Friday, November 4, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Finally Friday!

Gladys George and John Barrymore in "Marie Antoinette," 1938
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Broadway's Christmas Hunkfest ... Tom Hanks' Tepid "Inferno" ... Susan Sarandon's Protest Vote ... Knitting — Can It Make You Nicer?  Couldn't Hurt.

“SO that's it? I'm dirt, ah? Not good enough for your high and mightiness?”

“But, nooo, madame! Royalty loves an occasional roll in the gutter, don't they Grand-pappa?”


“I enjoy nothing more than meeting people of broad experience.”

“Recollect yourselves!”

“You see I have never walked the streets of Paris, but I am sure you could tell me something about that.”

So it goes between Gladys George, Norma Shearer and John Barrymore, in 1938’s super-opulent “Marie Antoinette.”  This scene, a showdown between the dissolute Madame du Barry (Miss George) and Antoinette (Norma Shearer) still the young dauphine of France, with an enraged King Louis XV standing by, was a colorful invention of the screenwriters. In real life, the only words Marie ever spoke to du Barry were, “There are a lot of people at Versailles today.” And this she did only great duress. (The innocent Marie was shocked by the seedy reputation of du Barry, the king’s last and most extravagant mistress.)
I WAS reminded of this delicious scene when I read about an acclaimed new movie, “Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe,” directed by actress Maria Schrader.  You see, Zweig’s famous biography of Marie Antoinette had been the basis of the film.  It was a sympathetic portrait of the oft-misunderstood Marie, who became a symbol of all that had been going wrong in France, and in the monarchy, for hundreds of years. 
A scene from “Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe."
The book was also steeped in Freudian analysis of the queen’s motivations.  It is, even today, a compelling read, and difficult to find. (Other, more accurate, more exhaustively researched biographies have been published since then.  Antonia Fraser’s “The Journey” for instance, which was the basis for Sofia Coppola’s controversial 2006 movie.)

But Zweig’s work is the loadstone, similar to Maurice Zolotow’s incisive, colorful biography of Marilyn Monroe, published only two years before her death.  (If you have an interest in either of these two tragic blondes but don’t know where to start — go first to Zolotow and Zweig.)
Stefan Zweig was, next to Thomas Mann, the most-translated German speaking writer of his time. (One of his best-known novellas, “Letter From an Unknown Woman” was made into a famous film starring Joan Fontaine, directed by Max Ophuls.)  
Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Stefan Zweig's "Letter from an Unknown Woman."
Zweig, an Austrian Jew, and his wife were driven from Germany prior to World War II and at the peak of his fame.  They wandered, unhappily from Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York and Petropolis, a city in Brazil.  It was there, in Petropolis, that the couple gave up and gave in to the despair of the growing power of Nazism and Fascism.
Stefan Zweig with his first wife Friderike in 1925.
“Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” stars Josef Hader, Barbara Sukowa, Aenne Schwarz and Matthias Brandt.  It was screened last week in Los Angeles, after a highly successful run in Germany, Austria and France.  It has been sold to 15 countries and is Austria’s Official Entry for Best Foreign Language Film for coming Oscar consideration.

I am looking forward to seeing this movie.  And I hope someday to come across another copy of Zweig’s “Marie Antoinette.”  I had an old copy which I lent to a very good friend of mine, who is as history-obsessed as I am.  He returned it. Then I lent it to another friend. He never did return it. (You know who you are!)
Josef Hader as Stefan Zweig.
THIS N’ THAT: On November 15th, Audrey Gruss hosts the 10th Annual Hope For Depression Luncheon at New York’s Plaza Hotel. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will be honored with the HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy. (Anderson has used his high profile to speak often about the stigma of depression, which has impacted his own family tragically.) Chuck Scarborough hosts the event, which funds innovative research into all aspects of depression — prevention, diagnosis, treatment. For info go to
Audrey Gruss and last year's honoree Mariel Hemingway.
... ONE NIGHT Only: Broadway’s Ann Harada (“Avenue Q,” “Stuffed,” “M. Butterfly,” etc) hosts another “Christmas Eve Holiday Hunkfest” on December 12th at NYC hotspot Howl at the Moon (240 West 52nd Street). "Hilarity, high jinks, show tunes, modern hits” are promised, but I think the “hunkfest” reference says it all.  This event benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. (Whenever I mention this great organization, I add this — we still need to fight AIDS. It’s not over. It’s not cured. Never be lulled into complacency. Never forget. I know I never will.) Go to
... MY great friend, the photojournalist Harry Benson is having a most fulfilling 2016.  Next month, a documentary about his storied life and work, “Harry Benson: Shoot First,” opens. In conjunction with the film, many of his greatest photos will be on display at the Staley-Wise gallery in Manhattan. (The Beatles, the Kennedys, the Civil Rights movement, the Gulf War, Kosovo, movie stars, music stars, royalty and just plain folks.)  This show, titled “Get the Picture” runs from Dec 16-Jan 28th.
MEMO TO the wonderful actor and cultural icon Tom Hanks. PLEASE stop making these awful movies based on Dan Brown’s books — “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons” and the current flop, “Inferno.” I saw it, and the mind reels; not in a good way. And right after the stalwart heroic charm of “Sully,” too! You have never appeared uncomfortable or silly in any role (unless that role has required silliness.)

The Dan Brown epics render you both those things. Desist, now.  As films, none have even been passably entertaining thrillers.  Although I think “The Da Vinci Code” was a big hit, based on the phenomenon of the novel, which I did enjoy. Although its fantastical literary semi-fact, semi-fiction, mythological/religious over-embroidery was often as dense and pungent as cathedral incense.  
"Okay Liz, that's enough."
MEMO to Susan Sarandon.  You won’t vote for Donald Trump. But you “can’t bring yourself” to support Clinton at the ballot box. (Because you’re a Bernie Sanders fan.) So you will cast a vote for Jill Stein. Which is the same as not voting at all. Brilliant. Nothing like a pointless gesture.  You and Ms. Stein might as well drive a car over a cliff.   

My friend Bryan Cranston has stated — jokingly, I hope — that he’ll move to Canada if Trump is elected. You, Susan? Don’t let the stars and stripes hit you in the backside on the way out.

As for Jill Stein, she should have dropped out ages ago. But she is as hubris-ridden as any politician. The same goes for that utter fool Gary Johnson.
P.S. Perri Klass, M.D. wrote recently in the New York Times that knitting is good for the soul, encourages empathy and reigns in our tendencies to be over-judgmental. She suggested visiting the knitting and crocheting site Ravelry, for an example at how well-behaved everybody is — no awful comments about other members’ efforts, no random personal observations.

Looking at my item above about Ms. Sarandon, I think knitting might indeed be beneficial. But not until after the election. Then I’ll send her a shawl.

Contact Liz here.