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Musical Matchmaker: Remembering “Hello, Dolly!” on its 50th Anniversary

December 30, 2019 - 3:54 pm   |   by

Hello, Dolly! is a well-dressed dinosaur.” — Matthew Kennedy, author of Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of Hello, Dolly!, the Oscar-winning cinematic adaptation of the Broadway stage musical which starred Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl, Yentl) as singing matchmaker Dolly Levi.

Hello, Dolly! — directed by Gene Kelly (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain) and which also starred Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple, The Bad News Bears) and Michael Crawford (Condorman, The Phantom of the Opera stage production) — opened 50 years ago this month. For the occasion, The Bits features an historical reference listing of the film’s major-market roadshow engagements and a Q&A with film historian Matthew Kennedy, who discusses the film’s virtues, shortcomings and legacy. [Read on here...]

Hello Dolly 70mm film frame

 

THE ROADSHOW ENGAGEMENTS

What follows, for historical record and nostalgia, is a chronological reference listing of the North American first run “hard ticket” roadshow engagements of Hello, Dolly! These were special long-running, showcase presentations in major cities prior to the film being exhibited as a general release, and they featured advanced admission pricing, reserved seating, an overture/intermission/entr’acte/exit music, and an average of only ten scheduled screenings per week. Souvenir program booklet were sold, as well.

Out of the hundreds of films released during 1969, Hello, Dolly! was among only seven given the deluxe roadshow treatment.

Many of the roadshow presentations of Hello, Dolly! were presented in 70-millimeter and offered a superior projection and sound experience. All of the film’s roadshow presentations are believed to have been presented with stereophonic sound (4-track for 35mm and 6-track for 70mm).

The film’s anniversary offers an opportunity to namedrop some famous and once-glorious cinemas, to provide some nostalgia for those who saw the film during this phase of its original release, and to reflect on how the film industry has evolved the manner in which event and prestige films are exhibited.

Hello Dolly newspaper ad

Premiere date YYYY-MM-DD … City — Cinema (duration in weeks)

  • 1969-12-16 … New York, NY — Rivoli (34)
  • 1969-12-17 … Atlanta, GA — Grand (18)
  • 1969-12-17 … Baltimore, MD — New (23)
  • 1969-12-17 … Buffalo, NY — Century (20)
  • 1969-12-17 … Calgary, AB — Chinook (20)
  • 1969-12-17 … Cincinnati, OH — International 70 (31)
  • 1969-12-17 … Cleveland (Cleveland Heights), OH — Severance (18)
  • 1969-12-17 … Cleveland (North Olmsted), OH — Great Northern (22)
  • 1969-12-17 … Columbus (Whitehall), OH — Cinema East (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Dallas, TX — Cine 150 (19)
  • 1969-12-17 … Denver, CO — Continental (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Detroit (Southfield), MI — Americana (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Edmonton, AB — Westmount (20)
  • 1969-12-17 … Fort Lauderdale, FL — Gateway (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Fort Worth, TX — 7th Street (15)
  • 1969-12-17 … Honolulu, HI — Cinerama (23)
  • 1969-12-17 … Houston, TX — Alabama (19)
  • 1969-12-17 … Indianapolis, IN — Circle (37)
  • 1969-12-17 … Kansas City (Overland Park, KS), MO — Glenwood II (43)
  • 1969-12-17 … Louisville, KY — United Artists (16)
  • 1969-12-17 … Memphis, TN — Paramount (20)
  • 1969-12-17 … Miami (Miami Beach), FL — Beach (29)
  • 1969-12-17 … Milwaukee, WI — Strand (28)
  • 1969-12-17 … Montreal, QC — Westmount (23)
  • 1969-12-17 … New Haven (Hamden), CT — Cinemart (35)
  • 1969-12-17 … New Orleans, LA — Saenger-Orleans (22)
  • 1969-12-17 … Oakland, CA — Century 21 (22)
  • 1969-12-17 … Oklahoma City, OK — Tower (22)
  • 1969-12-17 … Omaha, NE — Dundee (36)
  • 1969-12-17 … Orlando (Winter Park), FL — Park East (23)
  • 1969-12-17 … Pittsburgh, PA — Warner (28)
  • 1969-12-17 … Sacramento, CA — Century 22 (22)
  • 1969-12-17 … Saint Louis, MO — Ambassador (33)
  • 1969-12-17 … Saint Petersburg, FL — Crossroads (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Salt Lake City (South Salt Lake), UT — Century 21 (20)
  • 1969-12-17 … San Antonio, TX — Broadway (15)
  • 1969-12-17 … San Francisco, CA — Cinema 21 (26)
  • 1969-12-17 … San Jose, CA — Century 24 (28)
  • 1969-12-17 … Syracuse (DeWitt), NY — Shoppingtown I (19)
  • 1969-12-17 … Toronto, ON — Eglinton (27)
  • 1969-12-17 … Tulsa, OK — Continental (12+)
  • 1969-12-17 … Vancouver, BC — Ridge (20)

Hello Dolly roadshow program

  • 1969-12-18 … Albany (Colonie), NY — Center (18)
  • 1969-12-18 … Des Moines, IA — Riviera (19)
  • 1969-12-18 … Washington, DC — Warner (23)
  • 1969-12-19 … Los Angeles, CA — Chinese (40)
  • 1969-12-19 … Minneapolis, MN — Academy (28)
  • 1969-12-20 … Rochester, NY — Monroe (26)
  • 1969-12-20 … San Diego, CA — College (23)
  • 1970-02-04 … Hamilton, ON — Century (12)
  • 1970-02-04 … Ottawa, ON — Nelson (14)
  • 1970-02-04 … Portland, OR — Fox (21)
  • 1970-02-11 … Las Vegas, NV — Parkway (15)
  • 1970-02-11 … Phoenix, AZ — Palms (23)
  • 1970-02-11 … Seattle, WA — 5th Avenue (20)
  • 1970-02-11 … Tucson, AZ — Showcase (15)
  • 1970-02-18 … Dayton, OH — Dayton Mall (14)
  • 1970-02-18 … Newark (Wayne), NJ — Willowbrook (23)
  • 1970-02-26 … London, ON — Park (11)
  • 1970-03-04 … Winnipeg, MB — Northstar I (6)
  • 1970-03-06 … Birmingham, AL — Ritz (8+)
  • 1970-03-06 … Knoxville, TN — Park (15)
  • 1970-03-10 … Boston, MA — Saxon (15)
  • 1970-03-10 … Hartford (West Hartford), CT — Elm (20)
  • 1970-03-11 … Akron (Fairlawn), OH — Village (26)
  • 1970-03-11 … Providence (East Providence), RI — Four Seasons I (8+)
  • 1970-03-11 … Worcester (Shrewsbury), MA — White City (8+)

Hello Dolly roadshow tickets

  • 1970-03-12 … Charlotte, NC — Carolina (16)
  • 1970-03-13 … Jacksonville, FL — Florida (8+)
  • 1970-03-25 … Philadelphia, PA — Randolph (28)
  • 1970-03-26 … Woodbury, NY — Cinema 150 (21)
  • 1970-04-17 … Winnipeg, MB — Northstar II (m/o from Northstar I, 5 [11])
  • 1970-04-22 … Atlanta, GA — Tara (m/o from Grand, 9 [27])
  • 1970-04-29 … Des Moines, IA — River Hills (m/o from Riviera, 5 [24])
  • 1970-05-13 … Reno, NV — Century 21 (5)
  • 1970-05-20 … Norfolk, VA — Riverview (8+)
  • 1970-05-27 … Fort Wayne, IN — Jefferson (8+)
  • 1970-05-27 … Orange, CA — Cinedome 21 (20)
  • 1970-05-27 … Portland (Westbrook), ME — Cinema I (8+)
  • 1970-05-27 … Richmond, VA — Westhampton (11)
  • 1970-05-27 … Springfield (West Springfield), MA — Paris (9)
  • 1970-05-27 … Washington, DC — Uptown (m/o from Warner, 17 [40])
  • 1970-07-03 … Montreal, QC — Imperial (23) [Version Francaise]

The engagements cited here represent only a fraction of the thousands of total bookings throughout the many cycles of distribution over the course of the film’s release. As well, this work does not include any general, international or re-release engagements.

Hello Dolly opening titles

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THE Q&A

Matthew Kennedy is the author of Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Matthew Kennedy

Matthew is a writer, film historian, and anthropologist living in Oakland, and his other books include Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), Edmund Goulding’s Dark Victory: Hollywood’s Genius Bad Boy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), and Marie Dressler: A Biography (McFarland, 1999). His articles have appeared in the program books of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. He is film and book critic for the respected Bright Lights Film Journal and has hosted retrospectives based on his books at the Pacific Film Archive, UCLA Film Archive, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Kennedy kindly spoke to The Bits about the appeal and legacy of Hello, Dolly!

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think Hello, Dolly! should be remembered on its golden anniversary?

Matthew Kennedy: Fifty years hence, it’s more obvious than ever Hello, Dolly! is a well-dressed dinosaur. It’s a very, very big production of a smash Broadway musical steeped in old-fashioned songwriting and storytelling. It should be remembered as a marvelous entertainment, provided you go in with no expectations. It’s a true popcorn movie.

Coate: In what way is Hello, Dolly! a significant motion picture?

Kennedy: It’s more significant historically than aesthetically. It comes at the end of a string of musicals at Twentieth Century-Fox that changed the industry. First came The Sound of Music in 1965, a hit of unprecedented magnitude. Fox then green lit a string of roadshow musicals all designed to build on Music’s triumph. First came Doctor Dolittle, then came Star! Do I need to mention they were both ugly high profile bombs? Then came Dolly!, and Fox executives were understandably nervous. The production cost many times more than The Sound of Music, and public taste had veered away from family musicals by the time Dolly! was unveiled in 1969. It proved to be a qualified hit. Had its expenses not been stratospheric, it would have made lots of money on its first run. Its modest profits came years later, and meanwhile it became the last of the truly big star-centered musical film extravaganzas.

hellodolly 01

Coate: Which are the standout songs?

Kennedy: The title song, of course, which was recorded by just about everyone back in the day, and Before the Parade Passes By. Incidentally, there’s the most appalling glitch at the beginning of Parade. The prerecorded soundtrack and Streisand’s auto lip synching are way off. It’s pretty obvious, and surprising it wasn’t reshot. It’s especially odd considering the number that follows, with its vast recreation of New York’s Fourteenth Street of 1890, is probably the most elaborate and expensive production number in musical history.

The score is full of hummable, pleasant ditties: It Takes a Woman, Elegance, and Ribbons Down My Back. The tender love song It Only Takes a Moment and Put On Your Sunday Clothes are used to good effect in the 2008 dystopian animated feature WALL-E.

Coate: Did being initially exhibited as a reserved-seat roadshow attraction help or hurt the film?

Kennedy: No doubt it helped the film. Releasing Hello, Dolly! as a roadshow was the right and wise thing to do, considering its expense and place in the moviegoing market. The roadshow format gave any film a sense of importance and increased anticipation. It was the studios’ way of saying, “Pay attention to this movie!” (By the late 1960s, the studio roadshow subtext was, “This movie cost a bundle to make, and we sure hope to recoup!”)

Coate: How do you think the film compares to the original stage production and other source material?

Kennedy: The story has a long history, but Dolly! was most directly based on The Matchmaker, a 1954 Thornton Wilder non-musical play about a meddlesome but lovable middle aged widow who “arranges things.” The 1958 film version starring Shirley Booth is instructive. It’s a modest film that fits its modest story. The original Broadway musical of 1964 famously starred Carol Channing, and was given a much splashier treatment. It then became the role to play by musical comedy stars of a certain age, essayed by Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Pearl Bailey, Eve Arden, Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, and Phyllis Diller, among others. But when it came time to make the movie, all those age appropriate Dollys were sent packing in favor of the hotter than hot young superstar Streisand. Dolly! on film gives new meaning to the term “over produced.” How anyone thought throwing $25 million at Hello, Dolly! was a good idea is beyond me. (The Sound of Music cost $8 million.)

Coate: In what way was Gene Kelly an ideal choice to direct?

Kennedy: Gene Kelly’s credentials as dancer and choreographer are, of course, impeccable, and placed him at the absolute top of his profession. But may I address the question of how he was not an ideal choice? His directing career is problematic, at least in taking on a project of Hello, Dolly!’s gargantuan scale. He has just four musical film directing credits between 1949 and 1956, including On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, both co-directed by Stanley Donen. The era, circumstances, and expectations for Hello, Dolly! were entirely different. Hollywood was a changed place in 1969, and Kelly’s heyday had long passed. He and Streisand sparred and he was reportedly a real SOB on the set.

Hello Dolly screenshot

Coate: Where do you think Hello, Dolly! ranks among Streisand’s body of work?

Kennedy: She’s undeniably entertaining here, but her performance is ill conceived. Hello, Dolly! was her second film, after her stunning musical debut in Funny Girl. She made another musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, in 1970, and another, Yentl, much later. It’s hard for me to get around her gross miscasting. She was twenty-six during production. Twenty-six! How old was Dolly when her husband died? Eighteen? Even so, she’s sassy and brassy and dominates her every moment on screen, searching for a character that eludes her. Kelly apparently gave her too little guidance. But she sure does excel vocally. Her voice has hardly ever been better than here.

Coate: Where do you think Hello, Dolly! ranks among 1960s musicals and roadshows?

Kennedy: I put it in the middle ground. It fits snugly in the rather faithful adaptations of stage musical hits such as The Music Man, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Camelot, and Oliver! It’s further afield from the less faithful adaptations, such as Finian’s Rainbow and Paint Your Wagon. In the end, I like Hello, Dolly! It’s tuneful, opulent, and has some great dancing and choreography. It goes down very easily. But with such a mammoth commitment of time, money, and talent, I’m left wanting more.

Coate: What is the legacy of Hello, Dolly!?

Kennedy: It preserves one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. It offers a graphic lesson in stage to film adaptation. It falls squarely in the “They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore!” category. And it’s one of the last times Hollywood had faith that tuneful sugarcoated nostalgia could sweep its audiences into deliriums of happiness.

Coate: Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your thoughts about Hello, Dolly! on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

--END--

 

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy Chenault Productions, Robert Morrow collection, 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

hellodolly 02

SPECIAL THANKS

Raymond Caple, Matthew Kennedy, Bill Kretzel, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, Robert Morrow, Jim Perry, Joel Weide, Vince Young, and an extra special thank-you to all of the librarians who helped with this project.

-Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

Hello Dolly (Blu-ray Disc)