Thursday, November 01, 2007

Passings: Actor/Singer Robert Goulet

For decades, Robert Goulet was Mr. Perfect.

With his old-showbiz helmet of pompadored black hair, bright blue eyes, chiseled jawline, and bell-clear baritone speaking/singing voice, Goulet (who died on October 30 at age 73) was less a traditional leading man than a larger-than-life cartoon of that leading man, and to his eternal credit he always seemed as keenly aware of it as anybody.

He rose to prominence as the stage's first (and I'd argue, definitive) Sir Lancelot in Lerner and Lowe's monster hit musical Camelot in 1959. That voice and those features--both strong and distinctive enough to clearly communicate to the back rows of the most packed houses on Broadway--ensured him frequent employ on the musical stage, most recently in 2005 for a revival of La Cage aux Folles. But Robert Goulet became celebrity comfort food of the most welcome variety for me (and many of my generation) on TV in the seventies and eighties, logging in scores of talk-show appearances and guest shots on episodic TV.

All the while, despite the rather unflattering portrait of him painted by ex-wife Carol Lawrence in her autobiography, he came off as an OK guy, and one of the few Handsome Famous People with a real awareness of the disparity between on-screen perception and real life. Recent years saw him having a grand time tweaking that image in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, on The Simpsons (his delivery of "Jingle Bells [Batman Smells]" remains one of the highest of that show's musical high points), and in a very funny Emerald Nuts commercial that hit national TV earlier this year.

Goulet also possessed that very old-school showbiz trait of genuinely appreciating his fans, a courtesy that Rita and I noted with joy ten years ago.

Back then, the missus and I--way too broke to entertain ourselves with the abject luxuries of first-run feature films, theater, or travel--spent a lot of spare time writing favorite celebrities for autographs. We found a photo of an unshaven and machine-gun-packing (!) Goulet from a 1970 war movie called Underground in the dollar bin at a local bookstore, and it was just screaming for his John Hancock. We wrote a gushy-but-sincere fan letter/signature request, and Rita and I mailed the oddball action shot to the Broadway vet.
Shortly thereafter, we received our reply envelope back with the photo signed, plus an extra personally-autographed color 8x10. He'd even paid the extra postage to ship the heavier return envelope. We were happy as the proverbial clams.

Rita carefully filed away the autographs in a binder, and it wasn't until a few weeks later that we noticed some handwriting on the back of the Machine Gun Goulet picture as well as on the front.
It definitively revealed to us that Robert Goulet could have as much of a good-natured chuckle about the twists and turns of his career as anyone. And I'll miss that brightness of spirit as sorely as Broadway will miss that theater-filling voice.

No comments: