You could hear his shriek from Morehead Heights to Redondo Beach. Little Dougie had just noticed online that PBS was going to broadcast a Live From Lincoln Center performance of CAMELOT, although speaking as someone who knew him intimately, I can state without fear of successful contradiction that Lincoln's center hasn't been "Live" for 140 years, and his extremities have been dead even longer. Quite frankly, the man had been shooting pool with a rope since well before Our American Cousin opened live at Ford's Theater. (Although those critics that stayed the for the rest of the play praised my performance as "The Second-Most Memorable Event of the Evening." One critic, wrote in The Washington Post: "Not even History can impede the flow of Miss Tallulah Morehead." while the reviewer for DC PEOPLE wrote simply "Sic semper alcoholus!")
Dougie was making a tremendous fuss that a new production of Camelot would be on TV. "There just isn't a good performance of this show on film or tape." he babbled at me like I cared, "The movie is worse than anything even you were ever in." (I'm sure he meant that caringly, and also he's right.) "And they released a DVD of a stage revival, and it still starred Richard Harris, who ought to have been playing Merlin. After all, Merlin exits 20 minutes in and is never seen again."
This new version would star Gabriel Byrne as King Arthur ("Hmmm," said Little Douglas, "Not whom I'd cast, but maybe it will work out.") and Marin Mazzie as Guinevere. Now I saw Mazzie perform onstage in both Passion and Ragtime, and she was terrific in each, although personally, I have great trouble properly controlling my singing whenever I'm experiencing either of those conditions. (Though for the latter one, it has been a long time since I've experienced it.) "Wait a minute" said Little Dougie, "It says Fran Dresher is in it. That must be a misprint. Still, she's only playing Morgan Le Fay, a role so small, half the time they cut the role entirely. She can't sink this show all by herself."
Dougie was right. Fran needed help to turn this CAMELOT into a total train wreck. And she got help. A lot of help.
That's Little Julie Andrews and Big Dick Burton being charming and heartbreaking in the original Broadway production in 1960. Little Dougie loves the show Camelot. You see, 42 years ago, back when he was a mere lad of 15, Little Dougie was in a swell production of Camelot, the February, 1966, Long Beach Civic Light Opera mounting of this show, featuring Laura Killingsworth, Ed Cotter, Phil Haynes, and the original Broadway roadshow sets and costumes. Little Dougie played Lancelot's Squire, Dap (5 whole lines, including the show-stopping: "The queen is at the stake, your majesty, shall I signal the torch? Your majesty? Your majesty??"), and he sang in the chorus of knights. Here's a picture of Little Dougie in the scene that introduces King Pellinore.
All right, he's a little small in that picture. You can see him better in this program shot of the singing chorus.
Maybe it's just me, but do the two ladies-in-waiting in the front row at the far end away from Douglas look like they've been ladies-in-waiting for a long, long time? In fact, I think those two may have been Ladies-in-Waiting-for-Gidot. Also, you gotta admire Little Dougie's 1183-style period haircut.
Dougie was a terribly ambitious young actor back in the 1960s, for all the good that came of it. He acted and sang well, and was a terrible dancer to boot. Here he is, 40 years ago this month, singing and dancing (At the same time!) with a dancer named Pepper Clyde, doing the song Once In a Blue Moon in the show Little Mary Sunshine in Long Beach in May 1968. Dougie was playing Billy Jester, and Pepper was playing Nancy Twinkle, as well as choreographing the show. Pepper had also choreographed the production of Camelot Dougie had been in.
Let's look a little closer at Dougie in this ancient picture. Take a gander at this blow-up from that shot (taken, I believe, by Matthew Brady.),
Now you tell me how anyone could look at this 17 year old boy, onstage or in person, and not know he was a big old homo? For God's sake, he's given himself a fake cleft chin with eyebrow pencil! He was the 1968 version of David Archuleta, only Dougie actually knows the lyrics to the Beatles's songs. And you couldn't drag Dougie's father backstage.
"Bad" is not the word for Gabriel Byrne's performance as Arthur in Camelot this week. It's too paltry a word. Gabriel Byrne, as it turned out, is dead, and his walking corpse is not a very good actor, even by lower, zombie standards. (And my Zombie Acting Standards are low!) He could not sing, I mean at all! Next to Byrne, Richard Burton was Frank Sinatra. One might have overlooked the horrific off-key noises he was making, not to mention the invent-them-yourself lyrics he stuck in, if only he could act. If I hadn't seen him give expert performances in a number of movies, I'd think he was a homeless man pulled out of an ally and shoved out on stage with one rehearsal, as a dark, practical joke on all involved.
At least, his blown lyrics were good for a laugh. In What Do the Simple Folk Do?, he changed the lyric "A violent trance, astounding to behold." into "A violent dance, astounding to behold." I'll bet it was. What had he seen? I suspect it was "The Rumble" from Act II of West Side Story. Or maybe he’d just seen some simple Apaché dancers.
Marin Mazzie was giving good demonstrations of her songs. She made lovely sounds, hit the right pitches, and clearly enunciated the lyrics she could remember. And to her credit, she remembered most of them. I'd even go so far as to say she remembered a quorum of her lyrics. But still, for some reason, at the climax of The Lusty Month of May, she chose to suddenly toss in her Jason Castro impersonation, and began singing nonsense sounds instead of the proper ones. (Never try to watch a musical with someone who has been in it and knows every single line and lyric, particularly when the cast performing the show doesn't!) But there is a big difference between demonstrating a song, and performing it. When Marin sang Before I Gaze at You Again, it was very pretty. But then Nathan Gunn, as Lancelot, stepped up and sang If Ever I Would Leave You, and my God, a STAR was in the house! I'll have more to say about Nathan (A lot more) a little further down, but what is relevant here is that he not only hit every pitch, and remembered all the words, all bellowed out in the most magnificent rich baritone voice you've ever heard, but he was also acting! When Nathan's Lancelot sang, he was a man deeply, passionately in love, and in agony over it. When Marin sang, she was a very competent singer singing on TV.
Gabriel Byrne should hang his head in shame. (Actually, given his performance, he should stop hanging his head in shame, as that's all he did for two hours.) When a movie star with a reputation as a good actor is out-acted (VASTLY out-acted!) by a baritone from the Metropolitan Opera, something is wrong somewhere.
The wonderful openly gay actor/singer Christopher Sieber, ironically one of the original stars of SPAMALOT (And how's this for irony? Spamalot has already run on Broadway longer than Camelot did.), was wasted in the tiny, nothing role of Sir Dinadan, who gets a few lines to sing in Then You May Take Me To the Fair, and otherwise has less to do than Squire Dap. Hello? Sieber is too good for his role, while nearly everyone else is ghastly.
As it happened, the cast of Little Dougie's production, while not-famous (Although his King Arthur, Ed Cotter, went on to win an Emmy, albeit, for editing Happy Days.), were all better than these losers at Lincoln Center. (Where was Johnny Booth when you needed him?) Except for Lancelot, that is. Oh Dougie had a good Lancelot, it's just that Nathan Gunn was great. I'll get to him. Hang on. Here are Phil Haynes as Lancelot, and Laura Killingsworth as Guinevere, showing a lot more passion than Marin managed.
Didn't Phil fill his tights well? If he's still alive, he must be 80 at least, but in 1966 he was about as dashing and handsome as you could hope for. He could act, and he sang like a dream. And he had a quality that Robert Goulet always lacked, real sex appeal. Goulet always looked lacquered and sexless, like a living Ken doll. Phil was a man well worth mentally undressing.
Laura Killingsworth was the wife of the world-famous architect Ed Killingsworth. Here's is a bit of what Wikipedia, that unimpeachable source, says of Ed Killingsworth (Who was a lovely, gracious man.):
Edward Killingsworth, FAIA, (1917–2004) was an American architect. He is best known as a participant in Arts & Architecture's Case Study program in the mid-1950s. He designed and built Case Study House #25, "The Frank House," in Naples, California. He also designed numerous luxury hotels all over the world and a large part of the California State University, Long Beach campus. In the architecture world, "Killingsworth" is synonymous with ultra-cool Southern California Post-and-Beam Mid-Century Modern.
Here's Phil kneeling before Ed, a pose Ed enjoyed far less than Dougie would have. Believe it or not, this is actually a picture of two straight men. Apparently they were dead set on showing who Arthur is really jealous of. "Guinevere, hands off Lancelot. He's Mine!" Ed, I am glad to say, is alive and well as of this writing.
This is how Dougie usually saw Phil Haynes, five days a week for four years, for in addition to co-starring with Little Dougie in Camelot, Phil was also Dougie's high school choir director, voice teacher, and director of The Choraleers, a 16-voice group Dougie sang in for two years.
That's The Choraleers, and there's Little Dougie beside the "Happiness is a piano" sign. Don't you love the hair on the girl standing next to him? That's 1968 in your face! They're actually performing the song What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love, and Dougie had staged the number. In his heart, he was Bob Fosse. Sadly, he was someone else entirely in his feet. That was the 1968 Choraleers. Here's the 1967 Choraleers, with two of the girls missing.
Phil was a major mentor to Dougie for four years, that rarity of rarities, a "Good Influence," whatever the hell that is. A father figure who was actually interested in and knowledgeable about the things that Dougie was interested in, unlike Dougie's real father, and it didn't hurt in the least that Phil was good-looking enough to provoke naughty thoughts in Young Dougie as he watched Phil stuff himself into his dance belt backstage every performance.
Is it any wonder that, unlike many, many gay men, Little Dougie looks back on his high school days with fondness?
Here's King Arthur discussing wardrobe choices with Mordred. I've always wondered how Mordred kept his sleeves out of his food while he ate.
While we're here, please take a moment to admire the footware in the Arthur and Mordred picture. What the hell is Arthur wearing? Medaeval wing-tips?
This next picture captures the horrifying twist Little Dougie's production added to the ending, which certainly sent viewers home with a jolt. Arthur gets all excited about knighting Tom of Warwick, sending him back home, with instructions to:
"Ask every person if he's heard the story.
And tell it loud and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory,
That was known as Camelot."
In this production, as you can see, Arthur got carried away, and stabbed Tom through the brain. He turned to the audience and said, "Oops." [CHORUS SWELLS. FINAL CURTAIN!]
I HATED this new TV Mordred!!! Bobby Steggert played him as some sort of gay Goth, with all the menace of Chris Kattan's old SNL character Mango. While he sang THE 7 DEADLY VIRTUES, he flirted with all the butch knights. Why didn't the knights just kill him? Did they think he was a girl? Did he think he was a girl? What an eccentric performance. How bad are you, when you and Roddy McDowell play the same role, and Roddy is the butch one?
People shouldn't applaud Fran Dresher's entrances; it only encourages her. She was far too busy being artificial and pleased-with-herself to bother with a performance. That Morgan Le Fey spoke with Fran's voice was funny for one line. By the time her musical number began, you wanted to see her killed. By the time she exited, you were ready to waterboard whoever had had the bright idea to cast her in the first place. I was just relieved that Robin Williams hadn't played Merlin, not that Stacy Keach smothered himself in glory. Actually, he smothered himself with ham. Instead of acting, instead of letting Merlin actually be excited when Arthur acquires ambition, Keach merely announced he was excited, while smirking smugly, and delivering his lines in precious, cutesy ways that seemed to ask: "Aren't I adorable? You know, if something terrible and unthinkable happened to Michael Gambon, like if he died, or he had a terrible accident, like getting run down by my car, late at night, when no saw it, or the driver, you know, something like that, then wouldn't I be a perfect Dumbledore in the last few Harry Potter films?"
Here's Arthur with Little Dougie's Merlin, played by Michael Brown, who is still a good friend of Dougie's, still acting, and directing. If you live near Costa Mesa, look for the production of Del Shore's Sordid Lives which he'll be directing down there in a few months. And if you ever see a production of a play called Earthlings Beware! advertised, go see it. Michael wrote it, and it's hilarious.
Last year, Bobby Steggert played Jimmy Curry in the revival of 110 in the Shade. Here he is being all butch while Starbuck describes his plan for a nationwide string of coffee cafés.
And here he is camping about with a girl's hat, singing about how he got this girl's "Little red hat." How gay is that? What Douglas? It means what? Oh. Douglas says the hat symbolizes getting her cherry. That a man gets a "Little red hat" on the end of his Rod of Eros when breaching a virgin maidenhead. I barely remember mine. It left this world a century ago. I recall there was a lot of blood, but almost none of it was mine.
As it happened, 110 in the Shade is another show Little Douglas did, 40 years ago this week, immediately after Little Mary Sunshine, the last weeks of May, 1968. This time, Doug was one of the leads. He was File, who gets the girl at the end, so it was still a fantasy. Phil Haynes conducted the pit band.
In this picture from that show, Dougie's character has just punched out "Jimmy Curry," Bobby Steggert's role last year. (I know. I didn't buy Little Dougie flattening this larger, tougher, butcher lad either, but Dougie swears that, when you saw the play, the punch was far, far sillier.) Anyway, Bobby, consider this punch thrown at you through the decades on behalf of poor Mordred. (Douglas is beng "restrained" by two of his fellow Choraleers, Calvin Hoff and Curt Hespe. Doug was probably yellling "Hold me back! I'm a gittin' riled now, so hold me back!")
But the news about this fresh Camelot wasn't all bad, because there was Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot, and he was terrific! Not only is he gorgeous, with the body of the son of Atlas and Adonis (I know Adonis and Atlas are both male, but they can adopt in California.), and a heavenly voice, but he can act! "Big stars" Fran Dresher and Christopher Lloyd played "English" characters that sounded like they were from New York. The English accents were so absent, that Gabriel Byrne apparently hid his under the same bushel where he stored his acting ability. But Gunn, who was born in Indiana and lives in Illinois, played a French Lancelot who actually sounded French. He even has perfect comic timing. He is, and has, the full package!
Plus Nathan is the reigning king of a new type of opera divo, the Barihunk. Take a look at this picture of Nathan in the opera of Billy Budd.
Oh my God! He should be named Nathan Gunns, as his are fantastic. He's a male Dolly Parton. My gracious, his tits are huge! Looks, talent, charm, I am in love! I was on a jet to his landing strip at the speed of light. Here we are making beautiful music together.
Bear this in mind; he's an opera superstar. That's right; a nobody! I am a Big Movie Star, and I was literally throwing myself at his feet, and he turned me down! Whatever happened to respecting your elders? I'm more than 70 years older than he is. Who is he to turn me down?
And his excuse was so lame! He kept saying his "wife" didn't allow him to have sex with other women. How flimsy. How transparant. Heaven knows that never stopped any of the handful of straight husbands I had when no gay men were available for me to marry.
Oh wait. I see now: a big, muscular, butch man who loves opera, takes his shirt off a lot, has a (wink wink) "wife." I get it. He's gay. Of course. I understand. After all, more than half of my husbands "Loved opera." Well, at least this way I won't run the risk of suffering the catastrophe that befell Nathan's co-star in the opera of An American Tragedy. Now that was an American tragedy!
Barihunks aren't new, of course, just the term is. 17 or 18 years ago Little Dougie and I saw the premiere Barihunk, Rodney Gilfry, play Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the LA Opera. (Stop laughing. There is too an LA Opera. Yes there is. They're very good. No, really! They are! I saw Flacido sing Otello there. I tell you, they're good.) Anyway, we saw lovely, gogeous Rodney come on shirtless, and dress as he sang the famous Figaro aria. Woke me up, which isn't easy when there's an opera playing. Dougie loves opera. (Gay! The prosecution rests!) He also saw Rodney play Mozart's Don Giovanni live, despite Mr. Gilfry remaining overdressed, that is, dressed, throughout the whole performance. No such blunder occurred when Rodney played Stanley Kowalski in André Previn's sadly unmelodic opera of A Streetcar Named Desire on TV. The opera was lousy, but Gilfry, a boyish, extremely likable lad, made a perfect brutish Stanley. It would make for a very different Night at the Opera.
Here's how I imagine it went when Mrs. Claypoole invited Rodney to thrust his way deep into her private box at the Streetcar premiere. Otis B. Driftwood can't seem to escape fast enough. I'm with Mrs. Claypoole on this one. Rodney could clear my table anytime.
But Rodney, though still beautiful, is fast approaching 50. his barihunk roles are passing on to new singers. Our adorable Nathan Gunn has absorbed his Billy Budd, for an opera production so homoerotic, it married Liza Minnelli, and tongue-kissed her on The Larry King Show.
Nathan has not as yet played Stanley in Streetcar. Perhaps he heard the score, or maye he's just too nice to play that brute. (Although you can't get much nicer than Rodney.) However a half-Maori Barihunk named Teddy Tahu Rhodes is tearing up the stage as Stanley in Australia these days.
As long as gay men and wealthy, widowed courgars make up the bulk of opera audiences, the Barihunks will flouish. To hell with the fat ladies singing, it won't be over until the hot baritone disrobes! This will make Mozart!
Some things, like Barihunks, are eternal. Other things, like youth, are ephemeral...
... at least, for YOU!