The speeches from Camelot were riveting, even on a small black and white screen, as Richard Burton recited them, sitting in a quiet spotlight beside Dick Cavett. Julie Andrews seemed made to show us what England and youth and the lusty month of May were all about. But holding his own with them was the darkly handsome Robert Goulet – born in Massachusetts but of French Canadian stock and apparently perfectly cast. Indeed, to many of us who never set foot in a Broadway theater, Robert Goulet remained Lancelot. The mere shadows of what these three must have been in person, they could still ground the stage of Ed Sullivan and the other great variety shows of the fifties and sixties. But if Burton’s quiet reading deepened the shadows on Cavett, Goulet’s voice filled the speakers on our old tv sets that were only capable of hinting at his power.
Forty years later, his voiceovers endear him to our grand children. And older, we laugh with him, as Goulet‘s loose humor enriched commercials for ESPN and Emerald Nuts. The romantic lead matured and he charmed with the quirky humor of his guest spot on Police Squad! and then Naked Gun with fellow Canadian Leslie Neilson. At 73, that great baritone has died, waiting on a lung transplant. But to many of my generation he remains the dashing and seductive knight, his eyes following Burton, betraying the complexity of admiration and the difficulty of restraint.
YouTube houses Goulet’s moving rendition of another of the great classics of the high water decade in musical theater -the “Soliloquy” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.
(And perhaps the juxtaposition of Porter Wagoner and Robert Goulet, of T. H. White and Dolly Parton, of Zucker and Hee Haw! might hint at the rich hybrids that grew from Albion’s seed planted on our shore.)