Today, June 11, Carnegie Hall celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the CBS television special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, featuring Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett. To commemorate this occasion, we reached out to several people involved in the original production, including Ms. Burnett, Ken Welch (who co-wrote the special with Mike Nichols and was responsible for most of the musical material), and Randy Doney and George Reeder (two of the 20 "Gentlemen of the Ensemble" that sang and danced the three big production numbers with Julie and Carol).
Their recollections help tell the story of the special's creation from the other side of the camera, from its genesis through to the night of the taping on March 5, 1962.
According to Ken Welch, the idea for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall had its beginnings with the existential crisis faced by Carnegie Hall at that time.
KEN WELCH: In the late '50s, there was a question about Carnegie Hall's survival, and Bob Banner, producer of The Garry Moore Show, was among those approached about what could be done to save the Hall. At that time, Carol was a regular on Garry's show, Irwin Kostal [musical director for Julie and Carol] was the arranger-conductor, Ernie Flatt [who choreographed Julie and Carol] was the choreographer, and I had just been hired to write the special musical material, replacing Ed Scott.
On my first week on the show, the special guest was Julie Andrews, who was appearing on Broadway in The Boy Friend. For the finale of the show, I did a cowgirl-cowboy treatment of "Big D"—a song by Frank Loesser from the Broadway show The Most Happy Fella—for Carol and Julie and the male singers and dancers. I remember walking Carol and Julie into the rehearsal hall for the first rehearsal of "Big D" and noting how alike they were, thinking, "We should do a show for the two of them as sisters who were separated and grew up on two different sides of the Atlantic." It's a show we never did.
In any case, the finale of "Big D" was a big success, the audience gave it a standing ovation, and I think the relation that developed between them gave Bob the idea of putting Carol and Julie together in a Carnegie Hall special, using some of us from The Garry Moore Show staff to write and arrange and choreograph. So I wrote an opening number for the two of them, "Did They Save Carnegie Hall For Us?" [But in the] meantime, the Hall was saved, so my opening was inappropriate.
Carol Burnett, Julie Andrews, and the "Gentlemen of the Ensemble" perform "Big D." Video clip courtesy of Bob Banner & Associates.
As Carol Burnett noted in her memoir This Time Together, the executives at CBS weren't exactly enthusiastic about the idea of the special at first. Although Carol had been a regular on the popular CBS variety program The Garry Moore Show beginning in 1959, she wasn't necessarily a proven audience draw on her own yet. As for Julie, CBS was even more nervous about her, considering her mostly Broadway-centric credits at the time. "Nobody knows Julie Andrews west of New Jersey," they remarked.
Happily, fate intervened in a moment that couldn't have been more appropriate (or funnier) if it had been scripted by Ken Welch and Mike Nichols—later better known as the director of films like The Graduate and Catch-22. Following a luncheon with two CBS executives at which Carol teased them about rejecting the idea of her and Julie at Carnegie Hall, she went outside to find pouring rain. One of the men offered to help her find a cab, but Carol told them not to worry and go ahead. "Somebody in a truck will pull up and I'll hitch a ride." No sooner were the words out of her mouth when a beer truck pulled up. The burly driver leaned out the window and said, "Hey Carol! Me and the missus watch you all the time on Garry! Need a lift?" The two CBS execs helped her into the truck in stunned disbelief. When Carol got home to her apartment, the phone was ringing; it was CBS calling to tell her she'd gotten the show.
As the date for the taping drew closer, arrangements came together for the special. Dancer Randy Doney, who was working on Broadway at the time in Camelot—starring Julie Andrews—remembered auditioning for Julie and Carol choreographer Ernie Flatt. "Two friends took me to the audition," recalled Doney. "Only I was lucky enough to get the job. We rehearsed at the CBS rehearsal complex on 57th Street. Julie had no influence of me getting on the TV special. We weren't chummy in Camelot, as she was the star and I in the chorus."
Because of Carnegie Hall's busy schedule, the crew for Julie and Carol weren't able to get into the Hall to rehearse until late in the afternoon of March 4, following the New York Philharmonic's regular Sunday afternoon concert and radio broadcast. The entire day of March 5 was blocked out for the final rehearsal and taping. Set designer Charles Lisanby covered the wooden stage floor with the same light gray tiles used in the television studio to help the large, heavy television cameras to move more easily and quietly.
Julie and Carol would do all of their costume changes behind screens at the extreme corners of the stage, since the Hall's awkward backstage area of that day would have meant a circuitous trip down four narrow steps to leave the stage, then up a full flight to the dressing rooms. If the 20-member male dance ensemble that would accompany Julie and Carol had any reservations about executing their moves on a concert stage with no wing space and little rehearsal, they were dispelled by their confidence in Ernie Flatt's highly accomplished choreography. Dancer George Reeder noted that Flatt had planned his routines for Carnegie Hall "down to the inch."
One of the several commercials for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall's sponsor Lipton's Tea, that aired during the broadcast. Video clip courtesy of Bob Banner & Associates.
Rehearsal pass for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Program pages for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of the story.
Related: Hall History