This week, Tidbits visits the fictional setting of King Arthur as depicted in the 1967 film “Camelot.”
- The story of “Camelot” was based on a 1958 novel entitled “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White. White died three years before the film was released.
- “Camelot” had been a successful production on Broadway, beginning in 1960, running until January, 1963 with 873 performances and four Tony Award wins. When it came time to produce the film, the original Broadway cast members – Richard Burton as Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guinevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot – were asked to reprise their stage roles. All declined, and Richard Harris was chosen as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as his queen, and Italian actor Franco Nero as Sir Lancelot. Other Guineveres considered were Audrey Hepburn, Julie Christie, Ann-Margret, and Mitzi Gaynor, but Redgrave was signed for $200,000.
- Shooting began on location in Spain in September, 1966, and was plagued with setbacks. With location shots scheduled to be completed in 30 days, rainfall and high temperatures delayed filming, putting them nearly two weeks behind schedule. A seven-week hiatus was then necessary to enable Redgrave to complete her role in another movie. Another complication arose when Richard Harris fell in the shower, requiring 12 stitches to his face. Harris ignored doctor’s orders to rest and relax while the stitches were in place, reopening them and leading to a further delay, and plastic surgery to hide the wound. Harris, who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, further frustrated the shoot by losing his voice several times.
- The exterior of two Spanish medieval castles were used in production. The Castillo de Coca, a 15th-century castle located in Segovia, Spain, was used in long shots and background shots as the home of King Arthur. The Alcazar de Segovia, a 12th-century fortress, depicted the Gaul, France home of Sir Lancelot. The opening and closing scenes of the movie were filmed on the grounds of Alcazar. The Castillo de Coca was re-created on the Warner Brothers Studio back lot in Burbank, California, the largest set ever constructed at the time, with a cost upwards of half a million dollars. The castle was used in other movies, including 1972’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “Lost Horizon” in 1973, and as a Scottish ancestral home in the TV series “McMillan & Wife.” It was torn down in the 1980s to make room for an office building.
- Guinevere’s wedding dress was crocheted from fine wool, with a bodice adorned by tiny seashells. Hundreds of bleached pumpkin seeds were hand-sewn onto the train.
- Although “Camelot” took home three Oscars – Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design – along with three Golden Globes, it was a box-office disappointment. Reviews were mixed and it was considered a commercial failure. Although it was year’s tenth highest-grossing film, it earned only $12.3 million compared to its budget of $13 million.
- The term “Camelot” has been used to describe the three years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency from 1961 to 1963. The Broadway show was in full swing during JFK’s term, and Jackie Kennedy told reporters that the soundtrack album had been one of his favorites. Many Americans hoped that Kennedy would lead his country and people toward a brighter future, much like the legendary King Arthur.