Friday, November 30, 2012

Episode 11 with Guest Harry Belafonte

On Wednesday, November 30th, 1972, at 10:00 pm, the 11th Episode of The Julie Andrews Hour was aired. Unlike the previous Disney show, this episode with guest artist Harry Belafonte was clearly a sophisticated show meant for late night audiences.

After saying hello from their onstage dressing rooms, Julie and Harry appear on a stage set of starry blue night and perform some fancy moves before launching into their high energy medley of “walking” songs:

“There’s the kind of walk you walk when the world’s undone you,
  There’s the kind of walk you walk when you’re feeling proud…”

The eight Tony Charmoli male dancers, who join the stars, dancing with abandon along a lighted walkway, add to the “hip” feel of the number. Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte do some sharp period ballroom dancing, after which Belafonte takes off with some funk of his own, bringing a unique excitement to the piece. The medley concludes on a high note with an energy level usually reserved for show finales, yet in this case, it’s only the beginning.

The next scene opens with guest Sivuica playing guitar in the foreground and Harry Belafonte seated in darkness under a spot in the background. Belafonte sings “Suzanne,” a slow, folk song, with quiet intensity. This number is beautifully shot, as are all the numbers on the show. For this show, Belafonte’s solos have been carefully planned in terms of movement, lighting and camera angles, making it one of the over all finest of the series.

[Belafonte was born March 1, 1927 in Harlem, New York. From the age of five, until he was thirteen, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to New York and pursued a career as an actor and studied alongside great actors Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando.

To pay for his acting classes, Harry Belafonte began working as a club singer. Although he began as a pop singer, he had a keen interest in folk music and his careful and studied pursuit of this led him to great success. After an appearance at the Village Vanguard in NYC, he was given a recording contract with RCA. His 1956 album, Calyso, sold over a million copies in one year, the first LP in U.S. history to do so. “Matilda” was his first widely released single. In the next decade he earned six Gold Record.]    

There are many nice moments in Episode 1. Among those that stand out are the times where Julie, Harry and Sivuica (whom Julie describes as “Santa Claus”) get together and have some musical fun. Their first number together is Belafonte’s great hit, “Mary Ann.” Later in the show, Sivuica trades the guitar for the accordion and this time, the trio really goes wild. While Sivuica squeezes all kinds of wild sounds from his “box,” Harry starts dancing and encourages Julie to let go, which she does, first playing a whistle, then a gong, and finally pulling in some wild vocal sounds of her own. From here, the trio launch with great fun into one of Harry Belafonte’s top hits, “Matilda.”

At one point, adding to the fun, impersonator Rich Little enters the stage dressed like Belafonte and singing with his accent. It makes for a good laugh, especially when Julie tries to hit him.

One of the loveliest moments in the show occurs after Harry Belafonte suggests that Julie try singing with Sivuica’s playing. Standing against a lovely set, replicating European garden arches, she sings “Starry, Starry Night” to the gentle tones of Siviuca’s guitar. The song is about Vincent Van Gogh’s troubled life and, ultimately, his suicide. The quiet, intimacy of her performance is beautiful and deeply moving.

Belafonte follows this beautifully sad song with one of his hits, “Mr. Bojangles.” Set in a park with rows of benches and street lamps, Belafonte is dressed in ragged clothing and wearing shoes with holes in their soles. A bowler hat and cane add to the style of the piece.  It’s difficult to tear one’s eyes from the artist and the atmospheric scene. Director Bill Davis uses a number of unique shots to add to the artistry, including split screens with close-ups and full body shots and a still shot that captures the singer leaping through the air. It’s a great performance, captured with wonderful artistry by director Bill Davis and cameramen.


It is always a surprise to see how much is packed into an episode of The Julie Andrews Hour and this show is no exception. Indeed, the next number is a surprise. Dressed in a gorgeous gold weave caftan gown with Nehru collar, Julie Andrews sings a very intense rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine.” Once again, the director uses a split screen to show Julie’s beauty in this splendid gown, which must have cost a fortune. In the finale of this number, Julie is captured in slow motion as she twirls with joy to the music. This number simply has to be seen to be appreciated.

Then, suddenly, we are not in a musical land anymore. Julie and Harry appear, seated on a park bench. Almost immediately, we feel they are not themselves. In fact, Julie’s character seems completely different from her, a true testament to her acting ability. The characters Andrews and Belafonte are portraying seem almost playful in the beginning, yet, underneath, there is something tightly strung and not quite right. Though this scene lasts only a few minutes, it seems forever and we cannot turn away. We must find out what is going on with these two characters. Belafonte seems protective of Andrews, while she seems ready to snap at any moment. Again, realizing the brevity of the scene, it is amazing to realize how deeply we are pulled into it. In the end, after she tells him, “I wouldn’t talk to you if you were the last person on the earth...” the camera turns back and we discover that indeed, they are the last two persons on earth.

On the 11th episode, “Look to the Stars” is devoted to those born under the sign Gemini. Among those paid tribute to are Bob Dylan, (Belafonte sings “Blowing in the Wind), Beatrice Lillie (Julie sings a hilarious “Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden”), and Paul McCartney (Julie sings “Yesterday.”)  There are also some scenes and vignettes with Alice Ghostley and Rich Little portraying the characteristics of Geminis, but it is the tribute to one of the show’s creative men, Nelson Riddle, that steals this segment.

 “Fever,” an arrangement which Riddle wrote for Peggy Lee, is sung by Julie Andrews. Although she’s wearing a high collared pantsuit, a costume which seems odd for this particular song, what she is wearing soon matters little as Tony Charmoli’s choreography comes into play. The number begins with Julie surrounded by eight male dancers, who are standing on huge drums. We, the viewer, only see the dancers’ legs as they beat out the rhythm of this very seductive song. As Julie sings, she moves provocatively from place to place, sometimes taking hold of dancer’s leg, sometimes leaning against them. It’s a great number.

As the segment on Gemini concludes, we find that the show is over. It was a great show. Thank you, Julie Andrews, Harry Belafonte and all associated with this show. Bravo!

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Coming Soon:-December 6th - Episode 12 – Tom and Dick Smothers & Jack Cassidy
                       -December 8th – Christmas with Julie

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