Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Robert Goulet Punched Me In The Shoulder"

I was a performer on The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour, a CBS summer replacement series which hoped to be picked up for the regular season but wasn’t. We did four episodes. You know how you hear you can find anything on YouTube? You can’t find The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour. That fact may actually define “obscurity.”

Bobbie Gentry, a country singer who’d had a big hit with Ode To Billie Joe, was a pretty woman with a strong voice and a lot of wigs. Bobbie’s nightclub connections led to the show’s booking Vegas-style performers – Rich Little, Wayne Newton (who had a bodyguard who looked exactly like Wayne Newton), and musical comedy star (Camelot), turned Vegas headliner, Robert Goulet.

We were rehearsing a comedy sketch in which Goulet and myself would appear. It turns out Mr. Goulet had this kind of a quirk. Wherever he said something funny, or at least he thought was funny, Robert Goulet would punch me in the shoulder. It could be a line from the script, or it could be some quip that just came to mind, he’d deliver it, and wham! – he’d punch me in the shoulder.

I had a problem. Here I am, this new guy just down from Canada, and Robert Goulet, an internationally renowned entertainer, is punching me continually in the shoulder. The problem was

It hurt.

I’m looking around, and everyone, including the puncher himself, was laughing their heads off. It was pretty clear I was on my own.

Sometimes – for me, extremely rarely – you don’t think about what to do, you just do it. We’d been rehearsing for a couple of days. During a break, Goulet’s telling some anecdote of some kind, and after he delivers the payoff, he, once again, socks me in the shoulder. It turns out, this was my “Popeye Moment.”

“That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more.”

I punch Robert Goulet right back, accompanying my response with an angrily uttered, “Don’t punch me!”

It’s happened to me, maybe, four times in my life. I do, or say, something unexpected – and maybe unacceptable, I don’t know. It’s always spontaneous. I respond a certain way, and after it’s over, there’s always this thunderous silence, an enveloping Sound of Emptiness, a roaring “seashell to the ear” echo chamber filling the room.

It’s almost like the world blinks, or it hit the "Pause" button, confused, like it’s trying to piece together what it just saw. “Did he just do that?” "Did he just say that?" “To him?”

The action doesn’t seem to fit – a kid abruptly nailing their father. How do you follow that? What are you supposed to do?

In my experience – those four occasions – what happened next was always this:


A momentary glitch. A skip on time. “Temporary Difficulties – We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.”

There was a temporary crack in the earth, the earth closed up, and people went back about their business, behaving as if the event itself had never occurred.

That’s what happened when I punched Robert Goulet. No comments. No follow-up whatsoever. We just went back to work, no difference between before the event and after.

Except that Robert Goulet never punched me again.
I kind of missed it.


Anonymous said...

Hey Earl,

That's a cute story. Robert did have a habit of playfully punching people on the shoulder. He would do it automatically when he liked
someone but he never realize how strong he was.

Many recipients of that punch also miss it, and I miss watching him deliver it.

Thanks for sharing the story.

Vera Goulet

Joe said...

Maybe the reason "nothing happened" was because RG, being the son of Canadians, was able to intuit the subtlety and nuance of what you meant.


Jon Delfin said...

File under Woulda Shoulda Coulda: "Next time you hit me, I'm going to hit you back *exactly as hard*. You might want to keep that in mind."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I miss him, too. Whenever I'd say something stoooopid around him, he'd give me a smack upside my head. Not too hard, just a good brain duster. Yee-ouch. I did get to see him give a good one to my daughter. OMG, it was so funny ! I miss him like crazy !

Lori (Kit's daughter)