Boomers Knew Camelot

Among the nominees for this year’s Tony Awards for Broadway productions was an adapted revival of a musical known to boomers: Camelot. The Lerner and Loewe musical, which first appeared on Broadway in December of 1960, is currently running in New York. Back in December of 1960, the original musical starred Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Queen Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot.

The musical opened with mixed reviews, but looking to pay tribute to Lerner and Loewe after their string of hit musicals in the 1950s (that included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon and My Fair Lady), Ed Sullivan invited the team to do a medley of their hits on his show. Instead, they chose to present four songs from their current musical, Camelot. Richard Burton and Julie Andrews were already established actors before appearing in Camelot, but Robert Goulet was in his first Broadway role. When he sang If Ever I Would Leave You on Ed Sullivan’s show, it so enthralled the viewers that the song became his signature number throughout his career.

Boomers, including Mister Boomer, watched the Ed Sullivan episode and therefore became aware of the Broadway musical. The show ignited advance sales in New York, and it went on to a three-year run on Broadway. It spawned several U.S. tours that overlapped the Broadway run, but most boomers knew the musical from the film adaptation, which was released in 1967. It starred Richard Harris as Arthur, and Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere. Of course, Mister Boomer also knew of the Mad Magazine parody of the film, Can A Lot, from 1968 (issue #123 for you Mad fans).

For the past six decades, Camelot, a story about a king looking to create a realm of justice and equality “for one brief, shining moment,” has become associated with the administration of President John F. Kennedy. How did that happen?

After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, in an interview with Life magazine, Jackie Kennedy said that the president often enjoyed listening to the cast recording of Camelot as a way of relaxing before bed. She was implying that John Kennedy was inspired by the aspirational idealism of the Arthurian legend of Camelot, though some dispute that assumption. Whether it is truth or myth in Jackie’s assertion, Camelot is associated with the Kennedy administration to this day.

Perhaps there is a historical lesson in the story that is a good description of the Boomer Generation in itself — aspirational idealism. Boomers felt they inherited a world that begged for change, and began the process by upending the status quo with political protest, fashion and music. The process of cultural change is still evolving today, but boomers took the proverbial ball and ran with it.

How about you, boomers? What memories do you have of Camelot?