Thursday, October 13, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Tallulah and Marlene

"This sounds remarkably like blackmail." Dietrich in "Stage Fright."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Throwback Thursday: Tallulah and Marlene Dish The Dirt on "The Big Show."

“NOTHING ever worries me.
Nothing ever hurries me.
I take pleasure leisurely
Even when I kiss.
But when I kiss they want some more
And wanting more becomes a bore. It isn't worth the fighting for,
So I tell them this:

“It's not 'cause I wouldn't,
It's not 'cause I shouldn't,
And, you know, it's not 'cause I couldn't,
It's simply because I'm the laziest gal in town.

So warbled Marlene Dietrich, smothered in ostrich feathers and becoming quite friendly with a chaise lounge, in Alfred Hitchcock’s minor masterpiece, “Stage Fright.” (To be honest, I’m bending to cinematic tradition here. This 1950 film is considered by film historians and Hitchcock mavens as “minor.”  But I actually think it’s rather major, and it is Miss Dietrich’s more-than-clever performance as a duplicitous chanteuse that makes it so.)
SPEAKING OF Marlene, which I think is simply never enough, a friend of mine sent me a wonderful CD, “Marlene Dietrich: On Screen, Stage and Radio.”

This consists of more than two hours of Dietrich songs taken directly from the soundtracks of her films (“Hot Voodoo” from “Blonde Venus,” “The Man’s In the Navy” from “Seven Sinners” for example. If you see the latter movie, you’ll find Miss D. dressed head to toe as — a Navy man!)
There are also concert selections from her long stage career, and my personal favorites, two radio appearances with Tallulah Bankhead on the wildly popular “The Big Show.”  Hosted by Tallu, the show was canceled after only two seasons, despite its ability to draw big stars. They bantered with Bankhead and also performed — Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ginger Rogers, etc. In its time, the broadcast became rather legendary. And it gave considerable oomph to Bankhead’s career, which had begun to careen toward the outrageous camp persona that would eventually define and stifle her.  
Lawrence Olivier, Vivian Leigh, and Tallulah Bankhead on the “The Big Show.” 
Today I am feeling rather like Miss Dietrich — the laziest gal in town, sans the chaise — so I want to offer up Tallulah and Marlene, chatting with more innuendo and good-natured bitchery than you might have expected of the era (the early 1950’s).  So, here we go.
"Call me Tallulah, Darling!"
"Hot voodoo, dance of sin/Hot voodoo, worse than gin ..."
"Thirty-two-year-old" Marlena with daughter Maria.
“OH Marlene, Marlene, how simply wonderful to see you again.”

“Thank you, Tallulah.”

“How long has it been, I was thinking only the other day that it’s been twenty ...”

“Careful darling, careful.  People are listening!”

“Weeks?”

“Oh, yes, darling — weeks.

“Tallulah, guess who I saw the other day? Claude. I ran into him on the street.”

“Hard, I hope.”

“Why, Tallulah precious he was so crazy about you.”

“Oh, no.  He was crazy about you.”

“Of course not darling, everybody knows he was crazy about you.”

“Well, now that I think about it, he was crazy about me.”

“Yes. He was crazy.”

“Dear old Claude.  Does he know you’re a grandmother now?  Oh, excuse me darling, he knew you were a grandmother then, of course!”

“Tell me Tallulah, what’s new.  I hear so little about you, now that you’ve hidden yourself away in radio.”

“Well, Marlene, if you could read, you’d know I just had a big spread in Colliers magazine this week.”

“Well, you need a big magazine Tallulah.  Fortunately I can still make the slimmer magazines.  I was just in the Woman’s Home Companion.

“Really, darling?  Did they rename it the OLD Woman’s Home Companion?  Now let’s face it darling — look at you.  False eyelashes, rouge, mascara ...”

“Yes, darling.  But everything else is all me.  Now, what are we arguing about.  Let’s tell the truth.  There’s no use denying it. I’m not as young as I used to be. Everybody knows I’m a mother and now a grandmother. I don’t care if everybody knows how old I am.”

“Do you really mean that?”

“Of course, Tallulah.”

“Well, then, how old are you?”

“Thirty-Two.”

“Thirty-Two?!!! Now just a minute, Marlene, do you mean you’re only one year older than I am?”

“Now, Marlene. I happen to know you have a daughter who’s been married for a few years and has two children.”

“Isn’t it amazing? One year on her birthday, I turned around and there was my daughter, three years older than I am.”

“Oh, why don’t we stop this stupid quarreling?”

“Of course Tallulah, would you like me to do a number?”

“Why, yes. You perform such miracles with numbers. Why don’t you sing ‘Falling In Love Again'? Just the way you sang it 35 years ago. Before you were born, darling!”
"Men cluster to me like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn, I know I'm not to blame ..."
"So here she is ... Whistler’s Grandmother!”
“Oh, Paris, what a time I had.”
“Marlene, I’m going to make a statement ..."
"... Don’t you find than the man problem gets tougher every year?”
SEVERAL MONTHS later, Miss Dietrich and Miss Bankhead were at it again:

“Now I have to introduce one of the most divine, glamorous women in the world.  This woman, despite the fact that she’s a grandmother, gets more wolf whistles than anyone I know.  So here she is ... Whistler’s Grandmother!”

“Tallulah, I wish you’d stop referring to me as a grandmother.  You’re overdoing it.”

“Don’t talk to me about overdoing it, talk to your daughter!”

“By the way, Tallulah, I had a letter from what was once the wonderful city of Paris, before you got there.”

“Oh, Paris, what a time I had.”

“Did you buy any new gowns? — that one you’re wearing intrigues me.”

“Oh, it’s the new color, ‘battleship grey.’”

“Battleship grey?  That’s lovely.  But isn’t it a bit tight around the boiler room?

“Not at all, it’s just my size, 12.”

“What size is that?”

“12”

“What size?"

“I told you twice, 12!”

“Oh, twice twelve.  That is more your size.”

“Marlene, I’m going to make a statement, and I want you to answer, true or false.  Will you do that?”

“Of course.”

“That figure you have, it’s not all yours.”

“False.”

“Yeah, that’s just what I thought.  Now, don’t make any more cracks about my gown.  I paid a pretty penny for it.  The prices; I was soaked in every shop in Paris.”

“Yes, I heard you were soaked all over Paris.”

“Oh, now let’s stop.  Marlene, whatever happened to that divine man you used to go out with, what was his name, Jesse?”

“Oh, we split up.”

“Really darling, for good?”

“No, only temporarily.  He got married.”

“Marlene, don’t you find that the man problem gets tougher every year?”

“You’re so right Tallulah.  You know I wouldn’t admit this to anyone else, but one day last week, I actually had lunch alone.”

“Nooooo?” Well, if you think that’s bad, and as long as you opened up to me, one day a month ago I had breakfast alone!!”

“Well, it’s really a shame.  Men seem to be disappearing.  In a few years they’ll be extinct.”

“They sure do.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t  say that Tallulah.  They are all probably hanging out in the back room somewhere, and personally I want to see what the boys in the back room will have.”

“Well, that's really sneaky.  We've been talking here all this time, and it's just been a way to work in a music cue.  All, right Marlene, go see what the boys in the back room will have.”
"Yes, I heard you were SOAKED all over Paris!"
HOPE NONE of you feel cheated by this cruise into nostalgia. 

With momentous happenings bearing down swiftly, I couldn’t wrap my head around anything current.  Not even what passes for entertainment these days — Kim Kardashian sues ... Billy Bush crashes and burns ... ”The Birth of a Nation” flops ... Michelle Williams might play Janis Joplin (Oy, please — wasn’t “My Week With Marilyn” bad enough? ... Shawn Mendes, the “new” Nick Jonas?)

It’ll all still be here tomorrow.  I think.
P.S. Many of you might not realize it, but Marlene Dietrich’s talk about men and dating was somewhat startling, because she was — and remained to his death — married to her one and only hubby Rudy Sieber.

They had an arrangement. Early on, he took a mistress. She took many, many, many lovers. However, she’d been around so long, and the marriage was so quiet, that most people, even back then, had forgotten, and considered Marlene a single woman, with a perfect right to have a little romance.
Marlene with husband Rudy Sieber in Paris, 1938.

Contact Liz here.