Thursday, December 17, 2015

LIZ SMITH: Having the last laugh

Liz at El Morocco with press agent Jim Mitchell.
by Liz Smith

The Taming of "Tough Guy" Joe Eszterhas ... My El Morocco Mirror Lives On! ... Don't Worry, Movie Fans — NYC's Ziegfeld Theater is NOT Closing Down!

"I SPEAK French but that doesn't make me Joan of Arc," says Maureen O'Hara to the child played by our favorite Natalie Wood, when the latter exclaims that a little Dutch girl in the Macy's line, doesn't speak English and Santa not only speaks to her in that language but sings a song in Dutch with her! 

I am grateful to reader Susan Neal who reports this about "Miracle on 34th Street" and adds, "I've seen it a gazillion times and I cry every time. Best Christmas movie ever!"
RECENTLY, we printed a story about giving away an El Morocco souvenir mirror to Tallulah Bankhead (back in the late '60s) and feeling sorry that I had let it go. We want to show you what the mirror looked like courtesy of reader Liz Forman. Ms. Forman writes: "Greatly enjoyed your article today. My Aunt Frances (Frances Isbell Beavers) who lived in NYC in the 1950s and 1960s until her death, gave me her little El Morocco mirror when I was just five years old, and I still have it to this day ... 51 years later. It was such a glamorous gift for a 5-year-old and I have treasured it ever since. Her precious granddaughter, whom she never met, will get it one day and I will tell her all about her beautiful grandmother when I give it to her. Thought you might enjoy this picture of my precious passion!"
From Matthew Harris: "Your telling of the El Morocco mirror? To quote Pee-wee Herman, 'I love that story!'"

My friend John Duff sent the following: "Today's column intrigues me. I searched around a bit on line and found this at Doyle's (for the auction of John Perona's memorabilia). Sadly, no mirror.

"It would have made a great Christmas gift but you will have to settle for my very best wishes for a Happy Holiday season, and for a healthy new year."

I WAS asked by my compatriots at Fox Entertainment to comment on what I would like for the New Year?  (I can't help it that this reply caused me to say the most used and familiar name of the year!)

LIZ : "Well, I don't wish for world peace — that's too much to hope for. But I wish for world caution. Let's avoid that most horrible of wars — a religious war.  I think my old misguided friend Donald Trump is wrong to urge us to turn the entire world of Muslims into enemies; we're fighting ISIS — a fringe hate group — not Muslims. We need diplomacy and compassion — and this won't be popular, I know, but the President was at his best recently when he got hundreds of countries to work together against climate change. We must work to fight both ISIS and protect our security, as we remain tolerant, generous and all-American. Shutting our doors, attacking refugees, bending the Constitution, are all being used by desperate Conservatives who are appealing to fear and bigotry."
SOME YEARS ago in the "Basic Instinct" days screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was considered the tough bad boy of movie success. It was he, after all, that allowed us to peek up Sharon Stone's dress. Around this time — 1992 — I made friends with this controversial man, born in Hungary. He was working in films that have grossed approximately one billion dollars. But lots of people hated him. Forewarned, I had dinner with him in '21,' and I just loved him. He was frank and honest.  A former newspaperman who had done it all.  
His mortal enemy at the time of his hot Hollywood success was Michael Ovitz, then chairman of CAA. Ovitz threatened to prevent his actors from acting in the writer's future projects. The screenwriter's bio reports: "Eszterhas wrote an influential letter that lessened the stranglehold that CAA had on Hollywood."  This didn't do the reputation of Mr. Ovitz any good and Hollywood lapped up the controversy.  Some people thought it produced loosening up the impeding importance of agents and gave writers much needed credit.
In 1995, Eszterhas wrote "Showgirls," which won that year's 'Golden Raspberry Award' for "Worst Screenplay." Although a notorious flop in theaters, the film lived on as a cult classic, and made a fortune on home video, generating more than $100 million from rentals.  It became one of MGM's all-time best sellers. Joe had the last laugh!
But not long after, he retired to Ohio with the woman he loved — Naomi — got "religion" and started having babies — all boys! — and living a so-called normal life.   Lo and behold, I just received a Christmas card from Eszterhas and company. Joe named his sons John Law, Joe, Luke, and Nick. They are all so handsome, I wonder why there isn't a reality series already a'borning from such a gang? (They are shown bare-chested, in a balmy setting.) The card reads "Merry Christmas, Baby! From the Beach Boys."  

I love a success story and Joe's is one of those I appreciate the most. I found out that like most tough guys, he has a soft heart.
AFTER ATTENDING the premiere of Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" the other night at the great Ziegfeld Theater in NYC, I began to ponder the history of this place. (The original Ziegfeld was demolished in 1966. The current movie palace, built near the site of the old one, opened in 1969.)
The original Ziegfeld Theater, built by William Randolph Hearst.
I recalled some of the earliest movies I saw there, including "Cabaret" (1972), "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), and "That's Entertainment" (1974). But for the life of me I couldn't remember the first movie that ran at the new Ziegfeld. Well, after wandering through the Internet for quite a while, I found it. The Ziegfeld opened with a sci-fi flick, "Marooned," starring Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, David Janssen and James Franciscus. That one I didn't see. Apparently, few did. Just a little Manhattan history.
Oh, and despite some gloomy rumors, it appears that The Ziegfeld is NOT closing down. I hope not. It's one of the few places left to enjoy a real movie-going experience.

P.S. Overheard at the "Hateful Eight" preem — in the plush lobby of the theater, Calvin Klein said to pals, "Please, let's get to our seats. I can't stand crowds." Well, Calvin's life has been nothing but crowds; I guess all that has palled.
A fragment of the original Ziegfeld Theater in front of 52 East 80th Street.
Contact Liz Smith here.