He looks down when you ask.
"That line about 'blue eyes' in 'South Pacific' was written expressly for you, wasn't it?"
"Well, yes," Robert Goulet confesses, making eye contact. "It was."
Figures. Goulet's 54-year-old orbs are more sapphire and piercing than ever. No wonder Nellie Forbush looked up at Emile de Becque (Goulet) at the opening of "South Pacific" at the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night and chirped: "You have the bluest eyes."
Mary never said it to Ezio. Mitzi never said it to Rossano. (Granted, their eyes were brown.)
But Rebecca Andrew said it to Robert Goulet. And no one batted an eyelash.
Goulet is sitting cross-legged in a steel-gray chair backstage at the Center on Tuesday night. A room away, in his dressing room equipped with a black lacquer piano, a spray of the palest pink roses graces a low table. The long-stems are an opening-night offering from his wife, Vera, the petite redhead whom Goulet occasionally calls "darling" (in that deep, deep voice).
"They've been together seven years," whispers a member of the star's entourage. "Married five. They're happy."
It shows. In the show. (Goulet is good.) And in the receiving room, where Vera, dressed in a figure-grazing sheath and flirty chapeau, eyes her husband while he eyes her and explains why he decided to tour in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
"I just got hungry for the discipline of theater," he says, carefully. "And, 35 years ago in Vancouver, when I played Lt. Joseph Cable in the show, I told myself someday I'd be old enough to play the lead."
He's old enough now, Goulet says. "But I have to act the part. I feel like I'm 24 . It's hard to play a mature man. And the French accent is hard. The whole experience takes courage, gives me impetus to take a chance."
After hopping a limo, the dashing duo duck into Birraporetti's at South Coast Plaza for some wine and chitchat with cast members and Center President Thomas Kendrick, center manager Judy Morr and board members Carol Wilken, Elaine Redfield and Georgia Spooner.
When Goulet gets up to leave, he waltzes by Wilken's chair and gives the back of her neck a massage-like squeeze. She freezes. Then rises in her chair.
"Ahhhhhh, she didn't even feel it," Goulet says.
"What?" asks Wilken. "I may never be the same."
Overheard: Mr Blackwell, surveying a crowd at the reception for Luciano Pavarotti on Monday night at the Red Lion Inn in Costa Mesa: "Women in Orange County dress better than women in Los Angeles. Their clothes are new but not faddish. And they don't seem to be slaves to a trend. They do what they please."
Overheard, too: Murray Korda, leader of the Monseigneur Strings, at the same reception for Pavarotti: "I'm not nervous about playing for Mr. Pavarotti. We played for the President and Mrs. Reagan at the opening of the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert on Saturday night. Nancy loves it when we play 'Nancy With the Laughing Face.' She always blows a kiss."
Speaking of the desert: date with the desert Saturday night when the Bob Hope Cultural Center opened with the Reagans in attendance.
Henry and Renee Segerstrom--she wearing her caramel-colored Royal sable over her chocolate-brown Yves Saint Laurent--were on the scene (they came from their Newport Beach manse in Renee's basic-black Bentley), as were Newport socialite Maria Crutcher; developer John O'Donnell and his wife Trish, and Nancy Tarnutzer (filming one of her life style videos with partner Patty Dreyfus).
The Segerstroms must have felt some deja vu at the affair, because, after a star-studded theater performance, they swept into a gargantuan white tent just like the one that housed the Performing Arts Center's opening night gala in September of '86.
And, as with the Center gala, Rococo catered: smoked quail with lingonberry sauce (under glass, natch), fresh Alaskan salmon with aquavit; rack of veal and chocolate oblivion, with fresh raspberries and almond whipped cream.
The Segerstroms were guests of Christy and William Bone, the country club developer who developed the Lakes, Palm Valley and PGA West, and redeveloped Monterey, Sunrise and Rancho Las Palmas country clubs.
Renee dubbed the theater " formidable."
What they do (the ones who aren't developers): Opera buff Lillie Hinde and her husband, Harry, own Pronto Shrimp Machine Co., which, with a nifty little machine that Harry invented in 1953, cuts and de-veins millions of pounds of shrimp annually. "We send them as far away as Malaysia, Kuwait and Taiwan," Lillie Hinde said at a recent gala.