Tuesday, April 19, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Born to Be Blue

Chet Baker by Bruce Weber.
by Liz Smith

Will "Born to Be Blue" Be the Big Break for the Great Carmen Ejogo? Also — Holly Peterson and The Four Seasons ... Preserving the Glories of New York.

"LIFE IS a lot like jazz ... it's best when you improvise," said George Gershwin.
I SAW a small, wonderfully affecting movie over last weekend at the Madison Theatre in the divine Connecticut town of Madison. This hamlet also boasts RJ Julia Booksellers, which I only half-jokingly refer to as "one of the last great book stores on earth."

Unfortunately, my party and I were the only jazz crazies to grace "Born to be Blue." This is the exquisitely filmed story of the late jazz trump genius Chet Baker.
Chet Baker.
Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in "Born to be Blue."
Ethan Hawke plays the troubled Chet and the actor delayed filming for almost a year while he learned how to handle the musical instrument in the way that Chet, Dizzy Gillespie and a few others mastered. Mr. Hawke is brilliant, but you probably will have to search for the movie at art houses — such as they exist now. (There's a segment of the movie that reenacts Chet at New York's famous Birdland club. I remember actually going to Birdland when it still functioned as a jazz mecca. I saw Dizzy Gillespie and knew about Chet Baker but never had the opportunity to see him. An even bigger thrill was seeing Ava Gardner there night after night.)
Howard Duff, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ava Gardner in 1948.
P.S. And it's more than a p.s. The "find" of this film is leading lady Carmen Ejogo. But she is not really a "find." Ms. Ejogo has been around for a while, in features and on TV. This column raved over her four years ago when she starred in the not-bad-at-all remake of "Sparkle." (The movie also included Whitney Houston's final film performance.) Carmen simply burned up the screen in "Sparkle" and I felt sure that even if the movie wasn't successful — it wasn't — her performance would surely bring an Oscar nomination. It didn't. She is a beautiful, talented, actress with one of the most expressive faces ever — there is not an emotion she cannot convey. Don't miss "Born to be Blue" and don't miss Carmen Ejogo. Now I'm gonna do it again — this is an award-worthy performance!
Carmen Ejogo and Ethan Hawke in "Born to Be Blue."
THE May issue of Town & Country magazine styles itself as the Youth & Beauty issue. But it's also a trip down memory lane with an article titled "A Brief History of the Most Important Restaurant in New York City — you'll never eat lunch in this place again" that staggers the reader. This is Holly Peterson's dazzling history of the Four Seasons café on 52nd Street which closes for good this July — and opens nearby again, so they say.

Holly offers up famous name after famous name and their history of the favorite gathering place of big business and VIPs (social and otherwise) and quotes everybody from Henry Kissinger to Richard Plepler, Craig Claiborne to Vernon Jordan, Edgar Bronfman Jr. to Barry Diller, Martha Stewart to Tommy Hilfiger and Jackie O. I got quite a kick out of this piece. Plus ladies Barbara Walters, Lesley Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Paula Zahn. And low and behold there is the former Liz with her arm around Mayor Mike Bloomberg. I am proud to be someone who experienced the original Four Seasons Grill Room and Pool Room from its early beginnings. It should live and be well in its future incarnation.
DESIGNER Jackie Rogers' dogs are very cute. You might have seen them in yesterday's column. But, animal lovers though we are here, we'd intended to run photos of Jackie's wonderful new designs! So, here they are. Jackie, you know your puppies and your peplums!
ENDQUOTE: "Preservation is important in New York, and all over the globe, for that matter, because we are civilized people and we need to know where we've been and where we are going." I wish I could recall who said this during the PBS show I watched over the weekend about the history of preserving landmarks in New York City and its surrounding boroughs. (I'm also unhappy that I can't recall the name of the real estate man who looked down his nose at saving or restoring the architectural treasures of the city. "New York is all about real estate and money," he said, also referring to those who wish to hold onto beautiful vestiges of the past as "un-American." Him I'd like to give some "publicity.")
The Singer Building, the tallest NYC skyscraper to be demolished, as seen from Broadway.
The program reminded me painfully of the demolition of the magnificent original Metropolitan Opera House, Penn Station, the Brokaw mansion, and the tallest NYC skyscraper to be demolished, The Singer Building. These terrible (to my point of view) acts lit the match under preservationists and activists such as Jackie Onassis who put herself right up front, helping to save Grand Central Terminal. Right now, the "historic landmark" status of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is looking to be further expanded. (This program also pointed out that now, many of the "glass towers" that were so despised 50 years ago, have become iconic and deserve their place in NYC's skyline.)
The Seagram Building under construction.
Progress is good, real-estate growth is necessary, change is inevitable, but the beauty of the past is not to be despised. I hate to think what my beloved New York would be, now, had it not been for. Landmarks Preservation ... Peg Breen's New York Landmarks Conservancy ... and Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project. (My God, in 1977, Radio City Music Hall was in grave danger of being torn down!)
Long may they all "preserve."

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.