A Show With Goulet?? No Way!!
Yes way. Unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unexpected. This encounter went down at the Beverly Wilshire Main Bar, which, before being re-done and re-purposed, was one of the last authentic traditional upscale bars in LA, and one that looked like it could easily have been in New York. Rich wooden walls with intricate inlaid wood designs and art scenes, cigars and tuxes everywhere, including the required one on the pianist, every hour of every show.
I remember years before I ever started to play there I walked through it, during a break on a gig in a nearby ballroom, and was mesmerized, thinking that I would never get to play in a place so regal and fancy. It was huge and had its own separate atmosphere. With an old Steinway grand piano that had been babied all its life, which was a breeze to play, and probably had more stories than Ray Bradbury after a highball. I started playing there five nights a week in the late 90s, and remained nightly for seven years. That hotel is ancient, stuffed with tradition and old school virtues or at least it had, I’ve been away now for quite a while. The entire top floor was one or two enormous residence suites where somebody lived full-time, sometimes there would be a gig up there and I would get a look at the green and white marble floors, antique fixtures and things left pretty much the way they were in the 30s. There was a strange clash of the muffled traffic noise on the boulevard far below, and probably was basically the same sound since way back in the early years after the depression of 1929.
And in the bar, on a night in 2002, there was Robert Goulet, sitting in the corner, with a newspaper and a drink, in a robust white cable knit sweater, scarf and slippers, sipping, reading, digging the relaxation. Moustache’d and smoothly coiffed, with tortoise shell glasses, he was as regal a gentleman as has ever entered that watering hole. He was very quiet, with pleasant disposition, occasionally talking with his wife next to him. You can almost sense when the collective awareness of a room heightens, and very quickly people were realizing who he was. A broadway titan, a singing Goliath with a voice that could melt diamonds. Records aplenty that were worldwide staples. He had one of those voices that, even if you had never heard of him before, after three notes your brain was somehow understanding “Hey, that’s gotta be Robert Goulet!”
Minutes later in the evening, that collective awareness broke wide open when someone came up to him, congratulated him, and asked for his autograph. And then they timidly asked if he would…..sing….something?? The stillness fell like a cloak of black velvet as we all waited…..”Why sure!”, was his reply. He was quickly on his feet and he sauntered over to me in his slippers, as the small crowd of patrons got comfy. I was stunned. How easily he was obliging these people, without a snag nor any attitude whatsoever! “Tony, what’ll it be?” he happily asked. He had made sure to get my name earlier in the evening, like a gentleman’s gentleman, putting me at such joyous ease. My stomach was tickling, as I undocked the microphone from the stand and handed it to him. My own microphone. In the hands of Robert Goulet. And what a grand luxury character this guy was. “Whatever you want to do, it will be fun!”, was all I could say.
First he did “If Ever I Would Leave You”. How unbelievably magnificent. One of the elder women in the bar began crying. It was like hearing “The Man Upstairs” if you know what I mean, once and only once. Except not once. Tonight it would be the Robert and Tony Show. Literally. For the next 30 minutes he worked, with me as his sidekick, bouncing remarks off me, asking me questions and chatting on the mic. Telling a couple funny tiny stories to the room. People were astonished. Incidentally his way of holding and handling the mic was the most skilled I’d ever seen. He knew automatically how near or distant he needed to be, how far he could walk around without running out of cable, never getting crossed up in it. He didn't actually look at the mic once. He used the front of the piano like a prop, and never lost his connection with the increasingly giddy Tony, his straightman, looking at me often, smiling and turning. It was Vegas! It was heaven. What was next? Oh, let’s see, just…“Some Enchanted Evening”. Jaw-dropping. Then he did a version of “Strangers In The Night” that was brilliant.
When he was done, people clapped but were courteous, no yelling out calling for more, no hounding him with requests, just a shimmer of amazement illuminating every single face in that room. There are people with whom I’ve still been in touch since those days, who witnessed that evening. They often reminisce and remind me about that night, and how they can’t believe there wasn’t a $100 cover charge added to each table. I talked with him a little later, before he left the bar for the night, and thanked him for such a privilege. We exchanged info (written down on paper in those days, of course), and he made me promise to look him up whenever I happened to be in the “other” Vegas, where he was living. At the end of 2002, a Christmas card arrived at my house from Mr. Goulet with a nice note. And every single year thereafter came another until his passing. In the end, I suppose God just couldn't wait any longer for his own private show. So how do I feel about this night? I think everyone should have that feeling of seeing the earth from outer space, and realizing that all we have are the memories, the moments of utter joy, that we shared with one another.