Friday, December 2, 2016

LIZ SMITH: I went to a mah-velous party!

Damian Lewis before he became "Big Red."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

My Night With Damian Lewis! More on Gloria Grahame (and Annette Bening)

“I WENT to a mah-velous party!” as Noel Coward once opined. And following in Noel’s footprints, so did I, your friend Liz.

This in the fabled La Grenouille restaurant on East 52nd Street off 5th Ave.

New Yorkers now consider it a “trek,” because the new Trump World has made all of 5th Ave. into an adventure, comparable with scaling Mt. Everest. Why? Because of the forbidding traffic. (But don’t pay any mind to that, because 3 million plus visitors keep coming to New York for the holidays!)
Anyway, La Grenouille; I began climbing the restaurant’s steep stairs when the place was under the original owner, the late M. Masson. It is still worth a climb!

This most recent party was hosted by a mysterious and charming man who prefers to be nameless. He had seated me at the very end of a table of VIP’s, with no one on my left. This gave me a golden opportunity to pay full attention to the really big movie-TV-stage actor on my right. He just happened to be one of the hottest men of the moment — Damian Lewis.
Born in Britain, he’s made his name here in Showtime’s “Homeland,” HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” He is the sizzle on the grill in another Showtime series, “Billions.” (Coming back for its second season on February 19th.) And Damian also scored big as Henry VIII on the BBC production of Hilary Mantel’s  “Wolf Hall.” Emmys and Golden Globes fill his shelves.
As Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody in “Homeland."
As Richard Winters in "Band of Brothers."
As Bobby Axelrod in “Billions.”
As Henry VIII in “Wolf Hall.”  
Across from the two of us was the die-hard pro-Hillary super-fan, the ebullient Liz Robbins. She saw me hand Mr. Lewis my card, as I was trying to impress him with my modesty! (I said to Damian, “This is who I used to be when I was a big deal back in the Dark Ages, before you were born.”) This enthusiastic good-hearted actor began to laugh and said, “I know exactly who you are.”

I answered brightly, “So you have nothing to fear.”  (We have never really met.  I’ve seen Damian, always looking sharp and sexy, at a number of events, screenings, mostly.  But I am actually rather shy, believe it or not.)

The entire dinner party was already stunned at  my “VIP” seat and many were getting ready to push me aside and mob Damian, or tell him that they, or their children/grandchildren adored him. But the ubiquitous Liz Robbins, naturally, began to compete with me for Damian’s attention. She told us all about herself, her hopes and dreams for a Clinton victory, despite all odds.
Our dinner partner Liz Robbins and Hillary before the big embrace a few years back.
Damian and I listened contentedly to this explanation of Robbins’ rave for Hillary Clinton. Then she paused. Damian spoke up. “So, you are actually a lobbyist with deep ties to Washington!”

This threw our end of the table into happy convulsions, because by now others were listening. The two Liz’s had scored big.

Damian Lewis turned out to be super smart, super nice, and proceeded to tell us about his two children in London and to laud his wonderful wife, the actress Helen McCrory. (Helen came to visit us and knelt down to chat during dessert.) When I told her how her husband had raved about her, she just laughed, saying, “He is SO lucky!”
Damian with his wonderful and talented wife, Helen McCrory.
Indeed, both these actors are a brilliant cut-above the rigors of mere TV, splashy publicity. In the first place, they are highly intelligent and realistic. Their multiple awards and honors would sink a large ship!

The two Liz's, Smith and Robbins.
And Helen is rumored to be coming soon to Broadway in “The Deep Blue Sea.”

If this little anecdote doesn’t exactly blow you away, well I want to give the two Liz’s, Smith and Robbins, their due when it comes to good luck and excellent seating.

Oh, about “Mrs. Damian Lewis,” not that anyone even calls her that, she has her own awards and is even better known than her husband in London.

She played Cherie Blair in “The Queen” ... she was seen in the last three Harry Potter films ... she is recognized as Polly Gray in “Peaky Blinders.”

She took one award from the very hand of my friend, Dame Helen Mirren.
Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair and Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton in “The Queen."
The Mrs. as Polly Gray in “Peaky Blinders.”
With Dame Helen Mirren.
And I, for one, have known some real stars instead of just celebrities selling fake diamonds and such on TV. Let’s just mention Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Jane Fonda, Maggie Smith, Cicely Tyson Lena Horne, Warren Beatty, George Clooney, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, and yes, even Dame Helen herself.

All in all, Damian Lewis was everything I’d imagined — and much more — then when I’d merely glimpsed him from afar, among the maddening crowd.
WE RECEIVED lots of comment on our little tribute here to Gloria Grahame and the lush Vincente Minnelli melodrama, “The Cobweb,” which Gloria dominated.  Included among the memories and appreciations of movie fans, was a note from her niece, Susan Silver: “One of her husbands (of three) was my uncle, Cy Howard, Hollywood funnyman and man about town. Gloria was sweet, and yes, troubled.” 
Gloria Grahame with Hollywood funnyman Cy Howard.
Susan also remarked on the little trick Gloria employed to make her already pouty mouth look poutier — she’d stuff cotton under her top lip.  I always wondered about this. Gloria’s pucker was admirably lush sans cotton. Oh, well, everybody has their insecurities. (I’ve also wondered if this wasn’t one of those legends that grew outside of realistic proportion, over the years.)
Gloria's pucker was enhanced by stuffing cotton under her top lip. 
But the big and important news about Miss Grahame is that a movie has been made about the last year or so of her life, titled “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” It stars the great Annette Bening as Gloria, and Jamie Bell as a young actor who becomes involved with her.  This is based on Peter Turner’s 1987 book about Gloria’s final months, attempting to work in a play, while suffering from cancer. (She did not, in fact, die in Liverpool. Two of her children flew her to Manhattan’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, and that is where the star passed on October 5th, 1981.)

Also appearing in this movie are Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters.  Boy, this really was done under the radar.  I can’t wait to see it. 
Annette Bening and Jamie Bell filming "Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool."
Speaking of Miss Bening, she remains a potent, welcome presence onscreen.  She is terrific in her husband, Warren Beatty’s new “Rules Don’t Apply,” playing the reasonably concerned mother of Lily Collins. (Lily is an aspiring actress, placed under one of Howard Hughes infamous contracts-to-nowhere.  Warren is the eccentric Hughes. She, Miss Collins, is also quite wonderful in the film; an exceptionally vivid and appealing young actress.)
Lily Collins and Annette Bening in her husband's “Rules Don’t Apply."
In any case, I’m glad Gloria Grahame is being remembered; even happier that a great and sympathetic actress such as Bening has the job.
Contact Liz here.