Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Right after his huge success in Camelot (or was it before? Ah, my mind's a wall!), Richard Harris had a brief turn as a pop star. MacArthur Park, written by the genius Jimmy Webb ("See the tree, how big it`s grown. . . The first day that she planted it was just a twig." Grammar wasn`t his strong suit) shot to the top of the pop charts.
It's too long (over 7 minutes, a Wagnerian opera in pop music terms) and too excruciating to reproduce here, so I'll give you just the lyrics. Back then, we studied those lyrics, worried over them, tried to figure out what they meant (a "strip-ed pair of pants"??). We did go-go girl dances to that Mason Williams-esque interlude in the middle. The thing is, Richard Harris was a good enough actor to more-or-less put the song over, but seen on the page it's lame indeed.
(And why he calls it MacArthur's Park remains mysterious.)
Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed,
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants


MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
The birds, like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers by the trees


There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
You'll still be the one.

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flow like rivers through the sky.
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
I'll be thinking of you
And wondering why.

(Long disco-esque musical interlude)

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!
Oh, no
No, no
(As usual, there's a postscript. More memories came back, though God knows why. After Camelot I went a little nuts and bought all of Richard Harris's records. All the songs were written by JimmyWebb. My brother Arthur - synchronicity, right? Arthur? - used to make terrible fun of the lyrics: "All my dreeeeeeeeams have tuuuuuurrrned to saaaaaaaaaaaannnd. . . " Though he never said that. Anyway, some months or years later we unearthed these albums and decided we needed to do something with them. "Let's put them in the oven," Arthur said. "OK," I said. They got all soft and then we bent them around in weird shapes. I said we could use them for an ash tray and Arthur said, no we can't cuzzatha hole in the bottom!)

Il Camelotti

I love clips like this (the original scene from the movie Camelot dubbed in Italian). I don't know where it came from. This Marzocchi fellow can sing: he has hints of operatic phrasing, and is using the sweet side of his voice, which tells us it has another side, full of resonance and power.

Frankly, I was just looking for the montage of the lovers, especially for the incredible seen where Guenevere, hair drifting supernaturally around her face, comes to Lance's bed. Never mind that she never seems to close her mouth.

(Oh, and - you know English is the worst language ever for romance when you stack up "spring" against "primavera"!)

One brief shining moment

OK, here's the truth about what Jackie said. JFK's royal reign was never known as Camelot until after he died, and his widow spoke about that brief and supposedly idyllic time (Cuban Missile Crisis? Bay of Pigs?) in retrospect. So now everyone calls it Camelot.

Come to that, Camelot, as portrayed by Lerner and Loewe, was pretty hellish in itself.

I got watching it (again) the other night on Turner Classics. It's immediately addictive. I jumped in in the middle, and it didn't seem to matter. I first saw it at thirteen - went with my mother, who loved it and approved of my crush on Richard Harris (to nullify my previous crush on Tiny Tim) - then dragged my brother to it so I could see it again. He kept making sardonic comments (i.e. muttering "I wonder what the King is doing tonight" while Jenny and Lance were making feverish love), but it didn't really matter.

Ah! Richard Harris at his dishy best, Vanessa Redgrave trailing filmy gowns and hair red as flame (though she has one very irritating quirk: she never closes her mouth), Franco Nero looking so earnest his brow might break. Never mind that most of them didn't do their own singing. It worked for me.

I cried again last night, and I know why. It was "What do the Simple Folk Do?", near the end, when Arthur and Jenny try to grasp at one last wisp of happiness, and fail. The look he gives her has seventeen layers of emotion in it, shattered pride, longing, rage, impotence, desire, nostalgia. . . Jenny is simply skinless, her shame and guilt stripped bare.

These guys have great acting chops, even if the production is overblown and sometimes overacted. Franco Nero is just a big hunk, in the tradition of the non-acting Robert Goulet who started it all (but at least he did his own singing). BUT: here's the truly golden part.

While filming this extravaganza, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero (who each presumably had other attachments) fell in love. I don't know if it was proximity, or what. They had a relationship which produced a son, parted, but remained friends.

Here's the incredible part. According to Robert Osborne, they met again forty years later, and - GOT MARRIED.

Now that is romantic.

Those grainy newspaper photos - well, I was in a production of Camelot a very long time ago. God, the costumes were great. I had an uninspiring part in the chorus (top photo - also a smaller version squeezed between the two actors, just under the stuffed dog) where I had to pretend to watch a joust that couldn't be staged (not enough room for horses in a high school gym).

There's sort of another part to this. I went to audition for Guenevere, and discovered a couple dozen other potential Gueneveres warbling away. The audition lasted forever. Though I think my voice was in its best shape then, I didn't get it. At best I must have come in third, as they double-cast it. The musical director of the show cast herself as Guenevere (?!! What the - ), and selected for her second choice a very strange-looking, almost Goth girl who really couldn't sing very well. Apparently, she had a "quality".

So. . .the production grinds on, beset with problems. Then, the self-cast Guenevere turns up pregnant (she was a Mormon in her mid-20s, and this was her fifth child), and the second-cast Guenevere gains even more weight from eating junk food while stoned, then just disappears.

SOOOOOO. . . who you gonna call?

Who you gonna get to jump in at the last minute (almost literally!) to play Guenevere, with nearly no rehearsal?

I said no. I said no because I was offended. I was offended because I was probably their fifth choice to begin with. I didn't have trailing blonde hair and I wasn't 25 years old (I was 29). They only asked me because they just assumed I would say yes. They assumed I would say yes because they knew how hungry and desperate I was.

I can just hear them: "Yes, but we know she's reliable." "She'll just jump at it! Remember how badly she wanted it?" To be honest, they knew they could use me and that I would flail around and scramble to catch up and never ask them for a thing.

I have never regretted my decision. The self-appointed lead, the music director who crowned herself Queen, was five months along and her costumes straining at the seams, but she went on because she was the only one left standing.

I won't be treated that way. So my one brief shining moment was brief indeed. By the way, everyone involved was furious with me, thought I was selfish and ruining the show just for spite.

(The clip is a real find, if a bit bizarre with its clunky subtitles. Gianni Marzocchi couldn't be more Italian, but it works because of his sweet, expressive lyric tenor. And the unabashed, lush, oversentimental, glorious romanticism, which is eternal.

Vanessa and Franco will tell you so.)