Wednesday, May 25, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Fame! What's Your Name?

"Fame! What's Your Name?" asked David Bowie. The only answer? La Liz
by Liz Smith

Wednesday's Rap: Elizabeth Taylor ... Bryan Batt ... Valerie Bertinelli ... Aaron Weinstein and Michael Musto!

"THE DEFINING feature of Elizabeth Taylor's life was not her acting, nor her serial marriages, not even the epic Liz and Dick liaison; it was not her pestilential ill health, nor the seemingly endless struggles against dependencies, it was not even her metamorphosis into the world's most famous and probably most effective charity worker. Taylor was the centrifuge of an emergent celebrity culture."
La Liz appears before the Labor, Health and Human Services Senate Subcommittee on May 8, 1986, in Washington, D.C. She appeared as chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) appealing for more research funds.
That's how author Ellis Cashmore sums up La Liz in his new book, "Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life For Public Consumption." This is not so much a straight biography — although we get the big salient moments from all the various stages of her life — as much as it is a treatise on Taylor's life as the world's most famous woman.

How she bent fame to her own uses, how she benefited from scandals that would have ruined another, how she made mythology out of her travails and happiness. Was she a feminist influence, as some claim? Did she deliberately set out to make herself controversial, in the manner of Madonna? (No. But once embroiled in controversy, she knew what to do with it.) Did she enjoy her fame and the frenzy she caused? (Yes, she sure did!)

At another point, Cashmore notes: "Taylor did not just appear in the news, she was news." Not just that, she was the living embodiment of Fame.

The author intelligently and dramatically addresses these questions and subjects, and I found myself agreeing with most of his conclusions, perhaps because I myself had come to believe, and had written those same conclusions, over the many, many years I knew and had unprecedented access to the star of stars.

So here is where I am annoyed. In his book, Cashmore cites me a couple of times, but he seems to question my veracity. I am per Ellis: "a gossip columnist who claimed to have followed Taylor for 26 years and traveled with her and Richard Burton."
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor filming "The Sandpiper," when I first met ET.
Claimed? I first met — and wrote about Elizabeth — in 1964, from the set of "The Sandpiper." My coverage of her continued until her death, and beyond. The author, in musing on Taylor's marriage to Larry Fortensky, an event at which I was the lone press person, writes: "Whether or not Smith was obliged to pay for her access was never made clear."
Larry and Liz on their wedding day.
Pay? What does that mean? That I was in Elizabeth's debt? That she told me what to write or not write? This isn't so, and at times she was annoyed because of things I reported — things that were all-too-true. On several occasions she complained and I dutifully printed her side, but I was never restrained out of my fondness for her. (Nor did I always believe her.)
I can only "boil" and "bubble" inside ...
Of course there were things I didn't write, but that was in keeping with the tone of my column — it wasn't bitchy or nasty or provoking. Elizabeth wasn't the only star who benefited from my being "too nice" which was a frequent criticism back in the day.

Too bad Mr. Cashmore didn't take the time to contact me. I could have corrected his few factual mistakes, and made his good book, better. I really knew Elizabeth, and knew more about her fame and how she handled it than most people.
RECENTLY I was wondering what had become of Bryan Batt, the stage and screen actor known for "Mad Men" and "Jeffrey" and "Forbidden Broadway," etc. We'd met and chatted and corresponded in the past.

I guess synchronicity kicked in, because hours after thinking about Mr. Batt, I received a note from him. He told me all about his filming on the MTV series "Scream," and the continuing success of his and his hubby's home furnishing gift shop in New Orleans, called Hazelnut. (Bryan is a Big Easy native.)
Browsing through Bryan's online store, I partcularly liked this New Orleans Toile placemat for $16. "Napkins sold separately!" says Bryan.
He also said he'd run into my old friend, the elegant, legendary ad-man Peter Rogers, who now makes New Orleans his home. "Your ears must have been burning" he wrote. I bet.

It was good to hear from Bryan. Peter dashes off a few brief e-mails every week, usually commenting on the column. I like it when my friends read me. That is, when they appreciate my work. They always "read" me.
Bryan Batt as Mayor Maddox in "Scream."
THINGS TO do (or to expect) in June:

... On Thursday, June 2nd, Aaron Weinstein, who Tony Bennett refers to as "The Groucho Marx of the violin" appears at NYC's Pangea (178 Second Ave.) His admirers know Aaron offers no ordinary, staid concert — people sitting stiffly on little chairs, applauding politely. For this event, Aaron will have some onstage company — Janis Siegel, one of the founding members of the Manhattan Transfer group, and — get ready! — the great columnist Michael Musto, who will sing. For this I might travel down to Pangea. Aaron has two more unusual concerts upcoming at the same spot, on July 7th, with Linda Lavin, and August 4th, with writer/actor Bruce Vilanch. No word on Bruce singing. For tix go here.
... The American Institute for Stuttering holds its annual benefit gala, "Freeing Voices Changing Lives" on June 6th. This happens at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers (23rd Street and West Side Highway.) Being honored is my friend Bruce Willis, and pharmaceutical exec Aaron Graff. This is a big to-do — some of the co-chairs include Tina Brown and Sir Harold Evans ... Jack Welch ... Arthur Blank ... Michael and Riki Sheehan. Stuttering is not a funny thing. For tickets call 212-633-6400 or click here. Dress is "festive." It's at the Piers, nobody wears a tux down there.
... Steve Shapiro's eagerly awaited book, "Bowie" will debut in London next week. This is a collection of photos of the late pop icon taken during one long session in 1974. In anticipation of the book's wide release, the Atlas Gallery in London will exhibit some of the shots, June 9-August 20th. "Bowie" is published by powerHouse Books.
... I knew that my pal, the adorable Debi Mazar, had a cooking show "Extra Virgin" with her sexy hubby, Gabriele Corcos, but I didn't know that another adorable pal, Valerie Bertinelli, also whips up delicious meals on The Food Network. Her show, "Valerie's Home Cooking" comes back on Saturday June 11th.
I love this girl — okay, she's of a certain age, but Valerie is one of those women who'll always be a girl, you know? I've interviewed her several times, and found her so warm and honest. The first time we met, she was not long past her breakup with hubby Eddie Van Halen, and the hurt was palpable, but she mustered up her infectious charm, despite the pain. A few years back, I met her with her future mate, Tom Vitale. She had just lost a lot of weight, looked 25, and the two of them were clearly besotted and made for each other. It was one of the most enjoyable sit-downs I'd ever had with a lady and her knight in shining armor. (Maybe interviewing Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney is comparable.)
Valerie and Tom.
Anyway, on the season premiere, she has her former "Hot in Cleveland" co-stars — Betty White, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick — on the burner. Among the dishes she serves up are Mini-Roasted Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar.

Oh, Valerie, dear, I love caviar!

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.