’60s Legend Petula Clark On Coppola, Chaplin, And “Downtown”


Petula Clark sang some of the brightest hits of the 1960s, like “Downtown” (my theme), “Don’t Sleep In The Subway,” “Color My World,” and “I Know A Place.” The woman has sold over 60 million records! That’s more than Rihanna.

She’s also done theater, made CDs, and still sings with a perfect pitch and deep feeling.

Here’s the chat we just had about what she’s been up to, and where she’s been.

Hi, Petula. Your song “Downtown” is reaching it’s 50th anniversary this November.

Is it? Frightening! Oh my goodness. All right. It’s one of those songs that go on and on, not just here, but all over the world.

I saw you sing it last year in a NYC cabaret room and you gave it fresh energy. You’re never rote.

I never do anything rote. I don’t phone it in ever. They’re great songs and I have great respect for them.

As shown by your new CD, Lost In You, you favor not just your hits, but other standards too.

There’s all kinds of music. In concert, I enjoy doing Gershwin, I might do a French song. It’s basically who I am. It’s not just straight ahead go-out-there-and-do-the-’60s-songs. Certain standards are part of my upbringing, my musical taste. It’s a way of showing people who you are.

Tell me about the 1968 Coppola movie of Finian’s Rainbow which you starred in. It has a certain loveliness.

It was a difficult film to do. It’s a mixture of a fairy tale–leprechauns and stuff like that–and then of course you’ve got the racial issues. It’s not an easy show to do even onstage but a movie trying for a mixture of reality and fantasy was difficult to make. Francis Coppola directed it as best he could. From a personal point of view, it’s probably one of the most joyful experiences of my life. We just had fun the whole time. It was a lovefest, but the movie has flaws because the show has flaws.

How about the film musical of Goodbye, Mr. Chips the year after that?

I adored working with Peter O’Toole. But that too was difficult because after all we were remaking a classic and that’s always going to be tricky. There were lovely things about it, but there again, it was a flawed movie. And it came out at a time when movies were getting a little more gritty, like Last Tango in Paris.

No butter with your Chips. [laughs] You sang the beautiful “This Is My Song” for Chaplin’s A Countess From Hong Kong. Did you work with Chaplin?

No, but I did meet him. He lived in Vevey, which is not far from Geneva, where I live. By then the song had become a hit. He certainly didn’t write it for me. I think he wanted Al Jolson. Of course Al Jolson had been long gone but Chaplin didn’t realize it. Someone had to show him a photograph of Jolson’s tomb for him to get the idea! [laughs] Chaplin invited me to his house and we had amazing afternoon. We had tea and he asked me to play piano and he danced around the living room.

How do you feel about today’s music scene and the way stars are made by reality TV?

What can you say? In a way it’s wonderful that young performers have the opportunity to go out and be seen immediately and in some places become stars. But of course as you would expect, it’s been exploited. There’s this huge machine behind it that bothers me. For everyone who comes out, there’s all the others that fall by the wayside and that must be a terrible thing. I never experienced that so I can’t imagine what that’s like.

You are eternal, my dear.