Thursday, May 19, 2016

LIZ SMITH: American Honeys

Caroll Baker as Jean Harlow (1965).
by Liz Smith

Shia LaBeouf Back on Track in "American Honey" ... Is It Time to Re-Invent and Apologize to Jean Harlow? ... Meeting Madeleine Lebeau.

"FOR A few too many years now, Shia LaBeouf has been one of those professional celebrity goofball art rebels whose off-screen exploits so dominate his persona it's easy to dismiss or even forget, what a promising young actor he was in films like 'Lawless' and 'Disturbia.' Off camera he became a flake, crafting showy, dissolute media stunts ... even so, let's call him the thinking man's Justin Bieber."

That's Variety's Owen Gleiberman's lead-in to an excellent review of Shia LaBeouf's new movie, just screened at Cannes, "American Honey." Directed by Andrea Arnold, writer Gleiberman describes it as an "extraordinary hand-held youth quake of a road movie" — one which "reinvents" Mr. LaBeouf.
I am glad to read this. I've admired Shia from the first time I really noticed him, in Bill Paxton's "The Greatest Game Ever Played." (Shia was already well-know via TV's "Even Stevens" series.) He elevated, by his presence, the "Transformers" movies, and he was great in the above-mentioned "Disturbia" and "Lawless." It pained me to see him doing — whatever the heck he was doing; the paper bag on his head and various other adventures in alienating the press and moviegoers. He even announced, at one point, his intention to retire, because nobody understood his "art." (James Franco, another actor/artist who expresses himself in a very outré way, has yet to publicly contemplate retiring. Those weary of his antics, are keeping their fingers crossed.)
Well, given the particular lengths Shia has gone to, most likely he'll continue to participate in things we just won't understand, but I'm glad he's sticking to the work we can understand — movies — and that he'll be appreciated anew.

P.S. Also, kudos to writer Owen Gleiberman. Not only did his review of "American Honey" encourage me to make sure to see the film, his take on Shia, and the actor's relation to fame and his career — which I could not reprint in its entirety — was brilliant.
IN RESPONSE to my musing about how casually actors often portray other famous — usually dead — actors, giving little thought to the reputations of the departed, reader Rick Spitzmiller reminded us of the lurid, mostly fictitious Irving Shulman biography of Jean Harlow, which spawned two terrible movies, both titled "Harlow."
One was a low-budget black-and white number starring Carol Lynley as Harlow and Ginger Rogers as her fame-mad mother, Mama Jean. The other film was an expensive highly-publicized production with Carroll Baker at the helm as the Blonde Bombshell, Angela Lansbury doing her best as Mama and Peter Lawford moping around as MGM exec Paul Bern, who committed suicide (maybe) a few months after he married Harlow.
The real Jean Harlow.
Both films were execrable — character assassination of a high order — although the Baker version had many moments of delightful camp, thanks to the absurd script, the over-emphatic performance of Miss Baker and the ridiculous costumes and hairstyles, all of which screamed 1965! (Edith Head, who designed the outfits, and was certainly working in Harlow's 1930's heyday, must have been suffering a migraine of forgetfulness when she whipped up these anachronistic doozies.)
Caroll Baker as Jean Harlow.
Harlow's reputation was greatly injured, even though many of her contemporaries were still around and objected violently to the book and the subsequent films. Since then, several excellent biographies have cleared up so many of the sordid myths surrounding Harlow, whose story doesn't need embellishment.

Mr. Spitzmiller wonders; could it be time for Hollywood to do justice to Jean Harlow, who died shockingly young — only 26 — and was one of the most truly beloved women in Hollywood? I say, yes.
MY GUY Denis Ferrara outdid himself covering the death of "Casablanca" actress Madeleine Lebeau the other day — she left her barstool at Rick's Café at the age of 92. I've always thought Lebeau's Yvonne was the most heroic person in the movie, rising to sing the Marseilles in defiance of a café full of Nazi soldiers. (Prompted by resistance fighter Paul Henreid.)
But Denis had forgotten that I actually met Madeleine Lebeau back in the '70s because she was a friend of my famous agent Gloria Safier. (I can't expect him to recall every story he knows about me, after 35 years in this office!) Gloria, who was related to the Selznicks, was always dropping unusual show biz names. And she used to like to impress me by explaining who was who and what a hick I was for having never to have heard of them. She numbered Wally Cox, Constance Ford, Elaine Stritch, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Mary Astor, Diane Cilento, Arlene Francis, Gloria Vanderbilt and my own University of Texas friend Oscar-winning Bob Benton among her clients.
A thank you letter from Mary Astor to Gloria Safier, December 25, 1966.
But when Gloria finally introduced me to Madeleine Lebeau, in Paris, I did myself proud for knowing exactly who she was and getting to tell her how much she was admired the world over. She was charming and beautiful. And I never forgot that she was wearing the most enormous diamond I had ever seen, strung around her neck on a tiny string. She deserved it.
ENDQUOTE: "I decided to ask Siri how old you are. Obviously, she lies sometimes!" That's from Laurie Holmes, whose e-mail regarding "Grace and Frankie" and Siri, the voice info application, I had some fun with the other day.

I don't know how old Siri says I am, but if she made me younger than 93, she's not lying, she's just trying to be polite. Which is silly. I'm not sensitive about my age, and quite okay with owning up to it. After all, it beats the alternative.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.