Robert Goulet

Robert Goulet
Robert Goulet

Ronald Bergan’s Guardian obituary:

Anybody who has seen the original 1960 Broadway production of Lerner and Lowe’s Camelot or heard the album of the show will never forget the two showstopping numbers delivered by Robert Goulet, who has died while awaiting a lung transplant, aged 73. The handsome singer with the rich baritone voice makes his first entrance as Lancelot singing the self-mocking C’est Moi, but later he sings the hauntingly beautiful If Ever I Would Leave You.Unfortunately, in Joshua Logan’s 1967 movie version, Franco Nero was inexplicably cast and his singing voice dubbed, thus depriving future generations of enjoying Goulet’s standout performance.

Goulet, whom Variety magazine described as “having the looks and the speaking and singing voice of the ideal Lancelot,” seemed assured of a bright future in the musical genre. Judy Garland described him as a living 8 x 10 glossy. Alas, at the time of Camelot, the sort of musical that required Goulet’s kind of powerful modulated singing was on the wane.

Camelot was the high point of his career, but he won a Tony for best actor in a musical as the paterfamilias in Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time (1968) and, in three television productions, played Tommy Albright in Brigadoon (1966), Billy Bigelow in Carousel (1967) and Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate (1968), opposite his second wife Carol Lawrence, who had played Maria in the original Broadway production of West Side Story. Around the same period, Goulet started to appear in films, mainly 1960s Hollywood farces such as Honeymoon Hotel and I’d Rather Be Rich (both 1964), after having lent his voice to the feline character of Jaune Tom, “the best mouse catcher in all of Paris”, wooing Mewsette (voiced by Judy Garland) in Gay Purr-ee (1962).

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Goulet was the son of a textile mill guard and fine amateur singer of French-Canadian extraction. After his father died, when Robert was in his teens, the family moved to Alberta, eventually settling on his grandfather’s farm 200 miles north of Edmonton. At 16, Goulet was singing with the Edmonton Symphony. His performance in Handel’s Messiah earned him a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

It wasn’t long before he was appearing in Showtime, Canada’s leading television variety programme, when he was dubbed “Canada’s first matinee idol”. After three years, he left for New York. A theatrical agent recommended him to the librettist Alan Jay Lerner, and composer Frederick Loewe for, Camelot.

Goulet recorded more than 50 albums, made frequent TV appearances and, in 1982, was named Las Vegas entertainer of the year. His rather old-fashioned cabaret show led to him parodying himself as the consummate lounge singer in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City (1980). “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re a fool,” Goulet remarked.

He later took himself off in an episode of The Simpsons, arriving at Bart’s treehouse casino:

Goulet: “Are you sure this is the casino? Mr Burns’ casino? I think I should call my manager …”

Nelson: “Your manager says for you to shut up!”

Goulet: “Vera said that?”

Vera was Vera Novak, a Yugoslavian-born writer and artist who became Goulet’s business manager and whom he married in 1982, immediately after his divorce from Lawrence. In her 1990 memoir Carol Lawrence: the Backstage Story, she described Goulet as having a quick temper, mood swings and a drink problem. Goulet’s comment on the book was: “She was terribly angry because when I left I didn’t leave her for another woman.” Of his drinking: “I never was a run-down-in-the-gutter alcoholic. I never missed a performance.”

Goulet returned to Broadway a few times, playing King Arthur in a 1993 revival of Camelot, and took over one of the leads in La Cage aux Folles in 2005. His last performance was in the one-man show A Man and his Music, in September in Syracuse, New York.

He is survived by a daughter from his first marriage and two sons by Lawrence.

· Robert Gerard Goulet, singer and actor, born November 26 1933; died October 30 2007


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