FRIDAY, January 19th 2018
“GOOD health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings,” said Publilius Syrus
I REALIZE it is arrogant in the extreme to wonder if any of you wondered where I—this column–was on Wednesday? Probably not, but I am going forge ahead as if you did.
Last Friday, just as I finished writing up my night out seeing Trudie Styler’s “Freak Show” movie, I was knocked sideways by the flu. It had nothing to do with Trudie’s film. I suppose I was just susceptible to the current bad flu epidemic going around, and flu shots that have been, this year, notoriously inadequate.
At one point, feverish and wracked with body aches, I was sure I had somehow entered that “Law & Order” episode where the flu vaccines were replaced by saline solution. (Don’t pretend you don’t know that one—we’ve all seen all the L & O’s multiple times, know the guilty party but stick to the end anyway. Like Pavlov’s dog, as soon as the familiar thumpy Mike Post theme music comes on, we are inevitably conditioned to keep watching.)
I am writing today hunched over and feeling as if I’ve been beaten with a rubber hose from head to toe. So–an improvement!
Illness also prevented me from going to an episode screening of the new TV series “The Alienist.” This included dinner at NYC’s fabled Delmonico’s, where I have never been.
I am very annoyed at my flu!
I DID manage, in between a lot of “Whhhyyyyy?” cries, to keep up with some of what’s been going on. Nothing fun, alas. More careers damaged or ruined, in ongoing sex abuse allegations.
So I will talk about harassment—from a different angle.
First– Mark Wahlberg, inexplicably the highest paid actor in the U.S. right now. I met Mark years ago, during the height of his crotch-grabbing underwear fame, but he behaved like a soft-spoken choir boy with me. He was charming. And smart.
In recent years, he’s come to Jesus and says ridiculous things like he hopes God can forgive him for making “Boogie Nights,” in which he played a porn star.
In reality, Wahlberg should fear the Deity loosening the lightning of his terrible swift sword because of Wahlberg’s participation in the “Ted” films, his “Transformers” re-boots, “Daddy’s Home,” 1 and 2. Not to mention “The Happening.” That one should put Mark and director M. Night Shymalan in the fiery pit for eternity.
My opinion aside, he manages to make enough hit movies to garner him astronomic salaries. Fair is fair—he’s worth it.
Then the time came for Mark to re-shoot some scenes in Ridley Scott’s current “All The Money in the World” (Kevin Spacey, career in tatters, was edited out and replaced by Christopher Plummer.) Wahlberg has a terrific agent, who negotiated a million plus for his client’s additional work. Michelle Williams, another of the film’s stars, worked for scale, by choice. When this news broke, Wahlberg was torn to shreds by all the perfect people in the media—he was a monster for actually having good representation. In the end, he was forced into donating his salary to charity. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to do this. No matter how much money one has, one always feel more secure with, well, more. But Mr. Wahlberg could see the nail polish on the wall—his very successful career might be in jeopardy. He was seen as somehow abusing his position as a man. He had to give in.
“All the Money in the World” has not made all the money in the world. It might have made more if they’d kept Spacey in, actually.
Wahlberg is the only member of that cast who has box-office power, and making deals based on that power is what show business is about.
Male actors are not required to give up their salaries because their female co-stars are poorly represented or not as popular. If women want parity in payment, they need to work smartly and proactively with producers and agents—it’s not the responsibility of their male counterparts to deprive themselves.
Oh, and as always, this movie star kerfuffle has NOTHING to do with ordinary women being abused and harassed and underpaid all across this country. Does Michelle Williams think the female cashier at some supermarket, or the waitress in a diner, can summon up the courage and garner press attention to be better paid, or to be left alone by her lecherous boss, etc.?
A MORE unhappy situation, as far as I am concerned is that of Timothee Chalamet. The extremely talented 21-year old star of “Call Me By Your Name” was—in my opinion—bullied and harassed into giving his small salary on Woody Allen’s upcoming movie, “A Rainy Day in New York” to the TimesUp organization.
Unlike Mr. Wahlberg, I bet Timothee actually is missing that money. But, his extraordinarily promising career was threatened. He had to give in. Now he can safely journey to a well-deserved Oscar nomination. (I wonder in the current climate if Woody’s film will even see release?)
Here’s the rub. The accusations against Woody Allen—that he molested his own adopted child, Dylan– were made in the aftermath of his horribly bitter split from Mia Farrow. We’ll never know the truth of it. What we do know is that Allen has never been accused by any actress he has worked with of inappropriate behavior or verbal abuse. So, his situation—shatteringly ugly as it is–inhabits an entirely different realm than what TimesUp and MeToo are working so diligently for. (Of course many people will simply never forgive or forget the extreme creepiness, and cruelty of how Woody’s relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon Yi Previn rolled out. Soon Yi has been his wife since 1997, but that hardly changes the terrible beginning.)
But we also know this: in Mia Farrow’s life there are two known sexual predators—her own brother John Charles Villiers-Farrow, who was arrested on charges of child molestation. He is now serving 25 years in jail. And there is Mia’s good friend, the “Rosemary’s Baby” director Roman Polanski—who drugged and raped a 13 year old girl in 1977. Farrow has never denounced him. And right now would be the perfect time, yes?
But I guess Mia is simply leaving Roman to heaven, and will spend the rest of her life attempting to consign Woody to hell.
ONE MORE abuse note. I had to laugh watching Stephen Colbert grilling James Franco about allegations that surfaced about the actor, hours after he won a Golden Globe for “The Disaster Artist.” Colbert, age 53, and having worked all his life in the notoriously misogynist world of comedy, is of course a perfect human. (Likewise Seth Meyers, another moralist from the famously female unfriendly “SNL.”)
Colbert, so evolved, sees nothing degrading, abusive or harassing in presenting “comic” skits about Melania Trump. I mean, what the hell does mocking this poor woman have to do with… anything? Nor are his monologues critiquing the Trump marriage—whatever it is—anybody’s business or vital to our current battle against dangerous autocracy.
As far as I am concerned, this is a man with power, abusing a woman who actually has none.
Friday, January 5th 2018
“YOU WANT the truth? He dumped me. An’ ya know why he dumped me? Because I wanted him to kill you and he wouldn’t. Now, get outta here, and let me unpack!”
Those are the last—and most unwise!—words that Gloria Grahame spits out at Broderick Crawford, in Fritz Lang’s grimy 1954 masterpiece, “Human Desire.”
Adapted from the French, “La Bete Humaine” directed by Jean Renoir, this is Grahame’s greatest performance, in a brief career studded with stand-out work, her Oscar win for “The Bad and the Beautiful” actually being the least impressive of her performances—the briefest, anyway. But as Hollywood is wont to do, it decided 1952 was Grahame’s “time,” having appeared also to great effect in “Crossfire,” “Macao,” “In a Lonely Place,” “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “Sudden Fear.” Not to mention her role as Violet in 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” which was all but forgotten. (Television exposure eventually transformed that Frank Capra flop into a Christmas classic.)
Grahame blazed briefly but brilliantly, her career in premature free-fall by the time she appeared in the 1955 screen version of “Oklahoma” as a delightful Ado Annie. Her personal life was almost as fraught, dramatic and occasionally sordid as her screen roles. With wildly exaggerated lips, and a voice of insinuating brass, what set Grahame apart from other film noir heroines was her complicated vulnerability. That is most apparent in “Human Desire.” She’s not good, but she’s bad—very bad–for a reason; she’s married to Broderick Crawford for heaven’s sake! When her lover, Glenn Ford, who also partnered her in “The Big Heat,” gets a conscience and won’t do Crawford in, one can’t help feel powerfully moved by Grahame’s rage, frustration and fear.
This paean to Miss Graham leads me—as I’m sure many of you already suspected—to the current movie, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” It is based on the memoir written by Peter Turner, a young British actor who became intimately involved with Grahame toward the end of her life, as she valiantly eked out a career on stage, mostly forgotten, and, as it turns out, also dying of cancer. Despite the grim subject—and few things are grimmer than the once-glamorous, dimly-remembered star, fatally ill or not–the movie, which stars Annette Bening as Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner, is saved from despair by their performances.
Ms. Bening, still Oscar-less, after four nominations and about three other performances that also should have been acknowledged with nods, wisely does not imitate Grahame in any way. That would have been an impossible and thankless task. But she conveys the odd, perverse delicacy and the sensual vibrancy that made Grahame so unique. It is wise, deeply felt portrayal.
However—and this is an amazing thing to say in a movie that features Ms. Bening—“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” really belongs to Jamie Bell. Mr. Bell, now 31, and still most often recalled for his adolescent role in “Billy Elliott,” is now a fully grown leading man, and fully formed as an actor of abundant nuance, substance and authenticity. His great performance holds a slim tale together. It is work that should be honored by more than merely flattering words. I’m looking at you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (I’ve admired Bell also in “Eagle,” “Jane Eyre,” “Defiance” “Snowpiercer” and the TV series, “TURN: Washington’s Spies.”)
I ventured out to see another movie, in-between avoiding most of cable news and binge-watching everything from Turner Classic Movies to Amazon and Neflix.
I took in “Molly’s Game.” This is another fact-based tale, starring Jessica Chastain as an Olympic-class skier who morphs into a very tough cookierunning high-stake poker games, and gets into trouble with the law. Directed and written by Aaron Sorkin, I was resistant to even try this one. I know that Sorkin—of Emmys and Oscars and other tributes–is considered a god, and his rapier writing skills and unrealistic but fascinating-to-some dialogue is worshipped. I am not among the flock. But as I am a great admirer of Idris Elba, who also stars as Chastain’s lawyer, I sucked up my reluctance and paid my money. Mr. Elba manages, somehow to rise above, or does not become totally entangled in Sorkin-speak. Or maybe he does, and I just forgave him. (It’s true, I’d forgive him anything.) Ms. Chastain, who is a good actress, but so very chilly, always, embraces the material with garrulous gusto. Not only does she talk, she narrates the movie. By the end, I wanted to punch a hole through the screen, and for the next two days, perhaps in reactive shock, I spoke slowly, and only in monosyllables. I’ve now read many positive reviews on “Molly’s Game” and I suppose I’m just simple-minded or a cinematic Luddite. Look, I like fast, snappy dialogue as much as the next guy—who doesn’t adore Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday.” But Sorkin’s work generally pains me. I know I’m in the minority here!
ON SUNDAY night, the Golden Globes will be telecast over NBC, and although it’s been decades since I was truly excited about an awards show, my feeling this year, is that I’d rather be out, and not watch it at all. From the inevitable political jokes by host Seth Meyers to the ridiculousness of actors saying they will wear black in solidarity for harassed, abused women, I can’t think of two or three less palatable hours. I will only note, to any of those who decide to drape themselves funereally for the event, that the truly powerless, oppressed, abused and harassed women of this country and the world, are likely too busy working to be impressed by your One Shade of Hypocrisy and Fear choice of clothing. (When Meryl Streep is bullied into repeated apologies and a wardrobe alteration by the likes of Rose McGowan, things have gotten pretty bad.) Of course, I will watch.
AS SOMEBODY who believes that Kathy Griffin hasn’t been truly funny for fifteen years, I say with some surprise that CNN made a mistake in firing her from its annual New Year’s Eve celebration with Anderson Cooper. Yes, her beheaded mannequin pic with the president was massively stupid, but now, especially in the wake of Cooper and Andy Cohen hosting the New Year special, CNN—which doesn’t know its ass from its elbow anyway—acted too quickly on Griffin. She was funny with him, or seemed funny, which was enough.
I don’t know how smart Anderson Cooper is. But if intellectual ability was comparable to weight training, I don’t think he’d be power-lifting. Andy Cohen, despite his huge success as the man who has helped so much to coarsen the culture with his lucrative “Housewives” franchise, just seems cheerfully dumb and shallow. (Maybe he is a closet intellect and actually reads Proust in-between baiting the savagely plastic-surgeried “stars” of his shows.)
So there they were, two simple friends, freezing, struggling. They even dragged out a few of the old subjects Griffin had used on Anderson—his childhood modeling, etc—to much less amusing effect. Cohen pimped “Housewives.” They both had tequila shots late in the evening. They should have started sooner. It was not quite as grisly as I expected, but bad enough. Never thought I’d say it—bring back Kathy Griffin. (It would be great next year to have her rag on Cooper as to what a poor friend he was in supporting her. Then again, I doubt they really were friends.)
SWEET CHARITY: Tomorrow night, at Radio City Music Hall, Dave Matthews, The Trey Anastasio Band, Aaron Neville, Hurray for Riff Raff and others join for “A Concert for Island Relief.” Proceeds will benefit hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and the almost totally devastated Puerto Rico. Well, somebody has to do something! I don’t know ticket availability on this show, but if you’re of a mind, you can also go online and choose from such varied sources as Global Giving, Go Fund Me, United Way, etc. if you want to help out. Every little bit helps.
ENDQUOTE: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is,” said Winston Churchill.
These are words to live by, work for and believe in, more than ever.
“WHY, YOU poor pathetic garbage picker, you’re an even bigger loser than I am!”
That’s downtrodden Lana Turner, snarling at sleazy Burgess Meredith, as Turner’s 1966 entry, “Madame X,” spirals down into delicious sordidness and beatific, self-sacrificing Mother Love.
Oh, I know, you all thought I was going to begin 2018 with mournful, angry memories of last year, and chipper pack-up–your-troubles-in-your-old-kit-bag (and smile, smile, smile!) Not to mention calls for activism, as our democracy is threatened.
Well, I have 12 months—God willing—to do all that. And some will perhaps roll their eyes and say, “Enough—aren’t you here to entertain?” (Or as Noel Coward’s 1929 “If Love Were All” song goes—always the Judy Garland version—“the most I have is just, a talent to amuse…” To be honest, I’m not sure I even have a lot of that. But sure as hell I am not going to depress you guys straight out of the gate, as a new year arrives.
I SPENT a good deal of vacation time decorating my house for Christmas—as you all know, it always ends up looking like a bordello, and I keep adding to it. Too much is never enough!
I also remained glued to Turner Classic Movies, where Miss Lana Turner was the Star of the Month. And what a star she was!
Her career, if not as prestigious and Oscar-laden as, say MGM sister Elizabeth Taylor, was rather epic in length and saw her through a number of transitions, not to mention a scandal that, looking back, was a miracle she survived. No star—save perhaps Joan Crawford–ever enjoyed her stardom more. And Lana did it with considerably less obvious desperation. Nobody is happy when a career begins to go south. Lana drifted away, buffeted by her own glorious belief in “Lana Turner” and—for many years—the comfort of liquor. Crawford, rolling her Rs to the very end, made a lot of noise. (And 100 proof vodka cushioned her disappointments.)
LANA, who was not discovered at the soda fountain Schwab’s drug store—but why bother with the truth, it’s the iconic tale—appeared first in the 1937 movie “They Won’t Forget” as a busty teen-age girl who is the victim of a killer, her screen time was brief, but her apparently well-filled-out sweater was memorable. Turner, then under contract for Warner Bros., and only 16, became well-known as “The Sweater Girl” and renowned for a bosom she didn’t really have. Turner filled out her clothes well enough, but she was tiny, trim and neat.
A year later, MGM, still suffering the shock of 26-year-old Jean Harlow’s death, brought Turner into the fold, put her through the usual apprenticeship to see what she did best—they almost made her a musical star—bleached her auburn hair blonde, and used her as both a sex-symbol replacement for Harlow, and a glamorous young leading lady, of various careers and traumas, to offset the maturing and less potent Joan Crawford.
Right off the bat, Turner was a big hit—she was luscious, baby-faced, relaxed and very appealing. She was paired with all the studio’s big leading men—Gable in “Honky Tonk” (they would go on to make five more films) Spencer Tracy in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde, Mickey Rooney (of course!) in an Andy Hardy film and Robert Taylor in “Johnny Eager.” When MGM put her in “Ziegfeld Girl,” opposite gorgeous zombie Hedy Lamarr and budding genius triple threat Judy Garland, it was Turner who most impressed studio execs. Her role was expanded. And variations of this role echoed throughout most of her career—a basically good girl, sweet, if spoiled and headstrong, easily led to the sordid side of the street. (In “Ziegfeld Girl” she not only gets smacked around by dead beat boxer Dan Daily, she also has one of the great movie queen moments ever, attempting to glide down a long staircase, recreating her glory days as a stage beauty.)
Turner’s disordered private life was fodder for fan magazines and gossip columns. In the end there would be eight husbands, including musician Artie Shaw, millionaire Bob Topping and Tarzan actor Lex Barker. None of the hubbies seemed anything more than adjuncts to Lana’s fame and her career as a star, required to wed many times. The rumored—and factual—lovers were more interesting.
Blessed with a slimmed-hipped, perky-assed, broad-shouldered body, Turner wore almost anything thrown on her, beautifully. She had, without a doubt, the most perfect, regal posture of all the MGM girls—Ava Gardner, perhaps, came close.
Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor generally played Women in Love. Taylor was the privileged little bitch (eventually rehabilitated) and Gardner the soulful, sometimes cruel sensualist. (She often died.) Turner, on the other hand, for all her breathy blonde beauty was frequently a career woman—she played nurses, soldiers, secretaries, spies and—of course—actresses. She didn’t seem out of place doing ordinary things. Of course, the public adored her as the murder-on-her-mind Cora in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” but even there she was just trying to make her tacky roadside café into something better.
The years rolled on, and Turner, who took tremendous pride and care in her appearance, seemed to stop the clock for a long time. She became, as good roles began to dwindle, increasingly lacquered and posy—a divine clotheshorse. Or, as in the case of “The Prodigal” a divine who wore three beads and a prayer. But under that persona always there was a certain roughness, a coarseness, that was very exciting. It was in those moments, that her talent, which was not inconsiderable, was most obvious. (All fans recall her fabulous hysteria in Vincent Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful” going nuts in a careening car, after Kirk Douglas rejects her.)
As her MGM career neared its end, still glam, but less profitable—“Latin Lovers,” “The Flame and the Flesh,” “The Merry Widow,” “The Sea Chase,” “Diane”– 36-year-old Lana was cast as the sexually repressed mother of a teenage girl in the screen version of the then-shocking best-seller, “Peyton Place.” Under any circumstances, give the novel’s notoriety, the film would have been a hit, but as luck would have it , just as “Petyon” was finishing its general release, Lana was plunged into what remains to this day, one of the most stunning scandals ever. Her own teenage daughter, Cheryl Crane, had stabbed her mother’s gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato to death, in Lana’s pink boudoir. He was attacking Lana, and Cheryl was defending her mother. It was beyond lurid in every respect. Lana was clearly unfit, screamed the editorials—and some other Hollywood stars.
But Turner’s love letters to Stompanato, released to tabloids, and signed “Lanita” revealed not a rank sensualist, but a little girl, besotted. Then, with close-cropped platinum blonde hair and a severe suit, Turner took the stand at Cheryl’s trial. Her televised testimony, sobbing, heaving—but regal and motherly even in her distress, won the day. Cheryl was acquitted—justifiable homicide. Cheryl would have many troubles for years to come, but in the end, mother and daughter held their bond. “Peyton Place” had been a huge hit, and Turner nominated for her only Oscar.
But now, could Lana Turner continue? Yes, she could. Producer Ross Hunter approached her with that old chestnut about mother love and racial discrimination, “Imitation of Life.” Although the relationship between Turner and screen daughter Sandra Dee, came ominously close to what people suspected about Lana and Cheryl, Turner—offered a big slice of the profits—accepted. Thin and tense, covered in glorious clothes and jewels and given multiple emotional outbursts, Turner was good. Susan Kohner, who played the tormented bi-racial daughter of Turner’s maid—Oscar nominated Juanita Moore–was even better. The movie was a gigantic hit and secured Lana financially. She was forgiven, and had risen, phoenix-like from the ashes of the dead body on the floor of her bedroom.
NOW, mostly under the guidance of Ross Hunter, her roles reflected her notorious reputation—she was “By Love Possessed”…her “Love Has Many Faces”…she was the picture of duplicity in “Portrait in Black”…she was in “Another Time, Another Place” (with another woman’s husband). There were even a couple of silly comedies, “Bachelor in Paradise” and “Whose Got the Action” which revealed a still slender and glamorous Lana, but robbed of most of her youthful vivacity. Comedy, which she’d performed delectably as a young woman, was now beyond her. She had seen too much.
Then, in 1966, a threshold year for Hollywood films, the year that Elizabeth Taylor got fat and cursed up a storm in “Who’s Afraid of “Virginia Woolf?” Lana Turner, similarly deglamorized herself—for about 25 minutes—in her final Ross Hunter production, another oldie, re-tooled, “Madame X.” Turner, although very adept, was hard to take as the young “inappropriate” wife of rising politician Robert Forsythe. But soon enough, bored and neglected, Lana is dallying with Ricardo Montalban, killing Ricardo Montalban (it was an accident, natch), battling with her evil, freshly face-lifted mother-in-law Constance Bennett (“So, you killed your lover, my girl!…you can’t help being what you are any more than you can help being what you aren’t”), and forced to abandon hubby and child, for “the good of the family.”
Lana changes her hair color several times and travels the world, miserable, of course, falling into snowdrifts and bad habits. (Absinthe is her poison.) But, once she gets to Mexico, she is at her nadir, and it is from this point onward, Lana Turner gives a performance than in another time, another place, would have earned her an Oscar nod. But in ’66, the “woman’s picture” was dead.
It’s not just that Turner allows herself to look like crap—which disturbed her greatly in real life—she gets to the heart of the matter. She alters her voice, the way she moves, degraded in Mexico, ennobled at trial, when she tells only so much of the truth, to protect her child—who thinks she is dead. It’s brilliant stuff. Truly.
It was more or less the official end of her major starring career. There were a few more films, better left unspoken of, some TV, and eventually a spiritual awakening that was rather touching, if off-putting for those who expected a bawdy old movie star, riffing on her love life. (Check out Robin Leech’s extraordinary interview with Lana—battling cancer—a year before her death.) She appeared at peace, after a life where peace was something she rarely seemed to pursue.
Turner died in 1995, aged 74, in a Century City apartment complex. Fittingly, it had once been the back lot of 20th Century Fox. (Where she made 1955’s “The Rains of Ranchipur”as an amoral lady luring holy man Richard Burton.)
During one particularly fraught moment, earlier in her career, Lana exclaimed, “My life has been a series of emergencies!”
For a while, yes. (After the Stomanato killing, although she continued to marry, there were no more personal headlines. Unlike Taylor, Turner did not hold onto to obsessive media interest.) But to fans, her life had been a series of dazzling screen appearances, a never-disappointing goddess, who gave all she had, all she wanted to give.
As she said in the person of pagan high priestess Samarra, in “The Prodigal”—“I cannot belong to one man. I belong to…all men!”
Maybe not all–but enough. Lanita, you were quite a woman, and a great star.
AND FOLKS—the year will go on, and these columns won’t always be so giddy. Fair warning.