STAGE TO SCREENS: Sheldon Harnick's TV Musicals Flicker Anew in NYC Screenings July 28

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27 Jul 2012

Sheldon Harnick
Sheldon Harnick
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

For lovers of musical theatre, The Paley Center for Media unearthed two television musicals written by master songwriters Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. One show ("The Canterville Ghost") is rare, the other ("She Loves Me") beloved. Harnick reflects on his tube time — and other obscurities.


"Sunrise, sunset / Swiftly fly the years." And suddenly the man who wrote these words has amassed 88 of them and spent 60 of those writing lyrics for Broadway.

Sheldon Harnick will be saluted as such July 28 at The Paley Center for Media in the only manner the small-screen medium can muster — tapes of the only musicals he and his longtime composer, Jerry Bock, had on TV: "The Canterville Ghost," written for TV (at 2 PM), and "She Loves Me," adapted by the BBC from their 1963 Broadway show (at 4 PM). "I can't remember any other show I wrote for television," Harnick says. "Everything I've done has been for the theatre."

Well, not all his rhymes come with music. A conspicuous, and very current, case in point is "The Outdoor Museum (Not Your Usual Images of New York)," where his words introduce 11 different arrangements of shots-about-town, all of them photographed by Margery Gray, his actress-wife who previously decorated his Tenderloin and Fiorello! and spiced both with her quirky comedy.

The notion of Bock and Harnick's entire television history passing in front of his eyes in a single afternoon is greeted as a very differentiated mixed-blessing for the lyricist. He has fond memories of the TLC which the BBC lavished on "She Loves Me" (a version of the 1963 Broadway charm show that served the world "Ice Cream") and less than that for the Oscar Wilde-inspired "The Canterville Ghost," which was also taped in England (at a 13th-century castle in Kent, near London) — but by visiting Americans.

Top: Gemma Craven and Robin Ellis, Middle: Gemma Craven, Bottom: Diane Langton and Gemma Craven in "She Loves Me"
photo courtesy of The Paley Center for Media

"It was poorly directed" is the way Harnick remembers it. "This was supposed to be turn-of-the-century, and you can see a car going by in the background. Also, there was a scene outside the castle where people are walking around on the gravel, and you almost could not hear their voices over that loud crunching of gravel."

Then, again — given the non-singers assigned to the musical — some of the voices were better left unheard. "The casting was off, except for Peter Noone from the British vocal group, Herman's Hermits — he was charming — and Michael Redgrave was wonderful as the ghost and sang the role very well."

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. led the American contingent, which included Natalie Schafer from "Gilligan's Island" as his wife and Tippy Walker from "The World of Henry Orient" as his daughter.

Bill Rudman of Sirius Radio will interview Harnick and take questions from the audience on July 28. "When Bill said they were showing it, I said, 'Oh, dear, do we have to see it?' He said, 'We’ll do a question-and-answer so you can defend yourself.'"

The Canterville Ghost aired Nov. 2, 1966, on the single season of "ABC Stage 67," a very artful prestige series that sailed right over the heads of the masses with classics like Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" and Stephen Sondheim's "Evening Primrose." Bock and Harnick's effort was one of several original musicals for television that ABC commissioned. "Burt Bacharach and Hal David did one," Harnick says. "I don't remember the title, but I still remember one musical phrase from it: 'Fender, bender / Bend my guitar.'" [Their show was titled "On the Flip Side."]


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