1962 Yukon Nuggets
It all began in 1959 when the Minister of Indian Affairs, Alvin Hamilton, invited Tom Patterson to visit Dawson City. Then, the gold rush town was a crumbling shadow of its former self.
Yukoners wanted to change that and the feds agreed. Patterson, an impresario who had created the wildly successful Stratford Shakespearean festival, saw the tourist opportunities in the Klondike and recommended a series of measures to bring culture to the Klondike.
Thus began the expansion of Dawson from a ghost town to a tourist mecca. But it would take a long time and oodles of money before any result would be apparent. The federal project to refurbish the town included moving the SS Keno from Whitehorse to Dawson and rebuilding the Palace Grand Theatre.
The Gold Rush Festival Committee was formed to manage local organization of the Festival. The first Dawson City Festival was held in the summer of 1962 and lasted six weeks. The focal piece was a Broadway play. By every measure of the day, the festival was a major flop.
Still, in the summer of '62, a cast of characters, including Bert Lahr, who had become famous around the world for his portrayal of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, descended on Dawson. The play was called "Foxy", and featured all the trite gold rush stuff one could imagine. Greed, grit, gold, girls and great expectations. Music and lyrics were written by the famous songwriter Johnny Mercer, who penned the academy award-winning songs Moon River and That Old Black Magic.
The play ran for seven weeks in the summer of 1962, usually to a nearly empty house, and its producers lost their $400,000 investment. In late 1963, producer David Merrick decided to revive it. The on-Broadway production opened on February 16, 1964, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where it ran for seventy-two performances.
Foxy's failure was due less to critical reaction, which for the most part was favorable, and more to Merrick's lack of interest in the project. Lahr won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Broadway Musical that year. Foxy was one of Broadway's more obscure flops. It was also one of the few Broadway plays whose soundtrack was never recorded until an off-Broadway revival troupe made a CD in 2000, so hardly anyone not in Dawson in 1962 has heard the music.
Foxy didn't put Dawson City on the tourism map. It wasn't because the idea was wrong. It was the timing. Few tourists wanted to drive on highways of mud or dust or take an airplane to reach Dawson City, a town that didn't have any facilities to look after visitors.
But for the glorious summer of 1962, the Klondike hills were alive with the sound of Broadway music.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.