A couple days ago, I had videos here of performances from Camelot on The Ed Sullivan Show, including one of Robert Goulet as Lancelot, which is what made him a star. It brought up memories of working with him on a film, Naked Gun 2-1/2: The Smell of Fear, when I was back in my wayward days in publicity. (I was the unit publicist assigned to the film.) He played the anti-environmental industrialist Quentin Hapsburg, rival of Leslie Nielson's Frank Drebin, for the hand of Priscilla Presley's Jane, and bad guy of the movie.
(Side note: in the lower right of that picture is the wonderful British actor Richard Griffiths as Dr. Meinheimer. He later went on to win a Tony Award as Best Actor for starring in The History Boys, a role he recreated in the movie version. Naked Gun 2-1/2 was his first Hollywood film, and he was utterly thrilled by the experience. A very nice fellow, my fondest memory of him was that on his last day filming, he bought for the crew a truly massive mound of scones and clotted cream -- which is basically whipped cream. How many scones was it? Think of the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Richard Dreyfus builds that model of a mountain on the kitchen table. That's what it was like with the scones. Now, you must understand, I love scones and clotted cream -- while at the same time most film crews hate anything they've never seen before, most especially if it isn't hamburgers. So, they went untouched by most everyone. "Most," in this case, means everyone but me. I spent the night gorging on scones and clotted cream, along with strawberry jam. I knew I wouldn't get such a chance again. I'm not exaggerating when I say I had close to a dozen. Hence me remembering this.)
I should also add that starring in the tiny, but important role of 'McTique,' the police sketch artist, was American actor Robert J. Elisberg. And yes, the character did have a name. Several crew members referred to me as 'McTigue' throughout the production.)
But I digress. And digress.
Back to Robert Goulet. He was a reasonably pleasant person who had the ego you might expect from his persona, though it was much smaller than you'd think, and he was enjoyable to deal with. He also had a very good sense of himself and was able to make fun of that public persona.
Probably less fun for him was the the day in the makeup trailer when he was getting ready for filming. As a sort of tribute, the makeup artists had a tape of one of his albums playing while they did their work. Sitting in a chair nearby was a dayplayer, a young actress who was there for her day of filmming. Having no idea what was playing, eventually she got annoyed at the music and called out, "What is this shit?" Very politely, the makeup artist (who was probably cringing inside) said, "Oh. That's Mr. Goulet here." The actress was embarrassed, and did her best to help the situation and make it better. She made it worse. "Oh! Mr. Goulet," she said enthusiastically. "My mother is a big fan of yours."
I'm not big on getting autographs, having someone signed a scrap of paper just because they are A Celebrity. But I do like getting autographs of things that have historical significance or add perspective to an object. And unlike many people, I tend to keep them. (I still have an autograph by Ella Fitzerald in my "trip journal" from high school when I took a summer bicycle trip through Europe and saw her perform at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.) So, there was no question in my mind that I was going to bring in my original cast recording LP of Camelot to get signed, as well a cast recording of The Happy TIme, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. (I just realized -- with Richard Griffiths, that means the movie has two Tony-winning Best Actors.) However, I waited until his last day of filmming, so as not to seem too geeky. It was this latter album that stunned Goulet, something he said he hadn't seen (or thought about) in a very long time. The show was the first musical by Kander and Ebb after Cabaret, but it wasn't a big hit and is not well-known. It's rarely performed, and having the cast album is even more rare. So, he did a big double-take when he saw it. And was impressed that someone was a geek enough to have such a thing.
But my favorite memory was when I came to the set one Monday morning. As I was crossing through the lot, I saw Bob (as I like to call him...) telling a bunch of grips with much dramatic enthusiasm about a golf game he'd played over the weekend. And he was particularly enthusing about one Incredibly Amazing Shot he'd hit. My memory is that it was something like, "And I hit the tee shot, and it went soaring, I'm telling you it was one of the longest I ever hit. It must have gone 250 yards, flying over the fairway, over the water hazard, over the sand traps, over everything, it was incredible, and it landed on the green and rolled and rolled and ended up just 10 feet from the hole!!!"
And at that, I paused my walk and spoke up, standing behind the group: "And not only that," I said, and everyone suddenly turned to look at me. "But he also caught a fish! And it was -- " and here I spread my arms as wiiiiide as I could -- "THIS big!!"
There was the briefest hesitation of silence, and then a big grin broke out across Goulet's face and with a smile, he said, "Ohhhhh, fuck you."
I would like to note that if I didn't get along with him and have the impression that he had a sense of humor, I would never have said that. But I'm glad I did. And am equally glad he answered as he did.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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