By Joe Ferrelli
Milestone anniversaries are well celebrated throughout our culture and the movie business is no exception. We are constantly treated (or subjected) to 20th, 30th and 50th anniversary screenings of some of our favorite (and some not-so-favorite) films. This week is no exception with 50th anniversary screenings of Hello, Dolly! being held around the U.S..
Hello, Dolly! is a bombastic, woefully miscast, over the top extravaganza that features some great dancing and songs nonetheless. While this cinematic resurrection is surely focused on the force of nature known as Barbra Streisand, this article is meant as a tribute to a little known actor named Danny Lockin, who played the supporting role of Barnaby Tucker on stage and in the film version of Hello, Dolly! In 1977, eight years after the release of Hello, Dolly! Lockin became the victim of a vicious torture-murder for which there was no real justice.
Born in Hawaii on July 13th, 1943, Danny Lockin was an only child whose family moved stateside after the war years. His mother Jean opened a successful dance studio in Omaha. Danny spent much of his childhood at the studio and danced so well that his mother helped create an act for him. In 1959, the family moved to Anaheim where Danny excelled in theater arts. Jean opened another dance studio in Anaheim and Danny procured some small roles in the television shows “My Three Sons,” “Dr Kildaire” and “Father of the Bride.” He also appeared in a Head and Shoulders tv commercial.
In 1966, he auditioned for and won the role of Barnaby in the traveling production of “Hello, Dolly!” He played opposite several Dolly’s including Eve Arden, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers. When a film version was announced, Lockin tried out for Barnaby, the same role he had played on stage, and did some 13 screen tests before director Gene Kelly gave the word that he would get the role.
The production was full of woes, not the least of which was a budget that ballooned to a whopping $25 million. (The film eventually grossed $33 million but was not the big success at the box office that everyone had hoped it would be.) Director Kelly was said to be constantly annoyed with the whole undertaking. Streisand was filled with insecurities as the press reported that she had been miscast. Indeed, it is a bit of a head scratcher that the then 25 year old Streisand had been cast as a middle-aged widow who has lived a full life and reflects on her past glories. As in most of Streisand’s musical vehicles, the choice of male leads is even more of a head scratcher! Here the very non-musical Walter Matthau was cast opposite Streisand and although his “singing” is kept to a minimum, it is often cringe-inducing. Matthau was reported to have said of Streisand that “I have more talent in my smallest fart than she does in her entire body.” Other examples of this strange casting include Babs’ non-musically-inclined co-stars Omar Shariff (Funny Girl) and James Caan (Funny Lady).
Lockin’s performance was one of the film’s small delights. Boyish and charming as the green, innocent, Barnaby Tucker, Lockin particularly shines during the “Dancing” number. Allegedly a novice, Streisand’s Dolly instructs Barnaby on the finer points of dancing. When Barnaby breaks out with a step so advanced and lively after just a few seconds, Streisand ad libs the line “I think he’s been holding out on us!” Another highlight is the number “Elegance” which features Lockin and Michael (“Phantom of the Opera”) Crawford.
In 1969, Lockin married dancer, Cathy Haas and they had a son together. The marriage didn’t last long and Haas left Lockin and took their son Jeremy Daniel with her. After the film was released, Lockin continued to tour with Dolly into the early 1970s. Lockin took to heavy drinking and cocaine usage which definitely affected his professional reputation. In 1974 he moved back to his mother’s house in Anaheim and began working as assistant manager and teacher at her dance studio. The dance studio closed for good in 1977.
On that fateful night of August 21st, 1977, Lockin was booked on “The Gong Show” with fellow dance instructor Billie Jo Conway. The song and dance act they performed to “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” was buoyant and exuberant and won all the judges over. They scored unanimous 10s and Lockin was riding on a high. To celebrate, he had his mother drop him off at The Mug, a gay bar in Garden Grove. He had money for a taxi home so they said their goodbyes. Jean Lockin would never see her son again.
At some point in the evening, Lockin met Mug regular Charles Leslie Hopkins, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran and onetime medical dispatcher for UCI Medical Center. Hopkins took Lockin back to his apartment at the Kona Palms and while we will never know exactly what happened that night, we do know some of the details and the tragic outcome. Hopkins called the police sometime in the early morning to report an intruder had entered his apartment and tried to rob him. When police arrived, they found Lockin dead, in a pool of blood. Lockin had been tortured and had over 100 stab wounds with a majority of the wounds 3 inches deep and with 9 potentially fatal ones. Out of the 100 wounds, 57 of them were postmortem thus, the mutilation continued well after Lockin was already dead.
Police arrested Hopkins and although they found a book with pictures of men being tortured during orgies, with a change in the law before the trial began, the book proved to not be legally admissible during the trial. Even though he had a prior record and was on probation at the time of the murder, Hopkins was sentenced to only four years in prison and was released in just over two years. Many believe that due to the “homosexual nature” of the case and societal prejudice at the time, justice was not served. After being released from prison, Hopkins married. It has been reported that Hopkins “died an unusually slow and painful death from cancer.”
And so with the 50th anniversary screenings, I would encourage everyone to take advantage of seeing Hello, Dolly! on the big screen. In this musical behemoth you can experience Streisand holding one of the longest notes of her career in “Before The Parade Passes By”, a very special guest appearance by Louis Armstrong, and supporting turns by Michael Crawford and Tommy Tune. Do give special attention to the adorable, talented, and largely forgotten, Danny Lockin. If nothing else, it will help keep his memory alive.
(Writer Joe Ferrelli received his Master’s in Critical-Cultural Studies with a minor in Film and for his thesis project, he founded Filmout San Diego: An LGBT Film Festival, which just celebrated its 21st Anniversary. After relocating to NYC, he managed a small East Village cinema, The Pioneer, and performance space The Den of Cin. He has since returned to Buffalo, NY with his longtime husband Tom and appears as a guest speaker for various events at The Screening Room.)