The Solo Cup Company, located in Urbana, Illinois, is quite possibly the world's leading manufacturer of plastic cups and plates. In fact, it is likely that if at any given time all the Solo cups in use were to suddenly disappear, literally millions of innocent folks would find themselves with a lapful of liquid. Fortunately, the cups are quite sturdy, and any cup-disappearing scenario must be considered pure fiction.
In addition to making plastic into cups, for at least 20 years Solo made plastic into phonograph records, namely the records of Miss Dora Hall. Dora was an unforgettable entertainer--an elderly woman who loved to dress up in hobo's clothing, or in a bright plaid suit and tie, and sing the songs of yesteryear (as well as '60s hits like "Satisfaction" and "Daydream." Solo, in what must be considered the greatest act of corporate generosity of all time, distributed the records, tapes, and videocassettes of Dora Hall for the asking--even sometimes to those who hadn't asked.
Dora's finest hour was surely her first television special, the immortal "Once Upon A Tour". If you can track down a copy of the "Once Upon a Tour" video or LP, you are in for a treat! Dora is joined by Frank Sinatra Jr., Oliver, Phil Harris, Rosey Grier, and Rich Little in a 1-hour special that is out of this world. A pair of female twins dressed in yellow lingerie dance in a yellow room with balloons while Dora and the gang sing a medley of songs with "street" in their titles. Phil Harris performs "Six Days on the Road" in front of a grainy old Drivers' Education film. Rich Little sings "Rocky Raccoon". The great Frank Sinatra Jr. does a cute little hop while performing "Happy Together". Dora puts on a glitzy men's suit and sings an old show tune in front of a weird psychedelic backdrop (it looks like the inside of a defective kaleidoscope). Oliver sings "I Can Remember" while two women sitting on race cars flare their nostrils, occasionally interrupted by stock footage of a drag race. You must see this film! An edited, 30-minute version that lacks many of the key scenes also made the rounds.
Dora's numerous LP's and 45's are further testament to her perserverence and love of for the world of show business. The soundtrack to "Dora's World," a semi-autobiographical TV special, features a track called "Poor Dora" which is performed by the entire cast and is a testimonial to the love that her co-stars had for her:
"Dora's on a bummer and she's all uptight
We've gotta help her keep her head together ...
We've gotta think of something groovy
That will blow her mind
What can we do to help poor Dora?"
(from "Poor Dora" by Kaniger/Peyton, Ranbo Pub., BMI)
In 1989, I had a chance to speak with HAL BELFER, the producer of Dora's many television specials (including "Once Upon a Tour") and at that time, an employee of Solo Cups' now-defunct subsidiary, Premore, Inc. In this interview, Mr. Belfer talks about working with the great Dora Hall, as well as about the superiority of the Solo product. It was a pleasure to speak to Mr. Belfer, a gentleman whose pre-Dora credits include choreography for many motion pictures as well as a stint as director of most of the U.S.-produced Scopitone music jukebox films of the 1960's. Hal Belfer passed away in 1999 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
GT: It sure is neat the way Solo Cups makes Dora's albums and videos available to anyone who's interested, just for the price of a package of cups. Would it be possible to interview Dora Hall? These days there just aren't too many people willing to give away something of high quality for free. It's nice.
Hal Belfer: Well good, we're very very happy to hear that. I'm with Premore here in North Hollywood, we're a subsidiary of the Solo Cup Company
Hal Belfer: ... and it just happens that I produced all of her specials.
GT: I saw your name on the credits.
Hal Belfer: Yes, and if there's any information that I can give direct, I'd be more than happy to do so. Whatever I can fill you in on.
GT: OK, is Dora still performing?
Hal Belfer: No, she's not performing now, because actually, uh, we lost her, last May. (1988)
GT: Oh no, that's terrible!
Hal Belfer: It is terrible because she was just a terribly bright, wonderful kind of person that was just beautiful, in every show that I did with her, very unique. A unique and special person.
GT: Oh yeah, she did all types of music
Hal Belfer: Have you seen some of the production numbers that--you do have the cassettes, don't you?
GT: Well, I've seen "Once Upon a Tour," "Secret Sleuth," and "Cameo Music Hall". I'm working on getting the whole collection.
Hal Belfer: Well, let me suggest, that "Once Upon a Tour" was a most interesting type of show because it was actually her first MAJOR television show. And we went ahead and made it, and people really didn't know who Dora Hall was. We knew she was a very very bright and talented artist. I had to come up with a story about her, and as you know, the story in "Once Upon A Tour" was the little lady that wanted to save her pennies and all she ever wanted to do was take the bus ride and come to the town and go on one of those studio tours. It was actually shot at NBC at that time, and we went through, into the various areas, I remember the prop department, the wardrobe department, and that was the idea. And some of the folks in it were people that I had worked in through my days with the "Colgate Comedy Hour" where I knew Ben Blue, and Ben Blue and that glee club is a classic, by the way...
GT: And Phil Harris.
Hal Belfer: Phil Harris, that I had known back from the Jack Benny days. And Frank Sinatra Jr., I had worked with his dad on some things, and since that time we've done several things with Frank Jr.
GT: Oh, he's great, I've got all his records
Hal Belfer: He's just wonderful. As you know, he's conducting some of the orchestra for his dad right now, in Vegas.
GT: I saw him recently on a commercial with his dad, for Michelob Beer.
Hal Belfer: Yeah, I was very very happy to hear that, because I'm personally very fond of Frank Jr., and I worked with his father, you might recall a picture called "Meet Danny Wilson," Shelley Winters I think was the gal opposite him, and we made it at Universal. That was kind of a tough time for Frank Sr., at that time, I believe And then we had our dancing boys and girls in"Once Upon a Tour," and just for your information let me see if I can--there was "Once Upon a Tour," the first one. I believe that "Dora's World" was the second one, and that -- we got a couple of very good writers on that. That was done by Norman Panama, whose name may sound familiar to you, the writer, Norman Panama, and Al Lewin. And by the way, "Once Upon a Tour" was written by Herb Baker. The reasons I had selected Herb Baker to do that, you might recall Herb Baker's mother was Belle Baker, does Belle Baker mean something to you?
GT: No, I'm afraid not.
Hal Belfer: Well, you might take a look, she was an entertainer, and I just thought that he would be sensitive to what we're doing here, and he was. Absolutely the right man to get, at that time he was doing the shows with Flip Wilson at NBC, that was with Bob Henry Productions, and I was very fortunate to get Herb. All the production people that you see, behind the scenes in the productions, are just top people. In fact, the first show, "Once Upon a Tour" was directed by Norman Abbott, and then we went back to do some pickup shots, there was a young man that was just coming up the ladder, coming up quickly, and we were lucky enough to get him, and we believed in him, and that was Marty Prasetta. Marty Prasetta as you know has done many of the Academy Award shows since then, etc. And we had Jean Louis, and Allan Ferguson did the charts, all of them were just top people.
GT: Well, it certainly shows in the videotapes.
Hal Belfer: On "Dora's World" we had Stubby Kaye.
GT: And Sid Melton.
Hal Belfer: Sid Melton, yeah, from the old Danny Thomas Show. And Scatman Crothers, who I had with Donald O'Connor back in the '50s when we had the "Colgate Comedy Hour". Of course, as you know, we lost Scatman.
GT: I was very sorry to hear about that.
Hal Belfer: There's a wonderful story there, too. I used to pick up the phone from Scatman, and I used to do a little scat myself, so I'd say "hello," he says "hello there," and I would go "Scoodleyboppazoobyboppazoyaboy," and he'd answer back to
me "Zoodaboppazoyaboy" and it would go on like this for about 15 minutes, you know, and then he says, "Pardon me, I'll be right back." I'll be right back. I just loved Scat. I spent many many holidays, Christmases at his home. Now, let me see, "Rose On Broadway," do you have a copy of that? That was written by an old friend of mine from Universal, Oscar Brodney, a very very fine writer. All good people, good solid people. H.B. Barnum, the black artist, did some of the charts for us. We liked him, and he sounded very contemporary, and I think he's out on the road, most recently I think, with Aretha Franklin. On that show I think we were fortunate enough to get Bob Mackey to do some of the wardrobes for Miss Hall. You know that name.
GT: Oh, yeah.
Hal Belfer: You know that I'm talking about good people, right on down the way.
GT: It shows in the productions. Where did the shows air originally?
Hal Belfer: Syndication. There was another show, you must see, because it got an award for Miss Hall, it was an award from the Film Advisory Board. The show was called "Imagine That".
GT: I have the soundtrack to that.
Hal Belfer: Jill Jackson did the songs for that. Lovely. A nice show for the family. Songs called "Dr. Sniffle-Swiper," "Mr. Boogie-Woogie," "Mr. Squiff and Mr. Squee," "Dreams," a lovely rainbow of performance there. It's really quite nice.
GT: Was that the last thing that Dora Hall did?
Hal Belfer: Now let me see there was another show that we did some voice things with her, called "Inn By the Side of the Road". I don't know if that one's out, but she's not visual there, you just hear her voiceover in the beginning of the show, and
over one of the dramatic scenes. There's another show that got a Film Advisory Award, it's called "Moments With Dora". Now those two shows, "Imagine That" and "Moments With Dora" both received an award of excellence. We have some very lovely
letters from the President Elaine Blythe, who heads that organization. There's "Secret Sleuth". That went out as a half-hour show as I remember.
GT: What's so great about Dora Hall is that she's performing in a style that, well, there just aren't many people doing anything like that anymore.
Hal Belfer: Her style, its timing comes from the live stage. It's the audience, people that work in film or in television are unfortunately not given that exposure. You can tell a story, you can do a book, whatever it is, you get it through the action but then it becomes timing. And her timing was impeccable. just impeccable.
Hal Belfer: If you run some of those back there, you just see every look, every little nuance. Yes, it's choreographed but it also had the simultaneous feel about it. I think that's why I enjoyed working with her. She was just a delight. Any things that I
can fill you in on, as you see, I have a bundle of information. (Talk goes on about the "Dueting Game," a scene from "Once Upon a Tour" that can be seen on the album cover but is mysteriously missing from the video.)
GT: What about Oliver? Do you know what he's up to?
Hal Belfer: Well, you know, we lost track of him. He has a classic record out, "Jean, jean," just a classic. You still hear snippets of it all the time. That young man had a fine voice! He got up there, he wanted to perform, he sang!
GT: He's great on the medleys!
Hal Belfer: Excellent. I must confess, I don't know what happened to him. I hope he's doing well. I don't know.
[Editor's note (2001): Oliver passed away in February, 2000, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.]
GT: I wanted to know how Dora Hall linked up with the Solo Cup Company, and how they decided to provide those albums and videotapes for free.
Hal Belfer: First of all, I must say, I think Solo Cups are great, a great product. Much better than any of the competetors.
GT: Oh yeah, they're the only plastic cup I use.
Hal Belfer: I know people that wash their plastic plates and use them like dishes again and again.
GT: The cups are great too.
Hal Belfer: The cups are durable. And the party cups, other companies are trying to come up with their own versions.
GT: Yeah, I notice that other cup companies try and imitate Solo's packaging, right down to the clown characters on the wrapper.
Hal Belfer: Right.
GT: At the office I work out of, we use Solo Cups in the dispenser, without fail.
Hal Belfer: That's great. Why don't you let me know and let me have your address and maybe I can get some cups down there.
GT: Great! Is the promotion going to continue then, will you just keep giving the records out to interested persons?
Hal Belfer: Yes!
GT: I sometimes worry that you're losing money on this, Solo Cups is, because the cups are so inexpensive and just the postage alone to send the albums out costs as much as a pack of cups, you must be losing money.
Hal Belfer: It's not a money-making situation. It's very much a good-will thing. It's one time that the company is on the good side, and the consumer is on the good side too.
GT: That's for sure. You get great cups, and then a record or videotape as well!
Hal Belfer: A great deal of effort has been put forth to put out the best product we can. And even in the color, color correction of the video, I mean, it's not just something we tossed away, it's something that's done with much love, and very methodically done.
GT: Is Dora Hall the same person as Dorothy Hall? Because I have a single by Dorothy Hall that sounds an awful lot like her.
Hal Belfer: What's the song?
GT: "5 O'Clock World". It's on Reinbeau Records.
Hal Belfer: It might be. It might be, I'll have to check on that.
GT: Was Dora performing up until her death?
Hal Belfer: She was.
GT: Where was she performing? In Hollywood?
Hal Belfer: As a matter of fact, we were doing some of the voiceover things here, in Hollywood and Los Angeles and North Hollywood for the "Inn By The Side of the Road". She had another single that went out, I think on one side was "Let There Be Peace on Earth". Jill Jackson had done that number, he's the writer of it. And the other side, I believe was "Wonderful Child". That was the single. And then "Let There Be Peace on Earth" became part of the theme that opened and closed "Inn By The Side of the Road".
GT: Was she living in Hollywood?
Hal Belfer: Yeah. She had quite a schedule. I mean, up in the morning recording and vocalizing, and staging the choreography. All of that.
GT: And what did she die of?
Hal Belfer: I'm not sure at this moment. I'd have to check on that. It was rather sudden.
GT: What does Premore do now? What are some of the other projects that you're working on?
Hal Belfer: Premore itself, is a production and a post-production facility here in North Hollywood. We do music videos; we just finished a 4-day shooting on our stage here for MTV. We did "Incredible Sunday" -- when I say we did it I mean we did the post-production on it, and/or the sweetening of the tracks. And we do sitcoms, we do industrials, marketing resources, packaging, all types of shows