Mr. Wow Blog
September 8th, 2001–I Remember it Well.
2:50 pm | January 13, 2017

Author: Mr. Wow | Category: Point of View | Comments: 13



Some of  you may have heard about that ridiculous “Urban Legend” British TV series.



 Along with other questionable tales, the show regurgitates the flat-out lie that Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando attempted to flee New York Cityafter the 9/11 attacks. (They were in the city for Michael’s concerts, celebrating a coming album and a reunion with his brothers.)  One of Jackson’s children, daughter Paris, objected so strenuously to the trailer, that Sky News, which produced the series, junked that episode.  For now.




However, it reminded me that I attended the first Jackson concert, in New York, just three days before the New York  and Washington terrorism. I had taken a hiatus from my job with Liz Smith (I quit, in a huff, much high dudgeon).  But hard feelings had softened in the months I’d been away, and Liz, who was then working for Newsday, suggested that I cover the concert. Or as she put it, “Denis, you do it.  I’d rather set  myself on fire!” (I had already been providing items for the column again, much as I had back when Liz and I first connected in 1981. I saw this as a failure on my part—I still felt righteous indignation over the events that led to my quitting– but the connection with her was too strong—and it had been my only real job, in my life!)




And so, to prevent Liz from putting herself to the torch,  I did it. Newsday  wanted 500 words.  I gave them considerably more. They printed it, much edited, in the Saturday edition.  Miss Smith called to compliment me, and asked if I had “any more?”   She said, “I’ll use it in Monday’s column and credit you.”  I assured her I had plenty more.




And, good as her word, she used it, and wrote kindly of my talent. Of course, nobody was reading gossip on  September 11th.  I’d gone to my therapist that morning, on 14th Street and Fifth Ave, happy about the column, the Newsday credit and maybe things were looking up? 




That was 8:45.  Fifteen minutes later I stepped out onto the street and realized things were not looking up at all. 




Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s the original version of that night, which I have never forgotten, because of what it was—nuts!—and what it came to represent, in the aftermath of 9/11. 




Within  a couple of months I was back in Liz Smith’s office. Like chicken feathers to tar…








September 8th  2001




TO BE honest, Michael Jackson didn’t need to throw himself a party Friday night,  after the first of his two Madison Square Garden “Happy 30th Anniversary/I’m Still Here/I’m Coming Back, Don’t Try To Stop Me” concerts.   The concert itself was quite enough. 


 What possibly could have topped such jarring extremes as a painfully skinny, wildly energetic Whitney Houston opening up the show—with help from  muscular, fur-vested Usher—followed immediately by a swollen, supine Marlon Brando?


    Brando, perversity incarnate, nearly brought the crowd to riot as he rambled on about dead babies, “killed by machetes…”  Yeah, he finally got around to the children’s hospital Michael Jackson was financing, but by that time, the audience was ready to machete Marlon.  A great moment, folks.

   But as nothing succeeds like excess, surely the motto of Michael and his closest friend Elizabeth Taylor, an intimate fete would never do on this night of nights.  So under the aegis of David Guest, Tavern On The Green was transformed into a country carnival, complete with candy stalls, games, a lemonade stand (conveniently next to one of the bars, so the innocent lemonade could be spiked with vodka should the revelers so desire.)


  There was an innumerable supply of lush stuffed animals to take away, a man penciling, portraits, even “Michael’s Freshen Up” counter. (Everything was titled “Michael’s this or that”—I guess to remind us why we were gathered.) “Freshen Up” was a spot where ladies and gentlemen could, paste themselves back together as the humidity caused coifs to collapse and make-up to slide off siliconed cheeks and into siliconed valleys.


Of course this was a Michael Jackson production, and there was no mistaking his magic touch.  For the first hour or so, little people were assigned to welcome the guests, trilling a verse from the famous song performed by the Munckins in “The Wizard of Oz.”  You know, the one that ends, “We wish to welcome you to Munchkin Land!”  The snippet of song also blasted out of speakers.   Over and over.  Over and over the little people had to sing along, looking cheery.   After some time, the loudspeakers were getting very angry glances.  The one verse, repeated endlessly must have been amusing to whoever thought of it.  The incoming horde was not amused.  Even the cheery little people looked to be getting cranky, not to mention being knocked around as  the entrance became increasingly clotted with celebs and looky-loos.  Eventually, we were treated to the entire “Wizard of Oz” soundtrack, which wasn’t exactly get up and boogie music, but  at least the songs began and ended.  (Later a live band performed vigorously but it was getting to close to 2:30, and many guests were carnivaled-out by that point.)




   There was also no mistaking Jackson’s hand in the eclectic guest list—a fantastic goulash of stellar lights.  Jon Lovitz…David Hasslehoff…Ann Miller… June Haver (Miss Haver a 1950’s Twentieth Century Fox star, appeared to know the lyrics to every Jackson song performed during the show.  She also stood and shrieked like a teen-ager at some points!)…Jane Powell…Jane Russell…Margret O’Brien

…Gina Lollobrigida (“loved you in ‘Solomon and Sheba’ said a fan.  “You remember that?” replied the Italian icon, who still pouts convincingly.  This is no mean feat at 70-plus)…Montel Williams, cheerfully submitting to having a glittery tattoo painted on his neck…Yoko Ono…Caroll Baker, she of the unmistakable honky tonk voice (devotees might want to know that Baker’s sweaty 1963 potboiler “Station Six Sahara” was snapped up by the British film industry and put in a vault. Though the way Baker told it, she didn’t seem to mind that this one might never be screened again)…Cory Feldman and a lady in a formidable hat, under which, it was suggested, hid Cory Haim…Angie Harmon and her new hubby. The handsome couple had nuzzled affectionately at the concert during Billy Gillman’s  rendition of Michael’s passionate ode to a rat, “Ben”…Janet Leigh…at least one member of the made-on-TV band, O’Town

…”One Life To Live” soap queen Erika Slezak. “Have you ever wondered how long a soap opera year is?” asked a “OLTL” fan  (considering that on soaps, one day can last weeks).  Erica replied with a good-natured laugh, “56 days.  We figured it out once.  But no matter what, the soaps always celebrate the major holidays.  After all, we have to stay grounded!

…Liza Minnelli, looking more like herself, having removed the big, poofy, un-Liza-like  wig  she wore performing  at the Garden.  While paying tribute to Jackson, Miss Minnelli at the same time offered another one of those up-from the-floor “returns”  for which she is now famous.  The indestructible star was in strong voice during her two numbers, and, at the end of   “Never  Never Land”  turned to Michael and sang, at last, a few bars of her mother’s  “Over The Rainbow.”  Spine-tingly stuff!…Aaron Carter, the latest  teeny-bopper throb,  cuter even than his older  BackStreet Boy brother Nick (Aaron was awfully patient with grabbers. He’s at that stage of burgeoning stardom where people think it’s okay to handle you in a familiar manner).


  Patty Duke, far cheerier in real life than in many of her recent TV roles (always the tragic, bitter, intense mother of a dead or missing child) is excited about auditioning for a coming production of “Oklahoma” playing, as she puts it, “the old lady.”  In truth, Duke looks more like she could tackle Ado Annie, the gal who cain’t say no!



    I don’t know if any of the N’Sync’s or Britney made the party, because all the boys looked N’Sync-y, and every girl tries to look like Miss Spears.  Blessedly nobody has had time to incorporate the now-famous snake into their Britney costuming.   There were also hundreds of just plain folks and families; people who managed to ante up the ducats to attend the concert and party.  Michael Jackson fans really seemed to be enjoying the circus-y atmosphere.  What’s not  to like about a man on stilts and fortune tellers? 


    Dinner was served late, but the entire evening was running at least an hour past schedule. Nobody seemed to mind. Much. This was, after all, one of those once in a lifetime events, yes?   It was a tasty fish entree, but few ate, because only moments after the plates began to hover precariously over the heads of the hungry mass, the idol himself arrived.   And now we witness the ritual of The Star Entrance:  the room tilts, almost literally. Breathing intensifies or stops.  Common sense and good manners go right out the window. Elbows become lethal weapons (“That’s okay lady, I was going in for a vasectomy anyway!”) feet—in loafers, dress shoe, stiletto heel– press into the embroidered chairs, as the bedazzled try to stand above the crowd and crane for a better look, tiny cameras appear, perfectly  normal looking people burst into tears. I’ve seen this before, from Julia Roberts to Madonna to Tom Cruise.  The power of illusion, the lure of celebrity never ebbs. In Jackson’s case, there is an extra element of hunger and curiosity—does he really look so odd?  Alas, yes.


     Jackson, in glittery white,  received the crushing tribute in his usual  soft-spoken manner. The ego so blatantly displayed during the Garden tribute  is muted—I thought I would go mad if I had to sit through one more “He’s so wonderful”  film clip.  Now, at the party, Michael is a pale, mink-lashed Bambi, caught forever in the burning headlights of fame.  Comforted by the familiar, yet wary of the cost, he is the cynical cynosure of every eye.  The heat and light bear down and it seems impossible that the star can get enough oxygen.  But of course for better or worse,  this  adulation  is  his oxygen. 


    Time will tell—and very shortly too—if Jackson can recover his wounded career in America. But judging by his wildly enthusiastic concert audience and the party-goers who would have sold their mothers on the spot to speak, touch, be photographed with Jackson, the word “comeback” might now  be used confidently.


    He has for so long been a bird with a wing down, it is surely past due to mend that wing.  Michael was, and perhaps still is, considered “weird.” How else would you describe a man who refutes [never proved]  child molestation charges tarted-up with inch-long false eyelashes?!  But this is 2001, readers.  Is Michael any weirder these days than, say, Anne Heche or Gary Condit or that hand puppet at the MTV Awards who earned the undying enmity of Jennifer Lopez?  I think not. And at least Michael has talent. And that talent is still worshipped by his peers and by those who have risen since his fall.   When the ravishing Beyonce of Destiny’s Child shyly approached Jackson’s table, the room went into spasms.   Someone smart should team these two up for something.  If that “Phantom of The Opera” project ever  materialized…   (Yeah, I know, she’s part of a group.  But how long do you think that’s gonna last?  Beyonce, like Diana Ross, is the engine than revs Destiny’s Child.  She’s a lovely, gracious girl.  But her destiny screams “solo career!”)



   Not on hand for the party part of Jackson’s night, his loyal friend Elizabeth Taylor.  But this rodent-copulation wouldn’t have suited La Liz. The crush would have endangered her fragile back,  the hour was late. The heat was oppressive.  And then there was presence  of so many contemporaries—the MGM gals.


    Not that ET has anything but the fondest feelings for her sisters in celluloid.  But at no  point would she have enjoyed being captured in some “nostalgia” photo op.  It is Taylor, after all, who is Michael’s “best” friend.  It is she who sat on his  right, a baudy blonde queen, at the concert itself.  And it is she—surprisingly refreshed, focused and pretty again, working that feather boa like a burlesque cutie—who introduced from the stage, the re-united Jacksons. 

    Just as Michael is a universe apart from most other pop stars, Taylor inhabits another plane in her world.  Like an oil well (or a diamond mine) Taylor is a great natural resource—inevitably depleted by time, but still rare, useful, a substance to be reckoned with.  But even Taylor knows for whom the bell tolls.  It is significant that she now insists on being introduced as “Dame Elizabeth Taylor.”  Just as her friend Michael must always be called “The King of Pop.”  Who are they trying to convince?




    Taylor’s charismatic, cheerful hairdresser, the eternally cowboy-hatted  Jose Eber attended the party, along with other member’s of ET’s entourage. “Wasn’t she great?  She’s in peak form again”  he said.  When somebody began to wax mystical about Taylor’s legendary qualities, her enduring stardom,  Eber, smiled patiently, “She’s really a very normal woman you know.” Just a Dame, right Jose?  And Eber is the average back-comber at any neighborhood salon.



  Around her neck and dangling from her ears, Miss Taylor wore a set of famous rubies, gifts from third hubby Mike Todd.


    Before  filmmaker/showman Todd perished in a 1957 plane crash, he had hosted an overblown, riotous event at the old Madison Square Garden to celebrate  himself and the little woman, and 1,000 close friends.  Also it was promotion for his movie, “Around The World In Eighty Days.”  On that that night in 1957, La Liz sported the same set of rubies.


 Could she possibly have remembered that long ago gala at the Garden, and chosen them specifically, for sentiment’s sake?  A good luck talisman,  as she once again tried to help an important man in her life by her singular presence?  I like to think so.   



  The party went on and on. It was Friday night, after all.  Then Jackson left. And as if he was the air that filled a balloon, the celebration slowly deflated.   Michael’s departure was as dramatic as his entrance, he exited murmuring soft “thank yous,” waving,  blowing little kisses, a sphinx behind the eyeliner and lip gloss, a star not ready to fade.



He has morphed before our eyes  into something, well—a little unexpected. Certainly he has changed physically.  But twice married, twice divorced, a father of two, press-bruised, and scandal-braised, his tentative off-stage  posture seems to suggest—not invincibility  (“Invincible” is the all-to-obvious title of his coming album), etmj2001__


  but a more vulnerable offering, “Take a closer look. I’m still the boy I was.  And I’m waiting here for you.” 

  • Daniel Sugar

    “…I was going in for a vasectomy anyway.” 
    Terrific article – I wanted more.

    4:13 pm | January 13, 2017
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow
      Dr. Sugar–you wanted more?  The powers at Newsday almost went insane-how did 500 words grow to 2,000 plus?   I forget how they managed to edit it. 

      4:22 pm | January 13, 2017
  • NSH

    Brilliant!  And, thank you!  xo

    6:41 pm | January 13, 2017
  • rick gould

    Fascinating, Mr. W! You’ve got stories to tell!!!
    And I am glad that horrible British TV movie about Elizabeth, Jackson, and Brando has been withdrawn. Frankly, I didn’t think that any public or family outcry would make a difference. I had refused to click on any of the stories, because just the photos pissed me off. The creators were obviously going for freak show clown car ride and a fictitious one at that.
    I’ve always thought the true story, where Liz had Debbie Reynolds, who had also attended the Jackson concert, fetched and brought to the hotel where she was. And while they were cooling their heels, ET prevailed on ex John Warner to provide them with a plane out of NYC. I had a good chuckle reading Debbie’s comment in her Unsinkable memoir, about how it must be nice to have an ex-husband who would do something nice for you! Now that’s a TV movie I would watch!
    Cheers and thanks for sharing your terrific tales,Rick

    7:20 pm | January 13, 2017
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow
      Rick–well, I’m betting the episode will surface online, but at least they backed  off temporarily.

      Taylor was in Manhattan for a week.  I know she visited a firehouse and did a couple of very low  profile things concerning the events of 9/11.  Yes, she invited Debbie to room with her at the St. Regis.  (They had long been reconciled.)  The “attempting to escape” story is so absurd.  But  ugly, too.  I don’t find it satiric material.  She was many things, good and not so, but a coward she was not. 

      And really–driving a car?  La Liz hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car for years, believe me.  Maybe not since “Butterfield 8.”

      Ah, even now, in my dotage, I feel compelled to defend my girls.  Well, it keeps me young.  OK–it keeps me immature.

      7:41 pm | January 13, 2017
  • Mimi

    Incredible!!! And in 2002, the Tavern on The Green offered a price fix lunch for 20.02. The last time I was there. It was terrific. 
    But this article is fabulous. I wish I had read it then. Just imagining all those people sweating to death and copping feels or giving elbow vasectomies has made my day completely! 

    7:40 pm | January 13, 2017
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow
      Dear Mimi, thanks!  But you couldn’t have read it all then, because it never ran in its entirety.  And the tidbits Liz picked up for her Monday column went unnoticed, naturally.

      7:45 pm | January 13, 2017
  • lulu

    This only proves that you have a book of stories that would be a bestseller for sure!!

    12:52 pm | January 14, 2017
  • Rho

    I agree with lulu.

    1:25 pm | January 14, 2017
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow
    Lulu, Rho–thank you.  I doubt I have a book in me.  Mostly my motivation and discipline issues.  I have always thought about doing one of those shallow roman a clefs.

    But that too, would require the kind of real commitment I don’t think I have.  But…never know.

    9:00 am | January 16, 2017
  • Susan

    Mr. Wow you are a wonderful writer! So witty and hit the nail on the head soooo many times. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

    8:45 am | January 17, 2017
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow
    Dear Susan–thanks!  

      It’s odd and funny and a little disquieting to look back,  17 years.  So many have passed on, and I had to laugh at a few of the cultural references–O’Town, Jennifer Lopez and the hand puppet, Aaron Carter, and predicting Beyoncé as a for sure solo act.  (I’m sure everybody else was as well, at the time. )  And who knew that night was the beginning of Liza’s big comeback, under the guidance of David Gest?!  (I doubt she had a clue, but after 9/11 Gest had her out singing “New York, New York” everywhere–she lost weight and the rest is mad marriage history.)
    12:37 pm | January 17, 2017
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow

    Tardy to the ‘Borgia’ party and its star, Mark Ryder

    By Liz Smith

    Tribune Content Agency

     “Things have reached a pretty pass, when
    someone pretty lower-class/Graceless and vulgar, uninspired/Can be accepted and

    So go the Tim Rice lyrics in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita.” (From
    the song “Peron’s Latest Flame.”)


    WE WANT to think pretty thoughts today, so we might as well yak
    about our “latest flame.” His name is Mark Ryder and we just discovered him
    over the weekend on Netflix in a TV series that ran three seasons, somewhere.
    It was titled “Borgia” and is not to be confused with “The Borgias,” which
    aired on Showtime and starred Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander

    I enjoyed “The Borgias,” although interest had ebbed by season
    three. “Borgia” worked in reverse. I wasn’t too sure about season one, mostly
    because of the gruff, unmistakably American accent of John Doman
    (Rodrigo/Alexander), but he is an excellent actor and grew on me. Seasons two
    and three had me enthralled.

    Both series cover pretty much the same blood-drenched,
    conspiratorial history with the usual inaccuracies/embellishments/imaginings of
    the genre. (However, the two series correctly interpret Lucrezia Borgia as a
    more or less innocent pawn of her family, not the evil prisoner of legend.
    Isolda Dychauk is exquisite as the Netflix Lucrezia, looking like she literally
    stepped out of a 13th-century painting.)

    But the focus of “Borgia” is Mr. Ryder as Cesare Borgia. What a
    performance; what a character arc — love him, hate him, love to hate him,
    really hate him! Sadistic, sensitive, sensitively sadistic, sane, crazy, humble
    and egomaniacal. Also, he’s smoking hot and not shy about showing off most of
    what the Good Lord gave him. He doesn’t seem to have worked much since “Borgia”
    ended two years ago. Come back to the big or small screen, Mark Ryder, Mark
    Ryder. In times like these we need distraction.

    A word of warning: (“Now a
    warning?” as Meryl Streep exclaimed to Isabella Rossellini in “Death Becomes
    Her.”) “Borgia” is awash in sex, nudity and wildly grisly violence; the latter
    very much true to that brutal age. I won’t insult you by saying it’s not
    gratuitous. Of course it is. But if
    you don’t mind the occasional, uh, gratuity “Borgia” is terrifically


    The St. Clair Bayfield Award, which the Actors’ Equity
    Association bestows for the best non-featured Shakespearean performance, went
    this year to Louis Cancelmi, who, on four days’ notice, jumped in and replaced
    a sidelined Achilles (David Harbour) in “Troilus and Cressida.” The prize was
    presented by his father-in-law, an
    ex-Hamlet/Prospero/Lear/Benedick/Polonius/Assistant D.A. named Sam Waterston.

    More: Mr. Cancelmi is now, officially, a Somebody in “Everybody.”
    This is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ new offering at the Signature Public Theatre
    through March 12. The role of “Everybody” will be played by a different actor
    at each performance — it’s some sort of a chance lottery deal every night,
    against four other actors. Sounds fascinating and scary!

    But wait, there’s even more!
    (Not about Mr. Cancelmi, we’ve had the best of him.) Some movie-goers out there
    are possibly thinking they vaguely recognize the name St. Clair Bayfield.

    Well, he was one of the AEA founding fathers. He was also a New
    Zealand sheep rancher, which goes to show what can happen in life. And, he was
    a small-time touring actor. His greatest performance? Convincing his wealthy
    lifelong paramour, Florence Foster Jenkins, that her operatic screechings were
    music to his ears; even fit to be appreciated at Carnegie Hall. Mr. Bayfield is
    wonderfully and movingly played by Hugh Grant in the current film, “Florence
    Foster Jenkins” opposite Meryl Streep as the vocally deficient but admirably
    persistent Florence.

    Thanks to our old friend, theater arbiter/observer/writer Harry
    Haun for the above info. Harry now does his magic for Playbill.


    EVERY SINGLE day, my inbox has at least three Google Alerts with
    the subject “Marilyn Monroe.” It’s always something with this long-dead dame. I
    begin like this because a while back we received an email from a lady who just
    couldn’t bear one more photo or mention of Miss Monroe. We, our reader
    insisted, had to “accept” the fact that Monroe was dead, and “move on.” Lots of
    heavy sarcasm in those remarks.

    This column indeed has a long history in reporting on this n’
    that about Marilyn. For one thing, she remains delightful in her films and
    photos. We are all for delightful. Interest in her never seems to abate,
    although in the fifty-plus years since her death, her image has become
    distorted; both enlarged and minimized. Young “fans” know her only as an image,
    a photo to hang various conspiracy theories upon, or to be seduced by the
    fallacy of her as a great symbol of screen sexuality. Nope. Really sexy movie
    women were the likes of Rita, Ava, Liz, Bacall, Gloria Grahame! Marilyn was a
    comedienne who impersonated America’s idea of a sex symbol in the repressed ’50s.
    (She was truly sensuous only in her innumerable still photographs.)

    Also, this column takes credit for initiating the search for the
    hours of outtakes from Marilyn’s unfinished movie, “Something’s Got to Give.”
    The discovery of all that ravishing footage cast a positive revisionist view of
    her final days — at least as an actress. So, we’re part of film history, thank you
    very much.

    We replied to the Marilyn-weary lady, saying (kindly) that she should
    just avert her eyes when Monroe erupted here. Since then, we actually haven’t
    had cause to bandy Marilyn’s name. And we hoped our reader had taken notice.
    Alas, my dear, it’s time to avert your eyes again.

    It’s not our fault! Innocently reading last Sunday’s New York
    Times, we turned to the Metropolitan Section and there on the front page was a
    massive color photo of Marilyn, skirts ahoy, in the famous scene from “The
    Seven Year Itch.” What followed was an extensive story about previously unseen,
    rare color candid footage of the star the night she stepped onto that subway
    grate. We got the history of the man who shot the film, Jules Schulback, all
    the circumstances around that exciting evening in Manhattan, including gossip
    about Joe DiMaggio. Joe was unhappy that his new wife was sharing a glimpse of
    her panties to the masses. (And it is panties, plural. Monroe wore two pair, to
    avoid being exposed under the blinding klieg lights. She did not, despite
    legend, bleach anything other than the hair on her head.)

    And we were assured, via the venerable Gray Lady, that dead as
    doornail or not, Miss Monroe remains vibrantly alive to the media and the
    public at large. Her life-after-death legend is unprecedented. And that is a
    testament to her unique qualities as an actress and to the hypersensitive woman
    who emerged — even in her lifetime — from behind the sometimes cartoonish

    We’re so sorry to have mentioned Marilyn again. We’ll try to do
    better. But, what the heck, I can’t stop those Google Alerts and I sure won’t
    stop reading The New York Times! I’m afraid Norma Jeane will linger here just a
    little bit longer.


    ENDQUOTE: Director Judd Apatow to New York Times columnist Maureen

    “I don’t think it serves a purpose to be against him.[the
    president]. I’m trying to transition from making comment on social media to
    choosing one or two organizations to work with and support so that I feel like
    I’m actually being a positive part of the process. You don’t want to be a



    6:36 am | January 20, 2017
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