There are so many talented performers of the past. Some were featured widely in films and television shows; some were not. Bobby Van, a Ray Bolger-esque actor with scenes that are hard to forget, was one of the latter.
I recognized the second-to-the-last movie in our Prime Video queue the other night as one I’d seen a long time ago at the theatre. It was a remake of Lost Horizon — not the first attempt at the story of Shangri-La in the Himalaya Mountains ever produced, but I think the best, even though it sort of flopped in 1973.
It had a stellar cast: Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Olivia Hussey (who doomed every bride between 1968 and 1973 to wear a Juliet-style gown), Sally Kellerman, Michael York, George Kennedy (who appeared in every other picture made during his lifetime), Sir John Gielgud and the legendary Charles Boyer. The music and orchestrations were very good. One of the best numbers was “Question Me an Answer,” with Bobby Van.
According to IMDb, Van began his motion picture career in the 1950s in Small Town Girl. He continued with The Affairs of Dobie Gillis opposite Debbie Reynolds, and in Kiss Me Kate, he was part of a dance trio in tights with Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall (another underappreciated performer — watch the barn dance in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for proof). He was in show business a long time. Nominated for a Tony in Broadway’s Dr. Jazz in 1975, he also worked as a night club entertainer, choreographer and game show host. He died fairly young — at age 51, in 1980, of brain cancer.
Lost Horizon was made twenty years after its time. Wars in the East (even though alluded to in the film), race problems and culture in general disinterested moviegoers from wanting to see a musical extravaganza. After watching The Godfather, the public looked for their entertainment thirst to be quenched by other blood-and-guts features.
Other songs in Lost Horizon by Burt Bacharach and Hal David are memorable. Minor chorded, charming “Share the Joy,” welcomed the displaced travelers. “The World is a Circle,” Kellerman and Hussey’s “The Things I will Not Miss,” and the creschendoing theme song were worthy of Oscar nominations. They didn’t get any. Bacharach was even quoted as saying he thought the movie would be the end of his musical career. The criticism didn’t make any difference to me, though. I bought an LP of the score and listened to it frequently for a long time.
Thanks to the medium he worked in and the technology we have to reproduce it in our living rooms, it’s still possible to see Bobby Van singing and dancing. Maybe the holidays would be a good time to check out Lost Horizon from 1973. I hope you will take me up on that.