Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Fabulous Faces

This fabulous face will be displayed at Staley-Wise Gallery from September 16-Oct 8th in an exhibit titled “Garbo’s Garbos: Portraits from Her Personal Collection.”
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Searching For Zelda ... Recalling The Fabulous Face of Miss Garbo.

“I DON’T want to live — I want to love first, and live incidentally.”

That’s teenage Zelda Sayre, writing to her on-and-off-again fiancé, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in 1919. (They would marry within a year.)
Zelda and Scott at the Sayre home in Montgomery, Ala., in 1919.
I have found myself re-reading Nancy Milford’s 1970 bestseller, “Zelda.”  I came across it while gathering books to send to New York’s invaluable Strand Bookstore.  I hadn’t meant to dip into “Zelda” again, but once I did, Milford’s brilliant take on this beautiful and damned creature took hold. 

I’m not even halfway through, but it occurred to me that there had never been, to my knowledge, a film based on this work. 

I did recall that Natalie Wood had purchased the rights to Milford’s book, but the beautiful star was considered too mature to be convincing in the role. She was in her early 40s and it’s a pity, because Natalie was capable of summoning up the kind of frenetic neurotic quality that Zelda generated. (Not being able to pin down this role was one of the heartbreaks in the last years of Natalie’s all too short life.)

However, now I’ve just discovered that last year Amazon produced and released a movie (or a pilot for a miniseries) about Zelda, titled “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”  It was not based on Milford’s book, rather a novel by Therese Anne Fowler.  Christina Ricci played Zelda.  The first episode aired last November.  It totally escaped my radar, perhaps because, at that point, I hadn’t hooked myself up to Netflix and Amazon.
Christina Ricci as Zelda in “Z: The Beginning of Everything.” 
I’m a fan of Miss Ricci, who has maintained an astonishing and eclectic output of work for the past 16 years, and am now wondering if “Z” is a go as a series? Has Amazon filmed any more of it?  Even the all-knowing Internet has given me a mysterious, frustrating time tracking this down. (IMDB says ten episodes have been shot — but have they aired?) 

So, I am now turning to my intelligent readers, many of whom have become binge-watching maniacs. Or, more accurately, have been bingers for several years; I’ve just caught up to this insomnia-inducing phenomenon.

While I’m waiting for Amazon info, I’ll finish up Milford’s “Zelda” and recommend that Hollywood take another look at this tale; it’s got everything!  And now, with Ms. Milford on my mind, I’ll order her biography about the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, titled “Savage Beauty” which was published in 2002.  Somehow, in my rapacious reading, I missed that.

Maybe when I finally take “Zelda” to The Strand, I’ll try to find a copy of the Millay book. Yes, ordering online is easier, but nothing beats a visit to the Strand. Or to any bookstore, in my opinion.

Listen, I still get a sad, nostalgic pang in the heart when I pass the former site of the old Brentano's Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
“I ALWAYS look well when I’m near death,” said Greta Garbo in 1936’s “Camille.”

Garbo tossed that line off with casual elan, and her Lady of the Camellias remains one of the legend’s more tolerable sound film performances.
Garbo had become an almost mythological creature during her run as a silent screen star. She was so popular and so valuable, that MGM delayed putting GG in sound films until they felt she was totally prepared. The delay was such that fans began to wonder if Garbo ever would speak!  She did, of course, in “Anna Christie” which was promoted with two immortal words “Garbo Speaks!”
Although her husky, deeply accented Swedish tones translated successfully, I never felt the talking Garbo had nearly the impact of the mute goddess. Garbo tended to slice the ham rather thickly. (As opposed to her “rival” Dietrich, who  underplayed, especially after she was free from her obsessed creator, Josef von Sternberg. Viewed today, Dietrich’s reticence is more appealing than Garbo’s posturing.)
Miss Dietrich — She had quite a face too. Under the hats, wigs and fringe.
But whatever Garbo’s talent, she was a fascinating personality.  Or — an indecisive bore with great cheekbones. (The opinions of those who knew her varied.)  However, young, old, silent or speaking, agreeing to an interview or fleeing from the paparazzi, Garbo had a face like no other, and a photographic quality few could match.

That fabulous face will be displayed and worshipped anew at New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery (100 Crosby Street) from September 16-Oct 8th, in an exhibit titled “Garbo’s Garbos: Portraits from Her Personal Collection.”
I’ll take this exhibit in, if for no other reason, that I am so weary of opening magazines and looking at the same photo-shopped, lip-pumped, Botoxed, sanded faces — faces that have all become one face.  Every era, every generation, tends to have a standard look. But within that standard, there was room for variation.  I see very little of that, now. Especially with girls (and young men) encouraged to begin altering themselves needlessly at younger and younger ages.
When, in “Grand Hotel” Garbo moans in epic ennui, “I vant to be alone” (Yep, that’s where it comes from!) you might feel compelled to stifle a giggle, but there’s no question her face rises above performance and dialogue. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson correctly noted: “Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing/Then Beauty is its own excuse for being.”

Garbo at the Staley-Wise — check her out.
I COULD make a career out of simply responding to every request I now receive about Donald Trump.  Often I simply guide writers to my book, “Natural Blonde” which contains a fulsome chapter on Donald, Ivana and Marla Maples. But I did speak with Jeffrey Toobin for the September 5th issue of The New Yorker.  I’ve known Jeffrey as an ink-stained wretch since his old “Court TV” days.  He now has a fabulous success with his new book on Patty Hearst, "American Heiress.”

Mr. Toobin writes that I never had “much of a killer instinct ... cozy chattiness was her signature.” Perhaps. But never underestimate the lethal possibilities of a cozy chat.  Maybe that’s why I’m still around at 93, which Jeffrey notes, although I think he could have left out “creaky” in citing my age. I consider myself an inspiration to all those who aspire to the joys of becoming “creaky.”
WE HOPE all of you had a relaxing Labor Day weekend.  It’s been a grueling summer. Autumn doesn’t promise much relief. Winter is coming. And I don’t just mean chilly weather.

Contact Liz here.