One day in 1967, he came home from a trip and said he was taking us all to New York to see Pearl Bailey as Dolly Levi and Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder in the Broadway musical “Hello Dolly.” There was to be what we called then, “an all-black” cast. My mother was so excited. I didn’t really know anything about it then, but I realize now that I got to see something unprecedented and very wonderful.
We drove from Virginia to New York. I saw my dad get pretty tense as he navigated downtown Manhattan. I knew to be quiet. We arrived at an old hotel. Daddy said it was old, but it was clean. Nothing about New York looked clean to my young eyes. The weather was overcast and everything looked gray and brown. I remember we had two adjoining rooms. My sister and I each had a twin bed in a little room with one small window. In the next room, my parents had a double bed. The floors were wide-plank oak and they shone from years of fresh varnish. I knew I should be excited, but really I was more nervous than excited. The city was so noisy; I didn’t know if I’d ever get to sleep.
The next day, we had tickets for the matinee performance. I remember walking with my sister, just ahead of my parents, along a very dirty street. The stench of trash and urine stung my nose. I stopped walking when I saw a man sleeping in a doorway. My dad said, “Just keep walking.” Reluctantly, I did, but I wished the sidewalk were wide enough for me to hold my dad’s other hand. He was walking arm-in-arm with my mother who had her “determined” face on. Her back was straight, her lips pursed, and her hands clasped in front of her. It was confusing to me. Why was she so excited at home and so serious now?
All of that changed when we entered the theater. The overture started and her eyes lit up. A smile crossed her face. Dolly and Horace Vandergelder’s story began, and we were brought into another world. I imagined myself as a character on that stage and wondered what it would be like to fall in love someday with a sweet man like Barnaby, and wear a hat with ribbons down my back. Such dreams. I was such a lucky girl.
Flamboyant Broadway producer David Merrick never was at a loss to find the right publicity stunt that would save or prolong the life of his shows. Even though Hello, Dolly! had been hugely successful since it first opened on January 16, 1964, when receipts began to sag at the box office three years later he decided the musical needed a shot in the arm. His answer to the problem – a Black version with no less than Pearl Bailey as Dolly and Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder, in this musicalization of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker by Jerry Herman. With Emily Yancy as Irene Molloy and Winston DeWitt Hemsley as Barnaby also in the cast, it officially opened to rapturous reviews on November 12, 1967 at the St. James Theatre, where the previous incarnation, starring Betty Grable, had closed three days before. This new version closed on December 27, 1970, bringing the total cumulative Broadway run to 2,844 performances.
Photo and Note from: https://www.masterworksbroadway.com/music/hello-dolly-1967-broadway-cast/
2 thoughts on “New York City, 1967”
I have a fascination with the year 1967 because it is the year that preceded my birth year and the year that my parents were married. Several films I am fond of were either filmed or released in 1967, and one–The Odd Couple–was set in Manhattan. My crush on that year and my love affair with the city leave me impressionable to this piece. You put forth imagery in a highly artistic manner, and you masterfully build up tension, reservation, anticipation, and ultimately, the glory of the experience of a Broadway production whose likes are gone forever. I enjoyed reading this piece.
What a beautiful, beautiful memory.. even though “The stench of trash and urine stung my nose.” Wow. I especially love the chid-thinking, “Why was she so excited at home and so serious now?”
You leave gaps where I want to meet you in your imagination. I’m so there.
.. I’m thankful for this. I’m a 70’s kid, but have no memories, I don’t know why. I try to pick up everything from your tail end of the 60s on up. I appreciate this. 🙂