Thursday, October 6, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Surviving and Returning

Little Gloria Vanderbilt in Paris, ca. 1920s
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Surviving and Returning — Gloria Vanderbilt ... Liza Minnelli ... Rick Astley and — Chumley's restaurant! 

“GLORIA Vanderbilt was born in 1924, during an eclipse. This, she has said, was a sign her life would be chaotic.

“Given Gloria’s penchant for poetic prose and remembrance, her claim to be a child of a total lunar eclipse might seem fanciful, but check it out — it’s true, and whatever one thinks about signs and portents, it didn’t take long for Gloria’s life to descend into chaos. (Actually, Gloria imbues everything she says and writes with a kind of magical sincerity.  If she’d said unicorns had attended her birth, I’d find it difficult to disbelieve her.)”

So it is written in the Fall issue of Q magazine about designer/author/artist/survivor Gloria Vanderbilt, by Liz Smith. (The cover features a 1967 photo of Ali MacGraw, looking deliciously  autumnal.)

The editors at Q have done their usual splendid job of peppering the Smith prose with terrific photos of Gloria V. through the years, paying tribute to one of the most uniquely beautiful, recognizable faces in the world.

Perhaps the most evocative shot is the one that opens the article, a full-page black and white, undated. Gloria, in a white turtleneck is shown without her usual wide, flashing smile and, it appears, stripped of makeup.  It shows the quiescent face of a woman who has spent her life trying to understand what she was given (millions as a child) and what was taken away (her childhood). It is the face of a sphinx, not the glamorous sprite who, so Truman Capote claimed, was one of the inspirations for his Holly Golightly character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s."
But there is something else beneath Gloria’s steady gaze.  It is her endless searching, her restlessness, the unquiet soul that imbues her, still, at the age of 92, with a startling optimism and youth.

Gloria once said, “I always feel something wonderful is going to happen, and it always does.”  In her life, wonderful things did happen, but there were unspeakable tragedies as well.  Yet Gloria exists in the creative power and notion of living in the now, looking forward, being unapologetically human, open to experience. “Little Gloria, Happy at Last” was the title of a book.  There is no “happy at last” or happily-ever-after.  All there is, is staying human. This, Miss Vanderbilt has done exquisitely.
HEARTENING NEWS for fans of the recently off-the-radar Liza Minnelli. Liza, who now lives in Los Angeles, traveled to San Francisco over the weekend.  She attended a performance by her sister Lorna Luft and good friend Michael Feinstein at Nikko. The audience was thrilled by the mere presence of the legend. 
Then, encouraged by Lorna and Michael and a rapturous room, Liza got up and sang a lively version of Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.” (Minnelli was accompanied by Mr. Feinstein, who, as the song goes, knows how to treat his Steinway in a fine way.)

I am happy to hear this.  I hope L.A. is treating Liza well. To be honest, New York, New Yoooorrrrrkkkkk! has never been quite the same since Liza packed up and left.  We miss you, honey.
BACK BEFORE the adult advent of Prince Harry, there was another hot ginger Brit, who took the world by storm for a few years, before retiring at the height of his success.  I do mean singer Rick Astley, known for two mammoth 1980’s hits, “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Together Forever.”   

Rick’s great big soulful voice, good looks and an impossibly thick, glorious head of hair, made him a huge star.  But he essentially quit in 1993 — a sudden fear of flying, possibly acerbated by the demands of fame, caused him to walk away at the age of 27.  (Luckily he’d been smart with his money.)
He has never been forgotten by his fans, however, and tonight at NYC’s Town Hall, Rick Astley returns, promoting a new album, titled “50.”  (He is 50 years old).   Judging by how he’s performed overseas, leading up to his American “comeback” Astley has lost nothing in the rich tones of his voice, or much — if any! — of that famous russet mane. (Although it is styled slightly shorter than the voluptuous pompadoured mop of his MTV videos era.)   
For a couple of hours tonight at Town Hall, it’ll be 1987 all over again. 
MANY NEW Yorkers are still mourning the closure of Gino's restaurant in the East 60s. Movers and shakers, who loved this place, recently gathered to see a film about this much-missed spot. (Michael Sparaga’s “The Missing Ingredient: What Is the Recipe for Success?”)  Gino’s, famed for its home-style Italian fare, the zebra wallpaper and many celebrity fans, was shuttered six years ago, after a 63-year reign.  But the veal parm memories linger on. 
Paul Gumbinner entertains the crowd at the post-screening Q&A for "The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success?"
Cathy Treboux, the owner of the still flourishing Veau d’Or, said: “Regulars are ‘family’, actually, that’s better than if they were family!”

And Mark Lebow,  an important defender and attorney for neighborhood, remarked: “Where Gino’s was, there’s now a cupcake place. Half-a-block away, there’s another cupcake place.
Gino's outside and in.
So, perhaps, after a hard day’s work, instead of going out for a martini, people will go out for a cupcake.”  (Lebow’s  tone made it clear that a martini followed by excellent lasagna is preferable to something with icing, any day.)

Although a man of varied accomplishments, Mr. Lebow  always jokes that his main claim to fame is that he is married to Patti Harris, former Deputy Mayor to Michael Bloomberg.
Mark Lebow with Patti Harris, former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Diana Taylor.
BUT all is not lost in the world of beloved Manhattan eateries.  After a seven year hiatus, Chumley’s, at 86 Bedford Street is re-opening this month.  (A wall collapsed, and though you wouldn’t imagine repairs would take so long, there were other issues as well.  Some in the neighborhood objected to the spot’s fame and its heady lure to tourists.)  The one-time speakeasy of the 1930’s became a celebrated hangout for writers such as Eugene O’ Neill, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.  (The walls are lined with books. My kind of place!) 
Chumley’s at 86 Bedford Street, all spiffed up.
The old Chumley's interior.
The incoming chef, Victoria Blamey, has created what she says is a “Prohibition  style” menu.  I hope this doesn’t include bathtub gin! I’ll stick with her promised succulent fried chicken with Cognac sauce.

Chumley’s has been described as having a “manly” feeling. Fine by me. As Katharine Hepburn declared in “Adam’s Rib" — “Let’s ALL be manly!”

Contact Liz here.