Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The double-edged sword of narcissism

by Liz Smith

GetTV!  Get it!  (If You Like the Good Old Days of Television)  Also — Dolly Parton ... David Bowie ... and the double-edged sword of narcissism. 

"WELL, WE have a whole new year ahead of us. And wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, and a little more loving, have a little more empathy. And maybe, next year at this time, we'd like each other a little bit more."

That was Judy Garland on the January 5th, 1964 episode of her TV series, before she launched into a stunning version of Vincent Youmans' "Through the Years." This was one of the many powerful moments on Garland's famously ill-fated venture into weekly television.

I'm with Judy. We are almost through with January, but I am still in a hopeful New Year's frame of mind. This year, more than any I can recall in recent times, we all need to be more loving, more empathetic, more gentle.
OH, before I forget — on January 25th getTV presents "Mitzi," the 1968 TV special starring the one and only Miss Mitzi Gaynor. This is just one of the many specials Mitzi appeared in, winning Emmys, great reviews and the kind of attention she should have had as a movie star. Mitzi was — and is — a phenomenal triple-threat performer. But somehow, despite snaring some plum roles ("South Pacific" "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Les Girls") the times or the material never lived up to her talent. It took concerts and TV to elevate this great broad into a truly great star. In typical 21st century fashion, Miss Gaynor will host a viewing party on January 25th, on a live getTV Twitter feed.

If you want more info on how to get getTV go to www.get.tv
Mitzi Gaynor and her boys from "Mitzi" (1968).
Judy keeping it together.
SPEAKING of Judy's series, random episodes of the show have been popping up on the new Sony cable and digital network getTV. This is the spot for terrific vintage programming — well, there are others (Buzzr, CoziTV), but this is latest.

Watching Garland today it's easy to see why CBS was concerned and audiences iffy. Judy was a dramatically stylized, high-tension performer. Having been overweight through much of the 1950s, Judy was determined to be thin and glamorous again. Unfortunately the results of strenuous dieting had the same effect as when she was a young star at MGM — that fabulous, compelling nervous energy was even more pronounced. In movies, it could be controlled, but television revealed much too much.

CBS re-vamped the series at least four times, trying to tamp down Garland's kinetic energy, make her shows formulaic. The powers upstairs at the network insisted they wanted to "humanize" Judy, but who was a more human star than she? The point everybody missed was that she was all too human, and it showed. (The slim figure of which she was so proud had not, ironically, made her appear younger. In fact, she looked drastically aged, even ravaged on some episodes. The glittering Bob Mackie gowns and the heavy eye-makeup could not disguise what life had done to Dorothy Gale.)
Judy Garland every Sunday night at home wasn't ever going to work. She was not a TV dinner, she was a grand banquet, a special occasion. In fact, the TV specials she did for CBS as lead-ups to the series, show her in top form, physically and vocally.
Garland herself had been tempted into the series with the promise that it would be a great hit — how could it miss? — and she would be financially secure, at last. But even Judy knew she was "too much" for the small screen on a regular basis. She said, as problems with the format mounted: "I don't know that I'd watch my show every week, it's too enervating." (CBS must have loved that!)
With Tony Bennett — Judy would soon be instructed to stop touching her guests.
And yet, however poorly the network handled Garland — the lousy comedy skits, the inappropriate guests, the jokes that mocked her legend — there is so much that is brilliant on the series, one simply has to be grateful for its existence. When she was good on the show, she was a genius, when she was bad, she was epic in her naked struggle.

In a way, one might consider "The Judy Garland Show" to be TV's first reality series. She was living out the last great, hopeful gasp of her career, of her life, actually. (She would die in 1969, age 47.) It was all there in stark, unflattering black and white. The difference is, today's reality shows are fake. There was nothing fake about Judy Garland. Viewers in the 1960s didn't want to face her reality.

Now that we can, it's an astounding thing to watch.
IF YOU are the state of Tennessee and want people to come and visit you, what better enticement than to put home girl Dolly Parton on the cover of The Official Tennessee Vacation Guide.

There is the legendary singer-songwriter in a denim skirt (short) a red fringed blouse (tight) and her trademarked backless, high-heeled open-toed pumps. She has a guitar slung across her shoulder, natch.

Among the many tourist doings advertised is a visit to Lynchburg's Jack Daniels Distillery, which celebrates its 150th birthday this year. I would merely advise waiting a day, after singing Happy Birthday to Jack Daniels, to then visit The Lightning Rod Roller Coaster at Dollywood.

We are just trying keep Dollywood neat.
THE DAVID Bowie recollections just keep coming in. Writer Gregory Speck remembers meeting Bowie in 1985 at NYC's Limelight disco, which Speck says "had become a debauched fleshpot." (Ah, yes, I remember it well!)

Anyway, Speck managed to have a chat with Bowie, whom he found "sweet, kind and modest" in contrast to his then-outrageous persona. Gregory asked for an autograph, and Bowie agreed, sweetly.

But the only piece of paper Speck had was a party invitation which featured a photo of naked young man, laying on his tummy. (One assumes this party was yet another "debauched fleshpot?")

Bowie seemed amused by the image, pulled out a pen and: "He effortlessly traced the line of the young man's bottom, then turned it into a 'B,' which he extended into the word 'Bowie.'"

Nope, Mr. Speck is not putting this souvenir up for sale on eBay. He's much too sentimental.
ENDQUOTE: "Narcissism is a double-edged sword: While narcissists find it hard to hold the approval of their peers, they never waver in their own — overblown — opinion of themselves. That capacity carries with it a certain energy and persistence in the face of daunting odds ... Narcissism may not be the best trait for sustaining a long-term relationship or a team, but narcissists do incredibly well in the short-term game; in seducing new lovers or in jobs likes sales, where a quick hit can count."

That's Pamela Weintraub, writing in last month's Psychology Today magazine.

And that's my presidential candidate item of the day.
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. Denis Ferrara will be pinch hitting for Liz.
Contact Liz Smith here.