The Films of Petula Clark

Finian's Rainbow
Pace Magazine
August 1967

Petula Clark rehearses with Fred Astaire and Don Francks for her first Hollywood film, Finian's Rainbow, on theater-in-the-round at Warner Bros. studios.
Below, Pet, 33, is a bi-generational, multilingual hit.
Petula Clark
After 32 million records she goes "Downtown" Hollywood
by Susan Vibert

     I was 10 when I first saw her sing on BBC TV. At 16 I was dancing to her Ya, Ya Twist. My parents remember her as Britain's Shirley Temple, singing to the troops in the Second World War. But when I left England I thought I had also left behind me all those British institutions, like egg cozies, double decker buses and Petula Clark.
     However, America was bound to catch on sometime--and she did. Three years ago when Warner Bros. released Pet's first single, Downtown, she rocketed to the top, winning a NARAS Grammy and selling five million records on the way up.
     There is something as universal as breakfast, birthdays, summer and snacks about this snappy, tousled blond. She has made number one on the hit parade in eight countries and five languages. The older generation understands the Beatles' I Want to Hold Your Hand the way Pet sings it. And Billboard rates Pet this year's seventh most popular female vocalist on campus. The only non-American in the first ten, she outsells Cher, Eydie Gorme and Nancy Sinatra.
     This summer she dons a long wig, a black shawl and an Irish brogue for her role as Sharon in Finian's Rainbow, the first Hollywood offer she has accepted.
     In a new concept of preproduction rehearsal that should help develop each character to the full, the cast is performing the musical on a set in a theater-in-the-round.

     "I enjoy this immensely," Pet chuckles. "It's a riot trying to keep up with Fred Astaire's dancing, and Tommy is a scream." Compatriot Tommy Steele says of Pet, "The word is talent. She's got loads of it.

Petula says:
     "...I'm no message singer. I just want my audience to feel happier, warmer and more confident. I am perfectly aware of all the horror in the world. I know everything isn't all honey and fabulous. But I use my music to combat my fears, not to express or dwell on them.
     I want to be judged by my work, not by any great remarks I might make. You know, I don't know that I am even all that interesting to talk to. I only feel exciting when I am up there on stage. There is nothing like the physical sensation of singing. I vibrate with excitement. I can feel it. That's my world up there, with a big band shoving me along.
     The theater seems to be the best way to reach people. There's so much emphasis on things that we are losing touch with people but I seem to be able to make contact when I sing. That's why I like to sing to a mixed group of old and young. Each group accepts something they wouldn't have if the other group hadn't been there. You can get very close to an audience during a two-hour concert. I arrive on stage as a stranger and leave as a friend.      Just about the most exciting time is when people come and talk to me afterwards. I always sign autographs. It's a good way to meet people. They often come and unload their problems to me. I don't know why. They just do. I could go on talking to them for hours, young and old.

      That's when my husband comes in. He always hurries me on. He is very important in all of this. He's French, realistic and practical. As my manager he looks after the business side.

"I use my music
to combat
my fears--not to
express them."

      He and my farther are the two people who have helped me most. My father was always mad about show -biz and still is. It was he who started me on my way. My first appearance was at a local church social when I was seven. I was given spirituals to sing. Now I choose my own numbers!
     I like to sing outgoing songs. Tony Hatch writes most of them now. He's English too and seems to be able to find just the right way of saying things. His biggest hits are" Downtown, I Know a Place, Round Every Corner and Don't Sleep in the Subway. I write songs too, usually music but sometimes the lyrics.
     Of course, some of those I write are very personal, especially Two Rivers. Only I can sing that. The two rivers are the Seine and the Thames.
     It's about our marriage. I wrote it to explain to my family and to the people of England why I had gone over to France and married a Frenchman. They hadn't been able to understand it at first. I still love England. And I have great faith in the youth over there. They are very serious people.

Two homesick Celts (Fred Astaire) and his daughter, Sharon (Pet) sing How are Things in Gloccamorra?

At the mike
and on the set
she's five-foot-two
of pizzazz

Director Francis Ford Coppola discusses a scene with Pet

     You know when Claude and I first met I couldn't speak any French and he didn't know a word of English. Then he started studying secretly in the bathroom, and I picked up French to such an extent that I was sent to Algeria and Tunisia as a French artiste.
     Now we are a completely bicultural family. The only trouble is that the children spoke French fluently in Paris last year but now that we are living here, they refuse to speak a word of it. They are as used to it as we are. It becomes a habit making a home wherever you go. The place no longer matters to us. It's the people around who are important.
     The girls are funny, charming and imaginative and the younger one, Kate, lives in fairyland. At first it's cute and fun being a parent. Then you start wondering: 'How much should we give them? Are they getting enough discipline? What do they need?'
     Every weekend we fly down to a beach in Mexico together to get out of the show-biz atmosphere. We play tennis and Ping-Pong and go horseback riding or swimming. But the sport I love best is skiing. I'll be able to do a lot of that when we live in Geneva next year.
     I must admit it's difficult to live in two worlds. I do it by concentrating on the one of the moment. When I am with the family I don't think about my work and vice versa. If I was worrying and to 'mumish' while I was singing I wouldn't do it properly.
     Sharon, the girl I play in Finian's Rainbow, also lives in two worlds--the real world and the world of make-believe. This film is just what I like. It's a misture of nonssense, fairy tale and very real drama and social comment. It's jus the greatest thing. It's saying something without protesting. There's some fantastic music too. I would like to make an album of the songs in the film. Nowadays if you sing something positive and straightforward you hit people between the eyes.
     I like to set my own trends in music. I am always on the lookout for something unusual. Downtown was new. It is musically well-constructed with a symphonic orchestra sitting on top of the rhythm section. There'd never been anything like that before.
     I don't know what the future holds. I never can tell what is going to come next. I didn't plan my career. It just happened. I've never planned anything, but when you work very hard at what is right for you then great things start happening.
     Would you please excuse me a minute? There's this tune going round in my head. I have it, but I'll lose it if I don't go off and write it down immediately."

-Back to Petula Clark's Filmography-