This post originally appeared as a “My Turn” column in the June 4, 1991 issue of The Sedalia (Mo.) Democrat, where I worked as a reporter. Robert Goulet died on Oct. 30, 2007, two days after his beloved Boston Red Sox won their second World Series championship in three years.
The conversation had become routine.
“Would you spell that name again?” some plaintive voice of non-French-Canadian heritage would ask when I left my name and telephone number.
Let me spell both names, I would intone. It’s Neal. N-E-A-L. Goulet. G-O-U-L-E-T.
“G-L-U?” the voice would respond, uncertain whether it wanted to spell my surname or something made with horse hooves.
No, I would say rather testily. It’s G-O-U-L-E-T. Goulet.
“Oh, Goulet!” the voice would say. “Like Robert Goulet?”
Yeah, just like Robert Goulet.
It was kind of funny at first. Sort of cute, actually. Yeah, we sing duets around the holidays, I’d jest.
That was until about the third or fourth month. By then I was frustrated with my lack of name recognition. Frustrated with my heritage. Frustrated that I couldn’t answer an inquiring public’s question about Robert and me.
The voice’s offhand remark began to bother me to the point of obsession. I wanted to know whether the actor-singer-entertainer was kin.
Could this man who had won a Grammy and a Tony, performed for presidents and carried the torch for an entire ethnic group possibly be related to me?
I came to the conclusion that only Robert could lead me to Camelot.
Suffering with the Red Sox
Robert Gerard Goulet was born Nov. 26, 1933, in Lawrence, Mass., the only son of Joseph and Jeannette Goulet. His mother was born in Lewiston, Maine. So was I. I decided to call him to find out more.
His secretary said she was having trouble hearing me, but when she put on Robert, his rich baritone lit up the receiver. I asked him how he was.
It’s a beautiful day in Las Vegas, he said, but he was disturbed that the Boston Red Sox had dropped yet another game the day before.
I knew he was a Goulet. We all suffer from the same chronic affliction each summer.
“Every year … I say the Red Sox (will win the World Series), and they all look at me with that little snide look and that little smirk on their faces and I say, ‘Just wait. Just wait,’ “ he told me.
I broached the subject of his Goulet lineage. Each of my grandparents came from Quebec, as did Robert’s father, but there apparently aren’t many Goulets left there.
“I don’t know of any in Canada,” he said. “We’ve been trying to (construct) our family tree for quite some time, and I’ve got about five different – 10, a dozen – different versions where the tree goes and it gets so mixed and they put so many names. It goes all the way back to France.”
I just wanted to know about his relatives in this country and whether I might be among that elite. Instead, he told me about a baggage handler he met in Indianapolis.
“I was waiting for my plane and he came over and he said, ‘You know, it’s always a pleasure to come by and say hello to someone who’s got the same name you have.’
“I said, ‘Is your name Goulet?’
“He said, ‘Yes.’
“I said, ‘Well, isn’t that incredible.’
“He said, ‘My name’s Robert Goulet.’ ”
I tensed up. What’s this? Two Robert Goulets? Who’s to say there aren’t three or 13 or million Robert Goulets throughout the solar system or in a parallel universe?
I lost control in that vacuity, and I just blurted it out. I asked the only Robert Goulet I’ve ever cared about whether we’re related.
“Well, we’ve got to be related somewhere along the line,” he said. “Distant, distant cousins. Have you got blue eyes?”
“Yes,” I said.
“We’re probably closer than we thought,” he said.
And I felt so close that I couldn’t hide my secret.
I have to tell you that I have a very lousy singing voice, I admitted to him.
“Well, that’s good because we don’t need too many Goulets with good singing voices,” he assured me. “I mean, I knew a Caruso who was a bootmaker. He didn’t have a good singing voice either.”
Sometimes those things just skip a generation, I guess.