Thursday, February 11, 2016

LIZ SMITH: A "Mockingbird" Flies To Broadway

Mary Badham as "Scout" and Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
by Liz Smith

A "Mockingbird" Flies To Broadway ... The Good, The Bad, and the Terrible Memories of O.J Simpson, via "American Crime Story" ... Carol Channing at 95! ... "Touched By An Angel" on DVD ... More on Bowie and La Liz!

"YOU NEVER really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

That's Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee's classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." These are words to live by at any time, but now more than ever, and from both sides of the political and cultural aisle. (Atticus was played to sheer perfection by Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie adaptation of Lee's book.)

Now comes word that "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be made into a Broadway show. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but one wonders at the choice of the acclaimed Aaron Sorkin as the adapter. Okay — I wonder.

For me, Sorkin runs very hot or very cold. I admired his recent screenplays for "Moneyball" and "The Social Network." I really disliked HBO's "The Newsroom" and the justly famous "The West Wing" series began terrifically but — and this is likely just the way it goes on long-running TV — ended up kind of a mess, in my opinion. Of course, some personal problems required Sorkin to leave "The West Wing" after four seasons, so therein might lay that problem.

Lee's book is so perfect, the film is so perfect. Maybe the stage production and Sorkin's adaptation will be perfect too? As much as I believe that great material exists to be revived and re-imagined — the original always survives, after all — sometimes messing with perfection rubs me the wrong way.

Hey, at least they are not turning it into a Disney musical!
SO FAR, in watching the O.J. Simpson "American Crime Story," I am full of admiration for David Schwimmer as O.J.'s super-loyal friend the late Robert Kardashian, and Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark. (Schwimmer's Kardashian is so nice, so sympathetic, so eager, one does ponder how he came to marry the current Kris Jenner of reality TV infamy.)
David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian.
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark.
Cuba Gooding Jr. is simply miscast, period. He's a good actor, an Oscar-winner, but in no way does he convey O.J. Simpson. As for John Travolta as lawyer Robert Shapiro — ehhhh. I don't recall now, what the real-life Shapiro was like, how he spoke, but Travolta is almost comically mannered, and whatever the makeup people have done to John, he actually looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a bad case of constipation.
Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J.
John Travolta as Robert Shapiro.
But to be honest, I wonder how much more of the series I can take, good performances and amusingly bad ones notwithstanding. It was such a horrible episode in the American justice system, in the clash between rich and poor, black and white. And it gave us, forever, pounding, around-the-clock coverage of news events on cable TV.

Looking back, and considering what the Simpson case spawned, the rise of cable seems almost as great a crime as the slaughter of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

The show makes me edgy and uncomfortable. Maybe because I am reminded that I, too, was hypnotized day after day, night after night, as one insane event after another spilled out. I recall feeling I needed an extra shower a day.
Marcia Clark's courtroom experience had been "misery ..."
P.S. Entertainment Weekly asked the real-life Marcia Clark — who suffered so much, against so many odds, attempting to prosecute and convict O.J. — what she thought of what she has seen of the series so far?

She admitted that her courtroom experience had been "misery ... I watched justice get thwarted from almost day one. I kept hoping and praying, 'Please, please, don't let the series happen. Make something go wrong. Make someone think this isn't a good idea."

Although she says watching the first episode made her "feel sick ... just reinvoking all the memories," she admired Sarah Paulson's portrayal, and remarked "I think she looks way better than I ever did!"

Will she watch all the way through?

"That's a toughie. I don't know if I'll survive reliving the trial. It's just so awful."

I know what she means, and all I did was watch her misery on TV every night.
ON March 5th, McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, California will present "Carol Channing's 95th Birthday: In Celebration of a Broadway Legend."

This tribute concert will feature live performances and tributes by Lily Tomlin ... Alan Cumming ... Cloris Leachman ... Kristin Chenoweth ... Florence Henderson ... Gavin MacLeod, and more. Along with video messages to the birthday girl from Carol Burnett ... Brooke Shields ... Julie Andrews ... Betty White and Barbara Walters. The show is being produced by Chad Hilligus, with musical direction by Steven Baker.

I hope the good Lord gave somebody enough sense to film this night of nights!
For tix info call 760-340-ARTS or go to
REMEMBER the old "Touched By An Angel" TV series, starring Della Reese and Roma Downey as angels, traveling hither and yon, helping people at their lowest ebb? (John Dye also starred as The Angel of Death.) Whether you "believe" or not, the first four or five seasons of this series were genuinely moving, and it was difficult to suppress a little sob, or a misty eye, as the angels concluded their missions. Later, inevitably, the series lost steam and some heart. Or, we'd seen enough heart. There are limits.
Tess and Monica, played by Roma Downey and Della Reese.
Anyway, fans will be happy to know the entire nine seasons of "Touched By An Angel" are now available on DVD, via CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Ms. Downey's appeal has ebbed, for me, in her recent religious TV collaborations with her hubby, Mark Burnett. But what the hell, or heaven — she's entitled to her beliefs, she was charming on "Touched By An Angel," and Miss Della Reese was, as ever, a mighty life force. (I interviewed Della a few years back and she is one imposing, impressive and forthrightly opinionated woman. Ask a question, get a straight answer. No fuss.)
Beneath the cleavage and rocks, lived the Earth Mother.
A LITTLE P.S. to our item here the other day about Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie.

A good friend of mine, who knew photographer Terry O'Neill back in the day, recalls that Bowie not only showed up very late to his meeting with La Liz, but that he was "drunk as a skunk."

Taylor, whose maternal instincts were as powerful as her sensual side, was extremely patient. The star worked dutifully and sensitively to sober him up, before they posed.

No surprise there. Along with Richard Burton's intellect and humor, Taylor was attracted to his weaknesses — the famed "black Welsh moods" and his drinking, which could incapacitate him. She was always an Earth Mother type, under the mammoth jewels. (As Monty Clift, Michael Jackson and many other wounded souls found out.

In time, Elizabeth would take this deep aspect of her being to the AIDS fight, her greatest achievement.)
"Now, that wasn't so difficult, was it?"

Liz Smith is still recuperating. Denis Ferrara is still pinch-hitting.

Contact Liz here.