You wonder what the King is wishing tonight . . .
He's wishing he were in Scotland fishing tonight . . .
He's numb! He shakes!
He quails! He quakes!
Oh, that's what the King is doing tonight. FROM "CAMELOT," BY ALAN JAY LERNER AND FREDERICK LOEWE
RICHARD HARRIS is King Arthur, no doubt about it. He has been King Arthur on stage, all across the American continent, since last April in Los Angeles. He has been King Arthur on big screens around the world since the "Camelot" film came out in 1967. He worked very R hard to secure that identity, and he has anchored it firmly in the minds and hearts of Middle America.
But the role stops when he takes off the costume. Whatever the song may say, the king is not scared. At least, not often.
One recent evening at the Metropolitan Center in Boston, where "Camelot" has been smashing records for ticket sales, Richard Harris was not quaking, quailing or dreaming of fishing in Scotland. He was acknowledging a standing ovation, chatting with Josephine King, wife of the governor of Massachusetts, and wading slowly through a mob of fans at the stage door. "I feel so privileged," said one fan, standing at the head of a long line, shaking the actor's hand and thrusting out a program to be autographed. "What is Bo Derek really like," asked another. Harris, who really likes the Dereks, husband and wife, paused before giving a reply: "There isn't very much of her, but what there is is very pretty. "If Harris was worried about anything, it was a throat problem, aggravated by eight performances a week, which sent him to a Boston doctor. "It scares you," he said, "when you wake in the morning and you're hoarse. There is nothing worse -- nothing more terrifying -- than to go out on the stage and start singing and hear your voice crack."He was also concerned about the filming of "Camelot" for Home Box Office, which will happen in Detroit after the show finishes its week at Wolf Trap. "I'm not sure about televising a stage performance," he said. "It's such a different audience situation. In a theater like this, you have to play it very broadly" (and his arm moves out in a sweeping, theatrical gesture). "For television, you have to play it very small, and that's hard to do with a live audience.
"Here I am to give my all.
I know in my soul what you expect of me.
And all of that and more I shall be! FROM "CAMELOT," BY LERNER AND LOEWE
Harris has been in front of the cameras, away from the stage, since 1964, and he finds the return exhilarating, the thought of movie work boring, if not horrifying. There is one exception: he might make another picture with John and Bo Derek. "They're planning a pirate movie -- the Douglas Fairbanks-Errol Flynn sort of thing -- and I'd love to do it with them," he says. "Camelot" and other stage work will probably get in the way. He's sorry about that. "John Derek is disliked in Hollywood," he says, "because he is so straight. He tells them the truth and they don't want to hear. He had a $12 million budget for 'Tarzan' and he did it for $4 1/2 million by cutting out everyone who did not contribute. You don't make friends or earn gratitude that way, but he can't play the game."
Except for the Dereks, he seems completely soured by Hollywood and he likes a quote about the town that he attributes to Christopher Isherwood: "All an actor needs in Hollywood is sensitivity. Once you learn to fake that, you have it made."
"The stage is not a fake medium," he adds. "You can fake movies; God knows I've seen enough of it. You can get up there without an ounce of talent and be made to look good. No way on stage; you're on your own on stage, so you have to conquer that medium yourself . . . You can't do it with camera angles; it's you."
When he was asked to join the "Camelot" tour, Harris had just returned from shooting "Tarzan, the Ape Man." Before that, he had appeared in "Orca: The Killer Whale." These look like the low ebb of a career that had included distinguished work in such films as "This Sporting Life," "Camelot," "Cromwell," "A Man Called Horse" and "Major Dundee." And Harris cheerfully admits that when he returned to the stage, "I felt that my movie career was getting me nowhere, going from bad to worse."
But he defends both "Orca" and "Tarzan" in their original form, not the versions that were distributed. The damage, he says, was done in the cutting room, not in the acting or directing. " 'Orca' could have been a wonderful picture," he says, "and it turned out to be a joke. They had to cut it down to 90 minutes because they wanted time for an extra screening each day. An actor never has any control over the final cut approval of the editing of the film for commercial distribution and I don't think any director gets it now. John Derek thought he had it for 'Tarzan,' but when he began to insist they told him, 'We won't release it, or we won't advertise it.' They'll beat you every time.
"These insensitive businessmen sit up there, and they claim that they can speak with the voice of the American proletariat from their tables at Ma Maison and Chasen's Restauraunt where they have two-hour lunches at $350 a lunch, all on expense accounts, and go back in their Rolls Royces to their enormous mansions in Beverly Hills and they weekend in Palm Springs, and they can tell us what the taxi driver wants to see, what the shopkeeper wants to see, what the secretary wants to see? They've lost touch; they've totally lost touch."
If ever I would leave you,
It wouldn't be in summer . . . --FROM "CAMELOT," BY LERNER & LOEWE
When Harris joined "Camelot," he was given a percentage of the gross rather than a straight salary because nobody knew how well he would do. Since his arrival in April, "Camelot" has grossed more than $7 million. He estimates that his own cut, for a six-month contract, will be more than $1 million. The show was scheduled to end its run in Los Angeles last June, but it has been extended indefinitely. Eventually, it will return to Broadway, where it was launched two years ago with Richard Burton playing Arthur. The only question is when. Harris is insisting on November, but the producers are trying to extend the run outside New York first. "They want to stay out on the road because there's so much money there," Harris says. "They told me they couldn't get a New York theater now and asked if I would stay on the road until March. I told them I would quit the show if they didn't bring it to New York by the end of the year, and suddenly there are three New York theaters available. The Winter Garden is one, the Palace is another, and I'm not sure about the third."
Harris hopes to run on Broadway in "Camelot" for a year or so and then return to Broadway with his own production and adaptation of "Hamlet."
"I have played in three of the four cities that I consider world capitals of legitimate theater, London, Paris and Moscow," Harris said in his dressing room, a trailer which had been brought into the cavernous backstage area of the enormous Boston playhouse. "I played in 'Macbeth' with a British company in Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre. The only major theater town where I have not been on the stage is New York, and I'm looking forward to it."
Harris was reluctant to take the role in "Camelot" last spring when Richard Burton had to drop out for surgery. It is the first stage role he has done since 1964, his first ever in the United States. Movie contracts wiped out his stage career when he began winning awards everywhere for his film role in "This Sporting Life." Now, he is fed up with Hollywood, he sees a new chance to go back to the stage. "This is my third break, this 'Camelot,' " he says. "I have been 'discovered' three times in my career. This is my last chance, and I'm not going to let it slip away."
I wonder what the King is doing tonight.
What merriment is the King pursuing tonight? --FROM "CAMELOT," BY LERNER & LOEWE
At Boston's posh Colonnade Hotel, Harris sleeps alone in a two-bedroom suite. "I need two bedrooms," he says. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I can't get back to sleep until I go and lie down in the other bed." In a corner of one room, a few balloons lie on the floor, no longer buoyant but still inflated, and held in a cluster by colored ribbons that trail along the floor. On a long dressing table, next to two cartons of Vantage cigarettes, more than 20 jars, bags and cartons containing varieties of herb tea are spread out in a ragged row. When he phones down for rooom service, Harris asks only for hot water and a few pieces of dry toast. "Herbs!" he says. "I have another eight or nine of those in the other room. I have to keep varying them. I'm hypoglycemic and it's such a flaming bore. But since I discovered what the problem was, I've never felt better. I'm off drinking entirely, though I find I can take an occasional glass of wine from the 1950s or '40s; by that age, most of the sugar is gone. What I miss is sitting in a pub, putting my elbows on the counter and just talking to people. It used to be a way of life for me, very colorful and very rewarding, as a human being and as an actor. I could do that without drinking and I've tried, sipping a glass of Perrier. But frankly I found it boring."
Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not:
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot. --FROM "CAMELOT," BY LERNER & :OEWE
Compared to moviemaking, where he says "you find yourself acting for cameramen who are completely bored," Harris finds constant excitement on the stage. "I use an enormous amount of energy every night," he says, "but I get most of that energy in feedback from the audience." An evening watching the audience reaction in Boston confirms his impression -- even on a night when he clearly has throat problems. The audience goes wild.Part of the reaction may be heightened by memories of Harris in the movie. "I never could understand why Vanessa Redgrave threw him over for what's-his-name . . . whoever played Lancelot," saysone young fan.
Harris thinks that part of the reaction is rooted in a new need for the "Camelot" mystique. "The youth of the '60s are moving into leadership positions today, and they remember the Kennedy years, a time when 'Camelot' was almost a national anthem," he says. "People's memories are being cranked backward; they find themselves living in an age of suspicion, lack of leadership, and they approach the show as a sort of lament, a 'Paradise Lost.' They are asking themselves how did it slip away, and how can it be regained?"