The Films of Petula Clark
Goodbye, Mr. Chips

LOOK Magazine
October 7, 1969
by JACK HAMILTON








     In 1939. Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a heart-tug story of a shy schoolmaster who married and lost a magical wife, gave everybody a good cry, won Robert Donat an Academy Award (over Clark Gable's Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind and made Greer Garson a star overnight. Now, this gentle story, with its background of a British boys school quite unlike the one in the savage If... has been re-done, with a scattering of songs for mood. comment, thought, and with Peter O'Toole as poor old Chips.
      O'Toole. in magnificent form, will be an Academy Award nominee. But the movie's unexpected surprise is the fresh and deeply emotional performance of the Downtown girl. Petula Clark, who has worked and waited 30 years for a star-making role like this.
      Petula plays a London music-hall performer with a "troubled past. who is amused by, and then attracted to, fusty Mr. Chips and his quiet life. Director Herbert Ross says Petula's understanding of Mrs. Chips comes from her own experience: "Petula married after having had a long career in England with which she had grown disenchanted, suspecting her values were false.
      Then she met a Parisian. alive in a very European way - sensual, tactile. clear-cut. She changed her life completely and became fulfilled as a woman. But as a performer. Pet is a self-doubter, filled with a mass of complexes. A director's job with her is to keep her morale and confidence up."
      So is a husband's. Claude Wolff, a brusque woolly-bear man brave enough to marry a onetime child star and become her manager. says. "Of course Pet has to be pushed. She has no confidence because of her childhood, when everybody told her what to do and how to do it. She never knew whether she was good or bad. If she was good, she wondered whether it was from somebody else. He has pushed her once-static career to the international level in concerts,

records, and films, propelled her rocking hit record Downtown, which led directly to her starring roles in Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire and, now, Chips.
      If balky, pessimistic. complicated Petula had had her own way, she wouldn't have tackled the part and risk comparison with stately Greer Carson. "My husband forced me. I thought I'd have to start all over again learning how to act. I see everything with a gloom over it. If I were one of those super-looking tall women, like Miss Garson or Vanessa Redgrave, who walks into a room and turns all heads, I might relax a moment. But everybody towers high above me and calls me ghastly things like 'the mighty mite.' So I must slave twice as hard to prove that I'm here at all."
      "I had my horoscope drawn up to see if that could help me. It was so spooky I threw it away. There are certain bad aspects of being a Scorpio (November 15). I was convinced I could never find a husband. or bear children. I am drawn to the macabre and the mysterious. There's great passion, enormous amounts of love, of states of desperate happiness or unhappiness."









     Five foot one-and-a-half-inches-tall Petula battles her big complexes and has done some of the things she was afraid she couldn't do. She is a good wife. and mother to two daughters. and she and her family live in happy houses on the French Riviera and in Geneva. If Goodbye, Mr. Chips turns out well for her, it's only because she gave her blood to it.
     The performing Petula is a woman of lilt and force and shaded sexy eyes. She betrays no fears because "I undergo a physical release in singing, my complexes vanish. Onstage. I feel rather wanton. and abandoned. Well, I'm not married-I'm having an affair with the audience. And I am six feet tall."
     In her unmarried days in England, she showed another reckless side. as a quietly wild young lady nutty over sports cars and motorcycles, the friend of racers Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorne: "I used to mix with that crowd quite a lot. I enjoy driving, really driving. I'm not afraid of speed. I didn't want to be called a woman driver, so I decided to learn to drive beautifully. I took lessons in racing from a police driver. I bad an experimental Turner sports car, made of fiberglass, with a special Austin engine, designed to measure for me. I tried the Turners on racetracks to see how fast they could go. Sometimes at night, when the moon was out, I drove through the countryside alone, with no lights on."
     She gave up race driving when "I found that Claude was just that much better than me. He was able to drift around bends just a bit faster than me. I was a woman driver."
     Her playing second to Claude means she's playing the good French wife: "France rubs off on a woman and her attitude to life. It's a wonderful country for a woman. the men are good for you. I don't find the men romantic, I find them rather hard. but in a special way that makes you want to please them and



"The children are my domain," she says of Katie 6, and Bara 7. "They are always with us,
never in boarding schools. Even the idea of their going into show business chills me."

sing in French.
     "I thought I didn't want to start all over again in another language. To me France is the most foreign of all foreign countries. The people are complicated, even their ham and eggs taste different. What do they do to them?
      And then the light went out. The man screamed for someone to fix it, and somebody came in, stood up on a desk and put in a new bulb. The light went on, and it was Claude. I looked up at him, he looked down at me. I had dyed red hair for a film I was making, and a bad cold. When he left, I asked, `Who was that!' I fell in love at first sight. He could have been anybody--the tea or

they react beautifully to that. It's a kind of subtle battle of the sexes. In France, a woman is really a woman and has her place. In England, I was rather independent. As a Scorpio, I used to test people, and found my self unconsciously choosing men whom I could step on. I was wretchedly unhappy.
     Claude --he's a Capricorn-- is the first man whom I could never dominate. Women don't want to be too sure of themselves, or be too pampered. That brings out the worst in them. Claude pushes me a little further than I expect to go. He organizes everything for me. It's sort of a forced helplessness. I can then concentrate on the artistic side of my work, and on my daughters."
     Petula spent her early years far from France in her mother's native Wales, where she spoke and sang in Welsh. Her stagestruck father, a male nurse, transferred his theater ambitions to his precocious child, and Petula was duly cooed over as a honey-haired. dimpled moppet in some 25 British films, and as a child singer. "I became a symbol of childhood during the war to a great many of the English people. After the war, they wanted to keep those memories intact, and they didn't want me to grow up or show a womanly bosom. I was a child until I was 25."

     In the war years, `Pretty Pet" traveled on troop trains, sleeping on luggage racks, sometimes singing on the same bill with Julie Andrews. "People still compare us. They must think: They're contemporaries, they're English, they sing, they both have long faces.' Otherwise, we have completely different points of view, musically. As a singer, Julie looks at things in a clear-cut way. She must reassure people by telling them that this-is.how-it-is. With me, there are blurry lines, things I like to underline or throw away. I never had a set style, really. I'm still searching. Everything for me is based on the rhythmic line. Then I sing over the top of that. I never forget the rhythm, but I like to play with it, fight it sometimes, tease it."
     Through the 1950's. she was still under her father's management, and then the time came "when I had to be on my own. I wanted to roam the world and do something else. I could no longer agree with my father."
     At this crisis point, she was invited by a French recording company to sing at a Paris concert. Next day, she went to visit the company's chief, who told her that her English hits were being copied by a French singer, Dalida. He suggested that Petula stay in France and widen her career by learning to

messenger boy. I didn't care Claude was the public relations man. I was told that if I should decide to stay in France, he might escort me around Paris to meet the disc jockeys. I stayed forever."
      (Claude: "When the light went on, I thought she was, well, pretty, but in bad taste, with terrible dyed hair. And, too bad, with a good figure like that.")
     "Claude was firm with me from the start. He said I could be as big as Dalida in France if I didn't potter around, and really worked at the language. He whisked me all over to do interviews. I learned to sing some of my songs in French, parrot-fashion. We couldn't talk to each other, but he'd work out questions the jockeys would ask and write my answers phonetically. He'd nudge me in the ribs when it came time to spout my piece. I dread to think what I was saying. All this time, he was dating a tall French mannequin. I was mad with jealousy and more determined than ever to learn French."
     She hegan to savor French life and appreciate artists like Edith Piaf. "I'd never seen anyone come out on an important stage like the Olympia, in a little black dress, no sequins, and stand there and sing her heart out. She sang pretty strong, tough stuff. There was death around in her


songs love, sex, the real things in life. The French go to the music hall to experience something, not just to sit and watch. I was trained in the English music-hall tradition, where you come on, keep it nice and light, sing a cheery song. then a love song, then a funny song, never let it get too deep. When I stood on the Olympia stage myself, where Piaf had once stood, I found myself giving more, really digging down, chucking frills and trappings."
     In 1961, vhen she was 28, Petula and Claude married, to the dismay of her father, who never thought she would marry a foreigner. "My father has a strong personality, but he came to realize that Claude has an even stronger one. Now I think he admires Claude."


Petula, born in the horsey town of Epsom, has always been sports bent: riding, racing, skiing,
swimming. Here she rides champion Gazala at Paris' Chantilly racetrack.

     When she was giving birth to her first daughter, Petula suffered what she calls a descent into hell. "The nurse told me to breathe deeply when she gave me gas but she forgot I was a singer. I really breathed deep, the needle almost broke, and then I had a terrible vision under there. A voice mocked me, saying there is no God, you must he crazy. life is a joke, a trick to carry on so that children will he born, love means nothing. I begged the doctor to tell me that this happens to all women in childbirth, a kind of blaming your husband for bringing the pain on you. But I doubt that, for I very much wanted that child, so much so that I had a second child and didn't take anesthetic at all and bore her under natural childbirth. But then this all-is-evil nightmare came back again - months later. I felt like a frightened animal." - I have moments when it still returns. but not with such ferocity. When Bobby Kennedy was murdered, it came back again. What's happening in the world? Are the Americans lost? Are we all lost? Are we beasts?

It's times like that when I think the moment of truth must be the gas thing but I couldn't go on living if I thought that.
     Petula has tried to erase this, not by psychiatry. which she says the English don't go in for, but through Buddhism. "a little bit, more and more a kind of system of everyday life and concentration. I now think the way to live is to make every day important, to concentrate on everything you do and feel absolutely. If you just skim through life. vaguely touching on things, nothing can happen to you because you're not giving energy to anything."
     With films, concerts, recordings (Rod McKuen is writing an album of song and poems for her to record this year} the Wolffs are millionaires. They've sold their Paris house. "I'd like to be in love with Paris again the way I once was, but the charm has worn off for me. There's something in the air that keeps me from relaxing. It became bitchy, it's like a circus. I must have time to be quiet."
     What drew her, finally, to Mrs. Chips?


Petula and her family take their holidays at a villa in Nice, on the French Riviera, but home now is Geneva.
      "I like her because she is human, broad minded, and unafraid to show her honest feelings. Like me, she needed all along the different kind of man she met by chance."


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