Sunday, March 13, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Money Changes Everything

John and Susan Gutfreund in the early '90s. Photo by Jill Krementz. All rights reserved
by Liz Smith

Re-Inventing Sherlock Holmes (Again!) ... Celebrating Johnny Mercer ... Loving (and Loathing!) the Scarily Sexy Claire Underwood.

"WEALTH IS
the ability to fully experience life," said Henry David Thoreau.

Some might quibble with this — after all, people of modest means can fully experience life, yes?

But as Cyndi Lauper sang, "Money Changes Everything," and that change usually makes people very happy, sometimes even forever.
John loved talking movies.
I SEE that a major star of 1980's Wall Street — John Gutfreund — has died at 86.

Mr. Gutfreund's attractive wife Susan, is still an accepted member of yesterday's "those who count" brigade. John was head of Salomon Brothers. He was forced to resign in 1991 after being embroiled in the scandal over illegal bids for Treasury bonds.

The New York Times obituary refers to John as "the king of Wall Street" and describes him as having a gruff demeanor and employing foul language over his ever-lit cigar.

The Gutfreunds were extravagant in their heyday — renting a British castle and a French museum for parties and using the Concorde for weekends. That kind of stuff. Like you wouldn't rent a castle if you could? Be honest!

Nowhere does John Gutfreund get a positive word from the Times. But every time I saw him, he would take me aside saying, "Liz, let's talk movies!" and he would talk about what he'd seen and ask what I'd seen. He was an avid movie buff, knowing who was who and mentioning every big star here and abroad. So, I liked John Gutfreund and was always pleased to see him.

In matters of social climbing and acceptance, money is always the great unifier/pacifier and the Gutfreunds seem to continue apace in New York and abroad.
John and Susan Gutfreund in 1991. Photograph by Ron Galella.
Speaking of the Gutfreunds, in my memoir, "Natural Blonde," I wrote of being invited by Malcolm Forbes to go ballooning in Normandy:

"I was in hog heaven when the Gutfreunds arrived from Paris and Susan asked me what one was supposed to wear to dinner. I figured if a very rich woman whose neighbor is Hubert de Givenchy didn't know what to wear to dinner in Normandy, then I was home free. I told her that the night before I'd seen the King of Romania in a red shirt by Ralph Lauren's Polo."
John and Susan at their New York home in 2015.
THE NEVER-ENDING re-invention of Sherlock Holmes continues. After Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, we'll soon be getting something entirely different from those imaginative folks at the Aquila Theatre group.

In April the GK ArtsCenter in Brooklyn, and the Queens Theater, in Corona, NY, will present productions of "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" starring Miss Jackie Schram. Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth will undergo a sex change! Director Desiree Sanchez has presented a faithful adaptation of three of the famed author's tales of skullduggery, off-set by an extremely modern staging — a 21st century film noir mood, so I've heard. Sounds like fun! For info, click here.
Miss Jackie Schram as Sherlock Holmes.
IF YOU love lovely music, then do get yourself over to The Studio Theater on Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street) for "Accentuate The Positive ... The Songs of Johnny Mercer." A cast of six — Stephen Belida, Tom Hafner, Lynne Halliday, Lou Steele, Madison Stratton and Carey Van Driest — perform some of lyricist/singer Mercer's great hits, such as "Moon River," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Days of Wine and Roses" "Hurray for Hollywood," "Goody Goody" "Blues in The Night," "One for My Baby (And One More For The Road)" "On The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe," "In the Cool, Cool Cool of the Evening" and "That Old Black Magic." (Legend has it that Johnny wrote the lyrics to "That Old Black Magic" after his affair with Judy Garland, inspired by her large, deep brown eyes. However, Mercer himself said that "I Remember You" was his truest, most intimate, musical tribute to Judy.)

Gwen Arment directs this revue, which opens on March 24th. Call 212-239-6200. Five performances only!
Both in the same lot — Johnny and Judy.
NOW THAT I have Netflix, I take full advantage of it, binge-watching all manner of things, including an absurd series titled "Reign" which is supposed to be about the early life of Mary, Queen of Scots. It is wildly inaccurate, historically, but rather fun. Everybody is deliciously pretty, and young. Even the "older" people look great. I haven't gotten to season three yet, but performance-wise, I give top marks to Megan Follows who plays the wicked Catherine d'Medici. Megan carries on like a 16th-century Alexis Carrington Colby. With more than a little bit of poisoning thrown in. (Unlike the much-maligned Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine really was a nasty piece of work, who never shied away from putting an end to disagreements with some deadly nightshade. Of course, in "Reign" she's evil beyond all bounds of reason — a big, silly hoot, this show.)
Adelaide Kane as Mary, Queen of Scots and Megan Follows as Catherine de medici.
Not so silly is the 4th season of "House of Cards" which I gulped down in one scary night. (You'd think with real-life politics so terrifying, I'd shy away, but I guess I love to suffer!)

I won't spoil anything. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, the Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth of Washington D.C., are as monstrous as ever. But it is Wright, as inhuman icicle Claire Underwood who dominates. What a woman — or robot! Miss Wright's control of her body, her face, showing only the merest flicker of emotion — and rarely a tender one — is astonishing. As I think I mentioned last year, Claire is so obviously built out of steel, that has been buried in the Artic, it's absurd to think she could ever have been a successful political wife — now the First Lady. After five minutes of conversation with Claire, ordinary people — even the jaded denizens of D.C. would run screaming from her presence.
Robin Wright dominates in season 4 of "House of Cards."
Putting a fine, fetish-y point on her unpardonably cruel vibe, are the four and half inch heels she favors, 24/7. Women suffer high heels to make themselves look "sexier." Claire wears them as a further emblem of her power, her control. There is sex-appeal in Claire, but it's the type one rarely acquiesces to without making sure there's a first-aid kit nearby!

Robin Wright has the best posture of any actress I've seen since the salad days of Lana Turner.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.