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Petula Clark

From Academic Kids

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Petula Clark on the cover of her latest DVD/CD release

Petula Clark, CBE is a British singer, actress, and composer best known for her upbeat popular international hits of the 1960s. With nearly 70 million recordings sold worldwide, she is the most successful British female recording artist to date. She also holds the distinction of having the longest span on the international pop charts of any artist, an astonishing fifty-one years - from 1954, when "The Little Shoemaker" made the UK Top Twenty, through 2005, when her CD "L'essentiel - 20 Succès Inoubliables" charted in Belgium.

Contents

The early years

She was born Petula Sally Olwen Clark on November 15, 1932 in Epsom, Surrey - her father Lesley coined her first name, jokingly alleging it was a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla - and became a star of radio and film before reaching her early teens. As a child, she sang in the church choir; her first public performances were in a department store in suburban London, where she sang with an orchestra in the entrance hall for sweets and a gold wristwatch. In October 1942, she made her radio debut while attending a BBC broadcast with her father, hoping to send a message to an uncle stationed overseas. During an air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to settle the jittery audience, and Clark volunteered a rendition of "Mighty Lak a Rose" to an enthusiastic response in the theater. She then repeated her performance for the broadcast audience, launching a series of some 500 appearances in programs designed to entertain the troops. In addition to her radio work, Clark frequently toured the UK with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. She became known as "Britain's Shirley Temple," and was considered a mascot by both the RAF and the United States Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they battled at El Alamein.

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With Sid Field in the film London Town, 1946
In 1944, while performing at London's Royal Albert Hall, Clark was discovered by film director Maurice Elvey, who cast her as an orphaned waif in his weepy war drama Medal for the General. In quick succession, she starred in Strawberry Roan, I Know Where I'm Going, London Town, and Here Come the Huggetts, the first in a series of Huggett Family films similar to the Andy Hardy movies popular in the States. Although most of the films she made in the UK during the 1940s and '50s were grade-B, she did have the opportunity to work with Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (directed by Peter Ustinov) and Alec Guinness in The Card, considered by many to be a minor classic of British cinema.

In the late 1940s, Clark branched into recording with her first release, a cover of Teresa Brewer's "Music! Music! Music!," in Australia. Her father, whose own theatrical ambitions had been thwarted by his parents, teamed with Alan A. Freeman to form their own label, Polygon Records, in order to better control her singing career. She scored a number of major hits in the U.K. during the 1950s, including "The Little Shoemaker" (1954), "Majorca" (1955), "Suddenly There's a Valley" (1955), and "With All My Heart" (1957).

International fame

In 1958, Clark was invited to appear at the famed Olympia in Paris where, despite her misgivings, she was received with great acclaim. The following day she was summoned to the offices of Vogue Records to discuss a contract. It was there that she first met publicist Claude Woolf, to whom she was immediately attracted, and when told he would work with her if she signed with the label, she immediately agreed. Her initial French recordings were huge successes, and in 1960, she embarked on a concert tour of France and Belgium with Sasha Distel, who remained a close friend until his death in 2004. Gradually she moved further into the continent, recording in German, French, and Spanish, and firmly establishing herself as a multi-lingual performer.

In June 1961, Clark married Woolf, first in a civil ceremony in Paris, then a religious one in her native England. Desiring to escape the strictures of child stardom imposed upon her by the British public, and anxious to escape the influence of her Svengali-like father, she relocated to France, where she and Woolf quickly became parents to Barbara Michelle (known as Bara and now wife of interior decorator Count Roger de Cabrol) and Katherine Natalie. (Son Patrick was born in 1972.) While she focused on her new career in France, she continued to achieve hit records in the U.K. into the early 1960s, thus developing a parallel career on both sides of the Channel. Her recording of "Sailor" became her first #1 hit in the U.K. in 1961, while such follow-up recordings as "Romeo" and "My Friend the Sea" landed her in the British Top Ten later that year. In addition to 1961's "Romeo", an international hit, such French recordings as "Ya Ya Twist" (a cover of the Lee Dorsey rhythm and blues song, "Ya Ya") and "Chariot" (the original version of "I Will Follow Him") became smash hits in France in 1962, while German and Italian versions of her English and French recordings charted, as well. Her recordings of several Serge Gainsbourg songs were also big sellers.

In 1963 and '64, Clark's British career floundered. Composer/arranger Tony Hatch, who had been assisting her with her work for both Vogue in France and Pye Records in the UK, flew to Paris with new material he hoped would interest her, but she found none of it appealing. Desperate, he played for her a few chords of an incomplete song that had been inspired by a recent first trip to New York City, which he intended to present to The Drifters. Upon hearing the music, Clark told him that if he could write lyrics as good as the melody, she wanted to record the tune as her next single. Thus "Downtown" came into being.

Neither Clark nor Hatch realized the impact the song would have on their respective careers. Released in four different languages in late 1964, "Downtown" was a huge success in the UK, France (in both English and French versions), Holland, Germany, Australia, Italy, and even Rhodesia. During a visit to the Vogue offices in Paris, Warner Brothers executive Joe Smith heard it and immediately acquired the rights for distribution in the States. "Downtown" went to #1 on the US charts in January 1965 and ultimately sold three million copies in America alone. It was the first of fifteen consecutive Top 40 hits Clark scored in the US, including "I Know A Place", "My Love", "A Sign of the Times", "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love", "Color My World", "This is My Song" (from the Charles Chaplin film A Countess in Hong Kong), and "Don't Sleep in the Subway". The American recording industry honored her with Grammy Awards for "Best Rock & Roll Record" for "Downtown" in 1964 and for "Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance" for "I Know a Place" in 1965. In 2003 her recording of "Downtown" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 1964, Clark wrote the musical score for the French crime caper A Couteaux Tirés (aka Daggers Drawn) and played a cameo as herself in the movie. Although it was only a mild success, it added a new dimension - that of film composer - to Clark's already impressive career.

The post-"Downtown" era

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Ad for the NBC-TV special that sparked controversy even before it aired
Clark's recording successes lead to frequent appearances on variety programs hosted by Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin, guest shots on Hullabaloo, Shindig, and The Hollywood Palace, and inclusion in musical specials such as The Best on Record and Rodgers and Hart Today. In 1968, NBC invited her to host her own special, and in doing so she inadvertently made television history. During a duet of an anti-war song she had composed, "On the Path of Glory," with guest Harry Belafonte, Clark innocently touched his arm, much to the dismay of a representative from Chrysler, the show's sponsor. When he insisted they substitute a different take, with Clark and Belafonte standing well away from each other, she and husband Woolf, producer of the show, refused and delivered the finished program to NBC with the touch intact. It aired to high ratings and much critical acclaim, and marked the first time a man and woman of different races touched on American television. Clark subsequently hosted two more specials, another for NBC and one for ABC, which served as a pilot for a projected weekly series. She eventually declined the offer to appease her children, who disliked living in Los Angeles.

Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Clark toured in concert extensively throughout the States, and often appeared in supper clubs such as the famed Copacabana in New York City, the Ambassador Grove in Los Angeles, and the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where she consistenly broke house attendance records. During this period, she also appeared in print and radio ads for Coca Cola, television commercials for Plymouth, and print and TV spots for Burlington Industries in the US, and television and print ads for Chrysler Sunbeam and print ads for Sanderson Wallpaper in the UK.

Clark revived her film career in the late 1960s, starring in two big musical films: Finian's Rainbow (1968) opposite Fred Astaire (for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe Award), and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) with Peter O'Toole. (Her last film to date was the British production Never Never Land, released in 1980.) After this, her output of hits in the States diminished markedly, although she continued to record and make television appearances into the 1970s. By the mid-1970s she scaled back her career in order to devote more time to her family.

Herb Alpert and his A&M record label benefitted from Clark's interest in encouraging new talent. When she heard the then-unknown Carpenters perform at a premiere party for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, she brought them to his attention, and he immediately signed them to a contract. In later years, she brought French composer/arranger Michel Colombier to the States to work as her musical director and introduced him, as well, to Alpert. (He went on to co-write Purple Rain with Prince, composed the acclaimed pop symphony Wings, and a number of soundtracks for American films.)

In 1954, Clark had starred in a stage production of The Constant Nymph, but it wasn't until 1981, at the urging of her children, that she returned to legitimate theater, starring as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music in London's West End. Opening to rave reviews and what was then the largest advance sale in British theater history, Clark extended her initial six-month run to thirteen to accommodate the huge demand for tickets. In 1983, she took on the title role in George Bernard Shaw's Candida. Later stage work includes Someone Like You in 1989 and 1990, for which she composed the score; Blood Brothers, in which she made her Broadway debut in 1993, followed by the US tour; and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, appearing in both the West End and U.S. touring productions from 1995 through 2000. In 2004, she repeated her performance of Norma Desmond in a production at the Cork Opera House in Ireland, which was later broadcast by the BBC. She has played the role more often than any other actress.

In both 1998 and 2003, Clark toured extensively throughout the UK. In 2004, she toured Australia and New Zealand, appeared in sell-out performances at the Hilton in Atlantic City, the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, Humphrey's in San Diego, and the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and participated in a multi-performer tribute to Peggy Lee at the Hollywood Bowl. A 2003 concert appearance at the Olympia in Paris has been issued in both DVD and CD formats. A studio recording of all new material is in the planning stages, and she is scheduled to appear with Andy Williams in his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri for several months in 2005, following another UK concert tour in early spring.

In 1998, Clark was honored by Queen Elizabeth II by being made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).

Selected filmography

Selected discography

  • Put Your Shoes On Lucy (1949)
  • Music! Music! Music! (cover of a recording by Teresa Brewer)
  • You Are My True Love (1950)
  • Mariandl (with Jimmy Young) (1951)
  • Where Did My Snowman Go? (1952)
  • The Card (1952)
  • Christopher Robin At Buckingham Palace (1953)
  • The Little Shoemaker (1954) (cover of a recording by The Gaylords)
  • Meet Me In Battersea Park (1954)
  • Majorca (1955)
  • Suddenly There's a Valley (1955) (cover of a recording by Gogi Grant)
  • With All My Heart (1957) (cover of a recording by Jodie Sands)
  • Sailor (1961)
  • Romeo (1961)
  • Marin (Sailor) (1961)
  • Ya Ya Twist (1962)
  • Chariot (I Will Follow Him) (1962)
  • Coeur Blesse (1963)
  • Ceux Qui Ont Un Coeur (Anyone Who Had a Heart) (1964)
  • Downtown (1964)
  • Invece No (1965)
  • I Know a Place (1965)
  • Dans Le Temps (Downtown) (1965)
  • My Love (1965)
  • I Couldn't Live Without Your Love (1966)
  • This is My Song (1967)
  • Don't Sleep in the Subway (1967)
  • Finian's Rainbow (Soundtrack) (1968)
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Soundtrack) (1969)
  • Sauve Moi (1977)
  • Blood Brothers (International Recording) (1995)
  • Songs from Sunset Boulevard (1996)
  • Here for You (1998)
  • The Ultimate Collection (2002)
  • Kaleidoscope (2003)
  • Starting All Over Again (2003)
  • Live at the Paris Olympia (2004)
  • Driven by Emotion (2005)
  • In Memphis (2005)

External links

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