They each have their own shining moment. Their fondest memory and their most satisfying success story. But they all agree on one thing-the Hormelovelies, who traveled the U.S. from 1947 to 1953 in a caravan of up to 40 white Chevrolets, had the time of their lives. Their stories are the basis for “Hormel Girls,” the musical that runs through Dec. 23 at the History Theatre. The musical is a fictionalized account of the Hormelovelies, written, conceived and directed by women; six of the eight actors are female.
If You Go
What: Hormel Girls
Where: The History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
When: Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. through Dec. 23
“It was an adventure. A real delight,” said Minnesotan Carolyn Eklin, an original member of the all-female Hormelovelies. It was also hard work and a chance to see the country: The group traveled from city to city, following an advance team that whipped up excitement about their presence. In the early part of the week they appeared at local supermarkets, touting Spam and its sister products; later in the week, they performed live and taped their nationally syndicated radio show, before packing up and doing it all over the next week.
“This is living history about compelling women who led unexpected lives and it’s an honor to share their story on stage,” said playwright Laurie Flanigan, who also wrote the musical’s lyrics. “It’s about women who had to prove themselves. As a woman, I was immediately hooked into their lives and their stories.”
The idea for the Hormelovelies was born when the Minnesota company put together an all-girl drum and bugle troupe to help get women veterans back to work after the fighting stopped. The original group of six female vets who traveled in Minnesota and Wisconsin eventually morphed into, at its peak, a swing band of 65 entertainers who moved from Minnesota to Hollywood and transformed from drums and bugles to radio broadcasts and glamorous stage shows.
“This was the first all-girl performing troupe, which made it very special,” Flanigan said. “I don’t think people have any idea what these women did-everything from driving the caravan, changing flat tires and selling Hormel products on the road to singing, dancing and wearing spectacular costumes.”
“Being a member of the Hormel Girls was one of the true joys of my life,” said Jacqueline Altier Roth, a 1951 Hormelovely. Now 77, she is still a stage performer. “It was a fabulous experience,” she said. “We were in a different city every week-we were paid very well to travel everywhere at an amazing time in our country’s history.”
For Roth, the generous salary and on-stage entertainment experience weren’t as important as the sisterhoods that were formed on the road. “It was a great opportunity for young gals and a way to make some really wonderful friends,” she said.
Flanigan is eager-and a little anxious-to see their reactions to the musical. “I had to take some artistic license when I wrote the story and am nervous to how the real Hormel Girls will react as members of our audience,” she said. “I want to honor them. Their experience was so singular and trailblazing-they broke the glass ceiling in a hundred different ways.
“I love these women. It’s a fictional story but is based on the hearts of these ladies,” she said. “You don’t have to love history to love this show.”