Friday, November 19, 2010

Petula Clark, Happy Belated Birthday

Above, Clark, "teleconferences" with huge 60s French music star, Sasha Distel.

Born November 15, 1932, Petula Clark has had at least four careers: child star with radio program, sultry 50s singer, Pop/Rock 60s icon, movie/stage star. Certainly not as talented as fellow Brits Dusty Springfield or Cleo Laine or Shirley Bassey, she nevertheless became a bigger star than all of them, thanks in no small part to the shrewd management of her French husband with whom she lives in Switzerland.

Trivia from WikiPedia and elsewhere: She's the only pop singer to have scored a #1 hit with a song written by Charlie Chaplin This is my song — written by him for his 60s film "A Countess From Hong Kong." Chaplin so badly wanted Al Jolson to sing the song that he had to be shown a picture of Jolson's 1950 tombstone before he abandoned the idea and had a copy sent to Petula Clark's husband/manager Claud Wolf, who, unlike Clark's regular collaborator Tony Hatch, liked the song.

After Hatch refused Wolf's invitation to arrange it for Clark to record; ultimately Ernie Freeman arranged the song and Sonny Burke produced the session - at Western Studios in Los Angeles - in which Clark recorded the song not only in English but in French as "C'est Ma Chanson" (lyrics by Pierre Delanoƫ who also felt the song a poor choice for Clark), German as "Love, So Heisst Mein Song" (lyrics by Joachim Relin) and Italian as "Cara Felicita" - lyrics by Ciro Bertini).

In fact Clark did not wish to record the song in English as she disliked the deliberately old fashioned lyrics which Chaplin refused to modify; however after the translated versions of the song had been recorded there happened to be some time remaining on the session which Burke coaxed Clark to use to record Chaplin's lyrics. The recording session featured the backing of the Wrecking Crew.
In 1968, NBC-TV invited Clark to host her own special in the U.S., and in doing so she inadvertently made television history. While singing a duet of "On the Path of Glory," an anti-war song that she had composed, with guest Harry Belafonte, she took hold of his arm, to the dismay of a representative from the Chrysler Corporation, the show's sponsor, who feared that the moment would incur the racist bigotry of Southern viewers. When he insisted that they substitute a different take, with Clark and Belafonte standing well away from one another, Clark and her husband Wolff the producer of the show refused, destroyed all other takes of the song and delivered the finished program to NBC with the touch intact. The program aired on 8 April 1968, with high ratings and critical acclaim.[12] (To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original telecast, Clark and her husband who had served as executive producer of the show, appeared at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan on 22 September 2008, to discuss the broadcast and its impact, following a broadcast of the program.[13])


  1. I think, with respect, that she was as talented in an overall way as any of them, and much more so than Bassey.

    Springfield is her hero, Cleo her friend, and I think for some time she lived in the same apartment block in Geneva as Bassey.

    Her voice at it's best is purer than any of them, although she certainly wasn't as brilliant at soul as Dusty or as jazz orienated as Cleo, she could and did sing both.

    She also acted, most recently as Norma Desmond on the London stage and as the mother in Blood brothers on Broadway. None of the rest of them could do that, nor did they ever make films.

    She is an allrounder who can turn her hand to anything, and has switched within a day from singing in Ceaesers palace in Vegas, to a student concert on Campus, and within the same show from French to English and back all night (Montreal, most recent concert 13th of this month).

    At 78 she has just fnished a tour that started in Australia and ended in Canada, taking in New Zealand and the USA on it's way and working most nights.

    I doubt any of them could cope with that schedule (I realise that Dusty died tragically young some years ago).

  2. Love Petula for the swiss army knife of an entertainer that she is, and for being a trouper, but for my money Shirley Bassey can trump her at roof-raising.

    If you like Dusty Springfield, I recommend Terry Gross' National Public Radio Interview with Vicki Wickham, who cowrote Springfield's "official" biography, Dancing With Demons.