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article imageOp-Ed: With JFK or not 'Camelot' lives on in the Arthurian Legend Special

By Jonathan Farrell     May 18, 2017 in Entertainment
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the release of the movie version of "Camelot" based on the Broadway musical by Lerner and Lowe. It came to epitomize an era in post-WWII America. Even without JFK, Camelot and the Arthurian Legend endures.
This reporter was curious! Why does it continue to endure? This month the movie "King Arthur: Legend of The Sword," premiered. And recently, the BBC series "Merlin" made its appearance in the line up of choices for subscribers on Netflix.
While the movie, "King Arthur: Legend of The Sword" directed by Guy Ritchie, flopped it still earned over 14 million at the box office. The series 'Merlin' which originally aired on the BBC in 2008, was met mixed reviews. It had a rocky start. But it continued for four seasons, officially ending in 2012.
Irish actor and later singer  Richard Harris starred in the 1967 movie production of the Broadway mu...
Irish actor and later singer, Richard Harris starred in the 1967 movie production of the Broadway musical "Camelot." Like his rival Richard Burton who played the part of King Arthur on Broadway, Harris also had a limited singing ability. Yet, unlike Burton, Harris was able to emphasize his own style and unique ability to deliver a song. And, that lead to a successful string of albums and the mega hit song "MacArthur Park" Which, was later remade by superstar-singer Donna Summer.
Watching the 1967 movie on DVD recently, it is easy to understand why President John F. Kennedy was supposedly charmed by it. The Lerner and Lowe lyrics and music all by itself is rousing and delightful. Historians debate on whether or not JFK was as enamored by the play-musical or not. Most of the Camelot affiliation with JFK was due in part to wife — then First Lady Jackie Bouvier Kennedy. As historian for University of Rochester, NY, Alan Lupack points out. "She urged her friend, reporter and historian Theodore H. White, to label her late husband's historical myth in specifically Arthurian terms."
Few would argue that in the wake of JFK's assassination, the entire nation was in mourning. The reference to 'a Camelot' for that brief time of his presidency seemed appropriate.
Before the movie "Camelot" was produced by Warner Brothers, it debut on Broadway to great success in 1960. It made Julie Andrews and Richard Burton a sensation and set them on the road to larger-than-life stardom. The era of the 1960s had a unique quality of its own. And, when Kennedy took office the post-WWII prosperity of the 1950s approached a zenith. The new decade was off to a exhilarating start - patriotism and optimism, even among skeptics was high.
Apart from the Cold War and McCarthyism, the Kennedy years seemed to be bringing only brighter days ahead with much promise for many, not just for the privileged few. This is what people wanted to remember.
Camelot is not so much an actual place as it is an ideal. Lupack noted... "historians also associated Kennedy's presidency, particularly some of its more idealistic programs, with the legend of Arthur. The moral overtones of Camelot are reflected in other areas as well, but sometimes 'Camelot' is used only to represent an ideal place."
The 1967 movie version of the Learner & Lowe musical  Camelot  can be enjoyed being played on comput...
The 1967 movie version of the Learner & Lowe musical "Camelot" can be enjoyed being played on computer thanks to the award-winning film being on DVD. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of its release.
And, I guess that could include a place in time — meaning, contemporary American history which expressed the Kennedy magic — charisma. This is hard to convey to millennials and younger generations, because so much has been uncovered about JFK. The Kennedy family, their scandals and tragedies — including Jackie in recent years reference to such magic that held them in high esteem seems lost.
Yet, even amid scandals, a reference to 'a Camelot' might not be off-base. Because, from the 1967 movie staring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, "Camelot" correlated in some ways to Kennedy.
King Arthur sought to bring peace and prosperity to the land, defeating injustice and building lasting alliances. In one scene, villagers pay homage to Arthur by handing him the keys to their village. With Arthur's reign and Camelot's prosperity there is no more need for locks. The people live in peace and harmony.
Oh, but such ideal situations cannot last forever. The storyline in the movie presents a theme to say that such an ideal place or era has to endure the obstacles of reality. And, these are (or so I was told by one of my college professors): "the world, the flesh and the devil."
I gather 'the world' is in reference to all the other kingdoms and armies seeking to take siege of Camelot. 'The devil' could be in the form of the character of Mordred — the son of Arthur from some other 'marriage' or affair? It is not clear, the dialogue only alludes to such things. Regardless, Mordred seeks to bring Arthur down. And, of course — 'The flesh,' expressed in the passionate star-crossed love affair between queen Guinevere and the gallant knight of the Roundtable, Lancelot. They could not resist, despite their allegiance to king and Camelot.
Kennedy as the youngest U.S. President certainly for his 1000 days in office, was tested in all three and failed. This historians and investigators have verified over the decades. But it is perhaps the idealism that characterizes the Kennedy years as 'a Camelot', as historian Thurston Clarke highlights in his book, "Ask Not..." The fervor that Kennedy roused in people was genuine and his famous speeches helped form a generation. In the movie, Arthur says a lot of things with high ideals, in seemingly heart-felt tones.
Trying to trace the actual tangible historical origins the real King Arthur and the development of the Arthurian Legend is like trying to find the real-life Shakespeare. Historians and experts on the subject, such as Lupack cite several sources. Geoffrey of Monmouth is one, the chronicle of Nennius, is another and The early Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen is yet another. In addition to British sources (including Celtic, Scottish and Welsh tales - dating back centuries), there are French and German sources. And, through Medieval saints like St. Francis of Assisi, who loved to sing the songs of the French troubadours, the Arthurian legend spread through Italy.
There are many facets to the Arthurian Legend. Camelot is just one. There is 'The Roundtable' and various tales of each of the knights. The number of knights is not exact. There is the quest for the mysterious Holy Grail (and all its various meanings and interpretations) and then there are the dozens of characters that either share the spotlight with King Arthur like Merlin or populate the background, like Morgana (or as some say, Morgan de Fey) and Morgause.
Now on Netflix  the BBC series  Merlin  provides a twist to the Arthurian Legend  introducing it to ...
Now on Netflix, the BBC series "Merlin" provides a twist to the Arthurian Legend, introducing it to new generation of fans. Seen here are Colin Morgan as a young Merlin and veteran actor Richard Wilson as Gaius, the court physician who takes the young Merlin under his wing as an apprentice. Debuting on the BBC in 2008, the series aired for four years ending in 2012.
Screengrab by Jonathan Farrell
The struggle of good versus evil, the quest for an ideal, be it a place or a frame of mind, all play out in the facets and forms of the Arthurian Legend down through the centuries. Particular to a time, perhaps the early Middle Ages and yet timeless, the Arthurian legend lends itself to being retold over and over. Just pick an angle.
Here is where the BBC series "Merlin" was able to grow and expand. The amount of material one can put together is prolific. And, no doubt that while the latest movie "King Arthur: Legend of The Sword," did not meet every expectation, there is plenty of room to make another or come up with another angle for a series.
Colin Morgan was the lead in the 2008 to 2012 BBC series  Merlin.  The adventure series focused on a...
Colin Morgan was the lead in the 2008 to 2012 BBC series "Merlin." The adventure series focused on a adolescent Merlin and Arthur and their growth into the legendary figures they would become. The series included other characters seldom featured in detail in previous productions (like the musical 'Camelot'), of Arthurian legend, such as Morgana, Mordrid and Morgause.
Courtesy of Netflix
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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