Tuesday, December 22, 2015

LIZ SMITH: Ideas Are Scary

Constance Bennett, who starred in 1932's "What Price Hollywood?" — the source material for "A Star Is Born."
by Liz Smith

Will There Be "Nunsense" in the Nonsense Year of 2016? Also — Thinking More on the "New"  "A Star is Born" ... Darlene Love at Christmastime — We're Waiting!

"IDEAS ARE scary. They come into this world ugly and messy. Ideas are frightening because they threaten what is known. They are the natural born enemy of 'the way things are.'

"Yes, ideas are scary and messy, and fragile. But under the proper care, they become something beautiful."
By now, many of you already know these words from a GE TV commercial. The "idea" is shown in the form of an odd, mournful creature, a monster to some. He (it) is abandoned at birth, thrown out of restaurants, shunned by "normal" humanity. In time, however, this terrifying "idea" meets up with some people (we are to assume they work at GE) who take the wandering creature in, nourish it and see it become wonderfully plumed and accepted.

I love this commercial! It gets me. The creature is so adorable even when sleeping in back alleys, rejected by the world. Yeah, I do choke up a bit.
There is optimism in this ad — hope that we always stay open to ideas, even if we are wary.

Yes, I know I'm going to get notes saying, "Oh, really, well then what about the ideas of You Know Who?" (I have again determined not to utter the name of the businessman-turned-candidate at least until January. Given it is December 22, I might actually make it!)

I would answer that question with the observation that those are not new ideas. And they have never worked out particularly well, when embraced.
IN writing about the "planned" remake of "A Star Is Born" I cited the three previous versions — 1937, 1954 and 1976. (Bradley Cooper and Beyonce are "attached" to the remake.)

But I failed to note the true source material. This was 1932's "What Price Hollywood?" starring Constance Bennett as an ambitious waitress and Lowell Sherman as the drunken director who discovers her and guides her to fame. The plot doesn't follow the trajectory of the later films exactly, but it is helped by the fact that it is a pre-Code movie, so it contains some eyebrow-raising material. And Bennett's character is considerably saucier than the incarnations of the struggling actress and/or singers who followed.
Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett in "What Price Hollywood?"
It was directed by George Cukor, who would, over twenty years later, guide Judy Garland through her sometimes overwrought paces in 1954's "A Star is Born." He certainly had a handle on the material, if only he'd simply let Miss Garland react to it naturally, rather than allowing her to go over-the-top. (Which wasn't a difficult place to go, for the high-strung genius that was Judy.)

In any case, I'm sure "What Price Hollywood?" occasionally plays on Turner Classic Movies. It's worth a look. Miss Bennett was quite a beauty!
And she remained so until almost literally her dying day, which happened right after she co-starred as Lana Turner's monstrous mother-in-law in "Madam X."
Constance Bennett and Lana Turner in "Madame X."
Bennett appeared on set taut from a fresh facelift. Miss Turner, playing younger than her years, suffered in comparison during their scenes. Later, both actresses were aged drastically as the soap opera ran through the decades. Bennett didn't mind. Lana did, but gave a great performance, once her character eschewed beauty and glamour. (Had movies and audiences not been changing so rapidly in 1966, Turner surely would have copped an Oscar nomination.)

Oh, and back to "A Star Is Born." How about switching it up this time? Make the man, Bradley Cooper (or somebody) the rising star who marries messed up fading star Beyonce? (or somebody.) The other plot has been done. If Hollywood can't find a new idea, at least try to goose up the old ones.
Darlene Love was part of the 20th Anniversary All-Star cast.
"NUNSENSE" the much-loved stage musical that ran for ten years at Manhattan's Douglas Fairbanks Theater, will soon become a TV series. The Little Sisters of Hoboken, who enthusiastically put on a variety show to raise money for good nun-like deeds, will be played by Karen Ziemba, Dee Hoty, Bambi Jones, Melinda Tanner, Jeanne Tinker, Phyllis Smith, Christina Pumariega, Mary Stout, Beth Leaveland, and June Gable.

Christopher Sieber, Scott Willis, Jeff Blumenkrantz, and Jim Ferris take their vows as various men of the cloth. Two of my all-time favorites are also starring. Lee Roy Reams, whose credits as an actor and director could fill two columns will play, appropriately, "The Saint." And the one and only Darlene Love will be herself. What could be better?

The pilot was shot several months ago, and is being shopped around. I'll pray it gets a shot. We need something like this to divert us in 2016.
SPEAKING OF Darlene Love, I wonder where she will perform her annual rendition of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" this year, now that David Letterman has left his late-night seat? Darlene belted out the classic every holiday season for 28 years on Letterman. Initially, there were rumors that she'd never sing it again, but then she said of course she would, though she'd miss her Letterman gig.

It's almost Christmas, Darlene!
Darlene Love's annual (and final) appearance performing "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Contact Liz Smith here.