The director behind the great dance show ‘Hullabaloo’ (see yesterday’s post) was Steve Binder. After the shows untimely (and unfathomable) cancellation, Binder went on to direct many high profile TV music specials, including Elvis Presley’s famous ‘comeback’ show. In 1968, NBC gave Petulia Clark her own special–she’d been a guest on ‘Hullabalo’ so presumably knew Binder and requested his participation. Thus the talented and respected Binder became the auteur behind the special.
Guest Harry Belafonte appeared on the show and performed a duet with Clark, an anti-war song she wrote called ‘On The Path Of Glory’. Though deeply felt and sincere, the song itself was a lachrymose hymn and the duet, though only three minutes, is a long sit. But two minutes and twelve seconds into the performance something historic occurred. Clark took Belefontes’ arm in her hand and they remained physically united for the rest of the song. (In initial tellings of this incident it was implied that this was an ‘accident’ on Clark’s part). This didn’t go down well with the advertising director from Chrysler, a man named Doyle Lott. Lott feared a public backlash from Southern viewers which would inevitably lead to a dip in automobile sales, or so he reasoned. He asked for the number to be reshot without ‘the touch’. Apparently it was, only before the shows airdate the creative team had a change of heart; they destroyed all other takes of the song, leaving only the version with ‘the touch’ for NBC to air. Furthermore, to forestall any attempt by the network to drop the song, Belefonte went to the press and told the whole sorry story, prompting Lott to issue a statement saying that his fear-based decision was the result of ‘fatigue’. Binder quickly, decisively and publicly threw cold water on this claim. The public response was strongly on the side of ‘the touch’ and Chrysler fired the hapless Mr. Lott. The show aired on April 2nd, 1968, and was a resounding success. Click here to read an article from the time (written prior to Lott’s sacking). The mealy-mouthed ‘have-it-both-ways’ comment from Chrysler is pathetic to say the least.
Take a look at the song (if you can’t bear it then skip to 2:12) and ask yourself if this was an unpremeditated gesture on Clarke’s part, a simple accidental ‘touch’ as it kept being referred to. I say it wasn’t. I say it was a bold, intentional and brave act that the two performers decided on in advance. The amount of public debate this sparked is simply incredible in retrospect–it can only be compared to the amount of noise that the infamous Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’ caused three decades later on the Super Bowl. To mention the two incidents in the same context, however, is insulting; the ‘touch’ made TV history. The ‘wardrobe malfunction’ made for tabloid fodder.