time for mellowing out

His signature tune: I gotta be me

Published: Feb 24 2014, 01:01:am

Thursday, May 30, 1974.

AFTER NEARLY TWO YEARS, Carl Anderson is back working in a cavern. Currently appearing at The Cave, [a downtown Vancouver supper club] the Virginia-born singing star once spent two weeks before a movie camera in Israel's Caves of Bet Guvrin.
    At the time, he was putting the stamp of his own forceful personality on Judas Iscariot, the co-starring role in Norman Jewison's 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar. It was as Judas that the former social worker and Boys' Club director gained international fame.
    Unfortunately, having made the part uniquely his own, it is that much more difficult to leave it behind. People, Anderson admits ruefully, more often recognize him as Superstar's troubled, treacherous apostle than as a working entertainer.
    His solid impact in the role was the result of his own long involvement with the remarkable rock opera's music, combined with some firm personal opinions about the character of Judas. His approach to the New Testament villain was rooted more in practical politics — "I stay in touch with politics,"  he says — than in personal religious conviction.
    Played, according to Anderson, as a "devil's advocate" in various stage and concert versions, Judas was to emerge as "a downright leader in the film."
    "I see Judas as an educated man from a relatively well-to-do family that probably lost a lot in the Roman occupation," he says. "What he really wanted to do was overthrow the Romans."
    He became involved with Jesus, Anderson believes, "because Judas assumed that Jesus was a revolutionary." Based on his own reading and research, Anderson thinks that "Jesus was probably an Essene monk, one of the first to leave the monastery.    
    "He naturally wanted to share what he had learned about truth and reality. Before he knew it, he was classified as a rebel."
    Gradually, Anderson says, Judas became disenchanted with Jesus. deciding that the leader's visibility was a liability to the essentially underground nature of their movement. He betrayed Christ in the hope that his arrest would be the catalyst for a real revolution. Unfortunately, he was outmanoeuvred by the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas.
    Anderson, 29, was part of a six-man rock group called The Second Eagle when he first heard Superstar. His initial reaction was negative. "It seemed to be exploiting the term 'rock opera'."
    He began to change his mind three months later. In February 1971, Anderson, a Pisces, was given the album as a birthday present. For the next three weeks, shut away in his Washington D.C. apartment, he listened to nothing else.
    "This was the same time that the group was going through a real frustration trip" he says. "We were playing at a club where everything had to be danceable. Or else."
    For their own enjoyment, the group members put together a 55-minute medley of Superstar material. Then they decided to perform it at the dance club. When they did — "We told them all to sit and listen, or we'd shoot'em" — it brought the house down.
    "After that, people were booking us just to do Superstar," he says. Their medley was eventually used as an Easter Mass at Washington's St. Steven of the Incarnation Episcopal Church.
    About this time, plans were being made for a Broadway production, and Anderson's agent suggested that he go up to New York and audition. He did, and the show's then-dlrector Frank Cosaro hired him to play Judas.
    While final preparations were being made, Anderson went on the road, touring in the concert version. During that time, Tom O'Horgan took over the Broadway show.
    "O'Horgan didn't like working with people he didn't know," Anderson says. As a result, another actor, Ben Vereen, premiered in the role with Anderson as his understudy.
    Vereen developed a throat infection and, two-and-a-half months into the run, Anderson was walking the Broadway boards and dodging the moving parts of O'Horgan's monolithic set.
    "Broadway killed Superstar," Anderson says vehemently. "Nobody had a negative thing to say about it until that Broadway production.
    "O'Horgan had a budget of $750,000, and he used it to put gaud on stage — that's spelt G-A-U-D — with all the actors just competing with their costumes.
    "There was too much spectacle. He used his actors like parts of the scenery. That was not the intent of the thing at all."
    Filmmaker Jewison, Anderson says, was "a better director. To demonstrate his point, Anderson jumps up and begins pacing the room with deliberate, stalking steps.
    "O'Horgan would get up, show you a point and say "now you'll be here and, as if by magic, you'll then be here'." Anderson waves his hand with ethereal detachment, then paces the distance to the second point, punctuating the performance with a second wave.
    Sitting down again, he assumes a father confessor-like posture. "Jewison was loose, too, but in a different way. We'd all go out to the site and sit down and  talk about the scene.
    "'What do you feel about this?' he'd say, and later he'd walk through the scene with you. It was like having your alter ego right there beside you," Anderson says. "It was a great way to handle new actors."
    Superstar was Anderson's first movie role. Indeed, with the exception of Barry Dennen, the film's Pontius Pilate, it was a first film for everyone in the cast, he says.
    Despite offers, Anderson has not yet been involved with a second screen project. "I didn't need any of that Black superstud stuff," he says.
    He does, however, look forward to making his non-singing dramatic debut in a film called The Black Pearl. Based on Scott O'Dell's 1967 novel, it is the story of a 16-year-old Mexican boy who finds an incredible pearl.
    "It's a mixture of religion, superstition and special-effects spectacle," Anderson says. If the project goes forward, it could soon be on location in Mexico and Spain, with interior work in Hollywood.
    At the moment, though, he is "mellowing out" with the times and emphasizing that his name is Carl Anderson, not Judas. Despite the fact that his club act is introduced with the familiar Superstar fanfare, Anderson has adopted a very different signature tune.     
     His new assertion: "I Gotta Be Me."

The above is a restored version of a Province interview by Michael Walsh originally published in 1974. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: At the end of our interview, I mentioned to Anderson that Jesus Christ Superstar was well into the 11th month of its first-run engagement in Vancouver. Since he was working nights, I offered to take him to a matinee. To my surprise (and delight) he took me up on it. A few days later, we sat together in the Park Theatre enjoying the picture along with an early-afternoon audience, who had no idea the charismatic actor on the screen was sitting among them. Although he would would act in a number of TV series episodes and two other feature films — The Black Pearl (1977) and Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985) — he remained best-known as a singer and stage performer. In the mid-1990s, Vancouver was one of more than 50 cities that Anderson and Ted Neeley visited during a six-year stage tour that reunited them in their original Jesus Christ Superstar roles. Diagnosed with leukemia  in 2003, he died ten years ago yesterday (Feb. 23, 2004) at the age of 58.