Thursday, May 29, 2014

LIZ SMITH: Redeemed At Last ...

MM arrives to serenade JFK.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
by Liz Smith

Lucrezia Borgia — Redeemed At Last ... Charlize Theron Laughs At Gluten! ... George Hamilton Remembers The Star of Stars ... The Earrings of Miss Monroe.   

“WHEN HISTORY rolls on to blacken her name with accusations of poison, incest and prostitution, it helps to remember that Lucrezia Borgia was barely 13 years old when her father’s elevation to Pope threw her into the public spotlight.”

So writes Sarah Dunant in the Afterword to her magnificent 2013 historical novel, “Blood and Beauty: The Borgias.” 
Cover detail from “Blood and Beauty: The Borgias.” 
NOW, if you were a fan of Showtime’s three-season series “The Borgias,” you probably think you know quite a bit about the notorious Renaissance family of Spanish blood,  raised to the highest levels of power in Italy.  And “The Borgias” did a pretty good job with certain facts and a lot of the gossip.

But Dunant’s “Blood and Beauty,” though “unapologetically an act of the imagination,” as the author states, sheds a more realistic light on the family. 

The book is compellingly written in a straightforward, sometimes even scholarly style. Dunant has clearly done her research.  The work never bogs down in pointless detail, however; characterizations are vivid, full of life.
John Collier's "A glass of wine with Caesar Borgia." From left: Cesare Borgia (pouring probably poisoned wine), Lucrezia, Pope Alexander, and a young man holding an empty glass.
Portrait of Lucrezia Borgia by Leonardo da Vinci.
THE most poignant figure to emerge from  the book “Blood and Beauty” is the oft-maligned Lucrezia. For hundreds of years  her name was a byword for every foul crime — it seemed as if anybody who dropped dead mysteriously within a hundred mile radius to Lucrezia was labeled a victim of her penchant for poisoning people willy-nilly.

But in recent years, her image has improved. She is seen more correctly for what she was — a pawn in the hands of her ruthless father, Rodrigo Borgia. He is known in Papal history as Alexander VI.  She had the love of her two brothers, Juan and Cesare, and of her mother Vanozza, Rodrigo's mistress, who was not allowed to truly raise her own children.

Lucrezia was a creature of her family’s ambition to rise above the ethnic dislike most Italians had for those of Spanish lineage. She was bartered like a prize cow and moved about on the chessboard of arranged marriages, forced annulments and other indignities and heartbreaks. 
Click to order “Blood and Beauty: The Borgias."
I URGE you, even if you watched “The Borgias,” to read “Blood and Beauty.”  You will be moved and enlightened. 

Sarah Dunant promises another book — the continuation of the Borgia saga.  This one ends with a disillusioned Lucrezia on her way to another arranged wedlock. 

Most historical figures are re-visited and reevaluated. But it’s rare when such a notorious woman is redeemed through research and good sense.

Conversely, Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, has had a bit of a fall in recent years. The more one reads on her, the less impressive she is.  Formidable, yes. But also stingy, insecure, paranoid, psychologically a coward, and incapable of making decisions until the very last moment — and once made, if the decision turned out badly, she blamed others. (Even if it turned out right — the inevitable beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, for instance. Elizabeth turned on the men who prodded her to sign Mary’s death warrant. She said she had been “tricked” and had them jailed. She eventually released them. To say Elizabeth was dangerously skittish and vacillating would be a mild understatement.
Not aging well — Queen Elizabeth I (executed by the studio of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in the late-1590s).
I JUST loved Charlize Theron’s comic rant on Chelsea Handler’s show the other night on the subject of the gluten-free-food-fad. I can’t print most of what she said, but it was hilarious. Charlize has an almost unearthly beauty and more regal poise on a red carpet than any actress I have ever observed. 

But this goddess eats. One of my favorite celeb memories is meeting Charlize for the first time, years ago. She was publicizing “Mighty Joe Young.” (Her career had yet to peak.) We were at the Four Seasons in New York. She ordered food — real food — and she ate lustily. She spoke with just as much earthy passion and with humor, and never once asked me to turn off the tape recorder.  

I don’t blame Sean Penn for being crazy about her. You’d have to be crazy not to be!
Wait for it ...
La Liz and Le Hamilton Conquer Cannes in 1987.
SO TRUEGeorge Hamilton’s words to Closer magazine about his two year love affair with Elizabeth Taylor: “She was one of a kind. She could stay up all night and play cards with you or get on a plane and go anywhere. She was fun. She was bigger than life.  A year with her could fill a lifetime. I probably have more personal memories from her than anyone.”

Elizabeth was at a peak of health and beauty during her dating seasons with George. (I once spent an entire dinner with the two of them at the home of Joan Rivers in Bel-Air. They were delightful together, enhancing each other’s good looks, long movie careers and Hollywood history.)

And with no other man did Elizabeth consistently maintain her weight and dress so beautifully. Fans look to “The Hamilton Years” with considerable affection. 
Callas and Monroe backstage at MSG: "Marilyn, dear, I can't take my eyes off your ... earrings"
THE EARRINGS of Miss Monroe.   Another country heard from in the endless re-inventions of the long-dead Marilyn. Now we learn from “her closest friend” Marie Irvine (a name unknown until now) that Marilyn “forgot” her earrings the night of the infamous 1962 “Happy Birthday” serenade to JFK. This “close friend” had to rush back to MM’s NYC apartment to retrieve them.  

How odd then, to have dozens of photos of MM leaving her apartment and arriving at Madison Square Garden with earrings intact. (Might I say that the only item of clothing or accessory that Marilyn ever “forgot” was her panties.)

Also, according to this latest best bud, Marilyn bought five tickets to the event to be sure to be invited to the after-party, so “desperate” was she to see JFK. 

Uhhhh ... aside from JFK himself, MM was the evening’s star attraction, the closing act of the president’s celebration, invited by Kennedy himself. She didn’t need tickets.  She WAS the ticket. If desperation came, it sure wasn’t that night.

Still and all, people will believe anything. And why not? The woman has been dead 51 years. Those who adore her now weren’t even born when she died.  Hell, their parents weren’t even alive!
Peter Lawford assists MM. He cannot take his eyes off her ... earrings.

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