September 4, 1998
Sunday Magazine
Daily News
The Headbone Zone for Kids

Atlantic City

She's been `Downtown' and many other places

By Jack Lloyd

'I had a career before 'Downtown,' and I've had a career after 'Downtown.' A lot of people don't seem to realize that."

So says Petula Clark. And a lot of those people she speaks of are in the United States. They remember the British singer for her hit records in the '60s -- in addition to "Downtown," there were "I Know a Place," "Don't Sleep In the Subway," "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love," and "This Is My Song" -- and her movies, including Finian's Rainbow with the late Fred Astaire and Goodbye Mr. Chips, in which she costarred with Peter O'Toole.

And then she was gone. Or so it seemed.

Actually, Clark did retire in 1977. Make that semi-retire. She was worn out from the constant work in this country and abroad. She was starting a family and not seeing enough of those she cared for the most. So she settled into her house in Geneva.

"I thought it was about time I became an ordinary person -- to take care of the kids, take care of the house, and raise radishes," she said. "I would do only occasional concerts. After about two years of that, though, the kids" -- three of them, now grown -- "told me to get out of the house, to go back to work."

Mostly, she kept busy in Europe, but in 1991 Clark agreed to star in the Broadway production of Blood Brothers with David and Shaun Cassidy. She did the show for a year in New York, and then spent 12 months with the touring company.

Now, Clark is back in this country, and she is appearing at Resorts through Monday, singing a repertoire of her work on record and stage.

She spent much of last week in New York, in planning sessions for reprising the role of Norma Desmond in a touring production of Sunset Boulevard, which is scheduled to launch in Pittsburgh on Dec. 1. Clark starred in the London production from September 1995 until it closed last year. "This will be an entirely new production -- choreography, everything," she said. "Andrew [ Lloyd Webber ] is very excited about it. And to be honest, I'm looking forward to playing Norma again. I grew quite fond of her.."

The new Sunset Boulevard is scheduled to open in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theatre on Jan. 19.

Clark, a native of Ewell, Surrey, made her professional debut in England in 1941, at the age of 8. A year later, she had her own radio show geared to entertain the troops. And she toured military bases extensively.

In the late '40s and early '50s, Clark made more than a dozen movies in addition to recording numerous hit records. "The problem was, I was starting to grow up and no one wanted me to grow up," she said. "The people who made the movies wanted me to remain a little girl, and so did the public."
By the mid-1950s, Clark's English hit records were being covered by French singers, and her record company urged her to go to France and "defend myself" by recording in French. She agreed to go over for one performance.

"The next morning, I met Claude" -- Claude Wolff, who later became her husband and manager -- "and I thought, 'Well, perhaps I should stay here and defend myself.' I knew no French at the time. I recorded the songs phonetically. And the next thing I knew I was the No. 1 singing star in France. The records were also selling well in Germany and Italy. I was quite content, living and working in France. Whenever someone would suggest that I record in English, I said, 'When the right song comes along.' "

The right song was "Downtown," which topped the charts in 1965 and introduced her to America in a big way. Petula Clark was an international star.

"Until the Beatles came along, it was unheard of for a British act to make it in the United States," she said. "But there was that so-called British Invasion, and I was part of it."

Clark has not been a big record-seller in this country for many, many years. Her last album, Where the Heart Is (First Night Records), is available here only in the import shops.

"After the Atlantic City engagement, we'll be going to Los Angeles to record, but it's difficult," she said. "I certainly don't have a high profile at this point. Once you're out of the record market, it's difficult to get back in. Let's face it: I'm not 16 with a lot of body piercing."

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