Friday, December 16, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Nothing succeeds like excess

The Queen of The Court of Enchanted Dance, Lucie Carr Armstrong, at the Queens Ball Fiesta with her nephew John Barclay Armstrong, Menger Hotel, 1955. From Bruce Weber's New Book, "Wild Blue Yonder." Photograph by Toni Frisell. Courtesy of Sarita Armstrong Hixon.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Bruce Weber's Big New Book — "Wild Blue Yonder" and Beyond That! Remembering My Old Friend (And Master of My "Natural Blonde-ness") Vincent Roppatte ... Vanity Fair Salutes Elizabeth Taylor.

“THE BEAUTY of the universe consists not only of unity in variety, but also of variety in unity,” said Umberto Eco.
Click to order Bruce Weber's All-American All-American XVI.
A FABULOUS fantastic gift arrived. I could just call it a “book,” but that wouldn’t do it justice. It is offered by the great photographer Bruce Weber and his first Lt, and spouse, Nan Bush.

Bruce loves big dogs, big stars, titans of Rock ‘n’ Roll past and present, music and all things “cowboy.” Bruce, here, has presented us with — believe it or not — much more! He has put it all under the title “Wild Blue Yonder,” also identified as “All-American Vol. XVI.” (Bruce is a true believer in Oscar Wilde’s dictum, “nothing succeeds like excess.” His books are always huge, adventurous, beautifully exhausting, sometimes confounding.)

This presentation of vast other talents than his own, have caught Bruce’s favor. It opens with a photo of Jesus, his sacredness caught in the tentacles of a big snake. And the full book is divided by these chapter titles: “The Big Empty: Adventures Along the Back Roads of Texas” ... “The Power of Presence: Father Michael Pfelger and the Faith Community of Saint Sabina” ... “Vanished Kingdoms, artist Zaria Forman” ... “Double Great Biaggio, Ali Smith” ... “Unfinished Business” ... “Detective First Grade Terry McGhee” ... “Barton Myers, the House at Toro Canyon” ... “Soul Catcher” ... “Designer Bill Whatten.”
Kline Brothers, Presidio, Texas.
Biaggio Ali-Walsh.
Did this all set your head spinning? It did mine and you’ll see why if you start turning pages from the beginning. The listings began —
(1) “Buckeroos The Kline Brothers” of Alison Ranch.
(2) A poem by Leonard Cohen “Ballad of the Absent Mare.”
(3) “Not Your Typical Cowpokes: Memories from the Armstrong Ranch.” The family has been photographed by Tom Frisell.
(4) Liz Smith’s recipe for the Lone Star State’s classic Chicken Fried Steak.
(5) On making “Paris, Texas” by Wim Wenders
(6) An excerpt from the book and movie “Giant” by Edna Ferber
(7) On the set of George Steven’s “Giant”, photographs by Sid Avery and Richard C. Miller. (Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Dean, Carroll Baker, captured candidly on the set of that epic movie in the little town of Marfa. Now, Marfa is an art center to the max.

Naturally, I was amazed to find my recipe situated among so many writers and photographers. What did I do to deserve such an honor? (Well, everyone is deserving of a delicious, different recipe.)
Detective Terry McGhee.
Bruce Weber gives over the last half of this astounding book to Chicago’s South Side, “Black Lives Matter,” environmentalist Zaria Forman, sports giants, and such legends as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Lionel Ritchie, Elton John. He also presents New York’s hero, Terry McGhee, who worked so diligently at New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The end page is a poetic song by Allen Ginsberg! No publisher is listed but you can surely trace this down in all the best bookstores. You can find and order this book by calling The Weber Studio at 212-226-0814 or by clicking here.
Father Michael Pfelger and the Faith Community of Saint Sabina.
Vincent and Diane.
MY friend, Vincent Roppatte, master of hair color and cut, died of cancer on Dec 13th. I met Vincent when he was about 17 and working for the Enrico Beauty Salon on East 55th Street.

Vincent was not enamored of my modest Texas gal allure. He constantly urged me to become a “natural” blonde, and to use make-up. (A quick smear of lipstick just didn’t do it in Vincent’s opinion — and probably others agreed, but were not as candid.) I finally did take his advice when I began appearing on TV. What started off as subtle streaks and highlights eventually became a full head of blonde tresses, which, much to my surprise, many new acquaintances, took to be my own shade, more or less.

I introduced Vincent to Diane Sawyer one day backstage at Carnegie Hall. She took him on and the result — Vincent became very well known and sometimes, not surprisingly, a bit impossible. (Give somebody power over your physical appearance — especially your hair! — and you can expect an outpouring of opinions, not just on the density of your follicles, but all manner of things.  And, most vitally, an expectation of total fealty; one must not even encourage the glance of a competitor!)

But he was a loyal and extremely talented friend. His patrons at Saks 5th Ave. will miss him. I will too.
VANITY FAIR magazine has put out a luscious tribute to the star of stars, Miss Elizabeth Taylor. It arrived in time to be near World AIDS Day (December 1st) and anticipates what would have been La Liz’s 85th birthday on February 27th. 

The magazine special contains some of VF’s best stories on Taylor, and a trove of photos. I suppose things like this will have to do, until somebody digs in and decides to do a comprehensive biography on the star. 

A few years back, I compiled a lengthy list of those who are still alive and active who knew and worked with Elizabeth.  In the ensuing time, a couple of those people have, unfortunately fallen off the list, but most remain among us.

If Taylor’s MGM years are now a bit cloudy — she began there as a child, after all — one must not forget that the star worked as an actress, businesswoman and, most vitally, an AIDS activist — until her death at age 79. 
There was constant, crippling pain and fewer public appearances in the last years, but she retained much of her zest for life, a life lived within the cozy confine of her beloved Bel Air house, always filled with family and pets.

I suggested, back when I made my list, that a new biographer might want to skip the well-worn early years at MGM, the great Burton “Cleopatra” scandal and even much of that marriage. Liz n’ Dick, after about five years wed (and two as “illicit” lovers) had burned themselves out. But they struggled on for another five, buried under an extravagant lifestyle, increasingly isolated, numbed by liquor and fame.
Mrs. Warner — not the typical Senator's spouse. Oh, please, no ... we're just trying to have a quiet evening alone, together. I wonder how they recognized us, Richard?
(She remained madly devoted.  But he was increasingly agitated by the chaos of their life, her neediness, and his obsessive identification as a Faust figure; selling his soul for the world’s most beautiful woman and all that she brought him, in terms of money and public recognition.)
Left: Hollywood, 1987: Taylor in the midst of the second, of three great "comebacks."
A better starting point would be July, 1973, New York City, when Elizabeth shocked the world by splitting from Richard, declaring in a dramatic handwritten note, “Perhaps we have loved each other too much.” They would dally with others, remarry and divorce again.  But Elizabeth’s life, for the next twenty years, would be packed with a lot of work, drama, trauma and her greatest achievement — championing the AIDS cause. (Only a precipitous decline in her health would slow her down, somewhat.)

In two decades, ET lived five of her nine (or ten!) lives. That great book is waiting. Somebody get started!
Contact Liz here.