Thursday, May 26, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Cher at 70

Liz and Cher.
by Liz Smith

Cher at 70 — We've Still Got, You, Babe, and You've Still Got Us!!

"What do people misunderstand about you?"

"Everything! Because I'm this mixture of shy and bold, because I'm a celebrity, because I get myself up in outrageous outfits but I also read a lot and know what's what. You know, people think I'm superficial or dumb or a slut. It's not that people don't like me, it's just that sometimes they see me as…

"A dumb, likeable slut?"

"Exactly!!"

"Does that bother you?"

"Well, that's right back to people believing what they want or need to believe. I think in general, and by now, I'm pretty much well-regarded. But truthfully, no woman likes to be thought of as loose. I never was, and that did hurt. I dated liked a normal person."

So it went between a writer named Liz Smith, and an international singing/acting icon named Cher, a few years back, around the time of the star's 65th birthday. (She was finishing up her amusingly endless "farewell tour.")

A few days ago, I caught, on Netflix, a Turner Classic Movies special about the history of the Academy Awards. Cher — a best actress winner for "Moonstruck" — was among the many interviewed.

It hit me, suddenly, that Cher's 70th birthday had passed, unnoted by me, and, unnoted by the star herself, so far as I know. She didn't make a big deal of it. (Two weeks before her birthday, Cher did send out an Instagram with her, and her gloriously attractive mother, declaring: "This is what 70 and 90 looks like!")
"This is what 70 and 90 looks like!"
Watching Cher in that TCM special, I recalled one of my favorite memories with her. It was before one of her concerts, and we were sitting on a small settee, chatting. She seemed without nerves, stunningly calm, and still — her ability to remain physically poised has always amazed me. Somehow, the conversation turned to movies, and Cher lit up, although her posture and position on the couch remained; she's like Buddha! She knew everything about movies, and I mean everything. Name a star, or a director, or a cameraman or a costume designer — you got their history, accurately and with love and admiration. She's an unabashed fan.
Cher with Robert Osborne on the TCM special.
I met Cher way back when I was writing for Cosmopolitan magazine. It was supposed to be a story about Sonny and Cher and their great TV success, but something told me all was not well in paradise. When I went back to my editor Helen Gurley Brown, I told her: "They are going to break up, we can't print this story!" HGB was unhappy, but it turned out, two weeks later, the couple split.
Cher with Liz Rosenberg.
Cher with her brilliant makeup man, Kevyn Aucoin.
IN YEARS to come, I got to know Cher much better, especially after she was repped by the great Liz Rosenberg. What impressed me always about Cher was her total candor, her ability to simply talk, frankly, off the top of her head, never meanly, but right to the point. She never evaded or parsed her replies. What you saw was what you got. ("I like Madonna. She's very talented, but why does she have to be such a c**t?!") And if she wasn't always honest — and I'm sure at times she wasn't — it was a brilliant, convincing, appealing performance.

Cher is a very nice woman. I remember spending time on the set of one of her music videos, she was concentrating on her work, but her overwhelming concern was the health of her brilliant makeup man, Kevyn Aucoin, that concern hung heavily over the day. (Shortly after this, Kevyn died. Cher told me: "I know he's dead, but I can't accept it. I don't — I won't — think of him that way.")

She's a great talent — I've never enjoyed any concert more than I have Cher's extravaganzas, which give the fans what they want — glamour, pizzazz, 20 costume changes and the hits! I wish she'd return to acting — how great she was in "Mask" and "Silkwood" and "Suspect" and but of course, "Moonstruck." But perhaps she'd rather not forgo the image; it is so ingrained that to work against it now would be distracting. But, never say never! (Her last feature film was "Burlesque" as the owner of a strip club. She was the best thing in it, despite the writhing, vocalizing and "acting" of Christina Aguilera. I also loved Cher in the one before that, "Tea With Mussolini.")
Stealing the show in "Burlesque."
ONCE, speaking to Cher about ambition, she said:

"I must be ambitious because you couldn't do what I've done and not be ambitious. I certainly had a lot of dreams I wanted to come true. But you know what the truth is? — maybe only two or three times in my life I've said "Oh, I need to do that for the money," Or "I'm having a hard time." Almost everything I do usually starts with, "Oh, that would be fun." The next thing I know, I'm in the midst of a movie or a record or a tour and I'm kind of, "Whoa, how did this happen?" When I was first with Son, he and I just had this dream of making a record. And we had a dream of being famous. But we didn't know how it would materialize because we were not what was happening at the time at all ... at all ... at all. We just happened to catch the wave. And then we did the TV show and that was like an accident too, because there was nobody on TV who looked like us or behaved like us."

I laughed and replied: "So essentially your entire career has been a series of accidents?"

"Well that's kind of true in one way. But I don't really believe in accidents. But I did have one strong dream, and that was to win an Academy Award. I wanted to be a good actress. But that is not real ambition, I don't think. I never wanted to be a mogul or to be "powerful" or anything like that — I didn't want to be Barbra Streisand, although I'd love to direct more."
ON MOTHERHOOD Cher mused: "I did the very best I could under the circumstances. I was mostly functioning as a single working mom. Could I have been better? Sure. I could also be a better actress or a better singer, or a better person all-around. But I don't beat myself up. My kids are very special. They've both turned out beautifully. I'm very proud of both of them."
AND WHAT of love? Probably the most startling and moving revelation Cher ever made to me was in talking about her former lover Rob Camilletti: "Wasn't he adorable? The greatest guy in the world. And you know what, if it hadn't been for that incident with the paparazzi chasing him, and him fighting back, I'm sure we would have been married!"

Cher with former lover and "the greatest guy in the world," Rob Camilletti.
This just floored me, and all I could say was "Really?!"

"Yes, I absolutely adored him. We were actually ... Rob and I were talking about this the other day. We were talking for hours, and he said 'Well, you know if I just met you when I was a little bit older.' And I said, 'Yeah, but there was something about when we did meet, Robert, it was so special. Special for both of us.' So things happen when they happen. But you can never go back. It was one of the greatest times in my life. The kids were still young. They were still at home. I'd just started doing movies back to back ...

I mentioned to Cher that I'd seen the news footage of the two of them at the press conference after the paparazzi debacle, and it was so sad.

"It was horrible and they were really mean to him in jail, right after it happened.

But ... those are the things that happen."
SO, HAPPY birthday, darling. I hope it was happy and healthy and many more are on the way. (For women like you, 70 really is the new 40!) I wish I'd been on my toes and tried to track you down for a current natal day chat, but this stroll down memory lane will have to do. I know you haven't changed much at all. You are still a lovely, honest woman — with a teenager's tender, easily wounded heart — a rabid movie lover and a great star — natch!

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.