Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LIZ SMITH: Remembering the Queen of Hearts ...

Diana — Remembering the "Queen of Hearts" 15 years Later.
Also — He Stepped Out of a Dream: Singer Tony Martin.
by Liz Smith
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

“I’D LIKE to see myself as a queen of people’s hearts, but I don’t see myself as being queen of this country.” So said Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995, during her infamous BBC interview with Martin Bashir. This was a brilliantly choreographed PR stunt, which effectively ended any chance Diana might have had to become the Queen of England.

She was dead two years later, victim of a horrific car crash in a Paris tunnel. One month from today, August 31st, is the 15th anniversary of her passing. (Talking to MSNBC’s Martin Bashir is tricky business. Michael Jackson’s final descent began after Bashir’s interview with the pop star.)

It seems like only yesterday we were stunned, sitting mouths agape as news of Diana’s death dominated every hour, every second of the news. Cable outlets were still fairly new, and it was wall-to-wall. But even the three primetime networks abandoned all other programming.

I away for the weekend the night Diana died. Reporters could not reach me at my office. But somebody tracked down my assistant, Denis Ferrara at home, in New Jersey. “Princess Diana has been injured in a terrible crash in Paris. Dodi Fayed is dead! Does Liz have any comment?” Denis, who thought he knew "crackpot" when he heard one, said: “Please. I’m reading. Stop this silliness.” Click!

But after a couple of minutes, Denis thought he’d check the TV just in case. And there it was. All over. The Princess was reported only “slightly injured” at that point, though Dodi was most assuredly dead. He put in a call to me instantly. But, as luck would have it, I was out for dinner. He called every 15 minutes.

I was shocked of course, but as there was still no notice of her death, I wasn’t going to get panicky. Denis said, “Oh, she can’t die. She’s injured. This will just become a part of her legend. She cannot die!” He seemed very sure.

After midnight word came. The Princess had died. What to do? My column for Monday was already written and filed — this happened on a Friday. “Look, I said “could you ....” But Denis was on the same page. “I’ve left messages with the syndicate and all the papers. I told them to junk Monday’s column, I’ll go into the office early tomorrow. We’ll do Diana.”

And so we did. Writing her story somewhat muted the shock. It still seemed impossible. She had never looked better, seemed stronger. Was genuinely committed to good works. And she was more of an international celebrity than ever (Her affair with Dodi had dominated front pages and gossip columns for several weeks.)
ASIDE FROM any personal feelings — I’d met Diana only once, but she was charming and far more attractive in person — I had to selfishly admit I was mourning the loss of decades of news stories. Diana’s next husband ... Diana at 40 ... Diana’s next divorce ... wasn’t Diana looking awfully fresh these days? Who was her surgeon? ... Diana’s trouble bringing up William and Harry ... Diana’s possible reconciliation with the Royal Family. Or, an escalation in hostilities, which of course would be much more fun.

All gone in an instant because of a reckless drunken driver, rapacious paparazzi, and the sub-standard protection of Dodi’s father Mohammed Al-Fayed. (It never crossed my mind then, nor have I ever been convinced of the ever-bubbling conspiracy theories.) I went to London a few days after the funeral. There were yards of decaying flowers still on display and people still mourning.

The TV coverage went on for days, but it didn’t seem excessive, in fact, it seemed quite fitting. The battle in Britain as to how and how much Diana would be honored added yet another layer of the surreal. In the end, Diana won, as she mostly had during her not-so-fairytale life. The Queen had to lower the flag, endure Diana’s brother castigating the royal family at her funeral, and bow slightly as the car carrying Diana’s body passed.

Her legacy? Well, she wasn’t a movie actor or a singer, so her “image” has faded a bit. She lives on through her two boys, who have turned out very well, and by the fact that the monarchy was forced to face modern times. Diana was mildly crazy, but all rebels are. She brought many of her problems on herself, but all historical figures do that, too. Her story will be told for many years, in many ways.

And yes, I miss the fact that she would have totally upstaged the wedding of William and Kate. She was that kind of star.
THE SINGING STAR who was just about the oldest person ever still working in show business, has left the building. I’m speaking of the urbane debonair Tony Martin dead at age 98 on the West Coast.

Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse.
In 2008, the New York Times described Tony as “his generation’s Last Man Standing.” At the time, Tony was singing at Feinstein’s at the Regency, namedropping during his act about his compatriots — Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Ray Noble, Russ Columbo.

And always referring to his 60 years of happy wedlock to one of the great movie and dancing beauties of the era, Cyd Charisse.

When Tony was 84 years old, Mr. Holden of the Times described him as having “a voice with virile overtones…(it) seemed to have grown richer over the years.”

I loved the Times obit, as when they mention Tony’s biggest moment in movie history, back in 1941. Tony sang to MGM’s beauties Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr as they descended glamourous stairs in the fabled black and white “Ziegfeld Girl.”

This number, staged by Busby Berkeley, is described, but the Times neglects to mention the name of the delightful song. It was the Gus Kahn lyrics to “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” music by Nacio Herb Brown.

It is one of my favorite movie memories of all time, followed a few frames later by Lana Turner as a girl from Brooklyn, a little the worse for drink, saying to herself at the top of the stairs, as she sways: “Head up, you glorified girl!”

Contact Liz Smith here.

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