Friday, August 30, 2013

'One day I will have to write a song about that'--Alan Jay Lerner

I love stories behind stories, especially stories behind the songs I've cherished since age 11 (the age at which I saw the movie musical Camelot at the old Galaxy Theater and felt I would live that Arthurian legend in my life). "How to Handle a Woman" is one of those songs that has stayed and stayed, burned and burned.

Puwede bang bumati

My husband Rolly's 63rd birthday won't be until the sixth of next month, but I want him to see and hear this song. I think he can learn a thing or two from it. To watch that hell-raiser of a man Richard Harris interpret this song in his role as King Arthur, copy and paste this site to another tab (something Rolly, in his endearingly old-fashioned ways, would have to call in an assistant to help him sort this out).
In today's encore selection -- from Alan Jay Lerner, partner and co-writer with Frederick Loewe of 'Camelot', 'My Fair Lady', 'Gigi' and other plays -- an encore selection we often retrieve from the archives at this time of year. Here Lerner explains the painfully poignant lyrics of the 'Camelot' song 'How To Handle a Woman', sung by King Arthur at a point when he is both lost and soon to lose his wife Guinevere to his most loyal knight, Lancelot:

"By the middle of the first act, Guinevere has met Lancelot and has begun behaving in a manner that is to Arthur both perplexing and maddening. Alone on stage, he musically soliloquizes his confusion and out of desperation resolves it for himself in an uncomplicated reaffirmation of love in a song called 'How to Handle a Woman.' I had had that idea for two or three years, but I cannot claim sole inspiration for it. My silent partner was Erich Maria Remarque [author of All Quiet on the Western Front].

"He had just married an old friend of mine, Paulette Goddard, all woman, magnificently distributed, as feminine as she is female. One night when we were having dinner, I said to Erich (not seriously): 'How do you get along with this wild woman?' He replied: 'Beautifully. There is never an argument.' 'Never an argument?' I asked incredulously. 'Never,' he replied. 'We will have an appointment one evening, and she charges into the room crying, 'Why aren't you ready? You always keep me waiting. Why do you ...?!' I look at her with astonishment and say, 'Paulette! Who did your hair? It's absolutely ravishing.' She says, 'Really? Do you really like it?' 'Like it?' I reply. 'You're a vision. Let me see the back.' By the time she has made a pirouette her fury is forgotten. Another time she turns on me in rage about something, and before a sentence is out of her mouth I stare at her and say breathlessly, 'My God! You're incredible. You get younger every day.' She says, 'Really, darling?' 'Tonight,' I say, 'you look eighteen years old.' And that is the end of her rage.'

"I was as amused as I was admiring and I said to him: 'Erich, one day I will have to write a song about that.' The song was 'How to Handle a Woman' which ends:

"The way to handle a woman is to love her,
Simply love her; merely love her,
Love her, love her."

Author: Alan Jay Lerner
Title: The Street Where I Live
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Date: Copyright 1978 by Alan Jay Lerner
Pages: 193-194

The Street Where I Live

by Alan Jay Lerner by Norton


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