Wednesday, October 7, 2015

LIZ SMITH: The Right Place at the Right Time

Jackie Onassis and John F. Kennedy Jr. Bicycling in Central Park, New York, 1969. Photo: RON GALELLA. This photo, along with 115 others, is currently being featured at Staley-Wise Gallery's exhibition ttitled "Ron Galella: 55 Years a Paparazzi."
by Liz Smith

Keira Knightley and Judith Light Conquer Broadway in "Therese Raquin" ... Tea Leoni Commands TV as "Madam Secretary" ... Ron Galella rolls on as the world's most famous paparazzi ... Frankie Avalon Cooks!

"Medium rare! Hold the knife."

This is the answer famed AIDS fighter Judy Peabody gave whenever anyone asked her, "How are you?"
ONE of my favorite movies of recent years was about the development of the computer during World War II — "The Imitation Game." (As you know, this all happened in a battered England where the development of an 'enigma machine' was a deep dark secret that helped win the War.)
The 'enigma machine' in "The Imitation Game" that helped win the War.
But in a film full of men waging war, the character I loved best was the math genius played by Keira Knightley. She almost burned up the screen with her alive and dangerous eyes and penetrating acting. I thought she should have won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but it went to Patricia Arquette for "Boyhood." Knightley, who is perhaps most recognized from her role in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise was also Oscar-nominated for "Pride and Prejudice" in 2005.
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in "The Imitation Game."
So I was eager to see her live and on stage in New York's Roundabout Theater at Studio 54, in the Emile Zola classic "Therese Raquin" — her Broadway debut! This story and the dramas made from it have been around since before Zola made himself world-known by defending Alfred Dreyfus in "J'accuse." (Look up the French history of this if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Zola's compelling morality tale had been a TV movie in 1966, a miniseries in 1980, and there have been at least three big screen versions of "Therese" — in 1923, 1953 and 2013. (The latter, titled "In Secret" starred Jessica Lange.)
Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut as the title character.
MY friend Judith Light, who has won the Tony several times, costars with Keira, along with the accomplished actors Gabriel Ebert and Britain's Matt Ryan. But Miss Knightley, in this dramatic role doesn't at all resemble her usually glamorous film image.

I won't go into the plot because it is a classic — you should know it! Although I must admit I had never read the book or seen a production of it before. Suffice to say that sex, murder, guilt and meddling in-laws have never been so compelling.

Both Knightley and Light should be accepting the Tony next time around. And you may not recognize either of them at first. Miss Light, because she is playing an elderly crippled woman. Miss Knightley, who alternates between life-threatening shyness, rabid sexuality and regret, is simply not the Keira movie fans have known.

This is a limited engagement and tickets are hard to get, but call the Roundabout. Try! 212-719-1300.
Judith Light, Keira Knightley, and Matt Ryan in "Therese Raquin" (Photo: Bruce Gilkas).
I NO more than praised Tea Leoni ahead of time for the season two premiere of "Madam Secretary," when the writers of the CBS show kicked it off with a fabulous plot device. It was staggering.

The Office of the President of the U.S., who is missing on Air Force One, falls on the Secretary of State — Miss Leoni. Those others who are constitutionally moved up to fill in if anything happens to the President, are seen in "Madam Secretary" as not being capable, one way or another. The Veep is hospitalized, the President pro tempore of the Senate has had a series of strokes which have left him thinking that Ronald Reagan is still in office.
Madam Secretary (Tea Leoni) being sworn in as temporary President of the United States.
In case you haven't seen the episode yet, I won't tell if Tea's Elizabeth McCord will be Commander-in-Chief for much longer.

Brava and Bravo to the writers of this TV drama, which has not always been a unanimous critic's darling, but has shaped up powerfully.

Although it was probably not intended to be a big plus for Hillary Clinton, in real life, I think Tea Leoni and her writers are a not-so-secret weapon, letting us in on the perils for anyone who serves as Secretary of State.
Madam Secretary with guest star (and former Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright.
Sean Penn and Madonna, Lincoln Center, New York, 1986. Photo: RON GALELLA.
CURRENTLY at New York's Staley-Wise Gallery is an exhibition titled "Ron Galella: 55 Years a Paparazzi." I haven't seen it yet, but the press release gives an idea about the nature of the photos.

The show is being publicized with one of Ron's most famous shots — Sean Penn and Madonna in 1986, at Lincoln Center. Both are wearing dark glasses and Penn is gallantly putting his hand over Madonna's face, shielding her from Galella's intrusive lens.

I have to laugh when I see this shot. Madonna was white hot at the time, and the last thing in the world she wanted was to NOT have her photo taken. (She's super-blonde and made-up, so it's not like she had anything to hide.) It was very much a matter of Sean Penn objecting to being pursued, and his distaste over the kind of publicity his then-wife generated.

It was all very Joe and Marilyn, although DiMaggio enjoyed his fame. He just didn't want MM to enjoy hers! In time, Madonna took Sean's hand away from her face — she divorced him.

I love Ron Galella, who is unapologetically and still enthusiastically what he is.
Jackie Onassis, New York, 1968. Photo: RON GALELLA.
He would deny he ever really stalked or annoyed stars, not even his great obsession, Jackie O. Or Elizabeth Taylor, whom he was not as fond of as Jackie, but he photographed her endlessly, anyway. (Bodyguards for Elizabeth and Richard Burton were sorely tempted to rough up Ron, in 1970. The couple were usually sanguine about paparazzi, but they believed that Ron had gone a little too far, in his quest for an "interesting" shot of the famous Burtons.)

If you want to ask him about this, or any of the other hundreds of stars he's photographed, he will be at the Staley-Wise in person on November 5th, signing copies of his latest book, "Sex in Fashion."
Elizabeth Taylor, "A Flea in Her Ear" Premiere Party, Paris, 1968. Photo: RON GALELLA.
Click to order "Frankie Avalon's Italian Family Cookbook."
IF YOU'RE in the mood for some really good Three-Meat Sunday Gravy with Pasta (and aren't we always?) you must take a look at "Frankie Avalon's Italian Family Cookbook," out from St. Martin's Press. It is subtitled "From Mom's Kitchen to Mine and Yours."

This contains over 80 of Frankie's favorite recipes, handed down from four generations of Avalons, and served regularly by Frankie and wife Kay to their eight children and ten grandchildren.

The only food I ever associated Frankie with was, maybe hot-dogs — well, he made all those beach movies with Annette Funicello!

But now I'll think of Avalon differently, if anybody cares to make me his Stuffed Artichokes with Romano Crumbs!
Frankie and Annette working up an appetite.
"MISS FISHER'S Murder Mysteries" must be very popular! When I mentioned it here yesterday — that the new season is available on Netflix — I referred to this delicious slice of sleuthing as "a British series." But in fact, it's an Australian product. Many readers thanked me for the info and coverage, and then went on to correct me. Never be shy about correcting us — we prefer to be right!
Don't shoot the messenger!

Contact Liz Smith here.