Thursday, January 7, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Lady, Her Music, Her Legend

Lena on opening night of "The Lady and Her Music," May 12, 1981. Photo: Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.
by Liz Smith

Celebrating Lena Horne — The Lady, Her Music, Her Legend, Her Struggle and Triumph. Also — A Delicious, Celebrity-Stuffed Night at NYC's Le Veau d'Or.

Lena with Aretha.
"I WANT to sing like Aretha Franklin. Before her I wanted the technical ability of Ella Fitzgerald."

I don't know when the great Lena Horne made this remark, but it must have been before she came into her own with 1981's powerhouse Broadway event, "The Lady and Her Music."

Lena was 64 when she began her concert run at the Nederlander Theater. Never had she seemed so soulful, raw, vibrant, relaxed and self-confident. I'll never forget her opening night — a triumphant Lena, basking in the screaming, stomping and weeping from a jaded New York City audience, blown away by the lady and her music.

(The live LP and CD version of Lena's concert is probably, next to "Judy at Carnegie Hall," the most astonishing one-woman recorded singing event, ever.)
NOW, here is your chance to salute Lena Horne on Monday January 11th at Symphony Space!

Lena was a star of stars despite the racial prejudice that prevented her from rising to movie heights at MGM. She had two starring roles, in the all-black screen productions of "Stormy Weather" and "Cabin in the Sky." But afterward, she was usually inserted into musicals, giving her one or two numbers leaning against a pillar or something — the better to cut her from prints of the films show down in the bigoted south.
Liz and Lena with their friend Tex McCrary.
She was dispirited, bitter, and wanted to leave Hollywood, but was persuaded to persevere by musician friends in New York. "You have to stay, sister, and be a credit to your race." She did stay, but being a "credit to her race" was a heavy burden, she discovered. For years Lena sought to find herself, her place in the world. "The Lady and Her Music" was the public confession/exaltation/resolution of her long, often painful, journey. (Lena died in Manhattan, in 2010, age 92.)

As to January 11th — The Lena Horne Charter School benefits from this 7:30 p.m. event, with the organization working with the largest networks of urban schools serving at-risk low-income children in the U.S.
Dave Brubeck, Lena Horne, and Alan King in 1992.
Just a few of the names backing this great tribute to Lena are: Quincy Jones, John Lewis, Hal Prince, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, Amanda Green, Audra McDonald, Billy Porter. Lena's daughter Gail Buckley and Lena's talented grandchildren are all on board.

Send your contribution to: Schools That Can. Attn: Lena Horne Tribute, 1040 First Ave #346, NYC 10022. Or Call: 1-877-782-9474.

Don't miss this!
"LEGENDS are an endangered species!" opined my pal Cathy Treboux when she was feeding a few of them in her informal French bistro, Le Veau d'Or on Manhattan's 60th Street, near Bloomingdale's. It was the coldest night, so far, of the holiday season, in a Northeast that was unusually warm up until January 4th.

Liz with Le Veau d'Or owner and friend Cathy Treboux.
Cathy, who is forever threatening to close down her family-owned business, which has been in operation since the 1930s, was in perpetual motion along with her great-looking talented writer son, Robert. And no wonder — sitting near the front was indeed a legend, none other than Charles Masson. He left the famous upscale La Grenouille and will, in April, be opening a new place of his own (yet to be named) in the nearby Lowell Hotel. Charles was looking rested since he left the 52nd Street restaurant to his brother and is wishing it well.  

I have known these guys since I was initiated by their famous handsome father back in the day after the titan Henri Soulé first imported French food to the U.S. after the World's Fair of 1939. (And you know how New York and the rest of the western world have fallen for "food" as fashion, especially of late.) Messrs.' Soule and Masson taught me to leave my down-home Texas fried "delicacies" and try caviar and lobster and things I, frankly, didn't know about in Fort Worth, Texas.
Liz with Mssr. Masson.
CHARLES Masson was eating out with the famed bartender and jazz expert Tom Dillon. Also, enjoying Veau d'Or was Architectural Digest's Howard Christian. I saw Time Inc. veterans Charles Whittingham and Wyndham Robertson as well as John Train, one of the founders of The Paris Review.

On this particular cold cold night, Le Veau was filled with those who didn't want to be out on the deserted frigid streets but did want warmth and comfort. I said hello to people as various as former New York Deputy Mayor under Michael BloombergPatti Harris — her mother Barbara who ran Gracie Mansion for Mayor Koch, and Patti's well-known attorney husband Mark Lebow, who is a problem solver par excellence ... Lincoln Center's dynamo Andre Bishop was there with the New York Time's former drama-critic-turned-brilliant-political-gate-watcher for New York magazine, Frank Rich ... his acutely smart  writer wife Alex Witchel ... the philanthropist and heir to New York and Massachusetts social history who has turned to major medical works, the astoundingly generous Elizabeth Peabody.
A cozy corner at Veau d'Or.
Giorgio making risotto in Elizabeth Peabody's kitchen.
SHE was accompanied by her good-looking friend from Italy — one Giorgio Guidotti. He travels the globe repping Max Mara, the worldwide fashion purveyor of beautiful coats, handbags and what have you. Giorgio is forever in an airplane bound for China, where they have over 300 stores. He oversees the company's worldwide quality manufacturing. A bag designed by Max Mara and Renzo Piano, the architect of the new Whitney Museum, has become a classic.

I HAVE a photo of Giorgio making risotto in Elizabeth Peabody's kitchen. He says of this snap: "I'm just a simple Italian from a little town between Milan and Florence that offers expert parmigiano."  (Yeah, sure — that's why there is a thong named after him in the Tom Ford collection given to the Metropolitan Museum's Costume collection. He blushes saying: "I'd never wear such a thing!")

We won't go into all of Giorgio's credits here but he keeps Max Mara in fashion headlines. I plan to break up Giorgio's career and make him move to America to stay and he can marry any one of my many young rich talented friends!
Liz and Giorgio.
SPEAKING OF the above-mentioned Frank Rich, don't fail to tune into HBO's "Becoming Mike Nichols" on February 22. He is the exec producer. But before that, PBS's "American Masters" presents Julian Schlossberg's take on Mighty Mike on January 29th. Mike's death left his many friends and millions of fans bereft.
As for the cozy Le Veau d'Or — it has boomed since the New Yorker and Quest magazine took note of it again recently.  There aren't many legends left — Le Veau had its share in the C. Z. Guest, Jackie O, Diana Vreeland era. It was a favorite place when Time, Inc. offered expense accounts for the three-martini lunch.  I like it because owner Cathy, pushing aside attempts by all her friends to fix her up with future marriage partners, shrugs them all off, saying, "You've heard of menopause; I'm for meno-stop!"
Contact Liz Smith here.