Goulet, Robert

Goulet, Robert
Nov. 26, 1933-Oct. 30, 2007
American singer and actor


Before he became famous in his first Broadway role, as Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe's musical Camelot, in December 1960, Robert Goulet had attained great popularity with Canadian audiences through his appearance on stage and television. Goulet's rich baritone voice, good looks, ambition, and determination to become a better actor are assets that make him a candidate for stardom. The late Jerry Wald, the motion picture producer, predicted that when Goulet appears in a motion picture "he'll take off as if headed for outer space."

Of French extraction, with one-eighth Irish ancestry, Robert Gerard Goulet was born on November 26, 1933 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Joseph and Jeanette (Gauthier) Goulet. A sister, Claire, is now Mrs. Paul Dumont of Girouxville, Alberta, Canada. Bob Goulet and his family became aware early in his life that he had an unusual singing voice. He has recalled: "When I was six years old I refused to sing at a family party. My father scolded me and said I must not waste God's gift. I have, since then, tried not to." Under the watchful supervision of his father, Robert Goulet sang in church choirs and at community affairs. When he was fourteen, his father died, and the family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to be near relatives. While attending St. Joseph's High School in Edmonton, Goulet played varsity football and was president of the dramatic organization. He also sang with local orchestras and appeared in local musical productions. In 1951 he graduated from high school.

Goulet's first job was that of disc jockey and radio announcer with station CKCA in Edmonton. His work in a production of Handel's Messiah won him a scholarship to the opera school of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. There he studied acting and singing with Josef Furst and Dr. Ernesto Vinci and seized every opportunity to perform on television, in the theater, and in revues. In the winter of 1954 Goulet came to New York to try his luck on the Broadway stage. For four months he lived in a dismal garret apartment with an actor friend, while contacting broadway producers. The only work he was able to get, however, was selling stationery in Gimbel's department store.

Soon after he returned to Toronto, the outlook for Goulet's career considerably brightened. He was cast in a leading role in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's television production of Little Women, and he won an important part in the annual Canadian topical stage revue Spring Thaw. Subsequently he joined the cast of Canada's leading television variety program Showtime, in which he starred for three years. Goulet's appearance on this program made him a favorite with Canadian television audiences. Fan clubs began to multiply and Goulet was dubbed "Canada's first matinee idol," a title of which he is not particularly fond. For three consecutive years he won honors as the best male singer on Canadian television.

When television schedules permitted, Goulet appeared in stage productions of Thunder Rock and Visit to a Small Planet. In the summer of 1958 he played the role of Captain MacHeath in the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival production of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. He also spent two summers at the Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he starred in South Pacific, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Finian's Rainbow. In the summer of 1959 he appeared with Debra Paget in Pajama Game, with Anne Jeffreys in The Bells Are Ringing, and with Dorothy Collins in Dream Girl, at the Packard Music Theatre in Warren, Ohio.

Goulet's great opportunity came in 1959, when a theatrical agent recommended him to librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe. Lerner and Loewe were at the time planning a musical based on Terence Hanbury White's novel The Once and Future King (Putnam, 1958), dealing with the legendary King Arthur and his Round Table, and they were having difficulty in casting the role of Lancelot. Goulet's audition for the role greatly impressed Lerner and Loewe, and they promptly signed him to co-star with Richard Burton, who played the role of King Arthur, and Julie Andrews, who portrayed Queen Guenevere. They then proceeded to write the words and music of the show, which they named Camelot.

Camelot opened for a pre-Broadway tryout at the O'Keefe Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto on October 1, 1960. According to John Kraglund of the Toronto Globe and Mail (October 12, 1960), Goulet, in the role of the brave knight who loves Queen Guenevere, displayed a "strong, pleasant baritone voice, and an apparent acting ability, which seems to be strengthening." A reviewer for Variety (October 5, 1960) wrote that Goulet "has the looks and the speaking and singing voice of the ideal Lancelot," and that he was apparently "destined to scale the heights." After playing in Toronto for twenty-six performances Camelot moved to the Shubert Theater in Boston for four and a half weeks, before it opened at New York's Majestic Theatre on December 3, 1960. It was the most expensive musical that has ever been produced on the Broadway stage.

Although Camelot was not universally acclaimed in the reviews, Robert Goulet stopped the show on opening night and evoked applause from the critics. John Chapman of the New York Daily News (December 5, 1960) pronounced Goulet a "fine and handsome baritone," and Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune (December 5, 1960) noted that he played and sang "magnificently." Howard Taubman of the New York Times (December 11, 1960) wrote that Goulet was a "fine performer who deserves a better fate." In Newsday (December 7, 1960) George Oppenheimer observed: "As Lancelot Robert Goulet is a fine figure of a man and the possessor of an excellent voice. He can also act, although he is given little chance to portray anything but a composite portrait of purity and puritanism couchant."

On January 8, 1961 Goulet made his first appearance on American television on the Ed Sullivan Show, over CBS-TV. He has also appeared on the Garry Moore Show over the same network. Although he had been signed for the relatively small salary of $900 weekly to appear in Camelot, he now reportedly receives $6,500 for a single television appearance. Goulet has appeared in the 1961 special Christmas program The Enchanted Nutcracker, over ABC-TV, and in The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe, presented over NBC-TV on February 11, 1962. He served as host of the NBC-TV salute to Rockefeller Center, Rainbow of Stars, on April 17, 1962. In November 1961 he briefly flew to Hollywood to make the cartoon film Gay Purr-ee, in which he and Judy Garland did the voice characterizations of cats. Goulet is eager to appear in motion pictures, but his manager, Norman Rosemont, is willing to release him from Camelot "only if just the right role comes along." After his Camelot contract expires, in September 1962, Goulet is scheduled to appear in supper clubs with his own act. He plans to make his debut at the Persian Room in New York's Plaza Hotel in November 1962.

Goulet's relationship with Rosemont is an unusual one in the world of Broadway. There is no contract between them. Rosemont pays Goulet's bills, gives him a personal allowance, and sets the fees for his appearances, which are booked through Goulet's talent agency, the Music Corporation of America. Rosemont, who has never handled a performer before, says it is a question of personal satisfaction. "He's the kid from Canada put up against the big metropolis," Rosemont has said. "But he's growing up fast." Rosemont, who is vice-president and business manager of the Lerner-Loewe Corporation, formed a separate corporation with Goulet in January 1962 to produce shows starring Goulet. In addition to his personal manager and his agency, Goulet also has a lawyer, a personal publicity man, and a male secretary to handle his fan mail.

Part of Goulet's maturing process includes a greater interest in world affairs, politics, and books and a determination to improve both his understanding of the world around him and his skills as an actor. On his own he began to study acting, enrolling in a class conducted by Nick Colasanto, himself a student at the Actors Studio. "The only thing that will save me from being just another performer is if I can learn to act," Goulet has said. Colasanto has been quoted as saying that his student shows outstanding promise.

Early in 1962 Goulet was earning about $100,000 a year, hardly a munificent sum for one of Broadway's hottest properties. At that stage of Goulet's career, however, the major effort of the persons who handle his affairs was not to make a lot of money for him quickly but to plan his career shrewdly and to merchandise it effectively. Goulet has expressed full confidence in their ability to do so. "I have faith in these people but I don't just take their word as law," he told Judith Krantz in an interview for Maclean's Magazine (January 27, 1962). "I have confidence in their good judgment but we discuss everything. Knowing that I'm a property has given me a little more confidence. I feel better about my future than if I were trying to do it all on my own."

Robert Goulet married Louise Longmore in 1956, and he is the father of a daughter, Nicolette Ginette. The couple are now legally separated. Goulet is six feet tall, weighs 170 pounds, and has blue eyes and dark brown hair. He dresses casually but neatly. Music is his hobby as well as his career. He is an enthusiastic golfer when his busy schedule permits, and he keeps himself in good physical condition with barbells and other gymnastic equipment.

As he readies himself for a career that promises to reach the heights of the entertainment world, Goulet recognizes his limitations. "I still don't think of myself as an actor," he told Judith Krantz. "First I'm a singer, second a performer-a guy who can do skits, variety, that sort of thing-third an actor and fourth … God knows!" But he is determined to improve himself. "I don't really know how good I can hope to be eventually," he says. "It's a question of reaching for the moon and then working like hell to make it to the top of the Empire State Building."

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