Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Bumps and Grinds

Billy Norwich with just some of (Virginia Smith, Tonne Goodman, Grace Coddington, Tina Chai) his many fans.
by Liz Smith

My Billy Norwich and His "Mrs. Brown" ... Barbra Streisand's "Gypsy" Bumps and Grinds Again!

"I KNOW white clothing is supposed to enhance that summer glow, but writers don't tan," says Diablo Cody.
THERE are parties a 'plenty in the next few weeks for one of fashion's best by-liners!

I'm talking about my friend William (Billy) Norwich, currently an editor at Phaidon Press where they dream up those beautiful big books that we all want to own. I am particularly fond of Billy, whom I have known since the '70s when he got out of Columbia with aspirations to write plays. When I pointed out to him that there were lists of aspiring playwrights, dozens of them, Billy took my word for it and promptly went to work for newspapers and magazines. He wrote a kind of society column for the New York Daily News from 1985 to 1991.
Billy and Liz.
Billy has since had his name on fashion for the New York Times, and for Anna Wintour at Vogue. (No, he is not the character played by Stanley Tucci in "The Devil Wears Prada" where Meryl Streep is said to resemble Anna Wintour.) Billy has worked with Anna Wintour several times and they seem to admire one another.
Billy with Anna (and Calvin!)
Billy also found time to write a hilarious memoir-novel "Learning To Drive" as well as a children's book "Molly and the Magic Dress." You have seen his byline in Vogue. He has written many introductions and essays for books including "C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon," "Poolside with Slim Aarons" and "Bright Young Things: New York." Maybe you've seen him on TV covering the Met Gala. For the record, let's just say he has been found in the New York Observer ... the New York Post ... T Magazine ... House & Garden ... Architectural Digest ... New York Magazine ... and the UK's Tatler. You can also find this ubiquitous writer on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Billy on the red carpet at the Met Gala.
I AM going to interrupt myself to say that lately it seems to me almost every book I've read is apocalyptically full of gloom and doom or somehow touching on The Holocaust and life in Vichy France during WWII or Poland.

Click to order "My Mrs. Brown."
Well, the point is, to say that Mr. Norwich has now provided us via Simon & Schuster with a little novel called "My Mrs. Brown" taking as a model the British classic "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris." Billy's new novel offers a different kind of woman of a certain age, a modest hardworking lady who lives in Connecticut and who has fallen in love. I don't want to tell you with what or whom she is dreaming of, just read this appealing work as an antidote to everything else that is going on. Mrs. Brown segues from cleaning up in a local beauty shop and also touching the hem of a garment of the fashion world. Mrs. Brown's incredible adventures in storming the gates of haute couture — think Oscar de la Renta and others at the tippy top (believe me "My Mrs. Brown" is not one of the several books coming out this summer on Helen Gurley Brown.) It is its own unusual thing — details of heroic persistence, culture and manners and all of the rest of what we are mostly missing these days.

I admit my own prejudices when it comes to Billy Norwich, but he has already received some positive reviews for his "Mrs. Brown."
THE THING That Wouldn't Die! I'm sure that's the title of a 1950's sci-fi or horror film, but we're talking about Barbra Streisand's astounding persistence in putting her vision of "Gypsy" onscreen. This project has been on and off and on and off for years. But when has that ever stopped Barbra? Never! Now, the project is back on the front burner for STX Entertainment. (Universal dropped its option last year.) Barbra will star as Mama Rose, Barry Levinson will direct, Joel Silver will co-produce (with help from Barbra) and Richard LaGravenese will co-write the script (with help from Barbra.) "Darlings" we can already hear Barbra cooing, "don't get so verklempt, I just want to help! Here, have an egg roll. Oh, and by the way, Barry, I have some ideas on how to direct me — another egg roll, a bagel? You look a little tired."
Some sources still say it's Lady Gaga to play Louise, who becomes the ecdysiast deluxe Gypsy Rose Lee and John Travolta as the long-suffering Herbie.

Now that it seems Streisand will allow herself to be directed by Levinson (unless the lobotomy doesn't take) I think Gaga's voice — her major talent — will be wasted in the role of Louise. Taylor Swift, slimmer and younger, might make a more convincing Gypsy. But this is still talk, talk, talk. Many a slip twixt the lip and the G-string. But, better this than talking politics, which becomes more grisly every day and now on both sides.
Oh, as for the three other big roles in "Gypsy" — the strippers — I have my fantasy. Madonna as Tessie Tura ("I myself, of course was a ballerina. But take it from me, all you need to have is no talent. What you need is a gimmick!) ... Mariah Carey as Miss Electra ("I'm electrifying and I ain't even tryin', I never have to sweat to get paid!") and Janet Jackson as Miss Mazeppa ("You can pull all the stops out, till they call the cops out, grind your behind till you're banned!")
Come on, don't tell me that wouldn't put the masses in seats in theaters all over the world.

Anyway, good luck Miss Streisand. Let's face it, there's a lot of fascinating, epic psychology behind your relentless desire to belt out: For me, for me, For MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
P.S.  Let me state again, for the record — any production of "Gypsy" is worthy.  This Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents classic defies all laws of casting.  It is unbreakable. But I remain consistent in feeling the 1962 movie version with Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood was/is severely underrated.  Russell was great; Wood, exquisite.

But ... let's see what the 21st century — and Streisand —  can do with this magnificent material.  And, let's get started soon, okay? 

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.