Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January 6

Frat boys: January, 2016
A return to campus
Part II

The Gay, Gay Back Story
Of  “Hello, Dolly!

There’s a stereotype that gay guys gather around a piano and sing show tunes (you know who you are). Well, it turns out that some Broadway shows are gayer than others, and “gay” just drips off “Hello, Dolly!” at every turn. Here’s why.

Twenty-three-year-old gay English playwright John Oxenford (1812-1877) wrote a one-act farce called “A Day Well Spent” (1835), which was developed into a full length play titled “Einen Jux will er sich machen” (He'll have a grand old time) by gay Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy in 1842.

Nearly 100 years later gay American playwright Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) adapted Nestroy’s version into a comedy set in 1880s Yonkers, NY, titled “The Merchant of Yonkers”, which opened in1938 on Broadway with direction by Max Reinhardt. It told the story of a certain Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy businessman, who was looking for a wife. The production was a dismal failure, running for fewer than 40 performances. However, Wilder extensively tweaked the play and re-christened it “The Matchmaker” for the 1954 Edinburgh Festival. Ruth Gordon had been cast to play the character Dolly Levi, and Wilder expanded the part for her. Horace Vandergelder was no longer the lead character.

Success at last. A London West End run followed in November of that year, and Gordon headlined both productions, to glowing reviews.

An American production of “The Matchmaker” opened in 1955, again featuring Ruth Gordon in the role of Dolly Levi (486 Broadway performances). Gordon won a Tony Award for her Broadway portrayal.

Then Shirley Booth (right) headlined the classic black and white 1958 motion picture version that co-starred Anthony Perkins (gay), Shirley MacLaine, Robert Morse and Paul Ford.

The play reached even greater heights as it evolved into the Jerry Herman (gay) - Michael Stewart (gay) 1964 musical “Hello, Dolly!” (2,844 performances, 10 Tony Awards), which became a major vehicle for Carol Channing as Dolly. The role had been written for Ethel Merman, but she turned it down (although she later played Dolly Levi on Broadway for nine months in 1970). There was scarcely an American alive who could not hum the title tune from “Hello, Dolly!” in the mid 1960s, although few knew that the musical had its genesis in England in 1835. A 1969 film version of the musical starred a hugely miscast Barbra Streisand (adored by gays). Royalties from this musical allowed Wilder to live like a prince until his death at age 78.

The rest of the story: By the time Thornton Wilder died, he had been awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1952), the first-ever Presidential Medal of Freedom (1962), and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature (1968).

However, Wilder’s sexual orientation had hindered his career as a novelist. He started out as a novelist, writing “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) and “The Ides of March”. When Orville Prestcott, the literary critic of the NY Times, found out that Wilder was gay, he refused to allow Wilder's books to be reviewed, pretty much squelching Wilder’s livelihood as a novelist.  He had to switch to a career as a playwright, because without a NY Times review, a book wouldn't sell. However, the theater critics at the NY Times didn't care about Wilder’s homosexuality, so his success as a playwright was unobstructed. “Our Town” (Pulitzer Prize), his best known drama, was the single most performed American play for a 50-year period after its first staging in 1938; it has since been translated into 30 languages.


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  2. # 5
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  3. # 22
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