November always makes me think of Camelot.
In November of my sophomore year in high school, two good friends--Karen and Doug--invited me to see Camelot at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati. For me, it was a taste of enchantment. The first professional musical I had seen. Alan Jay Lerner’s witty, wonderful lyrics and Frederick Loewe’s lively music. And knights and chivalry and romance and magic and sin and redemption. And two mythopathic friends to share in it all.
|Richard Burton and Julie Andrews,|
Arthur and Guenevere
The musical, an adaptation of E. B. White’s The Once and Future King, was so seamless and perfect. It surprised me years later to read that the production had been beset with problems from the beginning. Lerner’s wife left him while he was writing the script. Apparently the original off-broadway showing was rather awkward and way too long. Then Lerner was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer and director Moss Hart had a heart attack. Lerner made some quick adjustments to the script to fix a bad ending. And somehow it all came together and worked.
|Robert Coote, Pellinore|
Gwen: “You’ll thrust right through him?”
Knight: “I’ll barbecue him!”
But Arthur loves Lancelot, and they become best friends.
|Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell,|
Arthur and Mordred
|Original Cast: Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet,|
(Front) Richard Burton
At the end, Arthur meets young Tom, who has come to join the Knights of the Round Table. His idealism reminds Arthur of his own youthful hopes and dreams when he became king. He knights Tom and sends him back to England to carry the memory and the ideals of Camelot:
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.
Perhaps Arthur was speaking to us, to me and my two friends.
Just three weeks after we saw Camelot, I was sitting in biology class when an announcement came over the loud speaker that the President had been shot in Dallas. The “American Camelot” came to an end, on November 22nd, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jacquie Kennedy coined this term to describe what she considered to be the idyllic years of her husband’s presidency. Kennedy loved listening to the music of Camelot, and he was particularly fond of the closing scene.
We three friends, driving home from the musical, had no way of knowing the future--that we would all wind up in separate cities, that Doug would publish a fantasy book but die not long after, that some day Karen's daughter would marry my son. All we had was that "one brief, shining moment" that would be a memory forever.
And now, November always makes me think of Camelot.