Robert Goulet: a Broadway Gentleman

Broadway legend Robert Goulet died this week at the age of 73. The actor's self-effacing sense of humor survived the ups and downs of a life in show business.

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Robert Goulet taught us something. He died this week at the age of 73. He was touring the country in the "Fantastics" when he came to our studios in the early 1990s wearing a jiggling jet-black toupee and a blaring Max Factor tan. But Robert Goulet turned out to be gentlemanly and self-effacing, telling funny stories on himself in that great booming Broadway voice, like the time he heard a young singer on the radio and asked his wife…

Mr. ROBERT GOULET (Actor): Who the heck is that? I said, boy, is that bad? That guy, I don't know how he ever got into the business, but he should - I was saying all these things. I said, darling, will you change that station? She said, just listen for a minute, and boy, it got me. I was listening to myself, and I was that bad.

SIMON: He was quick to say that his boom years were past, when he was the young Lancelot in "Camelot" and won a Tony for playing the international rover who comes home in "The Happy Time." Mr. Goulet hadn't made an album or played Broadway in years. Roles for romantic leads, a man in their 60s were as scarce as old Ford Mustangs.

But Mr. Goulet could land fun, occasional bit parts often lampooning himself in "Atlantic City," "Naked Gun 2 1/2," and even "The Simpsons." He could tour the country playing the mature leading man in revivals of "Man of La Mancha," "South Pacific," or "La Cage aux Folles." A professional entertainer doesn't give any less of himself just because the audience gets a little smaller.

What Robert Goulet taught us that day is that people who've been up and down are more interesting than people who are on their way up and think that's the only direction life has. People who have been up and down, who've had to brush themselves off and start climbing again, have learned something: people who have only known up can think they're suffused with magic they forget that magic is an illusion, and that genuinely smart people know they've been lucky.

So when you hear someone on the show who may not be fresh-faced and current, but has been knocked around a bit and come up smiling, it may trace back to that day with Robert Goulet. He worked hard; he made people happy.

(Soundbite of song, "The Happy Time")

Mr. GOULET: (Singing) Remember a Christmas morning long ago, the frosted glass, the dancing snow, the happy time. Remember the painted horse, the carousel, the chocolate kiss, the caramel, the happy time. Remember a pale pink sky, or first piece of hat. And if you should ask me why the reason I ask you this is that I want to remember you, remembering the happy time. Yes, come back with me, yes.

Remember the day you found the dollar bill or roller skating down the hill, the happy time. Remember the compliment you once received, the lie you told they all believed, the happy time. Remember a long, deep sigh, I attempted to kiss…

SIMON: Kander and Ebbs' "The Happy Time."

This is WEEKEND EDITION, and I'm Scott Simon.

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