This week Petula Clark takes the Gammage Auditorium stage in the touring version of the Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard, stepping into the mole, I mean the role, of Ms. Norma Desmond. And when she utters those immortal lines "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille," you can bet her beauty mark will be front and center too. After all, Gloria Swanson had a real one, and faces being what they were in those days, she was allowed to air it out in more than 70 motion pictures. Not so for Clark. In the Sixties, a time when everyone was supposedly free to let it all hang out, Petula's face was strong-armed by her record company, intent not to make a mountain out of a mole.
It's understandable that Decca Records preferred to use photos of Bill Haley where his glass eye was looking in the same direction as his real one. You can also appreciate RCA's decision to retouch photos of the King's zits after every fried-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich binge. But what was the deal with Warner Bros. and its hysterical panic over Petula Clark's little beauty mark? Today, a dotted Cindy Crawford is exalted as the apogee of loveliness, but back in the Swinging Sixties, beauty marks were anything but. Rather, they were synonymous with little old Italian widows and their whisker-sprouting congenital warts!
Listen here, children, it wasn't all peace, love and understanding during the Age of Aquarius. Ever wonder why Aaron Neville didn't have a hit for 20 years after his 1967 smash "Tell It Like It Is?" Folks got one gasp at that mushroom growing out of his left eyebrow and cowered in horror for two decades until a couple of duets with Linda Ronstadt helped bring out his beauty and the beast appeal. You don't have to be Ken Starr to know there was a Pet Clark cover-up. Check her '60s-era albums for the irrefutable proof. Betcha can't find even one nevus.
1. Downtown (1965)
Think maybe the art department was on automatic retouch pilot, saw a tiny black dot approximately a half inch from Pet's chinny chin chin and thought maybe there was dust on the negative? Nah! Close inspection reveals a bump, clearly visible under layers of carefully applied patty-cake makeup. When the title track zoomed to No. 1, proud Petula appeared on dozens of TV variety shows, never once trying to obscure her Clark mark with any savvy mike-holding techniques. Yet, no massive returns of the album were reported once Middle America first caught a glimpse of, IT!
2. I Know a Place (1965)
"I know a place where the lights are low," sang Pet on her second LP. Although Warner Bros. would've preferred photographing her in said low-lit place, for now they're happy with a holding action -- forcing Pet to grip a pretty flower strategically placed to eclipse the blemished area! Whew! That was a close one.
3. The World's Greatest International Hits (1965)
Clark, an international star since age 9, had plenty of records released in Australia, England and France. Now these imports, many with beauty-marked-up covers, were finding their way into American record stores. No matter. Warner Bros.' upper echelon made its point clear -- keep that damned oversize blackhead off Petula.
4. & 5. My Love and I Couldn't Live Without Your Love (1966)
By now, the label's aversion to Clark's fuzzy little friend must have been a monumental source of embarrassment to Pet, but she'd rather turn right than bitch. Why else would she pose for two consecutive covers in left profile? Looking to Mecca? But c'mon, look at that back cover and tell me nobody tilted that music stand on purpose.
6. Colour My World (1966)
Perhaps Warner Bros. thought changing her name from "Pet" back to Petula after two albums would deflect attention away from the, uh, problem area. If not, there's always the perfectly placed daisy. Even more shameful was the back cover's blatant diversionary tactic. "Keep that sheet music up, woman!"
7. These Are My Songs (1967)
It may be the Summer of Love everywhere else but Warner Bros. still ain't lovin that blasted birth blotch of hers. With three albums a year, the label's creative think tank was all maxed out on fresh camouflage ideas so they opted to reprise the left profile idea, this time with a wide angle lens.
8. The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener (1967)
Pet's favored side with that danged collar up just to be safe. More clever innovations, like fog and haze, would have to wait another two years.
9. Petula (1968)
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"Cheek soft, heart warm and sassier than ever in a collection of new phenomenons" boasted the rear sleeve. But don't let its gobbledygook fool you. It's just another year, another album and another goddamned flower!
10. Petula Clark's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1968)
On her 1968 TV special, Clark broke through racial taboos by kissing a black man, Harry Belafonte, on the lips, paving the way for Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. Maybe because of that controversy, Middle America didn't send any more Pet Clark records into the Top 40. Greatest Hits, Volume 2 -- not bloody likely! Maybe she just exhausted fans with the "does she or doesn't she have a mole" game. Whatever the reason, the public stopped investigating her last Warner Bros. albums like Portrait of Petula (clasped hands, left profile), Just Pet (hand-held mike, left profile and fog), Memphis (left profile and yes, haze) and the Finian's Rainbow soundtrack (a hunched shoulder) -- all of which feature NO BEAUTY MARKS! This album collects all of Warner Bros.' greatest cover-up jobs -- it's like they're rubbing our noses in their hollow victory. So even when Clark's records stopped shooting to the top of the charts, at least they showed 'em all that Petula ain't no Medusa! Touché!
Petula Clark stars in Sunset Boulevard through Sunday, September 12, at Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apace in Tempe.