Fold Eyewear

At first the priority was not dealing with a possible miscasting but finding good locations

At first the priority was not dealing with a possible miscasting but finding good locations

The story takes place in 1890s Yonkers and New York City. Needless to say, to use the real NYC for any exterior sets would have been a challenge–the city was a crime-ridden, garbage-piled, urban nightmare headed for near-bankruptcy. The film’s producers decided to transform the upstate town of Garrison, New York, into a turn of the century Yonkers. The grounds of West Point military academy were also used. “New York City” scenes were filmed on the studio lot in Los Angeles. Big-spending Twentieth Century Fox reportedly funneled $2 million into re-creating historic Fifth Avenue in L.A.

Publicity photo of Walter Matthau in Broadway play “Fancy Meeting You Again.” In his career he won two Tony Awards and one Academy Award.

Nearby Yonkers was not much better

Once filming began, it didn’t take long for Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand, who were separated in age by 22 years, to start arguing. Streisand was known for requesting retakes on Funny Girl, and when she started doing it on Hello, Dolly!, Matthau, who had just won an Oscar for The Fortune Cookie, was annoyed and then outraged. He called her “Miss Ptomaine.” As things deteriorated further, he refused to be in the same room with the actress who was supposed to be his love interest, except when they were filming a scene.

“I have more talent in my smallest fart than she does in her entire body,” Matthau was quoted as saying.

And that was not all. Matthau also said, “The trouble with Barbra is that she became a star long before she became an actress. Which is a pity, because if she learned her trade properly, she might become a competent actress instead of a freak attraction–like a boa constrictor.”

As for Streisand, she loathed him just as much, calling him “old sewer mouth.” When it came time for the two to kiss at their wedding, Matthau refused to do it, and a variety of camera angles were used to create the impression that their lips touched without actually meeting.

No less a writer than Nora Ephron, profiling Streisand for Good Housekeeping magazine, reported on the personality clashes, and took Streisand’s side

Wrote Ephron: “People who worked on Hello, Dolly! insisted that Matthau was to blame for the difficulty. ‘It’s a very simple story,’ said a friend of mine who was there. ‘She’s twenty-six years old and she’s the biggest star in town. Can you imagine how a big spoiled crybaby like Matthau reacts to playing second fiddle to that?’ Matthau reportedly became so upset he went to complain to Richard Zanuck, the head of 20th Century-Fox. ‘Do I need a heart attack?’ asked Matthau. ‘Do I need an ulcer?’ Zanuck listened politely until Matthau finished whining. ‘I’d like to help you out,’ he replied, ‘but the film is not called Hello, Walter.’ ”

Like a stomach virus aboard a cruise liner, the strife kept spreading on the set of Hello, Dolly! Streisand didn’t get along with director Gene Kelly either, and they argued throughout filming. The screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, said Streisand and Kelly were not “meant to communicate on this Earth.” It seems that choreographer Michael Kidd had problems with not only Gene Kelly but the film’s costume designer and wouldn’t communicate with the latter.

One of Barbra Streisand’s extravagant costumes. The dress and purse from “Hello, Dolly!” at the Debbie Reynolds Auction Breaks Up Historic Hollywood Collection (The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles).Author: Doug Kline CC BY 2.0

Walter Matthau turned against another of his co-stars, Michael Crawford, who would find fame later as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, over a bet. On a break from filming, Matthau and Crawford visited the horse races nearby and saw a horse named Hello Dolly. Matthau refused to place a bet on it because of his hatred for Streisand. Crawford did–and the horse won. Matthau would not speak to Crawford for the rest of the shoot unless he had to.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart