She looks just like a little girl, but sophisticated audiences soon fall for the swinging
singing style of Petula Clark

Dresden Doll with the Big Beat

      SHE COMES on to the floor swathed in a dark blue spotlight, and she looks like the grandest Christmas present a child could ask for a life-size doll topped by wispy golden locks with a white, floor-length gown shimmering like satin snow. Bright blue eyes gleam from a pale white complexion that doesn't completely remove the hint of strawberry freckles beneath. A patter of applause follows her to the microphone on centre stage. and she seems so tiny standing there - a Dresden figurine glowing in the dark.
      "Harry, are we going to hear lullabys?" a patron asks nervously. The audience is with her, but she stirs something in them, a protectiveness. It's unfair to let a sweet young thing like that stay out so late at night. much less occupy centre stage in Jules Podell's Copacabana, the throne room of Broadway wiseacres where luminaries like Joe E. Lewis, Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Paul Anka and Allan Sherman have worried about their notices.
      All this takes but an instant, because the music is swelling, and the doll's mouth is opening, and zowie! --out roll the vibrant tones of Downtown, da de de da da da, Down- town! Suddenly the setting all fits together the way it's calculated to, the clothes, the complexion, the daintiness - and the big voice. It's Petula Clark. the boisterous bird of pop song, the thirty-ish gamin who's a big hit with teenagers. who's the darling of the French music hall.
Petula is a rock-'n'-roller who can turn on twist or torch, Edith Piaf or Judy Garland, whose songs are the rage in Hamburg and in Copenhagen and whose concert sold out the People's Theatre in Budapest. She can sing without any accent in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. and good enough in Dutch. Pet, the little English girl from Derby has been singing since she was seven, and has sold 20 million records in all those languages.
      Petula can bounce around a stage like Betty Hutton on pep pills, do My Fair Lady with restraint, or somehow carry off one of those embarrassing "thank you" numbers which tells the fans it's her first U.S.A. appearance and she likes it because . . . and you know the number was written by someone whose window overlooks the Thames.
      Next day The New York Times, which rarely bothers with cabaret performers. says of Petula: "Her first American night-club appearance can only extend the size of her devoted following . . . the authority of a star who knows how to conquer any audience . . . a stxle between the yé-yé youngsters and the intellectual singers like Charles Aznavour." And the night-beat reviewers say, "She desn't have much of a shape but her face is fascinating and her voice sounds louder than all the Beatles put together."
      And then you're sitting in her hotel dressing room, which is somehow in the same building

with the night club and it's about two hours before showtime. Petula is wearing a rust-colored cable-knit sweater and tweed slacks. She's rubbing the paint off the wall with her back while a buxom mamma-like agent is pitching for her to do a Broadway musical.
      Petula is saying softly, "No, no, no", and the agent is psyching her with "mature artist", "don't under-estimate your talent", "perfect frame for you", and Petula is pleading that she couldn't do the same show every night. Movies, yes, she's been in 25 of them; but Broadway, no, no.
      After a while the pitiful "nos" begin to sound like "maybes" because Petula doesn't want to hurt mamma's feelings, but you know she'd just fly away this minute if that wall wasn't in her way.
      Finally, the agent goes away smiling, bearing the most tentative of maybes, and Petula apologizes for taking so much of "your" time. "Everybody in New York has been calling or dropping by," she says almost sadly. It goes unsaid that Petula has made it at the Copa, and managers know she's no longer just a dime-a-dozen star. She's that more important thing - a property.
      She remembers that you're writing for Canada, and that was how she got booked into the Copa in the first place. Bert Block, of General Artists Corp., flew up from New York to hear her at the Comodie Canadienne in Montreal after
her records began to get popular in the new world.
      "He thought I was just another rock-'n'-roll singer," said Petula, "and he wanted to book me for one-night stands with a touring company. But he changed his mind. He said I ought to do a single, and he was going to put me in the Copa. And he did. And, you know, Jules Podell, who own the Copa, had never heard me sing, hardly knew my name, but he took Block's word for it right away. I'll be back in France fr New Year. But I'm going to tour Canada in March--Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and other cities."
      The real Petula Clark is quiet, shy, sensitive, charming, without artifice or theatrical overtones, very baffling. All the bounce, talent, ambition hides out when she's offstage.
      "I ran away from England - and my father - when I was 17," she said. "Dad had managed my career till then, but we weren't getting on. I wanted to pick my own songs, my own places to appear. I found myself singing numbers that I knew weren't right for me, just to please Dad. Business interfered with family ties. I just had to get away, from him, from London. I was tired of being a darling helpless little girl.
      "One day I just packed and went to Holland, and I just kept travelling and singing for years, with time out to make a lot of movies in England. But that was a man's world. Olivier. Guinness. Ustinov, Mills - all the movies were their vehicles. It wasn't like Hollywood, where
During rehearsal, Petula chats with husband Claude and daughters, 2-year-old Catherine (L)
and Barbara Michelle, 3.

actresses are so important. Women didn't have a chance in English movies in that era. And I've always put singing ahead of acting anyway. You can see I'm not a sex symbol!"
      You remind her that her press agent quotes her as saying every girl should have a French husband. Without a flicker of coyness, she agrees. "Yes, I certainly did say that. If you want to be happy, marry a Frenchman. I fell in love with Claude [Claude Wolff, her husband] the first time I saw him. It was right after 1 made such a good impression at the Olympia Theatre in Paris."
      Pet was talking to the president of Vogue, her French record company. in what she described `as a horribly dingy, dirty oftice" in Paris, when all of a sudden the light went out. "Claude! Claude!" he yelled, and soon a man shutfied in and he climbed on top of the desk and put a new light bulb in the fixture. "Who's that?" I asked.
      "`That's my publicity director,'" he answered.
      "Well, it was love at first sight, really. The president was asking me to tour France to promote my records, and I couldn't see why I should because sales were really very small then. But he said that if I did. Claude would accompany me everywhere. and so I said yes."
      "We were married not long after that. Claude is terribly sweet, gentle and solicitous and oh, so clever in business. I've always been good with languages and I learned French very fast - still can't spell it - but I pronounce it like a native. You know, when I found out I was going into the Copa, I practically had to learn English all over again. I hadn't even spoken it in so long. Claude and I and our two little girls live in a big house outside ot Paris on the road to Versailles, and we talk French to the children; they were growing up without knowing English at all. "Well, I fixed that.
      We hired an Australian nanny. And we have a Chinese cook and a Belgian gardener, and we talk French at home and our friends, so many of them, are English. Paris is a wonderful city somehow it's more feminine, not like London or New York. It's a city where a woman feels alive. But when we really want to be alone. we go to our farmhouse on the Cote d'Azur - it's called the birdcage - and we live like a French couple - like provincials, you know, peasants." What Petula doesn't say much about is that she's the first English vocalist to make a big hit on the continent, and she's the first English girl vocalist to make a big hit, individually, with U.S. teenagers.
      She acknowledges that she owes a lot to the Beatles, because her "sound" couldn't have got a hearing over here if it hadn't been for their trail-blazing. "They'd just have listened to it in the studio," she said, "and then told some American to copy it. But nobody could copy the Beatles and that's why the original artist is so important now. We used to do the same thing in England.
      The music company would say. `Here's this swell new American recording', study it and copy it. Now anything English gets a hearing, and it's the American individuals who have a bad time."
      It's getting near showtime and Petula shows no sign of being in a hurry. Claude comes in. He's been to hear some Portuguese bossa nova singers, and he tells Pet they could use them to fill out an act. And she tells him about the agent who was there. He asks if he can order some food for her - a steak perhaps - and she says "yes, well done." He picks up the phone. "Avec pommes de terre [with potatoes]," Claude says, as you wish Petula good luck, knowing it's unnecessary.
Gordon Howard