Monday, December 5, 2016

LIZ SMITH: City of Stars

MM happily clutching her Golden Globe for "Some Like It Hot" — auctioned off in 1999.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Teasing "La La Land" ... Marilyn's Famous "Kennedy Gown" Still Raking in Millions ... Liz and Gerri Hirshey Talk Helen Gurley Brown at The National Arts Club.

“CITY OF stars, Are you shining just for me?/City of stars, there’s so much that I can’t see.”

That is part of the lyric of my favorite song from the upcoming, massively awaited musical “La La Land,” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, directed by Damien Chazelle.
Ryan and Emma and the "La La Land" photo I first fell in love with.
I’ve been obsessed with this film for over a year, ever since I fell madly in love with the first photo released of Gosling and Stone dancing. 

The movie has been almost universally praised and just won the New York Film Critics award.   I attended a screening last Thursday. It opens this week in limited engagement, before going wide on the 16th.
I will tell more tomorrow. I’m still thinking. I’m awash in the great charm of it, but not a slave to that charm. (I do fear that if I ever meet up with total perfection, it might signal that my time is up!)

Truthfully, nothing could have lived up to the critical hype lavished on “La La Land,” but there is so much visual beauty here and such a lack of cynicism. (And boy, do we need that now!)
Also, the suspension of disbelief (it’s a musical, folks) does not require an apology or a sense of embarrassment. Of course they’re levitating while dancing, why not?!  More on this lovely film anon.

I did think that the “City of Stars” lyrics were appropriate, anyway, for the subject of the next item. 
BACK IN 1999 I attended the Christie’s auction of Marilyn Monroe’s personal possessions, bequeathed in her will to her acting gurus, Lee and Paula Strasberg.  The auction was put together by Lee’s second wife, Anna, who had never met the actress.  Paula died in 1966, Lee in 1982.  Anna would (and still does) benefit.
Marilyn with Lee and Paula Strasberg.
Unlike the spectacular Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s clothes, jewels and artwork years later, Monroe’s was a fairly modest, and achingly intimate collection.

There were no real jewels, save for a diamond band from Joe DiMaggio. The clothes and furs, in haphazard storage for decades, were not in great shape, save for the colorful Pucci blouses and sheaths she wore during her final year. Underwear, shoes, personal notes, sketches, receipts, knickknacks, dishes, many of the charming Mexican-themed items she bought for her final home in California were up for grabs. 
MM wearing the DiMaggio wedding band.
Monroe’s awards, too, were on sale — Golden Globes, the French and Italian best actress awards for “The Prince and the Showgirl, etc. And her scripts, with notations in her own hand. Symbols of the work she desperately wanted to do, but which tormented her.

Although Christie’s was packed to the rafters and the air was hot with excitement, I found the whole thing to be rather depressing. Her underwear?  A poignant sentence scribbled on a yellow legal pad, with the initials MMM (Marilyn Monroe Miller) on top.  “He does not love me,” she had written. But I was alone in my unease.  Everybody else was thrilled to be near the star’s objects.
Monroe, with Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson and yet another (eventually auctioned) Golden Globe.
And then came the item of the evening — the still extraordinarily preserved Jean Louis nude soufflé beaded gown Marilyn wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, just a few months before her death. Presented dramatically — the lights went down, Monroe’s voice was heard breathlessly singing “Happ-ee, Birth-day, Mist-er, Pres-i-dent…” and the gown, on a clear plastic form, slowly emerged onstage, to rapturous applause, oohs and aahs.  It sold for a then record $1.3 million dollars, to a Manhattan collector, who put it on display in his penthouse showroom at the Pierre Hotel, along with many other important pieces of memorabilia — from Elvis to the Beatles and more. (I subsequently visited this gallery and it was appropriately surreal!)
Peter Lawford unwraps Marilyn.
People talked about the “historical significance” of the gown, which always amused me.  Significant of what — a deeply disturbed woman and a reckless, unfaithful married man, who just happened to be president of the United States?  Monroe was fired by her studio, for accepting the birthday invitation — the film she was making was behind schedule. And then she died.

To me, it’s a rather tragic piece of cloth, representing misplaced fantasies and irresponsibility (hers) and coarse hubris (JFK’s).
Nothing comes between me and my Jean Louis. (The very happy-looking man here with Miss Monroe is PR man extraordinaire, Earl Blackwell.)
Ah well; the romance of beading sometimes escapes me. That Christie’s auction racked up more than $13 million.

Recently, the dress was up again for sale, along with even more intimate items from Monroe; furnishings, notes, prescriptions, books — apparently, she was something of a hoarder!  (To be honest, much of the correspondence, from and to MM, is deeply, movingly revealing. She was indeed, far more than the image.)
With Maria Callas, backstage.
Time is not diminishing Marilyn’s appeal.  The gown, still in pristine condition, sold for $4.8 million and will be displayed — fittingly — at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.  Also, a diamond watch, one of the few expensive items of jewelry MM ever owned, was bought back by the Swiss maker, Blancpain, for a whopping $225,000.

There is of course, more than a bit of irony in Marilyn even owning a watch.  Her lateness was legendary. (“I’m just not in this big American rush” she once said, “You gotta get there, and you gotta get there fast. But for what?  I’d rather be prepared. Look, I’ve been on a calendar, but never on time!”)
MM wearing the watch.
I often wonder how Marilyn would feel about this, about the people who have benefited from her enduring fame?  On the one hand, I think she’d feel used and abused — but then, she usually did. On the other hand, she’d be delighted.  She often spoke, sometimes realistically, sometimes with terror, of fame passing, beauty fading.  At the time of her death, she was perched on the precipice of both those inevitabilities, but the abyss of having “once been” never arrived.
No makeup, no comb, no cleavage — MM as she preferred to be.
I see her somewhere, hair uncombed, no makeup, dressed in a man’s shirt and pair of jeans (MM preferred to be casual, to the point of sloppiness, away from the public) but with the ever ready glass of champagne in hand.  “Hey!” she’d say to heaven’s other lost angels — James and Jimmy and Jimi and Janis and Jean and Carole and Amy and Heath and Judy and Billie and Kurt and Elvis and John and Sam and River and Diana — the lot. “Hey!  This was the best career move I ever made!”

And it was.
Glamour defined, one last time ...
Click to order "Not Pretty Enough."
ONE of the truly excellent, compelling books of the year is Gerri Hirshey’s tome on the late Helen Gurley Brown, "Not Pretty Enough." This is full of surprising real life sex and romance and “how to grab for success.”

I thought I knew Helen, having worked for her many years during the '60s. Gerri’s book proved I didn’t know the half of it. Helen recorded all of her one night and other stands. And much more!

Tomorrow, December 6th, Gerri and I will be at the National Arts Club down on Gramercy Park in the evening, talking and promoting in person. Gerri is one of the best writer-researchers around and she has met her match in her husband, Mark Zwonitzer. He has written his own tome in a historical book titled “The Statesman and the Storyteller.” (This is a brilliant work, delving into the lives of John Hay and Mark Twain.)

Anyway, we will be both historical and sexy that night. Join us!
Definitely pretty enough.
INCIDENTALLY, people are saying that President Obama will make at least $15 million for his coming memoir on the Presidency.  Also, a revived vice-president, Joe Biden, recovered from his family tragedy — as much as one ever “recovers” from such things — is planning his own historical record of his eight years as Barack Obama’s veep. No doubt he will be well compensated, too.
Contact Liz here.