Monday, April 18, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Museums, Movie Queens, Jackie Rogers, and Prince Harry

Katharine Hepburn.
by Liz Smith

Museums ... Movie Queens ... Jackie Rogers ... and Prince Harry.

A fragmentary marble head of Alexander the Great.
"GORGEOUS AND beauty-loving, culturally inquisitive and ravenous with ambition, Alexander embarked on what amounts to a world tour based on military conquest ... He spread the Hellenic spirit as he went ... history is the subject of the Met show. Alexander is everywhere in the opening gallery. A marble portrait head ... likely reflects what the ruler looked like: generically dishy with a designer haircut, Justin Bieber with gravitas."

So writes Holland Cotter in his New York Times review of the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World," which runs through July 17th.

Even if I wasn't as interested in antiquity as I am, I'd be hot to see this exhibit based on Cotter's's article alone — it's luscious, erudite writing, on a luscious, erudite period in history when beauty and "exotic fabulousness" ruled Alexander the Great and the world he made.
A marble statue of a sleeping hermaphrodite.
Workshop of Bernardino Lunii, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels, mid-16th century.
MORE MUSEUM news (because I know you all want to get away from obsessing over politics, glued to cable TV, screaming pointlessly at the screen. Or is that just me?)

The Brooklyn Museum has just announced that its American and European galleries have been "refreshed and reorganized." Also, two thirds of the museums famous Egyptian galleries are spruced up beautifully, too.

As part of the American Galleries reopening, the Brooklyn Museum will display a signed, original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation for three months. (The official proclamation resides at the National Archives in Washington D.C. — the only place in the U.S. that celebrates Emancipation Day, which was last Saturday, by the way. The museum is showing one of forty-six copies known to exist, individually signed by President Lincoln.)

One of the new exhibits is titled "The City and the Rise of the Modern Woman." This is a theme as sweeping as, well — Alexander conquering the world! For more info go to
More museum fun takes place this Wednesday, April 20th at The Brooklyn Artists Ball. It's already sold out so you'll have to hide behind the Madonna and Child to get in!
AFTER WRITING about Katharine Hepburn's first movie, "A Bill of Divorcement" we received a note to the effect that Kate left a $50 million estate, so she surely did something right, after her iffy beginning.

She sure did! And that led me to mull over who, of the great, grand ladies of moviedom's golden age — and a bit beyond — could be legitimately called "The Greatest Star."

Hepburn, worked from 1932 to 1994, and while she made some silly movies along the way, she never had to wear a fright wig or wield an ax. Still, her legend and image took a long time to gell, and she was not a consistent box-office favorite.
Joan Crawford began in silent films, and made her final movie, "Trog" in 1970. She reinvented herself countless times over the decades — rising from a truly miserable childhood — and had it not been for her daughter's "Mommie Dearest" memoir and the subsequent movie, Crawford's legacy would not be particularly stained. (She might have been an artificial person, but she was the genuine article as a star.)
Marlene Dietrich also started her film career before movies talked, and before that she was a well-known Berlin cabaret entertainer. Dietrich rigorously, magically, maintained her beauty and glamour, was a heroine in World War II, went back to being a glorious chanteuse on stages worldwide, and retired in 1977, unable to face her public as an old, infirm woman. (But she still had all her marbles and a wicked, scathing tongue. She died in 1992.)
Bette Davis, after an astonishing career at Warner Bros. and an immortal return to glory in "All About Eve" survived her string of late-career shockers by "being Bette Davis" in countless TV interviews, in which she was brilliant, earthy and candid. And, at the end, battling cancer, strokes and an ungrateful daughter, Davis was magnificent in her courage.
Garbo didn't mean to retire forever in 1941, at the age of 36 — she was just waiting for the war to end — but somehow circumstances never seemed quite right for a comeback. Not making movies, fleeing paparazzi, walking alone in New York City, only increased her mythic stature.
Marilyn Monroe took it one step further by dying at 36! No star has ever, or will ever, turn death into such a fantastic career move. Had Monroe lived, even a few more years, the world would likely not still be obsessed with her.
And then there was Elizabeth Taylor, "the star of stars" as we always refer to her. La Liz really lived the life of a movie queen, she had it all — the husbands, the scandals, the illnesses, the jewels, the furs, the unprecedented salaries, the Oscars, the eye-makeup, too-fat, too thin, just right, the charity work, the children who really loved her, the unrelenting hold on media attention, long after her career had seen its best. And in the end, unlike Dietrich, this great beauty was unafraid to show herself to the world as age and illness ravaged her.
I'd have to place Barbra Streisand among these legends. And not just because she sang "I'm The Greatest Star" with such conviction! To me, Streisand is the last totally unique female star. She literally, with the force of her talent and personality, re-imagined how we looked at leading ladies, remade standards of onscreen beauty. She took no prisoners in her belief in what was right for herself. And she is still a work, a star, in progress.
No, I haven't forgotten Judy Garland, but her long career in a short life was cut in two parts — the divine MGM movie years and then, after the industry turned its back, the concert era, which allowed Garland to express her genius unfettered to audiences who worshipped her. She was probably the most naturally and exuberantly talented off all the above-mentioned women, and her appellation, "The World's Greatest Entertainer" cannot be denied.
I'd have to toss in Mae West for originality and a remarkable, oddly healthy, self-delusion ... Doris Day and Betty Grable for unparalleled box-office supremacy ... Lana Turner for surviving the ultimate scandal (her daughter killing her lover!) ... Barbara Stanwyck for so many things but especially her mortally moving final scene in "The Thorn Birds" ... Jean Harlow, so beloved, so appealing, so unlike her brassy image, dead at 26.

To be honest, I can't really decide. Can you?
The irrepressible designer Jackie Rogers, who first introduced me to Jack Nicholson (she knew them all) has sent me pictures of her recent Palm Beach creations.

She adds that "Wellington is more vital and the crowd is younger than dear old Palm Beach but the older I get," sez Jackie, "the more my fashions sell!"
Jackie's two dogs, Viva the Diva and Luv, also say hello!
OUR column has long appeared in The Palm Beach Post, as part of our syndication. So I'm going to give my friends down in hopefully sunny Florida some warm news.
Prince Harry — the single, hot one, with the sexy red hair — is coming Palm Beach way. He'll be in Wellington, the nearby "horsey" neighbor to Palm Beach, playing a polo match with Nacho Figueras.
Prince Harry with Nacho Figueras.
Proceeds go to Harry's charity, Sentebale, for African children fighting AIDS and HIV, which he founded in 2006. The matter of AIDS education and treatment was also a subject that very much concerned Harry's mother, Princess Diana. She, along with Elizabeth Taylor, was one of the first high-profile celebs to be photographed touching and embracing those afflicted with AIDS. This had enormous impact. But Diana's causes were varied and many. You'll recall she was also very involved in the matter of banning landmines in Angola and Bosnia. Diana walked across a field strew with live mines twice, because the photographers didn't quite get the shots they needed. (She wore a protective helmet.)
Diana and Harry.
Prince William, his wife, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry seem to be lovely people, and are doing the legacy of Diana proud. (They have brought to the often stultifying British monarchy more than a touch of humanity, without forsaking tradition.)

But what a pity that the complex, beautiful woman whom the world knew so much — and so little — about, did not live on. Not only would the ghastly, trashy sphere of today's celebrity scene be far more genuinely glamorous, I feel certain this often conflicted princess would have found fulfillment and peace of mind. And what pleasure her beautiful sons, daughter in-law and grandchildren would have provided. (Diana would be a youthful 54 now!)

Her story was, and remains, epic and haunting.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.