Wednesday, September 16, 2015

LIZ SMITH: A Fresh Look & A New Book

Jeanne Eagels, who died of a drug overdose at 39.
by Liz Smith

A Fresh Look, A New Book, About Broadway's Fabled Actress Jeanne Eagels.  Also — Carol Burnett and Bob Mackie ... Julie Budd and Sinatra ... Andrea Marcovicci and 54 Below.

“A LIE has no legs, but scandal has wings,” said Thomas Fuller.
BACK IN 1957, Columbia Pictures decided to plop gorgeous Kim Novak in the studio’s biopic “Jeanne Eagels” based on the life of the legendary Broadway and movie star.

Eagels, who had died at the age of 39 in 1929, was already fairly forgotten by most of the public. So Columbia felt comfortable with fictionalizing the majority of the “facts” in the film. It survives today as yet another example of how Hollywood eats its own, without conscience. Miss Novak over-acts hypnotically, and for her strenuous efforts alone, the movie deserves its particular niche.  (Novak went on to better things, and is still with us, collecting awards and tributes, the blonde who got away with her money and her marbles intact!)
Kim Novak as “Jeanne Eagels."
Jeanne Eagels in 1921.
The liberties taken with Jeanne’s life were extraordinary.  Now, there is some redress in a new book, “Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed” by Eric Woodard and Tara Hanks.  And of course, the real story is far more interesting than the exaggerations.

Vogue magazine photo (by Maurice Goldberg) of Jeanne Eagels taking a break from 'Rain' in 1928.
Eagels, who began working on stage as a teenager, was an intense woman and an even more intense actress, one who seemed lit from within, a fire too hot not to cool down and too blazing not to take a toll.  Her great legacy was a staggering four-year run as Sadie Thompson in the stage adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.”  This role would define her, in ways both positive and negative. There were those who felt that the always highly strung Eagels was driven over the edge, playing this role for such a long time.

She was fiercely independent, intelligent, resistant to authority (she famously fought against joining Actor's Equity) and subject to substance abuse. She would die of the cumulative effects of alcoholism and/or an overdose of chloral hydrate (the infamous “knock out” drops that played a part in Marilyn Monroe’s death.)  Or perhaps, as the authors offer, she might have been weakened all along by tuberculosis? 

“A Life Revealed” offers a startling look at the actress and her times.  Stage work remains hard work, but in Jeanne’s day it was downright grueling. Her climb to the top was long, and once she attained stardom, she intended to keep it. Yet she limited herself after “Rain” because she refused to appear in anything that had already been played by another actress!
Jeanne Eagels in “The Letter."
Her films were few, but her strange, unique quality was just as evident on screen, especially in 1929’s “The Letter,” another Somerset Maugham tale.  The 1940 Bette Davis version is far better known, with superior production values, but cinema buffs tend to hand the acting awards to Eagels, the first woman to confront her cuckolded hubby thusly: “With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!”
"I still love the man I killed!”
I recommend this new book because it is packed with detail and drama, and does bring Jeanne Eagels into 21st century focus as an ambitious, driven woman who often fought the system, but could not defeat her own demons.

It is time for a new big-screen treatment of this amazing and tragic life!
Click to order “Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed."
Bob Mackie and Carol Burnett together again.
THIS THURSDAY, Time/Life and The Cinema Society will present Carol Burnett and designer Bob Mackie, for an evening of “Gags and Gowns” at the Tribeca Grand Hotel.  The night celebrates a new DVD, “The Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes.”  There will be a screening, conversation with Burnett and Mackie and a party, after. 

Bob Mackie was instrumental in the popularity of Burnett’s long-running variety show. His costumes, either comic (the curtain rod dress in the epic “Gone With the Wind” send-up) or simply glamorous were central to Carol’s image. (Not to mention what Mackie did for Cher, and other dazzling women of that era.) 

Mackie always had Carol in something glitzy and elegant when she stepped out in front of her audience at the beginning of every show and took questions. It was reminiscent of Loretta Young, sweeping out at the start of each episode of “The Loretta Young Show.”  Of course, Loretta was not required to “do the Tarzan yell” which Carol must have performed a hundred times for audiences who never tired of it. 

But that opening segment for Burnett was to remind people that beneath the clown was a very attractive woman, who wore clothes beautifully.  Given the comic nature of the series, it might have been the one time in that hour where she wasn’t absurdly padded or dressed-down or dressed up hilariously.
ON SEPTEMBER 28th, Julie Budd will appear at Barnes & Noble on Lexington and 86th Street to debut her new CD, “Remembering Mr. Sinatra.”  When Julie was just 16 years old, Frank invited her to appear with him at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  Julie says “This was, and will remain, a grand highlight in my life and career.” Sinatra treated the young singer like a family member, and she never forgot the opportunity and the musical lessons learned during the time they performed together.

The new CD includes Julie’s versions of such Sinatra classics as “I’m a Fool to Want You” ... ”All the Way” ... ”I’ve Got The World on a String ... ”The Best Is Yet to Come.” Julie will be interviewed by author Tom Santopietro (“Sinatra in Hollywood”) and she’ll perform a few numbers from the album, with Herb Bernstein and his band. 
MORE MUSIC notes: actress turned torchy chanteuse, Andrea Marcovicci makes her debut at one of NYC’s hottest cabarets, 54 Below, on November 17.  She will be promoting her new act, “Let’s Get Lost,” which has her crooning “These Foolish Things,” “Say It Isn’t So” and “That Old Black Magic.” There will be other vintage favorites.
Ms. Marcovicci held sway for 25 seasons at the old Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel — indeed she was the very last performer to grace that spot before it shuttered. She has created over thirty nightclub acts, and is thrilled to appear at 54 Below, which she describes as “a beautiful and swellegant room!” Go to

Also — This Friday, Seth Sikes returns to 54, with his acclaimed Judy Garland-themed show. 
CNN HAS flogged the Republican debate tonight so mercilessly, it has descended into “Saturday Night Live” parody. Obviously, second-place CNN is hoping for the same mammoth ratings enjoyed by FOX, when that cable outlet hosted the first debate. It could happen, but FOX is by far the more popular network, and they achieved their ratings with half the promotion of CNN. (The latter network is capable of doing only one story at a time, and beating that one to death.)

It will be interesting to see if all the endless “the debate is coming ... the debate is coming ... the debate is here!” trumpeting amounts to much. 

Contact Liz Smith here.