Monday, October 10, 2016

LIZ SMITH: One last time

A fresco of a dinner in Pompeii.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

New York Magazine Brilliantly Ponders "Eight Years In America." Also — Celine Dion ... Joel Grey ... The Masked Ball of The Harlem School of Arts ... Yul Brynner. And the almost-last photos of Marilyn — she returned, one last time, to the beach, where her fame was born.

“THE COY weekly striptease of network TV now seems quaintly anachronistic, and TV as a whole feels less like an all-you-can-eat buffet of delights than the overkill of the apocryphal Roman vomitoria ... and what’s striking is that, in a cultural era characterized by a battle over our ever-more-fractured attention, we proved so willing to hand over our attention in bulk.”

Dan Winters for New York Magazine.
That’s Adam Sternbergh, writing — in last week’s New York magazine — about the ongoing and not-letting-up phenomenon of “binge-watching” TV, which began, officially, when Netflix released the entire first season of “House of Cards” in 2013.  Wow, only three years, and yet it seems like 30!  (And as we have admitted here, we are not adverse to the lunacy of episode binging, even though the morning mirror says, “Really?  You couldn’t wait? Look at those eyes!” Time to get out the Pan-Stick.”)

I have kept this issue of New York by my bedside and on the couch, because it’s massive. I’m still reading and absorbing.  The issue covers eight years in America — the Obama years. The good, bad and misapplied intentions — the pop culture fripperies and political machinations.

I was particularly moved by Mark Lilla’s “The Absurdity of Hope” essay on page 36.   This deserves a careful read.  I especially liked his description of President Obama, once he took office: “Obama did what grown up politicians do; He got to work. He learned and talked to experts; he read documents and stayed up late.  He was responsible.  He also refused to be the nation’s Chief Happiness Officer and gave up telling us bedtime stories.  For this, he was punished ... you can see the parental weariness on our president’s face when he has to deal with us. When he wonders, will they ever grow up?”
Author Mark Lilla muses: “The answer is never. Because we treat reality as a punishable offense.”

There is so much quality and food for thought in this issue of New York.  I tip my hat to every writer, photographer and editor who made it possible. I also nod to the positives of the Internet — I’m sure the entire issue is available online, for those who missed it on newsstands.
Photograph by Dan Winters
THIS N’ That:

On Saturday, Celine Dion celebrated performing 1,000 shows at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace.  Dion has been such a potent draw that the powers at Caesar’s gifted the Azar/Angelil Oncology Research Fund with a $100,000 donation. (Dion’s husband, Rene Angelil died this year after a long battle with cancer.)  And Miss Dion’s heart and show will go on. Twenty-four new shows have been added to her 2017 schedule in Vegas. Visit
... The Harlem School of Arts hosts its annual Gala Masquerade Ball on Halloween, October 31 at the Plaza Hotel.  There will be masks, fun and music (DJ D-Nice).  Singer/songwriter Michael Feinstein, actress Sanaa Lathan and her dad director/producer Stan Lathan will receive awards. Students and alumni perform. CK Swett is set to preside over the live auction.  For info go to
... SAVE the date.  On December 5th, Broadway’s mighty Joel Grey will receive the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theater. (I want to give him one for lifetime achievement as a wonderful human being!)  This happens at The Asia Society (725 Park Ave.) “Abundant” cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be available before the ceremony and performances begin.  Broadway’s elite is sure to be on hand.  Call 212-935-5824, ext 214.
Ken Fallin
... I’VE been meaning to comment on several marvelous pages in a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter. They were devoted to color photos taken by Yul Brynner during the production of “The Ten Commandments” which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.   (Yul was the hot vengeful pharaoh to Charlton Heston’s hot holy Moses. Anne Baxter slithered around as Nefretiri — she went beyond hot!)
Yul Brynner's shot of Heston being attended to on the set of The Ten Commandments. Photo: Yul Brynner/CPi Syndication.
Yul was a wonderful photographer who was rarely without a camera in hand. Many of his images were seen in the lush 2012 book, “Yul: A Photographic Journey,” which I believe is now out of print.  But he took thousands!  I hope his daughter Victoria, who tends to her father’s legend and works so affectionately and diligently, puts out another collection of Yul’s perceptive perspective, through the lens.
Brynner behind the camera. Photo: Yul Brynner/CPi Syndication.
LAST WEEK, photographer George Barris died at the age of 94.  New reports of his death stated that he had taken “the last professional photos of Marilyn Monroe” before her death.  As with almost all things MM, this was not quite true.  Alan Grant, assigned by Life magazine actually shot the very last Monroe pix, to accompany Marilyn’s famous interview with Richard Meryman, which hit newsstands two days before she died.
Marilyn by George Barris.
Barris, who’d met and photographed the star in 1954, during the filming of “The Seven Year Itch” did photograph MM about five weeks before her passing, for Cosmopolitan magazine. (He would later claim he and Marilyn were working on her “autobiography.”  Given that she was just 36, this seems unlikely.  But he did, in time, get a book out of it, as did, it seems, everybody who ever passed MM on the street!)
MM photographed by George Barris for Cosmopolitan Magazine, 1962.
Barris was a sweet guy, who liked Marilyn a lot.  He took hundreds and hundreds of photos of her over a two day period in 1962.  Like Bert Stern, who had just shot her for Vogue, Barris eventually ended up releasing every single frame of his subject.  And like Stern, he was not judicious in his editing or over-concerned with re-touching; catching her between poses, awkward shots, allowing bruises on her leg and hip that could have been easily retouched.  (I found Bert’s actions mean-spirited. Marilyn had dismissed his amorous overtures during their sessions. I think Barris simply didn't think it through.  Or maybe he was looking to present her as more human and natural.)
The maturing, still ravishing Marilyn, captured by Barris, before her final romp on the beach — farewell to the pin-up.
However, among the many, many Barris portraits, the most enduring and timeless are those on taken on the beach, a day-long session of the star romping in a tangerine bikini, wrapped in various sweaters and towels. The stiffly styled 1960s hair collapsed under the wind and water, as MM ran in and out of the surf.  The hot sun began to bring out the freckles on her pale tender skin, the foundation makeup washed away, the eyeliner smudged.  Monroe, born in Hollywood, was the ultimate California beach girl.  In many of these almost-at-the-end shots, she summons the young model and pin-up who would transform into one of the greatest stars in Hollywood history, during her own lifetime. 
It was an image — deliciously youthful and juicy — that couldn’t last.  Indeed, she was losing it to lovely, elegant maturity, and a more haunting, troublesome fragility. (This was an inevitable transition that she wasn’t sure how to embrace.)  But for a few hours, during one golden day on the beach, George Barris recaptured much more of hopeful Norma Jeane, rather than wary, disillusioned Marilyn Monroe.
SOMETIMES the gremlins of technology must have their way.  We receive messages now and then complaining that once reaching the New York Social Diary page, when they click on the Liz Smith column, a message comes up, saying” “Page Does Not Exist.” (We try not to take this as a critique of our efforts here.)  But the NYSD heading and various places is still there. 

SO, navigate your cursor to where it says “Diary Features.”  Click on that.  The Liz Smith column headline should appear.  Click on that. The entire column, with photos, appears.  Yeah, I know, several extra clicks.  It’s a drag.  But it doesn’t happen every day.  However, if it does, try to remember those extra moves.  If you think it’s worth all that clicking.

(The NYSD’s brilliant Jeffrey Hirsch always fixes the glitch in a sec, but this is for those who are impatient.)

Contact Liz here.