Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Remembering and "Becoming" Mike Nichols

by Liz Smith

Remembering and "Becoming" Mike Nichols ... Idris Elba Climbs Every "Mountain" ... Edith Finally Says it to Mary — "You're a Bitch!" (Edith honey, it took you six seasons for that revelation?)

"LIMITATIONS are inspiring: they lead to thinking, so I don't mind them," said Mike Nichols.

If Mike had limitations, he certainly hid them well!
I WOULDN'T have done anything else in the world Monday night, other than watch HBO's "Becoming Mike Nichols" An astute Douglas McGrath made this compelling documentary, which was produced by Frank Rich, who got Mike Nichols to sit down and talk for several hours with his friend the talented director Jack O'Brien. (It would be Mike's final interview.)
"MY Mike" is what all who knew the great director only slightly always says. Everybody wanted to be special to him. Like a lot of other people, I felt I was.

Watching Mike talk about directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, brought me back to when I joined the Burtons in Rome where they were filming "The Taming of the Shrew." I arrived just after Mike Nichols had been there. No doubt they were all congratulating themselves on the success of Mike's very first film, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" which won an Oscar for Elizabeth, but not, unfortunately, for Richard.
Mike Nichols with Elizabeth and Richard on the set of his very first film, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
"Becoming Mike Nichols" was filmed in the John Golden Theatre where Mike had enjoyed his hit show "An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May" back in 1960-1961.
What struck me about "Becoming Mike Nichols" was that the actor/director, who died only 3 months after it was made, explained many things I had never heard before, such as his rapture over seeing "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Brando and Jessica Tandy, or dealing with movie mogul Jack Warner, whom he refers to as "kind of a person."
JACK O' Brien does a marvelous job of drawing Mike out. For instance, we get Mike's discovery of Dustin Hoffman. And his penetrating, psychological view of "The Graduate." Also, all the "little" things he had to learn about filmmaking, fast, what with "Virginia Woolf" and "The Graduate" as his one-two punch, a dazzling beginning to his feature film career. (He would win an Oscar for "The Graduate." Incredibly, his only win!) Mike Nichols insists that Neil Simon's creation of "The Odd Couple" was a friendly comment on marriage and thought it was Simon's greatest work. HBO will be repeating "Becoming Mike Nichols." Check your local listings. Don't miss this.
I RECOMMEND that you buy the March issue of Vogue magazine — if you can lift it. Luscious advertisements take up half this heavy publication, but on page 328 appears a wonderful story about the coming Gloria Vanderbilt documentary, "Nothing Left Unsaid." The well-known documentarian Liz Garbus helmed this unusual glimpse of the still-vital Gloria, interviewed by her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Gloria was famous in her heyday for hanging out with Leopold Stokowski, whom she married, Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Frank Sinatra and these super names also include Anderson Cooper's own father Wyatt Cooper, who died all too young. The story in Vogue failed to add something I always thought was the funniest with Wyatt and Gloria reading his Mississippi newspaper with this headline: "Wyatt Cooper marries New York girl" without mentioning Gloria's famous name. "Nothing Left Unsaid" is yet another goodie from HBO.
Wyatt Cooper with his "New York Girl."
VOGUE also tells us that documentaries and books on the late Oscar de la Renta are coming. One book has an introduction by the always "out there" and delightful Andre Leon Talley. Also we'll soon have Billy Norwich's novel, "My Mrs. Brown." This is about a woman's search for the perfect de la Renta. The book debuts in April but is already an underground hit.
"YOU SEE, I told you how she is. I'm getting married and she's just lost her man. She can't stand to see me happy!"

So said Lady Edith, quite unwisely, as it turned out, over a "Downton Abbey" breakfast scene last Sunday. Naturally, Edith's rare spark of snark was all Lady Mary needed to spill the beans on her sister's secret, the true parentage of little Marigold. Edith's wedding, for the moment, at least, is off.
"I know you."
This was quite an episode, but I had to wonder, hasn't Edith been watching the same "DA" we have, the past six years? Lady Mary is not to be baited, especially after she's battled with one of her own suitors. The rest of the show had various characters lacing into Mary ("You are like most bullies, a coward at heart!") ... Mary weeping in front of her late hubby's grave ... The Dowager returning from abroad to settle the crisis, and of course a great suitcase packing scene in which Edith finally calls Mary a bitch! ("And you always have been ... who do you think you're talking to? Mama? Your maid?")
This episode ran about 70 minutes and couldn't have been more divine. (The downstairs dramas were equally entertaining — Mrs Patmore and her house of "ill repute!") The finale happens March 6th, and I think I'll either have a party or wear black and cry a lot.
Despite deliberately revealing Edith's secret (which had been kept from Mary for a year) I'm still Team Mary. Yes, Mary is a bitch, but she's upfront about it and almost always regretful afterward. (Alas, no bell can be un-rung.) She might be a handful with her men or her sister, but she's unfailingly kind to the servants, even the troublesome Barrow. She has more of a heart, in those matters, than the rest of her family. Edith, who was going to marry without telling all, is not as appealing, although she has become much more independent and less whiny. But, just as Mary does, Edith causes her own problems. (Don't we all?) Still, I am hoping for her happy ending, too.

The sisters did have a scene of rapprochement that was genuinely touching.
YESTERDAY, we reprinted a portion of a letter from a lady who had a great deal to say about the issue of diversity in Hollywood, and the current "scandal" over another all-white Oscar-nominee year.

So, today it's nice to report that the talented and sexy Idris Elba has just signed on for the romantic drama "The Mountain Between Us." It's about a man and a woman, strangers, who survive a plane crash — how they survive and how they learn to trust each other. At the moment, the director attached is Hany Abu-Assad.
Idris, who was so very good, and so very un-Oscar nominated in "Beasts of No Nation" is still being talked up as the potential first African American 007. Somehow, I just don't think the Broccoli family, which control the James Bond franchise, want to go that way. This doesn't make them racists, it just comes down to money, as everything in Hollywood (and the world) does. A Caucasian James Bond has made them gazillions of dollars, why mess with success? But, never say never again, which was the title of Sean Connery's final James Bond movie in 1983, after he swore on a stack of kilts he'd rather die than ask for another martini, shaken, not stirred.

So, anything is possible.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.