Friday, March 31, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Backstage talk

"I hope we live through it." — Robert Aldrich with Davis and Crawford on the set of Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Crawford would exit stage left.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Will “Feud” Finally Free Joan Crawford From “Mommie Dearest?”  Also — Will “The Fantasticks” Really Close? ... Le Cirque in Dubai ... and Liz Smith’s big “VICE.”

“MISS Davis, what is your opinion of Joan Crawford?”

“Do you really ... is this a gag question? Or for real? Do you want me to say something vile about her?  Let me tell you something, there were never two such opposed actresses working together in the world.  Just totally, totally different people and systems.

“But, I will say this for Miss Crawford; she is a professional, she is always on time, she knows her lines.  And we made ‘Baby Jane’ in three weeks — three weeks!  Because that’s all the money they would give to us.  When the director, Mr. Aldrich asked, they’d say ‘what, for those two old broads, never!’”
“I have great respect for her as a professional; that she is. And I wish I was half as beautiful, that I will say for her.

“Now, if you want to meet me privately sometime ... we’ll talk backstage!”
That was Bette Davis sometime in the early 1970s giving one of her innumerable, vibrant and career enhancing interviews.  Chats that helped her survive gloriously, despite films such as “The Anniversary” ... ”Madame Sin” ... ”Bunny O’Hare” ... ”Connecting Rooms.”  (Beginning in 1976, with “Burnt Offerings” and “The Disappearance of Aimee” her stock rose, and she gave some remarkably effective performances, including her strikingly subtle, Emmy-winning turn with Gena Rowlands in “Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter.”)

One must note, despite the cheerfulness of Davis’ recollections, she steers shy of complimenting Miss Crawford’s talent.
DAVIS and Crawford have been on everybody’s mind since the debut of Ryan Murphy’s FX series, “Feud: Bette and Joan.”  I am still trying to figure out if it is indeed, as Murphy, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon insist, a more sympathetic look at the two stars, and their individual struggles. Or down-deep, still, basically, grisly camp.  It falls in-between.  It is for sure NOT a documentary! 

I’ve wondered why, also, that the late Shaun Considine’s book, “Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud” has not be credited (to my knowledge.)  Many of the most colorful, and perhaps grain-of-salt Bette/Joan tales emanated from this delicious tome. 
I still reserve doubt that Crawford weighted her body with an iron belt to give Davis a harder time hauling her around, or that other tricks were played. Getting the movie done quickly was too important for shenanigans. (Those came later, on the “Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte” set, courtesy of Miss Davis.)

But with each episode of “Feud” I am more swept away by the performances of Lange (Crawford) and Sarandon (Davis). Both are terrific. Sarandon, looking younger and softer than Davis, at that time, nevertheless captures her volatility, her own self-doubts and a truly marvelous vocal impression — how she comes down, as Davis did, on her Ds, making them staccato Ts. But she totally avoids anything resembling a drag queen impression. It is sensitive, fine-grained work.
Colorfully hard in "Torch Song."
As for Jessica Lange, she is towering. The tremulous vulnerability that she cannot help expressing in any role, works perfectly, for the alternately imperious and deeply insecure Joan.

Although latter-day Crawford often played manically emasculating women (heightened by the cropped hair and overdone paint she favored), there was a strong streak of masochism in these performances — even characters as wickedly unlikeable as in “Female of the Beach” ... “Torch Song” ... “Queen Bee” or “Harriet Craig” there was always a big emotional scene where she “explains” her harshness — usually coming from a wretched childhood, just as Joan herself did.

(One writer, cited the “alarming, violent” alteration of her looks as she matured; had menopause drained her of some aspects of her femininity or did the ferocious, over-structured planes of her face indicate a great personal torment she could not disguise? It was still a fabulous face, but also a grim mask of survival and battle against time.)
Regretting her evil deeds (briefly) in "Queen Bee."
"Love. Don't talk to me about love. I wouldn't trust the love of ANY man, after what I've seen!" Joan reveals herself, in "Harriet Craig."
Giving Jeff Chandler a piece of her mind in "Female of the Beach."
Yeah, this looks scary. But, honestly, Joan was just defending herself in "Sudden Fear."
I think, and it is about time, that Joan Crawford, was rehabilitated.  If she fell short as a parent (at least in the case of her two first children) and as a “lady,” privately, she was hardly unique in that.  If Ryan Murphy and Jessica Lange have done nothing else, they have given Joan Crawford — as Faye Dunaway memorably sputtered in “Mommie Dearest” — “the respect I deserve!”  Speaking for all those who admired the grit of Joan’s painful climb to the top and her endurance for decades, her talent and glamour — thank you!
This, too, was Joan.

... IF you are going to Dubai (and why not?)  you might visit Le Cirque Dubai, located in the Ritz-Carlton International Financial Centre.  This version of the Manhattan institution swears to continue its tradition of “a table of heaven.” It opens April 12th.
... DO you want to read a book by John Heubusch titled “The Shroud Conspiracy”? (In this one the Shroud of Turin is the real deal, and “the fate of the world” depends on proving it.) If you order it from The Ronald Reagan Foundation, you’ll receive for free, “The Ronald Reagan Quote Book.” You can savor Reaganisms such as “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”  Call 1-800-998-7641 or visit
... ONCE AGAIN “they” say that the almost fifty-year run of Off-Broadway’s “The Fantasticks” will close, this time on June 4th. I say, why can’t this great show be declared a “Living Landmark” and go on forever in perpetuity? Actors always need work! Anyway, do hurry to the Jerry Orbach Theater (210 West 50th Street) just in case my fantasy falls flat. Call 212-921-7862 for tix.
... FINALLY, for our friend Gina, who goes crazy (in a negative way) every time we mention Marilyn Monroe. While reading the New York Times article last week on the calamitous-to-many closing (and long “refurbishing”) of Manhattan’s legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel, I noted only one photo of a celebrity — in a place that has seen thousands over the decades. It was of Marilyn Monroe, at the 1957 April in Paris Ball. Gina, we don’t write for the Times!
MM at the Waldorf Astoria's 1957 April in Paris gala.
Mother and daughter a few years back.
HAD an interesting visit from Harry Evans and Tina Brown’s aspiring offspring, Isabel Evans and she’s a chip off the old block. And to be forgiven for that cliché, she’s working for HBO’s program VICE.

Isabel wanted to know if “Liz” would be willing to give her history to the VICE program. (I guess Liz will cooperate to straighten out the meaning of gossip).

Isabel also commented that daddy, Harry, is bringing out a new book in May. And mom, Tina, has her annual “Women in the World” summit kicking off on April 5th.

That’s a big deal but what I’m waiting for is Tina’s own next book about her stint at the top of Vanity Fair magazine.

Contact Liz here.