Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Hope is a waking dream

Hedy Lamarr in White Cargo — “After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Aaron Latham's "Golden Boy" — Great Theater for a Great Cause! "Hedy!" — A New Show About Miss Lamarr and Her Inventive Mind Premieres in New York.

“HOPE IS a waking dream,” said Aristotle.
AS YOU may know, people with Parkinson’s disease are encouraged to take up boxing to improve their physical well-being! (Any kind of physical activity is encouraged, but boxing seems to be particularly therapeutic and helpful.)

So when my friend, the writer Aaron Latham, was felled with this disease he punched back! He recovered his ability to balance and walk and he was soon a “success story” down at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Here, some of the greats at prize fighting have sparred. Over 100 movies have been filmed here — including Oscar-winners like “Raging Bull” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
Aaron Latham punching back!
Aaron, very much a part of what was called “new journalism” back in the day, wrote — among many other fine pieces — the article that inspired the movie “Urban Cowboy." He also co-wrote the screenplay to that John Travolta hit.  He is married to Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” fame.

Aaron, Lesley and their daughter, Taylor, joined with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and stoPD. Together, they dreamed up a truly unique money-raising effort.  Aaron recalled the famous 1930’s Clifford Odets' play about boxing titled “Golden Boy.” It had been a hit onstage and was later  made into a popular Barbara Stanwyck movie. (The film also introduced a new star named William Holden.)
Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden in "Golden Boy "
Aaron looked over the original play, and found it held up well. He cast it with several actors who are living and working with Parkinson’s.

Alex Montaldo, one of the stars in “Golden Boy.”
A number of them are denizens of Gleason’s Gym. Directed by Aaron, it played nights in the Gym late last month, and made some money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and stoPD’s fight. (Alex Montaldo, one the stars of the show, and his wife, Roberta — a Parkinson’s medical researcher — run the Boxing for Parkinson’s program.)

The production has been the talk of Broadway, both on and off. Plans are on-going to take this unusual revival uptown, or wherever.

Many friends of Lesley, Taylor and Aaron have supported this effort – I’ll name  one or two (Diane Sawyer and Peggy Noonan). They have joined with the regulars from the Gym and Actors Equity and the effort to expand the show is underway.  Every cast member was superb — those with and without Parkinson’s. (I can’t name them all. There are too many.) Stay tuned! They are all pros now. You’ll be hearing more about this unusual fight against Parkinson’s. Let’s hope it leads to a total knockout.

I am so proud of my hero, Aaron Latham, a fellow Texan. He proved to be a gifted adaptor and director. You might consider joining The Michael J. Fox Foundation and stoPD in this particular prize fight for the cure.
Lesley and Aaron.
“YOUR arms were quicksand.  Your kiss was death. The name Delilah will be curse on the lips of men.”

That is a justifiably piqued Victor Mature in Cecile B. DeMille’s 1949 blockbuster “Samson and Delilah.” 

After slipping something into his wine, Delilah — a woman scorned — administered to Samson a fairly radical haircut, robbing him of his famous strength. The Philistine’s were then able to capture and enslave him.
Delilah was played, of course by Hedy Lamarr, who even as her career began to wander off, was still considered the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, indeed the world. Certainly director DeMille thought so and hired her for his Paramount Studios epic.

MGM  had brought Hedy from Austria, after studio execs got a gander of her brief nude romp in a movie titled “Ecstasy.”
Lamarr, after such films as “Algiers,” “Lady of the Tropics,” “White Cargo,” Tortilla Flat,” “Comrade X,” and “Her Highness and the Bellboy,” wasn’t getting any younger, and seemed less than enthusiastic about her career — she turned down “Casablanca” and several other films that would have prolonged her popularity.  MGM boasted that they had “more stars than there were in heaven” and as Hedy’s box-office faltered, the studio began promoting teen-age Elizabeth Taylor as its new brunette “most beautiful ...” powerhouse.
Hedy alongside Charles Boyer in “Algiers."
With Clark Gable in "Comrade X."
With Robert Taylor in “Lady of the Tropics."
And with John Garfield in "Tortilla Flat."
Hedy saw the handwriting on the wall — movie studios, then and now, were never subtle — and she accepted what would become her last and biggest hit, as well as the role for which she would be most identified.  (Despite her incredible beauty, Hedy was rather offhand about the mythmaking that went into stardom. “Any girl can be glamorous” she said.  “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”  Later, she was less sanguine, and attempted to preserve the almost eerie symmetry of her features with incautious plastic surgery.  )
The success of “Samson and Delilah” was sensational. And Hedy, who could be a sometimes placid personality onscreen, was quite vivid as history’s most famous barber. But it didn’t help her career much.  The best thing she got was “My Favorite Spy” with Bob Hope. A few European oddities (“The Loves of Three Queens,” “The Story of Mankind” — as Joan of Arc!)
Hedy in “My Favorite Spy” with Bob Hope.
Finally, in 1957 came “The Female Animal” for Universal.  In this she was a fading movie star with a drinking problem and a resentful daughter — played by another MGM discard, Jane Powell!  And that, as they say, was that.  Lamarr never made another movie.

There were problems for the much-married Hedy, including a highly publicized shoplifting incident, and an even more publicized autobiography, titled “Ecstasy and Me.”  Eventually, she settled in Florida, and died in 2000. 
Hedy's final film.
What the public didn’t realize is that behind her perfect features was a clever mind.  She kept an eye and ear open during her first marriage to Austrian arms dealer Fritz Mandl.  Later, during World War II, as an American citizen, she employed this knowledge, with the help of composer George Antheil, to invent a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes.  Although her work was actually not applied until the 1960’s the principals of the movie queen’s inventive skill survive in cell phones, GPS and a myriad of other wireless systems. (Steve Jobs, I hope you are paying proper deference to Miss Lamarr in that big tech lab in the sky!)
ON NOVEMBER 9th — Miss Lamarr’s 102nd birthday — at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street) the world premiere of “Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr” opens.  It has been written and will be performed by Heather Massie, directed by Joan Kane.  This performance is said to be sold out, but a few press seats are still available.  However, on November 11th, in celebration of Veteran’s Day, “Hedy!” will go on again, at 7:30 p.m.
Ms. Massie has an extensive resume as a writer and solo performer — not to mention a stint as Cultural Envoy to Zimbabwe, during the 2008 Intwasa Arts Festival. She has always been fascinated with the arts and science. (She studied astrophysics and theater in Virginia, graduating Summa Cum Laude.)   In Hedy Lamarr, Massie found a perfect combination of her two great interests. 

“Hedy!” is being presented as part of the United Solo Theatre Festival.  For tix info call 212-239-6200.
Heather Massie as Hedy Lamarr.
Miss Lamarr, years after she had bewitched Walter Pidgeon, and the world, as native girl Tondelayo in “White Cargo,” delivered one of the most potent quotes ever about fame and its effect:

“After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty."

Contact Liz here.