LIZ SMITH: We'll See About That ...

Peter O' Toole Retires. We'll See About That. But, Ah Yes, I Remember Him Well. "Trishna" Stuns New Yorkers ... Carlos Leon's Happy Birthday ... LInda Yellen's "Hive" Still Buzzes.
by Liz Smith
Friday, July 13, 2012


“RETIREMENT IS the ugliest word in the English language,’ said Ernest Hemingway.

Hmmm ... well, Hemingway found another way out of the grind.
I HAVE ALWAYS been impressed with Peter O'Toole, that brilliant, vivid and glamorous actor. Now he has hung up his honorable gloves after eight Oscar nominations. (The industry finally had to present him with an honorary Oscar in 2003, with which he seemed pleased, despite the long wait.) Mr. O’Toole is only 79, still frisky as far as I am concerned, but he insists “It is time for me to chuck in the sponge ... the heart has gone out of it for me.” His final (so he says) film was “Cristiada” released just this year.

Meryl Streep presented O'Toole with an honorary Oscar in 2003. Photo: Mindy Schauer/Orange County Register.
Sam Spiegel receiving Best Picture Oscar (Lawrence of Arabia) from Olivia de Havilland, 1963.
My problem was in meeting him right after he had made such a big hit in "Lawrence of Arabia." We were in Paris as the guests of one of my favorite people, producer Sam Spiegel. Mr. O'Toole was blonder than Marilyn Monroe and he was quite thoroughly drunk. A press agent for Sam had brought us together for the nefarious reasons of publicity.

"So, Sam thinks you're special," said O'Toole. "How well do you know him?" I confessed I didn't really know Sam Spiegel well but he was a fan of my writing and had been responsible for talking the New York Daily News into moving my new column from page 46 in the back up to page six in the front. (The only thing the News forgot was to copyright the words Page Six.)  

O'Toole began to denigrate the producer with whom he'd had minor difficulties while making the film that had made both of them seriously important in the movie business.  I didn't find that too attractive and then O'Toole asked me if I was one of Sam's girlfriends? I laughed; Mr. Spiegel was of a certain age already and his private taste didn't run to hard-working journalists like me; I wasn't glamourous nor young enough for Sam. 

Then O'Toole asked if I knew Sam's wife? I said I did and she was a fun Southern girl with a great sense of humor; that in fact I had known her socially before she married Sam. Betty Spiegel was known in some circles for having been in a crowded elevator at a party and addressing the group trapped together, "I guess you're all wondering why I asked you here!"

(This quip, already hoary with age, got her a good reputation.) O'Toole then did a number on Betty. Why had Sam married her when he wouldn't even let her live in his apartment with him? They lived separately. I said I knew this and I supposed it was because of Betty's party-going ways and Sam was afraid her rowdy friends might damage some of his collection of prized Impressionist paintings.

"How fragrant!" sniffed the actor. I had never heard such a dismissive voice. I decided I could do without an interview and we quickly parted. But I kept encountering Peter O'Toole on the screen and he was always simply fabulous.
Peter O'Toole and Sian Phillips on set of "Lawrence of Arabia."
Before I ever had a chance to see him in person again and forget my silly initial bad impression, I became friends, late in life, with his wife Sian Phillips. They'd had a tempestuous marriage and he hadn't treated her well and when they divorced, it was worse than that. Having played the obscenely evil Livia in the BBC's series "I, Claudius," Sian did OK without being Mrs. Peter OToole. But her autobiography, "Public Places: My Life In The Theater with Peter O' Toole and Beyond" doesn't paint him as generous after fame overtook him.

So I theorized I did well not to pursue the wrong O'Toole. Nevertheless, I am sorry he has quit acting because he is simply a genius at it — and even my friend Sian would agree with me about that.
THE OTHER night in Manhattan, fashion’s Rachel Roy and actress Freida Pinto co-hosted a special screening of Pinto’s new film, “Trishna” at the IFC Center. This is director Michael Winterbottom’s take on Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” (A very loose take, might I add!) Circa, the jewelry people, also had a hand in the event.

Winterbottom, an eclectic filmmaker, is best known for fare such as “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “Wonderland,” Jude” and “24 Hour Party People.”  For this one, he has placed his version of Thomas Hardy’s put-upon heroine in modern India. As if the original Tess of 1890’s England didn’t have enough problems.
Freida Pinto as “Trishna."
The film is quite beautiful to look at, but somewhat undercut by its length and the decision to have the actors essentially improvise their dialogue. This leaves the beautiful Miss Pinto and her handsome co-star Riz Ahmed at something of a disadvantage.

Improvisation is all well and good, up to a point. An actor might have a great handle on the character, but and actor is an actor and a writer is a writer. Both need the other to breathe life into that character.

Clockwise from top left: Rachel Roy and Freida Pinto; Fern Mallis; Calvin Klein and Drena DeNiro; Ann Dexter-Jones, Carlos Leon, Ula Duval, Bettina Holte, and Haleigh Breest; Russell Simmons and Leila Lopes. Photos: Patrick McMullan.
Despite this, the movie has an undeniable tension — well, if you are familiar with the source material, you know “Tess” is not going off happily hand-in-hand with anybody. And Winterbottom’s version is grimmer than Thomas Hardy’s. Still, the two leads are luscious, and so is India—though the latter is rather deceptive. India can look ravishing. In reality, most of it is not.

Afterward, most everybody who wasn’t too bummed out by the film’s climax, traipsed over to Jimmy (at the James Hotel) on Thompson Street. This is a fabulous rooftop spot, with one of the most glorious views of the city. The design includes two squared-off arches that seem to float above the balcony. Great tranquil vibe, better than Xanax, if you’re stressed out. Among the tranquil: Calvin Klein ... Melissa George ... Fern Mallis ... Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia ... Russell Simmons ... Rob Morrow ... Dana Delany ... Linda Yellen ... Carlos Leon.

If Mr. Leon’s name rings a familiar pop-music/gossip bell, he is the actor/trainer who was Madonna’s companion for several years, and the father of M’s first child, Lourdes. I always considered Carlos the nicest guy Madonna ever knew. He is just a doll. He still looks as hot as when he caught Madonna’s eye, and that night just happened to be his birthday.

Cinema Society founder Andrew Saffir knew this, and arranged for a big cake and a hearty rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Carlos was genuinely surprised and touched.

An even better birthday present came during his chat with director Linda Yellen. She had wanted Carlos for her planned film “The Hive,” which is based on a true story of a group of world famous painters, all living in the same Parisian apartment complex in the early 1900s (Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, Soutine.) He remembered, and Linda said, “But you look exactly the same. I’d still  want you for Diego Rivera!” They exchanged numbers.

The food was plentiful and delish. And they’re smart at this place. All the champagne glasses and liquor tumblers were made of a sturdy plastic. You couldn’t tell until you held them. Or dropped them. It’s so rare when anything show-biz related plays it safe.
The glorious city views at the after party at Jimmy (at the James Hotel).

Contact Liz Smith here.

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