Television's newest spy is running the biggest risk yet—his whole future
ROBERT GOULET, SECRET AGENT
Television's newest spy is running the biggest risk yet—his whole future
IN ONE OF THE SHAGGIEST shaggy-dog stories of World War II, an Allied agent is supposed to drop into Germany by means of an elaborate series of secret arrangements. But from the moment he sets out on the mission, everything is snafu. At the hangar where he’s supposed to take off. the aircraft hasn't been readied. The pilot is late. 1 he sealed orders haven’t been properly decoded. In the air, the pilot flies for fifteen minutes before realizing he’s headed in the wrong direction. Foul-up follows foul-up, but somehow the plane gets to the jump point, over the spot where a motorcyclist from the German underground is supposed to be waiting.
The Allied agent steps out of the plane, pulls the ripcord — and his parachute doesn’t open.
“How do you like that!" he growls. "Now I'll bet that damned motorcycle is late!’’
Here in Munich, twenty-five years later, there were some painful parallels in the case of a latelyappointed World War II agent named David March, alias Robert Goulet. As you already know it you ve been keeping an eve on your TV screen. Goulet is the spy-hero of a newseries, seen Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBC-TV and called Blue Light, after an actual espionage organization once dedicated to smashing the Nazi war machine from inside Germany.
At the time I saw him here in mid-December. Goulet had just been dropped into Germany on a four-week mission to shoot some hall dozen episodes of Blue Light, and everything — well, almost everything — was snafu. The cast, who had never worked with each other before, were a mad mixture of Germans. French, English and Amer-
icans, all flown in from absolutely everywhere. The producer and director were from Hollywood, but the technicians and cameramen were Germans who didn't understand English. The result was not just chaos but multilingual chaos. Every time the director. Walter Grauman, wanted a light moved or a camera angle altered, he had to give his directions in English, then wait until they were repeated in German. By the time the company had been at work three days, shooting w'as a full day behind schedule. The actors, a superstitious bunch anyhow. soon learned to blame everything on the infamous wind known locally as the Föhn. Bavarians insist that whenever the Föhn sweeps down from the Alps, there’s a sudden upsurge in murders, suicides, accidents and other assorted catastrophes. (To offset this threat to the company's morale, producer Buck Houghton had access to enough magnificent and authentic scenery to reshoot half of World War II: a ring of Alps, a scattering of turquoise lakes, tyrol red and green villages, domed and turreted castles, the biggest beer halls in Europe, numerous village inns, country roads and bridges and. for one scene, even a local brewery.)
The Föhn may not have been doing its evil work, but certainly some kind of ill wind seemed to be blowing no good for Bob Goulet in Munich, even on the weekend before shooting began. When I first encountered him in the corridor outside his hotel suite, he was just getting rid of a food trolley - a breakfast trolley, and it was already
one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Goulet, his pregnant singer-dancer wife Carol Fawrence. their baby boy Christopher and a nannie had arrived from NewYork thirty-six hours earlier, and they
still weren't used to the change in the time zones.
"We got in Thursday night,” he told me, "and we couldn't sleep, l ast night we each took two Seconals and we just woke up at noon today.”
He showed me into their rather large suite and mentioned that even their hotel arrangements had got fouled up. Originally they had been booked into the showy new Bayerischer Hof. "but they wouldn't provide a refrigerator or stove for Carol to prepare bottles for Chrissie." So the Goulets had come here instead to Die Vier Jahreszeiten (The Four Seasons) and now were looking anxiously around for a house near the studios "so Carol can cook and it will be quieter, too. The phone is always ringing here.”
On top of that, the hotel staf f didn't understand much English, and Bob ami Carol, still played out from a U.S. tour of one-nighters at colleges and supper clubs, hadn't found the time or mustered the energy to make much progress with the Berlitz Basic German booklet that lay on the coffee table in their sitting room.
What with one thing and another, anybody who remembered that old shaggy-dog story would have bet money that secret agent David March, alias Goulet, was about to find that damned motorcycle was late, too.
But it would have been a had bet — one that didn't take into account either the gamble Goulet himself was taking or the lengths to which he was willing to go to w'in.
It would be stretching the analogy too far to say Goulet was in as bad a fix as the secret agent whose chute wouldn’t open. But, no question about it. the Munich mission was his most crucial test in years — perhaps in all his life. Goulet fans have no trouble remembering the first big plateau of his climb to stardom, for it was a real, sudden break into the big time — one of those storybook tales that manage, every once in a while, to renew a press agent’s faith in nearfantasy. Goulet, they remember, had been one of those real oddities, an American-born entertainer who called Canada home, a singer and varietyperformer known to Canadian audiences on the CBC. on stage (Spring Thaw) and in clubs. But Americans had scarcely heard of him until he was invited to audition for the original Broadwayproduction of Camelot. Then he arrived late in the darkened theatre just as Ferner and Foewe were about to leave. At the last minute, he went uncertainly on stage, sang briefly — and won the second lead.
Nobody ever gets a single bigger break than that, but Blue Light, just the same, is a far bigger gamble. If he had missed his chance at Camelot. he could have returned to Toronto suffering nothing more than a few days’ disappointment. On the other hand, with Blue Light, in which he plays a non-singing role, Goulet is laying both his prestige and a great deal of his money on the line. “If I didn’t have the supper clubs and television specials,” he confided, “it could break me.” Rogo Productions, a company named for and owned by Goulet and his manager, Norman Rosemont, financed the pilot episode of Blue Light, which was filmed in Hollywood last summer. "We are / continued on page 33
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hooked for eighteen shows now." Goulet explained, "hut we make moneyonly if it runs three years and we cash in or all the residuals.”
In this context the phrase "make money" was really a euphemism: what he meant was that if Blue Lipht somehow wins, and keeps winning, that savage game of audience ratings. Goulet, among others, will be on easy street for life. On the other hand, it is not pleasant to contemplate what migh happen to the career of a halfa-mil ion-dollar-a-vear-plus entertainer after he has flopped in his own television series.
As a buffer against any ill winds that might blow his way . Goulet began swaggering onto the set each day. as breezy' as the Föhn ever gets. Between takes, in the three days of painfully slow shooting I witnessed. "Bobby”— as almost everybody was soon calling him—joked, sang and clowned incessantly. Typically, when Walter Grauman asked him to reshoot an Armstrong C ork commercial ( Armstrong is one of the show's U. S. sponsors) and "say your name more sexil}." Goulet puckishly made a rude gesture involving his zipper, broke into a suggestive little jig and then did. indeed. say his name more sex i 1 y-.
Even when others around him got jumpy, "Bobby" remained his same breezy self — superficially at least. On the second day ol shooting, with production already lagging, Robert E. l ew. a publicist for Twentieth C enturyhod. which owns a piece of the series, began talking about closing the set to outsiders (though he had been all promises about co-operation before that). Eater. Norman Rosemont tried to shoo me away from my interviewing ("Not now. dear — he's got to work on his lines"). But “Bobby” had other ideas. He waved me into his dressing room. “Norman's worried," he explained inside. "The way we're going now, we'll be here till Easter." Obviously these weren't the brave and optimistic words Rosemont and Fee would have cued for their secret agent. But at this moment, and in all the talks w'hich he had with me, not just willingly but. I thought, almost eagerly, Goulet revealed a great deal -mostly about himself and perhaps far more than even he realized.
As a working girl 1 always find it a little hard to get with the finan-
cial problems of a high-priced star. 1 mean, it's hard to visualize the grim realities of making only fixe hundred thousand dollars this year when all along you were counting on six hundred thousand. But even with that skeptical reservation in mind. I could see that "Bobby" had already discovered the truth of one of the things they say about the old treadmill of
showbusiness. He was. even now. a prisoner of his own career. Club dates. 1 V specials and guest shots and recording sessions have kept him constantly on the go. with no practical way until now of stopping, short of quitting the whole business. But now Blue Lipht seemed to offer the \erv kind of chance he'd been hoping for. "1 want to make enough monev to be
able to settle in one place and stav there and not live in hotels out of suitcases all the time." A successful television series would also do something very special for the Goulet ego:
I want to make Hollvwood change its mind about me." Hollywood's current opinion is based on two movie's. llonevmoon Hotel anil I'd Rather Be Rich, which Goulet made after
“I like to look. Don’t try to stop me—worry when I don’t”
leaving Camelot and which he would now like to forget (“Don't even mention the names"). He squirms just a little when the subject comes up but makes no bones about his own inexperience at the time: "I was a baby and nobody helped me."
If guidance and moral support arc
what he needs most, he may get all he can handle from Rosemont and Grauman. Rosemont credits him with “tremendous acting possibilities” which he believes Blue Light will bring out. “I personally want to play against the pretty image Bob has. It's not until you get some dirty work that a career starts moving.” Grauman already considers Bob a good actor:
“He’s strong, he's simple, he’s real.” Goulet himself is more modest — or at least more hesitant — in his assessment of his acting abilities, though he considers the Hollywoodmade pilot film of Blue Light to be noticeably superior to his two theatrical movies. But at the time that I was on the set, he didn’t feel he was giving his new role all it deserved. “At
first I felt self-conscious in front of the cameras, but I’m getting less so. I’d say I felt about fifty percent of what I want to feel now, but I hope I'm developing all the time. By the time the series ends. I'll probably feel about sixty-five percent.”
Even his problems as an actor came back to this problem of constant travel: while he was working in Camelot he had begun some acting lessons. But he hasn’t kept them up since. “I haven’t the time; 1 dearly want to study but, again, I'm never in one place long enough.”
Now that they're on paper, some of his remarks look like the things every pretty-boy-singer-turned-actor says, or is reported to have said, when he is supposedly confiding in a writer. But one weakness Goulet has — his only fault, if you believe Rosemont—is to tell reporters more than Rosemont & Co. would like them to know', often simply by blurting out a frank statement of fact. Rosemont was obviously embarrassed, for instance, to discover Goulet had told me he might be recreating his old Broadway role of Lancelot in the movie version of Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner was just starting to work on the scenario, and casting hadn't quite got to the we'reproud-to-announce stage.
And certainly no actor working hard to create a just-right image ever spoke as baldly to any reporter as Goulet did to me. Some samples:
ABOUT PROMISCUITY: “I was as
promiscuous as any one could be, between my marriages.” (Carol Lawrence is his second wife; his first marriage ended in divorce, after he hit the big time.) “I just had not had a chance [to be a roving bachelor] before; I married the first time when I was so young.”
ABOUT MONOGAMY NOW: “I get the itch sometimes. I like to look but that’s all I’d better tell you. Carol catches me out, though. I’m telling her about some one, and she says, 'Why is your face changing color?’, and I say in a loud voice, ‘What do you mean changing color?' I tell her, ‘Don’t you mind — don't you try to stop me looking; worry when I don’t.' "
ABOUT SELF-DOUBTS: “I have great moments of depression. I don’t know why. They come — they just do, less than before but still sometimes. I’ve never been to a psychiatrist.”
ABOUT CL OWNING ON THE .JOB: “It
helps everybody to relax on the set, and it helps me to relax, too.”
Apparently he was having one of those depressing moments of selfdoubt — a mild one, at least — when I asked him what he liked least about his current assignment. “The waiting and the tension,” he said seriously. ‘‘And knowing that what you’re doing has to be good.”
And he was in a more upbeat mood when he tried, again, to explain his attack on the role of David March: “I’m playing it cool,” he said. “That’s the only way I can play the role.”
Which, come to think of it, is a neat trick in itself when the ripcord isn't working too well and that damned motorcyclist may not be there to pick up the pieces. ★
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