Michael Crawford will never forget dancing with Barbra Streisand in the 1969 musical adaption Hello, Dolly! — or playfully clashing with her over the choreography. “Barbra said to [director] Gene Kelly, ‘He needs to go here. I’ve got to be on that side,'” the 77-year-old actor revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I said, ‘I haven’t got enough time to get there, and you look just the same on this side.’ She said, ‘What a mouth! He looks so innocent.’ She was great — we got on very well.”
It was a light moment in an often tense production that was the most expensive musical ever made at the time. Though no one could sing Jerry Herman’s 1964 Broadway score like Barbra (and she got a Golden Globe nomination for the role), many felt she was miscast as a middle-aged, widowed matchmaker who pursues a “half-millionaire” played by Walter Matthau.
Surprisingly, even Barbra agreed. “I did feel that Dolly was the story of older people and they should hire Elizabeth Taylor to play her,” she once said. Others pined for Tony winner Carol Channing, who originated the role on Broadway. “But when everybody seemed against me,” said Barbra, “I took up the challenge.”
Michael won over dance legend Gene more easily. “Gene got up on a coffee table, did a few steps and invited me on it. I thought, this is the most exciting thing in my life,” he recalled. “He did four or five steps and asked, ‘Can you do that and count to four? If you can count to four, you can dance.'”
A bigger challenge was a grumpy Walter, who was quoted as telling Barbra she didn’t have “the talent of a butterfly’s fart.” She reportedly gifted him with a bar of soap “to wash your mouth out,” and they faked their screen kiss near the end.
“I feel there was a professional rivalry or jealousy,” said Dolly historian Richard Skipper. “She asked for a large trailer because her son Jason [Gould] and nannies were on set, and it was like, ‘Who does she think she is?’ But I think it was all on his end, not on hers.” And the filmmakers had bigger worries.
The 90-day shoot in 1968 that took over Garrison, N.Y., was “so hot, the asphalt on the street was melting and dancers were sinking,” the historian says. The scorching temps caused concern for the 14th Street parade number, the largest ever filmed at that point. Barbra suggested to Gene that the camera rise at the end to view thousands of extras in all their glory.
The film later became profitable on video, and even the stars patched things up. “When I was rehearsing with Barbra for this 2019 concert, we talked about it, and she said, ‘I don’t know — we just didn’t get on, but later Walter and his wife and I were as close as can be. We became the best of friends,'” Michael tells Closer. As for Barbra, like Dolly she’s still glowin’, she’s still crowin’, she’s still goin’ strong.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hello, Dolly!, Fathom Events and TCM are hosting screenings in select theaters on August 11 and 14. For tickets, visit here.
For more on your favorite celebs, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!