“WHAT’S GOING to become of me?”
“I don’t know; you’ll have to stop getting younger someday.”
“Are you going back to that washed out expatriate in Naples?”
“Yes, and when I marry her I’m going back to doing things.”
“Do you think you ever get me out of your blood?!”
“Maybe not, but love has to stop somewhere short of suicide.”
THAT is the blistering final scene between Ruth Chatterton and Walter Huston in the great 1936 William Wyler movie adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel “Dodsworth.” (Chatterton’s final shrieks, “He’s gone ashore; he’s gone ashore!” are partially muted by the blaring of the ocean liner’s horns—the ship that was supposed to take the estranged couple home to America.)
In a recent burst of movie-watching, “Dodsworth,” a favorite since childhood (remember, I was a unusual youngster) struck me once again as remarkably realistic, astonishingly so, for the time, and brilliantly acted by Chatterton as the dissatisfied wife, Huston as her restless, recently retired tycoon husband, and exquisite Mary Astor as the affectionate woman to whom Huston is drawn.
Chatterton had been a big star on stage and was one of the first actresses Hollywood called on to appear in talkies. Despite being past the flush of youth, she had a successful movie career. “Dodsworth” was one of her last films, and her crowning achievement. Like Norma Shearer, Chatterton had an odd quality of artificiality—a holdover from several early silent movies and her stage work—combined with a striking realism. In “Dodsworth”—much like Shearer’s “Marie Antoinette”—Chatterton’s pros and cons melded perfectly. As Fran, bored—perhaps justifiably—she is petulant, reckless and unfaithful, her pouting affectations a mask for coarse, unyielding rage.
Walter Huston (father of director John Huston) is a miracle of naturalistic performing, and his character Sam, the automobile magnate, despite his unsophisticated Americanism, is startlingly understanding of his wife’s “flings”—if not exactly thrilled. When she refuses him the intimacy of sex, the marriage finally breaks down (“Is this what’s it’s come to, Fran?”) The scene is a miracle of frankness and discretion.
As for Mary Astor, as Edith, she is luminous. Astor, although remaining lovely, grew matronly rather swiftly (she is thickening even in her most famous role, “The Maltese Falcon.”) But in “Dodsworth,” she is as ravishing as she was in her silent films and her voice is a miracle of varying emotions. Although not as famous as many of Wyler’s other movies, in fact it seems somewhat forgotten, it is one of his most expert and daring efforts. (There was some serious talk in the 1970’s of remaking it with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, which might not have been a bad idea. But of course Miss Taylor was always too busy living her spectacular “private” life and making movies such as “X, Y and Zee,” “Ash Wednesday” and “Night Watch.” These films are great fun, but hardly moved the box-office needle of her career.)
“Dodsworth” could be remade, perhaps more from Fran’s point of view, but I’d rather it wasn’t.. It’s perfect as is. Oh, and course, we must never forget Maria Ouspenskaya, as the aged and distressingly candid mother of one of Fran’s younger suitors. “There is the question of children,” says Ouspenskaya pointedly, “Rich or poor, Kurt should have children, can you give them to him?” (Fran had made the case for her own wealth, and taking care of the family, who live in genteel poverty).
“What makes you think I couldn’t?” says Fran.
“I am so much older than you are my dear,” Ouspenskaya utters with icy compassion, “you will forgive if I observe that you are older than Kurt.”
On Friday, I’ll meander down this vintage movie road again—nostalgia is comforting in uncertain times.
THIS ‘N THAT:
…HAPPENING this season the New Jersey’s divine Paper Mill Playhouse. “The Sting” a new musical based on the famous 1973 movie with Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw. This will star Harry Connick Jr. as one of the con men of the piece.
Connick is very appealing as a musical star—acting and singing. Loved him in “The Pajama Game” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” As and stand alone actor, I find him less interesting, although mighty attractive. He needs music to fully flower.
“The Sting” will play March 29th-April 29th. Broadway looms. The book is by Bob Martin. Mark Hollman, Greg Knotts and Mr. Connick himself have devised the music and lyrics. John Rando directs. Warren Carlyle choreographs. For further info go to www.PaperMill.org
…LATER this year, in September and October, Paper Mill will present the world première of “Unmasked: The Music and Stories of Andrew Lloyd Webber.” This is pretty much what the title suggests—a celebration of Lloyd Webber’s many hits (good grief “Phantom” is still running!) along with new interpretations of songs from the likes of “Evita,” “Cats” “Sunset Boulevard” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Bombay Dreams.” The show has been “created” by Richard Curtis and John Doyle. For tix info call 973-376-4343 or visit www.PaperMill.org. An album “Unmasked: The Platinum Collection” will be released on March 16th.
…AND speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, he will sit at Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street) with Glenn Close, his second Norma Desmond of “Sunset Boulevard” for a conversation about his career and his new memoir, titled—surprise!—“Unmasked.” (I say Glenn was his second Norma because some of us recall that Patti LuPone originated the role in London. In fact I saw her in it, and she was very good. La LuPone expected to come to Broadway. She did not. It became quite the little scandal, although Ms. LuPone saw nothing “little” about it. I’ll never forget speaking to her as casting was changed. Her righteous anger burned electrifyingly through the phone wire. It was pretty fabulous.) Maybe Andrew will address that. Sure! Call 212-840-2824.
….IN New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, a terrific photographic exhibition, devoted to the late genius David Bowie is happening at each city’s Morrison Hotel Gallery. Titled “Bowie” the exhibit will display the singer/songwriter/performance artist deluxe in all his varieties over the decades. The show will run from February 22nd to March 23rd. Prints are for sale. The New York gallery is located at 116 Prince Street. Call 212-941-8770.
…WELL, the second episode of “Homeland” has aired, and Claire Danes/Carrie Mathison is clearly having issues with her Lithium—not that the country isn’t still in trouble. I was hoping not see her freak out and compromise herself this season, but the writers took Carrie into a darker, creepier hole than ever. Insane, absurd, but I’m watching.
Also, I’m slowly getting through “Altered Carbon” on Netflix. Everybody seems to be mumbling less—or maybe using the earphones helps. And the basic story—who killed the dead-but-not-really-dead millionaire (James Purefoy) interests me. But all the CGI sci-fi special effects seem annoyingly de trop. I just think it would have worked better as a current day thriller. All hands—Joel Kinnaman, Will Yun Lee, Dichen Lachman, Renee Elise Goldsberry, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Ato Essandoh, are doing good work. But their efforts would be more convincing if the show was set in 2018. I can’t binge it. My eyes and head start to hurt. And there are still things I simply don’t understand. But why should my TV be any different than my life?
MAIL: “NO POLITICS. Keep it light. Not all of us are Dems.” This came unsigned last week in response to our remarks on the Florida school massacre and ruminating on why it is unwise to push so relentlessly to impeach the president, with Mike Pence in the wings.
I replied politely that I surely know that everybody’s not a Dem, and that in fact that column, as do most of my “political” remarks, annoy—to put it mildly—my liberal pals. Why? Because I am ever ready to criticize the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the sniggering children of MSNBC, and the general feeling that if we treat the current president as he and the GOP treated Obama, we’ll somehow persevere. I do not believe this is so. I am no fan of our current commander in chief, but I also do not care for the sport of bear baiting. (Even when that bear perhaps very foolishly attempts to bait Oprah).
But I also received this from a reader named Janet:
“We see through the prism of news and politics very differently, but still I feel there is always hope and everyone should hang onto that.
“Though you are feeling so discouraged, you obviously have read a great deal of history and on reflection must realize that so much is out of our control and most of us all slug away and do our bit day by day in our lives trying to navigate through whatever those “in power” put in motion that affect us, and whether we learn about what they put in motion is ultimately what a free press is about (which is why I sometimes despair for the “echo chamber” out there in most print and broadcast media), but we all have free will and a heart and a soul and a mind and that cannot be altered, we should use them. There have been bleaker landscapes in history and Evil is throughout the ages and seems all powerful but it is not all there is and hopefully we learn something in how to protect ourselves from it.”
I am so often encouraged, impressed and learn from my intelligent readers. Thank you, Janet.
MONDAY, February 19 2018
“ALL THINGS in life are a mingling of bitterness and joy; war has its delights, and marriage its alarms” said La Fontaine.
APPARENTLY, the alarm bell rang for Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux after about two years of marriage. (They have been a couple for seven years.) That’s a more than respectable amount of time for a Hollywood relationship—or any relationship, these days. Especially one that doesn’t involve upsetting children and one in which both parties have plenty of money.
I have to admit, this came as a surprise. I tend to ignore the glossy magazines that endlessly predict doom for couples before they even take the vows. (I tip my hat to Henry Higgins!) So, if US or People or InTouch were doling out tales of unhappiness, I never saw them. Apparently, all is amicable between Jen and Justin.
However, Miss Aniston will now be submerged in ridiculous stories about failing at love (as if Mr. Theroux hasn’t failed as well). And but of course, now that her ex, Brad Pitt is split from Angelina Jolie, we are going to suffer Brad ‘n Jen reconciling stories or—more likely—“Jen Pines for Brad.” Because she’s a woman, she has to pine.
I really don’t think Aniston is the pining type. It was inevitably the press that dragged Pitt’s name into interviews. Jennifer– knowing full well that “I’d rather not go there” would result in “she’s too distraught to even mention his name”–would then give a spare response. That would, of course, lead her to being criticized: “Why does she always have to mention him?” “Why is she such a victim?” There are some things you can’t win. But I think Miss Aniston has been through the fire enough to not let it bother her. (Anyway, she’s got that glowy Aveeno-nourished skin. What, her worry?)
My best to both J and J, whom I like as actors and people, from the little I know of them as people. (It is enough in Mr. Theroux’s case that he wears sweatpants so evocatively, as all who were fans of “The Leftovers” surely recall.)
THIS ‘N THAT:
…“YOU have found me out. How could I hope to deceive you? I have been trying to entrap you, with these (displays shapely arms, and other charms), to bind you with soft chains, so that I may do with you as I will.”
That was Gina Lollobrigida, tempting Yul Brynner in “Solomon and Sheba,” one of the most delicious, hysterical, historically inaccurate Biblical epics of the 1950’s. La Lollo, as the actress was affectionately known around the world was a great beauty, a major international star, and a more than passable actress. She deserves a place in the pantheon if all that survived of her work was “Beat the Devil,” “Trapeze,” “Woman of Straw,” “Go Naked in the World” and “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (from which “Mamma Mia!” sprang.) The star has about 60 other feature and TV credits, beginning in 1946—her early work consists of films with titles such as “Woman of Rome,” “Beautiful But Dangerous,” “The Wayward Wife,” “Flesh and the Woman” and “Wife for a Night.” She didn’t play virgins.
Well, finally, whoever decides these things decided that it was time that Gina Lollobrigida–now a vital 90 years young—was imbedded as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Good grief! I couldn’t be happier she has received this honor, but what the hell were they waiting for? When I think of the “stars”—much younger and without Gina’s creds, who are placed in the pavement… Anyway, glad this happened. Now—Give Doris Day an Oscar!!!!! (Oh, come on, you knew I was leading up to that.)
…WOW! The season premiere of “Homeland” knocked me for a loop, and I can’t say the series, now in its seventh season, has knocked me much of anywhere, recently. With the country in the hands of a paranoid, vindictive president–uh, on the show–and plots abounding, the bug-eyed hysteria of Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison made sense to me, finally. (She generally plays Carrie with the subtlety of deep cleavage at a 14th century nunnery.) “This is not me off my meds!” she screamed as her logic was questioned. I had to laugh, because every morning I feel that I need meds to get through a day of news. We are, so many of us, Carrie Mathison now.
I’m loving Elizabeth Marvel as the president, Mandy Patinkin as the often battered and beleaguered Saul (in jail but not likely for long) and even Linus Roache as one of the president’s advisers. (I say “even” because I felt Roache was so ineffectual as ADA Michael Cutter on “Law & Order.” I’m sure it was the way the role was written—and whose idea was it to give Cutter a baseball bat as a prop?)
Anyway, the second episode of “Homeland” has now aired and I hope the quality and tension remain. I’m always tense, why should “Homeland” relax?
…SPEAKING of “Law & Order” what a hot mess “L&O: Special Victims Unit” has turned into. Not only have they gotten rid of Raul Esparza as Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba but the powers also killed off Benjamin Stone, who was the Executive District Attorney in the original first four seasons of “Law & Order.” That role was played by Michael Moriarity, who is, by the way, still very much alive. But, no return cameos for him.
An odd decision—and Barba’s farewell paean to Mariska Hargitay’s Detective/Sergeant/Lieutenant Olivia Benson was embarrassing to behold– but no odder than the show is now.
Overly politicized and politically correct; focusing way too much on the home life (irritating baby Noah) and the dramas of Olivia Benson. (I mean, how many times can she be abducted, attacked, or somehow done wrong by a man?) Ice-T as detective Tutuola remains a blessing and Peter Scanavino as Carisi is solid, sexy and underused. The very good Kelli Giddish (Amanda Rollins) has had her character fall into the Olivia Benson well of children and family issues. It’s become a soap opera.
Before you get me wrong, I really admire Mariska Hargitay, who is the executive producer of the series now, and a longtime, passionate advocate for women. Back in the day, I ran into her and former co-star Chris Meloni at a number of events. They were both extremely nice and unexpectedly wacky and hilarious. They had such great back-and-forth I suggested they do a comedy together. (She has not ventured there. Meloni has, on a number of occasions; currently he is triumphantly off-the-wall in the weird, brilliant “Happy!” series.) And, when I wrote affectionately about Mariska’s mom, the divine Jayne Mansfield, Hargitay called the office to thank us, personally. (Mariska also, very kindly, gave us the exclusive scoop on her pregnancy. Ah, the good old days of “scoops.)
I just think “Law & Order: SVU” should get back to you know, law and order. But hey, fans might still love it. What do I know?
…FINALLY, a memo to Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall: Get the hell off Twitter and Instagram and behave like the very full grown adults you are!
In case you are unaware, Cattrall has made it abundantly clear in interviews that she doesn’t like or consider SJP—as Parker is annoyingly known to intimates—a pal. She (Cattrall) has no intention of doing another “Sex and the City” movie. (For this decision alone, Kim deserves a Nobel Prize in her efforts to save humanity.) So, I’d say, stay away, SJP. Wouldn’t you?
Then, Cattrall’s brother died. Instead of—if the kindness so moved Parker—writing a note (I know, but people still do), sending an email or picking up the phone, SJP expressed her condolences publicly, on Twitter. Naturally, this enraged Cattrall, who fired back explosively, on Twitter.
Ladies—and others—don’t you know by now that this insane obsession to express yourself every day, on every topic, to an audience of perhaps millions is a really bad idea?
I have met and interviewed both Parker and Cattrall. Separately. They were amusing, sensitive–and quite intelligent. Apparently, social media kills brain cells. Stop!
P.S. The cherry on top of this sad and silly sundae was listening to SJP’s dear friend Andy Cohen “explain” the situation on his Sirius radio program. Cohen expresses himself like the reality “stars” he has elevated on his “Housewives” franchise. I don’t think he did his pal SJP any favors—although he is clearly in Camp Parker—but I laughed all the way through. And I sure needed a laugh.
FRIDAY, February 16 2018
“YOU ARE like a gorgeous serpent, insinuating yourself through the movie!”
That’s what somebody said to the great actress Patricia Clarkson on Monday night at the party following a Cinema Society screening of director Sally Potter’s pitch black comedy “The Party.”
Okay—that “somebody” was me. I know—but I couldn’t help myself. Clarkson does indeed glide through the movie, tossing off mildly uttered, straight-to- the-marrow insults and saying more with a mere roll of her eyes than other can actors can convey in two pages of dialogue.
I enjoyed this film so much, not the least of it was the brevity (71 minutes) and the evocative and necessary—to me–black and white cinematography. Speaking of brevity, the director, Ms. Potter told me that the entire shoot took a mere two weeks. Sure, all the action takes place in one London flat, and nothing explodes, crashes or requires excessive digital fiddling, but I found that timeline and economy still to be an extraordinary achievement.
“The Party” stars Kristin Scott Thomas, giving a celebratory dinner to mark her election as Britain’s new Minister of Health. Things swiftly go awry. Everybody’s got a problem or a secret; her husband (Timothy Spall) and a tight gaggle of friends (Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz, Cillian Murphy and the abovementioned Clarkson.)
The machinations, evasions and lies—over-the-top, theatrical and almost surreal—unravel swiftly. It’s a chamber piece that has the feel it originated onstage (it did not.) It’s satire with some neat observations on political and societal hypocrisies thrown in for good measure. This is a “real” movie, despite the deliberate absurdities; one that you have to watch and listen to. Every performance is delicious and spot-on.
“The Party” won’t change your life. You won’t ponder the fates of the various characters. But for just over an hour I lost myself in a rich, witty casserole, quickly devoured, totally satisfying.
AS FOR Patricia Clarkson, she has racked up about 90 acting credits since the 1980’s—including three memorable appearances on the New York stage (“House of Blue Leaves,” Eastern Standard” and “The Elephant Man”). She seems to have been in everything, from guest shots to TV films, to features to acclaimed series such as “House of Cards” and “Six Feet Under.” She is inevitably a stand-out, completely unique in manner, unerringly expert in delivery. She has been grossly under-awarded, in my opinion, although at least she has Oscar and Tony nods (“Pieces of April” and “The Elephant Man” respectively.)
In any case, she didn’t mind at all my comparing her to a serpent—a gorgeous serpent—and she was in a very merry mood, a mood that matched her flirty, fun dress, which was trimmed with feathers. “This is the most surprising thing,” I said to her. “You don’t seem like the feathers type.” She laughed, but didn’t comment on whether or not she was a feathery kind of woman in general. But she was pleased I noticed her trim. (I’m a feathery kind of guy—big surprise!)
“The Party” drew an eclectic mix to the Metrograph Theater, down on Ludlow Street, and the gathering that happened right upstairs. Among those on hand were Alan Cumming…Sergio Kletnoy…Ellen and Chuck Scarborough…Scott Gorenstein…Will Cotton…Mick Jones…Isiah Whitlock Jr…Arianna and Charles Rockefeller and the divine Kathleen Turner (Oh, if only I could repeat the conversation we had about somebody who attended Liz Smith’s memorial—such wicked fun!)
But the best encounter I had came early in the evening. Just as I was alighting from my cab, approaching the theater, I noticed a small blonde woman with a big pocketbook, also heading for the door. Although her face was in shadow, I caught a glimpse of an unmistakable profile—Debbie Harry, Blondie herself! We entered together. I introduced myself, and she sweetly pretended to remember we’d met at various events over the years and that I’d interviewed her and Chris Stein at one point. I told her again, as I had back then, how stunned I was when I saw her perform in concert—her voice was so pure and perfect that at first I thought she had to be lip-syncing. Debbie laughed and answered just as she had ten years ago, “Are you sure I wasn’t?” (She wasn’t. Believe me!) She also had the grace to mention Liz, “She was always so lovely to me, always wrote the nicest things.”
As much as I enjoyed the movie, the night could have ended right there with the living legend herself, the epitome of cool, wry, ironic sex-appeal and unparalleled excellence in her music; and a lovely person to boot.
I did have another conversation about Liz Smith, with the formidable and eternally glamorous columnist Cindy Adams. Cindy was talking to a younger woman and as the woman left, Adams playfully swatted her on the rump. “Cindy! I am going to have to report you, if that poor, traumatized girl doesn’t. Sexual harassment, Cindy! These are new days!” Cindy said she didn’t care.
Cindy asked how I was doing. I said fine, and added, “Liz adored you.”
“No she didn’t.”
“Cindy, she did!”
“No, she didn’t. I know more than you do!”
“Cindy, I worked for Liz for 36 years, I doubt you know nearly as much as I do. But seriously, she always spoke very well of your professionalism and glamour and tenacity.” (And that IS the truth.)
Adams mulled this for a second, and said, with a sly little smile, “Okay, I’ll take that!”
ENDTHOUGHT: This was a difficult column. Not because of its content. I simply didn’t want to write today. Whenever something terrible happens—something terrible that makes the news, because terrible things happen every day—I feel less than human, insensitive and foolish, writing up “entertaining” news.
Two things struck me most sadly about the school shooting in Florida. One—there is almost no shock or surprise. Whereas once you might sit in gaping horror at the TV—and in equal distaste at the crass news idiots trying to squeeze every ounce of graphic information out of witnesses and survivors–now you move on with the day—another mass shooting, as uniquely American as apple pie. Nothing is more horrible, more threatening to our souls, than a shrugging, hopeless acceptance of an evil that can be prevented.
But I was made most unhappy with the knowledge of how distinctly and terribly well-planned this attack was. It could be no mere happenstance that this act was committed on Valentine’s Day. This ancient holiday, this day of love, with its early religious and notably romantic origins will forever be an anniversary of horror for the families of those murdered. The word itself—valentine—which can occur anywhere at any time will bring it back, in all manner of mourning, agony and questioning.
Where are we? Where are we going? And must we continue on this road?
P.S. A huge admiring shout-out to Bess Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel. Kalb reacted to every Republican politician calling for “prayers” with a tweet showing exactly how much money this or that Senator or congressman accepted on behalf of the NRA. Brilliant! And a strategy Democrats should definitely employ this year, and in 2020. But nooooo…they will all continue pounding Russia, Stormy Daniels, the president’s hair, his literacy skills, etc. and pushing for impeachment.
However—and I never thought I’d write this!—people better listen to what reality TV creature and recent White House émigré Omarosa has to say about everybody so hot to unseat 45. Our current president might be a bad deal in many ways, but Mike Pence as commander-in-chief is a literally terrifying concept.
WEDNESDAY, February 7th 2018
“GET a Shubert Theater!!”
That’s what my friend, mentor and employer of 36 years, Liz Smith, jotted down, in a note titled, “Exit: Ta Da!”
Liz had always insisted she didn’t want a fuss after she shuffled off her mortal coil. She’d always come back from a memorial service or funeral, seemingly ever more insistent on this. (And somewhat caustic about both the dead and the living involved.)
I never believed her. Liz loved to be recognized. She loved performing. She loved getting up on stage and utilizing the full force of her personality toguide a charity event. She loved being Liz Smith and she loved a good compliment on the many facets of her evolution from raw, wide-eyed, ambitious Texas girl to the premiere gossip columnist of her era, a Manhattan institution, read around the city, the country and—it always astonished her—the world. (“Honey, this letter/email is from Berlin…Australia…London…Canada!”). So, it was good to know that I was right. Liz had, indeed made a few plans, toward the end of her life. And a Shubert Theater was on the top of the list.
Funnily enough, many who read the New York Social Diary on Monday, thought that David Patrick Columbia’s very good piece on Liz’s memorial was my work. (I actually wrote that day about my long bout with the flu and what I was able to watch and read while abed. Penned in advance, because I wasn’t sure at that point I’d even be up to attending Liz’s celebration.)
“But, she recovered,” as Judy Garland’s caustic aside goes in “A Star is Born.” And so I sat away from Liz’s friends and family, in the Shubert’s Majestic Theater, just in case I began coughing or otherwise felt overcome. That did not happen.
I knew, in varying manner of intimacy, all who spoke onstage—Cynthia McFadden…Barry Diller…Liz’s niece, Karen Williamson…Spencer Hoge (Liz’s adored, adoring and beautifully composed godson)…Tommy Tune (warbling “The Way You Look Tonight”)…Lesley Stahl…Billy Norwich…Joni Evans…Renee Zellweger…Holland Taylor…Bruce Willis.
I appreciated every amusing, poignant reminisce. But there was nothing new for me to learn about Liz. Given the way she ran her office and her life, I knew all in about two years!
I would go home at night and exclaim frantically, “This can’t be normal. It’s too personal. It’s crazy. I think I’m going to have a stroke!” Gently advised to remove myself from the tsunami at 38th Street and apartment 26-A, I would counter, “And do what?” I couldn’t do anything else, and I really didn’t want to. I learned to live—and lived to learn!—in the eye of a “natural blonde” hurricane.
I was particularly grateful about the references to Liz’s intellect, her tremendous curiosity, her compulsive love of reading. If there was ever somebody whose exterior life and perceived interests were at odds with the person she was, that somebody was Liz Smith. Not that Liz didn’t enjoy and value a good piece of gossip, but that sort of thing was rarely a main subject of her conversation.
I was also lifted up by the wonderful selection of photographs and film clips, complied, designed and edited by Jake Whitman. That dazzling movie star smile, utterly embracing and seductive, the laugh—a raucous cackle that was all-inclusive. It was a Greatest Hits afternoon, reminding me, over and over again of all the good times, what a great life she’d had, how eagerly she embraced it and how she enriched, enlivened and even ennobled the lives she touched.
It was “mercifully brief,” a phrase Liz and I would often use after being blessed with a night in the theater that knew its limits and just how much a backside could take in an uncomfortable seat. I got up, and well–felt cured! Had I ever been sick?
I felt quite good enough to attend the reception at Sardi’s after, to drink and nosh. The place was almost ridiculously packed—and un-mournful networking was rife. I had to laugh, reminded of Holland Taylor having just read a note to Liz from her beloved friend Mike Nichols: “When we meet at the next rat fuck!…”
(The next day, Saturday, the Smith family, along with me, Mary Jo McDonough, Diane Judge, Iris Love, and Rachel Clark, celebrated Liz’s life at her old stomping grounds, the El Rio Grande restaurant, downstairs from her office/apartment of nearly half a century. Guacamole was devoured, wings were gnawed, margaritas were hoisted in her name. It went on for eight hours!)
At Sardi’s Lots of people came up with sad-type faces and commented how terrible I must feel. I’m afraid I distressed quite a few by saying I didn’t feel bad at all, that the afternoon had brought back the good, erased the tumult and left me feeling proud to have known her. No tears. We all live and die. Few make the profound personal impact of Liz Smith.
Her professional life was a triumph, but it was a puny thing compared to approaching her in a ballroom or a living room, surrounded by hundreds, or alone together. Her face–solemn, even stubborn, in repose–suddenly, radiantly creased with apparent joy to see and talk to you, and only you, “Honey, come sit here!”
Liz, darling, I’ll never sit by you again. But you are with me, always.
P.S. Bruce Willis, who Liz adored and vice versa seemed especially somber in his recollection. Perversely, this reminded me of an afternoon some years back. Liz had interviewed Bruce, and wrote up their meeting. Reading it over, this sentence jumped out: “He wore just three items of clothing, a white linen shirt, white linen pants, and sandals.”
“Liz,” I said, “How do you know he was only wearing three items of clothing?” Liz looked up from her book. (Yep, she’d done her work and had moved on to more interesting matters.) “You know, Denis, you’re not the only person here who can tell if a man isn’t wearing underwear!”
Another day in the office; another reason I stayed 36 years.
MONDAY February 5 2018
“I ALWAYS look well when I’m near death,” says Greta Garbo in “Camille.”
Over the past two weeks—down with a fairly significant flu–I’ve thought quite a bit about Miss G. and her most famously tragic role. Oh, not that I’ve been near death, or look well. And no matter how poorly I’ve felt, I certainly have better posture than Garbo, who even in her rare “happy” roles, seems about to suffer a fatal collapse.
But I had to think of somebody while I lay, quite unglamorously, on an over-stuffed couch—pillows, throws, books, magazines, a notepad, tissues, Vicks VapoRub, ChapStick, multivitamins, a good moisturizer, several remote controls, my iPod (I know it’s kind of out of favor, but I still use it because of its wonderfully compact size.) I don’t like being tended to or fussed over when I’m sick, so I isolate myself. I emerge briefly and swiftly, to grab a cracker or an antibiotic. (I have regained the figure of my boyhood. Alas, a pale, thin 65-year-old face hovers above my wasp waist.)
At some point, when I was at my most feverish, I actually managed to dispose of the Christmas tree, an increasing fire hazard. But much of the rest of the holiday decorations remain. Depending on my mood, I think it either looks like the Russian Tea Room or Mrs. Havisham’s digs.
Of course, I also feel guilty that I’m not contributing here, although neither Mr. David Patrick Columbia or Mr. Jeffrey Hirsch have stood over me with a whip. Hmmm, maybe if they had…
I am writing this column on Thursday February 1st. I already know that attempting to write on Friday, the 2nd would have been a foolish endeavor. That day I had to leave Hoboken at 10.30 a.m. to get to Manhattan’s Majestic Theater and Liz Smith’s memorial, where they said the doors would open at 11:15. Blessedly, I was not called upon to speak. But I gave instructions to save a standing position for me in the back, in case a massive coughing jag overtook me while a significant personage was onstage saying something funny or moving, and I had to leave my seat. (“Oh, it’s Denis, making a scene. He probably wanted to be up there speaking. Honestly!”)
On Wednesday, I will, hopefully, let you know a bit about this event.
I HAVE not been totally oblivious to the wonderful world outside my memorabilia-cluttered room. My use of the remote control and my powers of attention have been erratic/sporadic/fever-based. But I still caught a few things.
I tried to watch all of the Grammys, but I kept switching back to PBS and “The Story of the Jews,” which was marvelous and moving.
What did I get out of the Grammys? Lady Gaga and Pink can really sing, and I didn’t mind at all that Gaga was dressed as a dying swan and Pink looked like she just rolled up from a pleasant afternoon with the family. (I also appreciated Pink staying put. Singing upside down, forty feet in the air is impressive, but she doesn’t need a gimmick.) I love the way Nick Jonas’ ears stick out. I didn’t catch a word of what Kendrick Lamar was singing in the opening number. But it looked mighty impressive and I got the theme, based on the powerful visual. I was wretchedly uninterested in various celebrities—and good grief, Hillary Clinton!—reading from the “Fire and Fury” book. I do not understand the reason for James Corden existing—either as host of the Grammys or having his own late-night talk show. (And my goodness, there’s nothing wrong with being zaftig, but get a suit that fits.)
But, of course the high point (for me) was Patti LuPone’s yodeling on “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” LuPone just can’t get over that Madonna made the movie of “Evita.” And she’s made that endlessly clear over the decades. I like LuPone a lot as an actress—she is truly excellent. Her singing is an acquired taste. I have not acquired it. Madonna’s acting—in starring roles–generally makes me want to rush into the screen and take her away before anybody notices. Her singing voice, on the other hand—is an absolutely perfect pop instrument, flexible, urgent and romantic. She did the score of “Evita” proud. But I had to hand it to LuPone. You could almost see the caption running endlessly across the screen as she performed, “This is what you missed! A pox on you, Andrew Lloyd Webber!”
I did not watch the president’s State of the Union Address. Why bother? It is instantly deconstructed and re-played with various numbing, tunnel-vision, partisan opinions. Anyway, watching obviously crazy people disturbs me. (No, I don’t mean Trump. I mean Mike Pence. His adoring gazes at the president lead me to believe Mrs. Pence should take a page from her hubby’s playbook and not allow Mike to ever be alone with 45.)
I have almost blocked out the daily accusations, allegations, ruinations and fantastic hypocrisies that have emerged from the MeToo and TimesUp movements. The genuinely concerned and good people at the heart of these organizations might do well to go to online comments sections as each new story of harassment emerges. Initially the ordinary folk on conservative sites were all aboard, as so many in “liberal, perverted” show biz fell. But even there the mood has changed to eye-rolling indifference and from an unfortunate amount of women, a kind of “Oh, enough already…are all men monsters, should we just all become lesbians?!” This is a potentially fatal mindset, affecting the genuine victims of abuse, harassment and unequal treatment. (The ones who don’t give press conferences, appear on “Ellen” or have the time to tweet endlessly—you know, real people.)
As for Jimmy Kimmel, he can cry all he wants about his sick child, rage about health care and other matters political, but my sympathies for him dried up when he booked Miss Stormy Daniels, former adult film performer and rumored one-time playmate of the president. (I wish only blessings and good health for Kimmel’s son, however.)
I don’t care if any president is unfaithful to his wife. My goodness, John F. Kennedy, so beloved, so tragic, so “if only he’d lived” was a monster of infidelity. But I think he was more or less on the side of the angels, in terms of what he wanted for this country. Ditto Bill Clinton, although his 1994 crime bill wasn’t exactly benevolent. At least he eventually admitted that he’d only made a bad situation worse.
I want my president to have a heart, soul and brain. I don’t want him (or her, hopefully, someday!) to be merely a tool for their party or an empty shell of ego. If there is straying from the martial bed—so long as it’s consensual in nature—I don’t care. And neither should you, Mr. or Miss Perfect.
FINALLY, I got in some reading—Tina Brown’s “The Vanity Fair Diaries” and “Avedon: Something Personal” by Norma Stevens (Avedon’s longtime studio director) and M.L. Aaronson.
I think trying to take in these two books, one after another, was too a la mode, too deluxe macaroni and cheese, too five-alarm chili, too double-fudge brownies, too tequila on the rocks. All delicious, but potentially vomit-inducing consumed at the same time. Names, names, names, bitching, bitching, bitching. Lots of Avedon was a genius but so fucked up and not always that nice. From Tina, lots of I’m a genius and everybody else is so fucked up and not always that nice.
This is not accurate, really. I realize I was reading books too similar, and also in a weakened state, to fully appreciate either. (And Tina is an excellent, saber-toothed writer—hard on herself, too, when she feels she must be.)
But the endless machinations of the fashion and photography worlds and those of magazine publishing—which intersects with seamless, plump, egomania —ground me down. There is a lot of vastly entertaining gossip-passing-as-history or vice versa, and when I am feeling more deluxe and superficial, I’ll have another go at these tales of privilege, power and petulance.
I did read one extremely satisfying book, Will Friedwald’s “The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums.” I will tell more on this, anon.