Friday, November 11, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Life Begins at Forty

Sophie Tucker — “I buy my own diamonds and orchids.”
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Finally Friday! Sophie Tucker ... Bette Midler ... Donna Murphy ... Brad Pitt ... Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

“I WAS in bed last night with my boyfriend Ernie, and he said to me ‘Soph, you got no tits and a tight box.’ I said to him ‘Ernie get off my back.’

That was — and likely still is, when the mood hits her — the Divine Bette Midler, relating one of her many “Sophie Tucker jokes.”

These — and others even raunchier — were usually interspersed with Bette’s rollicking rendition of “Pretty Legs, Great Big Knockers.”
Tucker, a rowdy, no-nonsense, leather-lunged, much beloved vaudevillian, did tell her share of “blue” tales. But the majority of Bette’s material was courtesy of writer Bruce Vilanch, who melded some of Sophie’s stuff with other low-down jokes of the era, and refashioned them for his friend, Miss Midler. (I might be wrong, but I think Vilanch also composed “Pretty Legs…” I’ve searched Google to no avail to pin down the composer. Finding the lyrics is much easier.)

I thought of Bette and Soph and Ernie for two reasons.
One, on November 12th — tomorrow! — The Ziegfeld Society presents Cheryl Ann Allen in her much-admired “Sophie Tucker: In Person” one-woman show. Happening at Lang Recital Hall (69th Street between Park and Lex), this is a comic/dramatic/musical tribute to “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” Tucker, who made her stage debut in 1907, was working until the year of her death in 1967 (an Ed Sullivan appearance where she sang, with still-startling brio, “One of These Days” — also a stint at New York’s Latin Quarter  just weeks before lung and kidney cancer finally felled her.)
Cheryl Ann Allen in her “Sophie Tucker: In Person” one-woman show.
I wish I’d been on the ball and written this up sooner, but perhaps a few tix are still available.

Tucker was something of an early feminist. Or at least she didn’t give a damn. Her three early marriages ended because as she freely admitted, success had made her too independent to cater to any man. “I buy my own diamonds and orchids” she said. She never apologized for an interest in sex or tried to disguise the fact that youth had fled. (One of her most popular — and randy — tunes was “Life Begins at Forty.”)
And although Mae West would have died before admitting it, she picked up a lot of her style from Sophie — and others on the early vaudeville circuit. But Miss West preferred to present herself as having sprung fully formed from the head of ... Mae West.

Call 917-371-5509 and see if you can squeeze in.
NOW, what is the second reason I thought of Bette? Well, I missed the star’s annual Hula-ween gala this year, which was an unhappy thing. It is  always such a fun event.

But I was chatting with a friend who had attended, telling me all about the costumes and the presence of the ebullient Miss M herself, who was all done up like her witch character from the movie “Hocus Pocus.”
Bette as Winifred Sanderson, her iconic character from the 1993 cult classic "Hocus Pocus."
Suddenly, I recalled lunching with Midler, years ago. (If memory serves it that was a time just before the internet conquered the world and our lives.)

The only thing I recall specifically was Bette saying words to the effect that “my professional life is over, and I’m not sad. I can walk down the street and nobody recognizes me!” She seemed quite sincere, although I silently questioned that she could go anywhere unrecognized (the entire restaurant was staring at her) or that she was really serious about her “professional life.” I merely said, “Well, isn’t that a good thing, if you want it?” I put a little emphasis on “good” and “want.” Whatever Bette answered, she was wrong. Her professional life has continued. And not just performing onstage (so marvelous as super-agent Sue Mengers in “I’ll Eat You Last”) the fabulous years in Las Vegas, making records or even the occasional movie.
Bette threw herself into her New York Restoration Project, determined to keep our concrete city, as green and beautiful as possible. It has been a labor of love and ferocious commitment. She is a heroine to those who love Manhattan.

And of course, we eagerly await Bette’s  triumph in the revival of “Hello, Dolly!” at the Shubert Theater (previews begin in March, opening night April 20th.)

Oh, and here’s this, which I caught in last week’s New York magazine — the great Donna Murphy, two-time Tony winner, will step in for Bette on Tuesday night performances, giving Midler a bit of a rest. I don’t think anybody who chooses to see Miss Murphy — who has her own passionate fan base — will be disappointed. She’s brilliant.

BRAD PITT finally emerged from seclusion, in the wake of his coming divorce and the messy custody battle with Angelina Jolie. He attended an L.A. screening of the gorgeous, deeply affecting film, “Moonlight” on which he served as one of the producers. (“Moonlight” is so subtle and mortally moving, that I have been struggling to do it justice here. Superlatives, big adjectives, seem too much and yet not enough, you know? Just go see it!)

Also in Hollywood, Brad appeared on the red carpet for the premiere of his World War II romance-thriller, “Allied.” Impending divorce suits Mr. Pitt. He looked remarkably refreshed. Much younger than in the last shots I caught of him. Just saying.
... Meryl Streep will receive the prestigious Cecile B.DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes gala next year. For some reason, I thought Meryl had already copped this award years ago! She’s won everything else that hasn't been nailed down. For the record, Miss Streep won 8 Golden Globes and been nominated 29 times.

She will likely be nominated again for her work in “Florence Foster Jenkins” as the talentless opera singer. I hope her co-star Hugh Grant is rewarded as well. I don’t think I’ve appreciated him as much in anything, as I did in this. And all his recent interviews have been little miracles of wit, charm and revelatory self-deprecation.  
ENDQUOTE: From Amanda Marcotte, on “We cannot, it turns out, square the notion that a woman can be both ambitious and good. Ambition continues to be seen as an unnatural quality in a woman, an indication that she must be a wicked witch casting spells to destroy ... any woman who has risen so high must have darkness in her soul. If we cannot find it, we will invent it.”
Reuters/Brian Snyder
Contact Liz here.