Thursday, January 14, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Tallulah, Bowie, Dietrich, The Coopers, and Arthur Miller

Alexander Woollcott.
by Liz Smith

Thursday's Tossed Salad — Tallulah ... David Bowie and Dietrich ... Anderson Cooper and Mommy ... Arthur Miller.

"YOU REVOLT me. How would I see a column by Elsa Maxwell?"
That is the great drama critic Alexander Woollcott, in a letter to journalist Janet Flanner. Apparently Flanner had made the mistake of assuming Woollcott might lower himself to read anything by party-giver/parvenu Maxwell.

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we discovered a 1944 collection of Woollcott's letters here at the Liz Smith office, having forgotten it had been lurking around undisturbed for, well — years. And it has been such fun reading Woollcott's biting notes.
Elsa Maxwell.
(He was the "real" Sheridan Whiteside of the famous George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart play "The Man Who Came to Dinner." In fact, the role was so specifically based on Woollcott that he eventually played the part, in stock. Monty Woolley was the star of the Broadway and film version.)
Monty Woolley in "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
Almost every page has something amusing, such as in this missive to the playwright Thornton Wilder, regarding having just seen Tallulah Bankhead in Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" — "Tallulah is not a comedienne and thinks she is a wonderful one ... she's like the little daughter of the hostess who feels an obligation to be entertaining. One can describe the product only as embarrassing. In the first act I found her afflicting. In the second and third acts I was reconciled to her."
Montgomery Clift and Tallulah Bankhead in Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth."
THE SUDDEN death of David Bowie continues to resonate as fans come to grips with the fact that he is truly gone. I think his passing was somewhat under-reported, coming as it did in the midst of so much world and national turmoil. And, on a Sunday night, which was a glut of show-biz chatter, what with the Golden Globes. (People are still talking about Channing Tatum's ghastly hair, Kate Hudson's tawdry get-up and Lady Gaga's undeserved win.)

In honor of David, Sirius XM Radio is returning "The David Bowie Channel" to its airwaves, running through Monday. This will feature music from the artist's entire catalogue, from his earliest work to his current No. 1 hit, "Blackstar." For more info on this and about Sirius XM, in general, go to www.siriusxm.com.
More David: He was known, of course, mostly for his inventive, highly distinctive music, but he had a reasonably good and eclectic film career, which began, not with Nicolas Roeg's 1976 classic "The Man Who Fell To Earth" but rather with the fascinating little curiosity, "Just a Gigolo," which starred Kim Novak, and in her last, haunting screen appearance, Marlene Dietrich. But the movie had many troubles, and was released two years after "The Man Who ..."
David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth."
"Just a Gigolo" vanished quickly, but deserves to be re-examined. Bowie, as the gigolo is excellent as is Novak, one of his wealthy patrons.

But of course, it's really all about Marlene's five minutes on screen.

Playing what appears to be a madam, Dietrich chats briefly with Bowie — the scene is spliced together; the high-cheekboned pair, famous for sexual ambiguity, never actually met.

And then Marlene performs the title song.

Veiled, exquisitely made-up, and as carefully photographed as she was in her Josef von Sternberg heyday, it is one of the most powerful moments of Dietrich's long career, and when she sings, "There will come a day, youth will pass away/Then what will they say about you ...?" one senses she is not necessarily serenading the unhappy gigolo, but declaring her own final withdrawal from public life.

The Blue Angel was transported back to her Paris apartment after filming, and would never be seen in public again, dying in 1992.
From Marlene's five minutes on screen in "Just a Gigolo."
P.S. David Bowie, aside from all his gifts as a musician was also a smart cookie. He was the first recording artist to tap the future earnings of his music. In 1997, Bowie sold $55 million in bonds that were tied to future royalties on some of his biggest hits. This melding with Wall Street — securities backed by royalties — allowed Bowie to raise money without selling the rights to his works or waiting an uncomfortably long amount of time for payments to come in. In short order others, such as James Brown, Rod Stewart and Iron Maiden followed suit.
WHEN "comedienne" Kathy Griffin and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper join giddy forces on New Year's Eve, there's always a lot of joshing about Cooper's privileged upbringing as the son of socialite/artist/designer Gloria Vanderbilt. (Griffin does the joshing. Cooper ducks his head, giggles, blushes and attempts to stop Miss Griffin from removing her clothes.) One assumes Gloria is okay with this fooling around. Apparently, Vanderbilt has a more sunny outlook on life than serious newsman Cooper. (Griffin refers to Gloria as "Glo.")
Gloria Vanderbilt with her sons Anderson (left) and Carter, circa 1969 in Southampton, New York. (Photo credit: Jack Robinson/Getty Images)
On April 30th, CNN airs a documentary, "Nothing Left Unsaid," which delves into the relationship between mother and son. The documentary is based on a joint memoir, written by the pair, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love and Loss." HBO airs the film, directed by Liz Garbus on April 9th and it screens at Sundance later this month.
Gloria Vanderbilt, Liz Garbus, and Anderson Cooper (via video) onstage during the HBO Winter 2016 TCA Panel at Langham Hotel on January 7, 2016 in Pasadena, California.
ONE NIGHT only. On January 25th, the Arthur Miller Foundation presents "Arthur Miller: One Night — 100 Years." This will feature performance readings from Miller's "seminal plays and personal works." It happens at the Lyceum Theater, and will include appearances by such as Laurence Fishburne ... Ellen Barkin ... Jake Gyllenhaal ... Alec Baldwin ... Peter Sarsgaard ... John Turturro ... Tony Kushner and more. For tix info go to Telecharge.com.
Miller, who died in 2005, has never been my favorite playwright. In fact a revival of his "A View From the Bridge" several years back was one of my more excruciating evenings in the theater. (I make it a point never to leave a play. It's bad manners and, who knows, the second or third act might reveal something great. But Miller's bleak writing almost pushed me into the street.)

I will say only this to whomever performs scenes from Miller's last commercial success, 1964's "After the Fall." Please remember this was a work that callously used, abused and exploited the dead body of Miller's one-time wife Marilyn Monroe. A woman who risked her career to stand between Miller and the communist witch-hunters who wanted his scalp.
Arthur Miller and his wife Inge Morath backstage at the Lincoln Center Repertory Theather on the opening night of "After the Fall".
But that stalwart truth didn't make for entertaining theater. Better to turn Marilyn into a castrating virago, and display himself ("Quentin" in the play) as her helpless, noble victim.

If there is an afterlife, it must comfort MM to know that Miller, despite a prestigious evening such as the one described above, is most famous for — marrying Marilyn Monroe.
MM protects Miller. But who would protect her?
ATTENTION READERS: Our fearless leader, Liz Smith, has had a slight mishap. She is fine, but will be hors de combat for a brief interval. So, you will forgive this space if it is not as sparkling as usual. Denis Ferrara will be pinch-hitting for Liz. Please, don't throw anything that might leave a mark!

Kisses, Denis.
 
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