In 1960 Lerner and Loewe premiered a new musical entitled Camelot. The musical was based on the successful Arthurian novel Once and Future King by T.H. White. On stage the role of Arthur was originated by the great Richard Burton, and the role of Guinevere was originated by Julie Andrews. On an interesting side note, the original cast recording of the musical was a favorite of John F. Kennedy! Of course it is true that the Kennedy’s had a long connection to Arthurian legends, even going as far as to call the family homestead “Camelot.”
Both Burton and Andrews were asked to reprise their roles in the 1967 film adaptation. Neither would be able to do so given other commitments. By 1967 Burton had become one of the most famous men in the world, known equally for his craft as for his iconic relationship with Elizabeth Taylor! Julie Andrews had become an Academy Award winner, and starred in two iconic film musicals (Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music).
The 1967 film quickly chose to cast Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere. Finding a man for Arthur was rather more of a challenge, as several were considered. In the end the role went to a man who had been campaigning for the role since he first heard of the musical being made, Richard Harris. It is Hollywood legend that Richard Harris went so far as to send the producers a note stating his height, Redgrave’s height and Burton’s height. This was to prove that Redgrave was too tall to play opposite Burton, but Harris was a good height for Redgrave!
There were rumors that Burton and Robert Goulet were approached to reprise their original roles, with Elizabeth Taylor taking over the Guinevere part (after Andrews had turned it down). This was never to be, but I would have loved to see Elizabeth Taylor as Guinevere!!!
The original stage musical was changed to work for the film adaptation. This is common practice for plays and musicals that begin on the stage. In this case whole roles of Morgan Le Fay and Nimue were eliminated. This gave the movie musical much less magical content, given that the only magic worker in the film is Merlin (and he is not in the film much at all). These changes were likely made in order to make the film shorter than its stage counterpart! The film is three hours long, but the stage musical premiered at four and a half hours. The stage version has since been edited to run two and a half hours only. This ironically makes the current run time of the stage version shorter than the film!
Since I am such a romantic I have to include a real life love story that began on the set of the film. Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero fell in love while portraying Guinevere and Lancelot in this film! I always love the idea of people falling in love while portraying great lovers on stage or film!
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about this great musical. Let me know your thoughts about Camelot in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is the Playbill from the original musical. I found the image on playbill.com.