Wednesday, November 30, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Changing the drapes

The greatest show on earth — Gloria Grahame.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Glorious Gloria Grahame — Draped in Sex Appeal! Also — Harry and Gigi Benson Feted in New York ... "The First Noel" Enlivens The Apollo Theater ... Don't Cry For Patti LuPone, Just Put Her on Your Christmas Tree!

“Yes, The drapes. He wanted to change the drapes in the Psychotic Game Room.”
“That was the extent of the big change ... the drapes?
“Oh, yes. Dr. Ashley felt that color has a great deal to do with the well-being of the emotionally disturbed.”
Okay, how many of you recall that exchange between Mel Brooks (as Dr. Thorndyke) and Cloris Leachman (Nurse Diesel) in Mel’s 1977 comedy, “High Anxiety”?  The movie, which also starred Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman, was a take-off on the Alfred Hitchcock genre.  But clever cinephiles recognized in this scene an homage to director Vincente Minnelli’s 1955 howler of a melodrama, “The Cobweb.”  That movie concerned itself with the goings on at an elite institution for the gently disturbed.  And, yes, a — the — major plot point concerned drapes and the effect of those drapes on the patients.
Cloris Leachman and Mel Brooks and in "High Anxiety."
I WAS reminded of “High Anxiety” and that scene because much to my pleasure and surprise, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Cobweb” the other day, and it was just as overwrought and delicious as I recalled.  More, in fact!

The movie stars — sit down for this — Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame, Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg, Oscar Levant, Mabel Albertson and Fay Wray. 
Some of them are doctors; some are board members at the “facility.”  Others are patients (Oscar Levant, who spent a good deal of his real life in and out of therapy and hospitals, is a patient. It would have been funnier had he played a psychiatrist.) 
Oscar Levant in Hydrotherapy .
The movie is gorgeously photographed, and Minnelli allows almost all the actors to run amok with their emotions. Not once did he say, “Darling, too much.” You haven’t lived till you’ve seen the usually mild-mannered Miss Gish, of dewy silent movie fame, as an embittered bitch on wheels.  (Unfortunately, Lauren Bacall, then at the peak of her allure, was given the film’s most thankless role. She smolders, but unlike her co-stars, is never allowed to explode. The 1950’s didn’t know what to do with a Bogart-free Bacall.  Broadway would have to rescue her, much later.)
Lauren Bacall and Lillian Gish in “The Cobweb."
However, hands down the “The Cobweb” belongs to the great Gloria Grahame. Gloria won a Best supporting Actress Oscar for her small role in Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful.” 
Gloria Grahame as Karen McIver in “The Cobweb."
But that was tiny potatoes compared to her work in films such as “The Big Heat,” “Sudden Fear,” “Crossfire,” “Macao,” “In a Lonely Place” and “Human Desire.” She was also a sprightly, amusing Ado Annie in “Oklahoma” and a richly suggestive circus performer in “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but her real talents were in nasty noir. (Grahame’s fatal confrontation with Broderick Crawford at the end of  Fritz Lang’s “Human Desire” remains epic.) 
Gloria Grahame with Lee Marvin “The Big Heat."
With Glenn Ford in "Human Desire.”
With Broderick Crawford in “Human Desire."
In “The Cobweb” as a hyper-emotional, sexually dissatisfied, almost-unfaithful wife and mother, Grahame performs miracles with even the worst dialogue. Better, with no dialogue.  This woman could act with her hair, which seemed to have an erotic life of its own!  The pout, the heavy-lidded eyes, the perpetual it’s-hot-in-here sheen to her skin — Gloria was a sight to behold.
Charles Boyer and Gloria Grahame in "The Cobweb."
Grahame’s career began to fade shortly after this film. She suffered personal and health issues, dying at the age of 57 in 1981. 

She should have, she could have, been a bigger star, but for ten years, Gloria Grahame seared the screen.  She was fun, and she was fearless. 
TOMORROW NIGHT, two of my favorite humans, Gigi and Harry Benson, will be feted and petted as they deserve, here in New York City.

The girl from Sequin, Texas and the famed Scotsman-photographer, Harry will be on hand for the premiere of the Magnolia Pictures documentary, “Harry Benson: Shoot First” at the Beekman Theater.  This charts the astonishing career of Harry.
Gigi and Harry.
To cite just a few of the iconic subjects who sat for Mr. Benson: Greta Garbo, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, eleven U.S. presidents, Queen Elizabeth II, and Queen Elizabeth of Hollywood.

Harry's cover shot for Life magazine, celebrating La Liz’s 60th birthday.
(I still proudly preserve and occasionally wear the tee-shirt with Elizabeth Taylor’s face on front. It’s a Harry Benson shot for the cover of Life magazine, celebrating La Liz’s 60th birthday. It says, “This is what Sixty Looks Like.”)

Five years later Harry would photograph Taylor bald, fresh from brain surgery, again for Life magazine.)  In 2009, Harry Benson was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Although he hasn’t let that go to his head. I always curtsied to him.

“Shoot First” was written and directed by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare; produced by Justin Bare, Heather Silverman and — ta da! — Gigi Benson. (Who could “produce” Harry better than Gigi?)  The film features appearances by Sharon Stone, Alec Baldwin, Andre Leon Talley, Carl Bernstein, Cornelia Guest, Betty Buckley, Henry Kissinger, Dan Rather, Ralph Lauren, Joe Namath and some dame named Liz Smith.

After the screening, there’ll be a marvelous party at the Carlyle Hotel. This will be something very special indeed!
Churchill, 1964 by Harry Benson
SAVE THE dates:  From December 10th, through the 18th, the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem will present “The First Noel,” a world premiere musical. 

The Classical Theater of Harlem offers this holiday tale that follows three generations of a family affected by the loss of a loved one. 
The book, music and lyrics — which range from jazz to gospel to pop — are by Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Michael Webb. Directed by Steven H. Broadnax III, choreography courtesy of Brian Harlan Brooks. 

Among the very large and very talented cast: James Alexander ... Tina Farbrique ... Soara-Joye Ross ... Lizan Mitchell ... Brian D. Coats ... Nia Bonita Caesar ... Helen White ... Adam Hyndman ... Angela Birchett ... Drew Shade ... Ashley Ware Jenkins.  For tickets call 800-754-3000 or
PATTI LuPone is one of the great ornaments of Broadway. She has performed in 25 Broadway productions, won two Tony Awards, two Grammys, been nominated endlessly for everything and the ground she walks upon is almost universally worshipped. Now, Patti will become an actual ornament!

Ms. LuPone joins the “Broadway Legends” Holiday Ornament Collection, designed by Glen Hanson, in association with the Christopher Radko Company. 

Patti follows in the Christmas tree hook-steps of such as Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury and Barbra Streisand.

La LuPone — all eight shiny inches of her — is shown in a strapless evening gown, arms aloft, urging Argentina not to cry for her, in character as “Evita.”

You can hang her on your fir, or display her separately. Whatever you do with Ornamental Patti, please remember she benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

For more info and to buy your Patti ornament, visit
ENDQUOTE: “The Oscars will be taking place just a month after Trump’s inauguration, and emotions will still be pretty raw. But, writers, spare us the Trump jokes because right now the joke’s on us.”

That’s Gregg Kilday, in the latest issue of the Hollywood Reporter. (The issue with the campaign season’s cleverest woman on its cover — steely-eyed Megyn Kelly.)

I agree wholeheartedly with Gregg, but I already know it’s a pointless plea. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are one thing. They are brilliant observers. Primped, preened, privileged and Botoxed celebrities at awards shows, making (usually awkward) jokes about politics are cringe-inducing. I didn’t like it when “we” were winners, and it will be all the more unpalatable now that we are the losers. Not to mention giving our soon-to-be-president yet another excuse to Twitter for days and weeks on end — remember, there are numerous awards ceremonies.
You stars out there who are so concerned. Skip the podium insults and do something constructive to salvage and protect what you believe is in danger. And remember the words of President Obama — “It’s not the apocalypse until it’s the apocalypse!”

P.S. Be as respectful to Melania Trump and her son, Barron, as you expected the opposition to be of Michelle Obama and her daughters. True, the internet was rife with horrifying, usually racist, comments about the First Lady and her children for eight years, but that doesn’t mean we have to go there, too.

The other Trumps? They are willing and eager public figures.
Contact Liz here.