From the New Yorker, December 21, 1968

Composer in Tartan Cap

By Lillian Ross

Back we went last week for another visit with Burt Bacharach, composer of the score of the new musical hit "Promises, Promises." We had last seen him in September, when he arrived in New York with the score to begin working in rehearsals, to the brink of which we accompanied him, leaving him with his producer, David Merrick; his book writer, Neil Simon; his lyric writer, Hal David; and all the others. At the time, Mr. Bacharach--talking nostalgically about his wife and little girl back in Beverly Hill, talking affectionately about his parents, talking ??? about being stuck in New York and on the road for three months--had a kind of remote, permanently puzzled, and not exactly happy look, almost as though he were about to go to prison. Last week, he had a clearly happy look. He didn't look puzzled. He looked relieved and free.

"It's a wonderful time of one's life," he told us when we met him at his apartment, on East Sixty-first Street. "??? more days in New York and I'm going to Palm Springs with my wife and little girl for three and a half weeks. We're recording the cast of the show before I leave. I got my Christmas shopping done , and it took me exactly one hour. I went on a rampage in the stores. Then it was done. Gone. Finished. The opposite of the way I work. It was very exciting to see the show evolve. But if someone came to me now and asked me to do it again, I'd say, 'Forget it!'" Mr. Bacharach did a kind of quasi buck-??? And clapped the palms of his hands against each other. "This afternoon, I'm going to tape being on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show," if you'd care to come along. The 'Tonight Show' is David Merrick's idea. He called me three times yesterday and said, 'Do me a favor. We've all got to ??? now. You've got to be on the "Tonight Show."' He believes in letter the world know you've got a ???. It's a very sensible approach. He basically believes you should publicize ??? It's a good thing the show's a hit. I'd hate to toot a horn for a ship that's in trouble."

"??? you on Labor Day at the Riversidd Plaza Hotel, starting your first rehearsal?" we asked.

"I feel it can't possibly have been three months. It feels more like half a year to a year. Just before we opened, I got a present from Neil Simon with a card saying, 'It was a great nine years!' All I know is I'm glad it's over. I got sick on the road with the show, an, of course, getting sick colors everything. The weekend after we opened in Boston, I had the worst sore throat of my life. I called in a strange doctor, which is Mistake No. 1. Never get a strange doctor if you get sick out of town. Call your own doctor and ask him if he knows anyone where you are. Anyway, I wound up with pneumonia in Massachusetts General Hospital, which is a great hospital to be in if you've got to be in one. I hadn't been in one since I was four and had my tonsils out. In the hospital, I knew there was work to be done. There were new songs to be written for the show. But I felt: The hell with the show. It's my life. I've just got to live and get out of here. Then, as soon as I got out, I wrote a new song for the show--'I'll Never Fall in Love Again,' which just might, by the way, turn out to be the biggest hit of the show. And there I was getting the new number into the show, working with the people learning it, and everything. And that is not the way to recuperate from pneumonia."

"How do you feel now?" we asked.

"Great," said Mr. Bacharach, clapping his pals together again. "Let's go to the 'Tonight Show.'" He put on a tartan cap, a single-breasted navy cashmere coat, oversized French sunglasses, and a scarf that was twelve feet long. The last, he told us, was a present from Marlene Dietrich, with whom he had worked as accompanist on an international concert tour several years ago. "When I arrived in Poland to meet Marlene, she was waiting for me, in a snowstorm, at the airport with this scarf, so I'd be warm," he said. "I can't wear bizarre clothes. I'd never be able to put on a Nehru jacket. But anything Marlene gave me always felt sensible and right."

"What has happened to the show since Labor Day?" we asked in a taxi going to the "Tonight Show."

"It's tighter, funnier, shorter and it plays better than it did when we started," Mr. Bacharach said. "In Boston, we were half an hour over what we are now. Neil really knows how to cut. He was great on the cutting."

"What about the music?" we asked.

"One song came out and stayed out," Mr. Bacharach replied. "Five songs came out and were replaced. About a third of the score, I'd say. And one great thing about this show--we all got along fine. There was none of the horror stuff. I'd always heard about--about being on the road with the show and everybody hating everybody else., We were a very happy, cohesive company. As for Merrick, he leaves things quite alone. And when he doesn't, it turns out that he's right. He's more than a businessman. He's got good taste!"

Did you like writing songs for the show after getting to know the people who would sing them?" we asked Mr. Bacharach as the two of us went up in an RCA Building elevator to the headquarters of the "Tonight Show"

"??????" Bacharach replied. "As a matter of fact, it's a very interesting thing if you write for one particular person. Once I knew Jill O'Hara, the leading lady--once I knew her face and knew her voice--it became real life. That's the way it works. My song 'The Look of Love' came right off Ursula Andress in 'Casino Royale.' You get the personality and establish the voice, and it help you."

We stood by as Mr Bacharach checked in with the receptionist at the windowless inner offices of the "tonight Show." The show's producer, Rudy Tellez, a young, nervously cheerful man wearing a knit sports shirt, came out and greeted Mr. Bacharach, shaking his hand with fervor. "When I first heard your 'Reach Out' album, I wore out four albums of the album," he told him.

"It keeps selling and selling," Mr. Bacharach said.

"Anything you do has that Kind Midas touch," said Mr. Tellez. "I turn you over now to John Gilroy, here." He introduced a young, cheerfully nervous man in shirtsleeves. "Thank you and see you downstairs."

Mr Gilroy invited us both into his office, where he consulted a number of typewritten notes about Mr. Bacharach.

"We get you into makeup at six and the show goes on at six-thirty, but you come on a seven-fifteen," Mr. Gilroly said. "You talk to Johnny first. When you first come out, Johnny should talk to you some about "Promises, Promises.' If you want to pay tribute to Merrick, Simon and the lot, do it up front. Then Johnny talks to you. O.K.?"

"O.K.," said Mr. Bacharach.

"We have Frankie Laine in the show. And George Segal, the actor, playing his banjo," Mr. Gilroy said., and added, "Are you here to stay?"

"Do I look all right?" Mr Bacharach asked, taking off his scarf, cap, coat and glasses.

"Fine," said Mr. Gilroy. "What are you going to sing? When the orchestra plays 'Bond Street,' do you want to sit in at the piano?"

"That might be ?? idea," Mr. Bacharach said. "I have reservations about singing on the show--singing one of the numbers from 'Promises, Promises' I mean The only time I can get away with singing is when it's a song that's already established."

"Anything you want," Mr. Gilroy said. "Now..." He consulted his notes. "One question people are asking: Will you change your ?? for Broadway? Did you think about that?"

"Oh, heavily," said Mr. Bacharach. "I don't think I compromised on anything."

Mr. Gilroy took some notes for Johnny Carson. "I understand that you use a chorus in the pit. That's a first, isn't it?"

"Yes, and we've got a lot of electrical equipment in that pit," Mr. Bacharach said.

"Like a recording studio," Mr. Gilroy said. "Do you think 'Promises, Promises' will have an effect on future Broadway musicals now that the ??? has been broken?"

"Possibly," Mr. Bacharach said. "And I have to praise Merrick for that. He spent a lot of money on the special effects--on an echo chamber, everything. It was a gamble."

"And he won," said Mr. Gilroy. "Do you think you might do another show? A Burt Bacharach original?"

"Right now, I think I just want to go away for a vacation," said Mr. Bacharach.

"Anything else," asked Mr. Gilroy.

"The peak thing I might mention," Mr. Bacharach said. "I got a call from Mrs. Samuel Rubin, representing the American Symphony Orchestra. She said that Leopold Stokowski wanted to commission me to write something. I told my mother about it. She cried."

"Anything else," Mr. Gilroy said, making some notes.

"I don't think so," Mr. Bacharach said. "I'm very happy. There's ???"