Back where he belongs; At 71, Robert Goulet is centre stage on Broadway again Charming audiences like he did in Camelot 45 years ago;
Richard Ouzounian. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: May 9, 2005.
Robert Goulet is back on Broadway and the ladies still love him.
It doesn't matter to them that the 71 year old charmer is currently playing a gay man married to a drag queen in the revival of La Cage Aux Folles.
The minute Goulet steps through the curtain, with his high-beam grin still intact, the crowd breaks into thunderous applause.
And when he finally gets a chance to let his voice soar in Jerry Herman's ballad "Song On the Sand," the sound that ripples through the audience is not unlike the purr from some highly contented kittens.
It's been 45 years since he burst into stardom as Lancelot in the original Broadway production of Camelot and though he's never really fallen off the celebrity radar, there have been plenty of ups and downs.
He's been greatly adored and widely scorned, praised as classy and mocked as cheesy. The nice part is that he's comfortable with it all.
"The accolades and the brickbats don't really matter," he insists. He touches his heart, "It's what's in here," then he points to the sky, "and what the Boss upstairs thinks of you."
Sitting in the penthouse lounge of his midtown luxury hotel, Goulet is in an expansive mood as he traces the complicated path of his American-Canadian heritage.
"Sometimes both countries want to claim me, but then there have been periods when each one said to the other 'You take him, we don't want him.'"
Here are the facts. He was born Robert Gerard Goulet in Lawrence, Mass. on Nov. 26, 1933.
"My father Joseph was from Quebec and my mother Jeannette was from Lewiston, Maine, although her family originally came from Quebec as well. We lived in a French-Canadian enclave in Lawrence, Catholic churches and schools and a tight-knit society."
Although Goulet never knew it, his father was slowly dying all through his childhood. "They never told me what it was or how serious it was. I just thought he was very sick."
"I sang in the church choir, but I didn't think much of it. Then one night when I was 13, my father called me to his bedside and said 'Robert, God gave you a voice. You must sing.' He died later that same night."
Goulet stretches out his arms to show how hopeless he felt. "What could I do after that? I had to honour his wish. But without that, I tell you, I never would have been a performer. I was always near the top of my class in my school. I wanted to go into politics. I might have been vice-president and we wouldn't be in this mess, eh?"
After his father's death, the Goulets moved to Alberta, "where my grandfather had a farm, 200 miles north of Edmonton. We settled there for a while and then moved down to the city, but we were always very poor, even after my mother remarried."
By 16, Goulet was performing with the Edmonton Symphony. "I sang two songs with the Summer Pops and they gave me $25. I said 'You get paid, too?' and that was the first time I thought there might be something in this after all."
He appeared in summer musicals across the country and got a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1955. In the same year, he married Louise Longmore and they had one daughter, Nicolette.
In 1958 he was at Stratford, starring in The Beggar's Opera. He recalls that "Chris Plummer and Jason Robards were there that season as well and the three of us were drinking everything in the town."
After that he was comfortably entrenched in a CBC-TV Sunday night variety show called Showtime "and I had a week off so I went to Bermuda to play golf."
He returned to discover urgent messages from an American agent he had never heard of, telling him that Lerner and Loewe wanted him to audition for Lancelot in their new musical Camelot.
"I later found out they had been looking everywhere and were about to go to England when Don Harron recommended me. I flew down and the airlines lost my luggage, so I showed up in a T-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and a leather jacket that needed cleaning."
Director Moss Hart sized him up and leered, "Well, I see you've come dressed for action." A recent biography of Hart revealed that the married director had a huge crush on Goulet during the show, but the young man never knew it.
"I was a punk kid from Edmonton and I knew nothing about gay men. I've never been a homophobe, because I believe God created us all, but I had no clue what Moss was up to."
He blushes slightly. "Well, one night even I started to catch his drift, when he took me to dinner at Sardi's and said 'Bobby, stick with me and you'll be wearing platinum.'"
He recalls when he first heard what remains his trademark song, "If Ever I Would Leave You."
"It was the first day of rehearsals and I was too shy to go out with Richard (Burton), Julie (Andrews) and that crowd, so I just got some soup from a deli and brought it back to the rehearsal hall. Fritz Loewe was sitting at the piano and he said 'Dear boy, let me show you your song.'"
Goulet quickly learned the number and when he finished singing it, he looked up to find Burton staring at him open-mouthed. "The voice of an angel," pronounced the famous Welshman.
The world agreed. Camelot opened on Broadway in 1960 after a difficult Toronto tryout, and Goulet was plunged into a world of stardom he admits now that he "probably wasn't prepared for."
He divorced his first wife in 1963 and married popular stage star Carol Lawrence. They stayed together for 18 tempestuous years, during which they had two sons.
Goulet won a Tony Award (for 1968's The Happy Time) became a sought-after Vegas headliner and made many successful recordings, but his personal life was falling apart.
In addition to an increasing problem with alcohol, his marriage had totally disintegrated.
In 1981, Goulet finally walked out on what he calls "the barking and crying and yelling and fighting from the minute you woke up in the morning to the minute you went to bed at night."
In 1982, he met and wed Vera Novak, a Yugoslavian-born writer and artist, whom he credits with getting his life back in order.
"She's an influence on me and I love her dearly." Then he grins. "I listen to her most of the time."
For the time being, he's having a wonderful time in La Cage Aux Folles and the guy who was once so clueless that he couldn't spot a gay pass now brings the curtain down smooching with his co-star, Gary Beach.
"I'm not used to kissing men, so the first time I nearly broke Gary's nose. Then I hit his chin. I'm getting better."
Goulet was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, underwent surgery and then had radiation five years later when it recurred. He's in good health now and unafraid of the future.
"If I'm going to die, I'm going to die. I'm actually looking forward to it because I want to see what's around the corner. Maybe it's oblivion, but my Catholic upbringing tells me there's a life after for the soul. I'll say to God, 'Give me a spot at the back of the hall and I'll spend eternity there."
A few notes on a golden throat
Who Robert Gerard Goulet
Born Nov. 26, 1933, in Lawrence, Mass.
Early years Raised in a francophone enclave in Massachusetts, then moved to northern Alberta. Concert debut in 1951 in Edmonton in Handel's Messiah.
Currently In La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway.
Quote "I wanted to go into politics. I might have been vice- president and we wouldn't be in this mess, eh?"