Saturday, May 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Celebration of Life

Michael Feinstein singing "Our Love is Here to Stay” at the “Celebration of Life” for Robert Osborne.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Celebrating Robert Osborne ... Saluting Vanity Fair ... Remembering Samuel Peabody.

“GEORGE BURNS said, ‘Once you learn to fake sincerity, you’ve made it in show business!’  But the thing that made Robert Osborne special was that he never faked sincerity.”

That was Michael Feinstein, who acted as Master of Ceremonies at the “Celebration of Life” for the man who WAS Turner Classic Movies.  This happened Tuesday at New York’s Morgan Library. (Among the celebs in attendance I noted — and embraced — Robert Wagner and his wife, Jill St. John.)
Photo: Mark Hill
AND it was a celebration.  Feinstein said that Robert had wanted people to attend, relish the favorite movie clips he had chosen, and to then go out and “enjoy a pint of your favorite ice cream!”  Robert had been in failing health for several years, and had had the time to think about his celebration — those movie clips, in particular!

Of the eight guest speakers, only Jane Powell, the great MGM singing/dancing star was unable to attend, although she sent a touching message expressing her regrets.
Robert and Jane.
Diane Baker, who worked with Robert in her first movie (he began as an actor) recalled his ability to “laugh with his whole being,” his “honorable sense of duty” and the many amusing emails, signed “Roberto Osborneo.”  In one of these messages, joking about visiting his doctors, he advised Ms. Baker “not to attempt the moves Lady Gaga will surely make at the SuperBowl!”
Diane and Robert.
Director John Erman spoke of giving Robert, then a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, a big scoop on Claudette Colbert agreeing to appear in Erman’s TV movie “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.”

Erman said, “Miss Colbert had not appeared on film for something like twenty years.  I tried to explain to her the exigencies of TV work. ‘You know, I might not always be able to favor your good side. She laughed and said, ‘Oh, at 83, there’s no such thing as a ‘good side.’” 

Erman was also grateful for Osborne’s advice about always knowing three good restaurants — inexpensive, medium priced and deluxe.  That way, you’re never at a loss. Erman said, “How great — where did you come up with that?”  Robert replied, “Joan Fontaine.” 

And the director expressed his amazement at walking around with Robert Osborne, all the people who would recognize him, and thank Robert for “getting me through hard times, etc.”  Erman said, “I told him, ‘It’s like walking around with Henry Fonda!’  But then I remembered something Henry Fonda said to me. ‘I’m not a very nice man. I just play a lot of very nice men.’”  Erman paused. “But Robert Osborne WAS a really nice man!”
ARLENE Dahl, still a glamour doll, spoke of Robert’s great interest in all that went on in the world, “He loved to speak about vintage things, but he knew everything current, as well.” She also expressed herself amazed that, “He knew more about my career than I did.  He knew the movies I was up for that the studio never made, or did with somebody else — things I wasn’t aware of!”
Robert with Gena Rowlands, Arlene Dahl, Chita Rivera, and Jane Powell.
Robert’s cousin, Susan Wright told charming stories of young Robert, and his dedication and love for his family. Ben Mankiewicz, the “other” TCM host, spoke about the huge responsibility of taking over full-time for Osborne.  He said, “Maybe the first day I appeared on set, some years back, maybe that wasn’t Robert’s favorite day, but over the years we became good friends.”  He added that Osborne had left the network “better prepared to face the future than it has ever been.”
Robert’s TCM executive producer recounted their good-natured back and forth bantering: “23 years of seeing who could embarrass whom more in public!”

Robert and Olivia in Paris in 2013.
But, the piece de resistance was Gisele Galante Chulack, daughter of film icon Olivia de Havilland. Gisele spoke touchingly about Osborne as a great and compassionate friend to her mother and to their entire family. Miss de Havilland who is 100 years old and lives in Paris, did not attend, but she sent a message recorded a week ago. 

Olivia’s voice was immediately recognizable, husky but silky, hardly the tones of a woman who has seen a century of living. She said she wanted to inject something “light-hearted” and so she related the tale of knowing Robert for years, as he became more and more well known.  She always referred to him as “Bob.” 

One day, Robert “gently asked me if I could call him ‘Robert’ which he preferred. And I did, ever after.  Now, I’ll admit, once or twice or even thrice, I might have slipped and called him ‘Bob.’ But I never made the ultimate error and called him ‘Bobby!’”

Just hearing the divine Olivia speak, still so witty and with it, was worth the day, even if we hadn’t adored Robert Osborne as much as everybody did!
Robert and Olivia at the Academy Awards, 1977. Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Michael Feinstein capped off the afternoon with a tender rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay” and a rousing “Hooray for Hollywood.” 

I was fascinated by the films clips — musical numbers from “You’ll Never Get Rich,” “Singin’ In the Rain,” “Springtime in the Rockies,” “Broadway Melody of 1940” and the famous waltz sequence in “Madame Bovary” (“the lady is about to faint — break the windows!”)  There was only one non-musical scene, from “The Razor’s Edge” — Gene Tierney gliding down a staircase to meet Tyrone Power. It was to swoon over.

Mr. Osborne would have appreciated the nostalgic sighs and applause that greeted his choices.
NEW YORK’S Samuel Peabody has died peacefully at age 92 and will be missed by Manhattan’s East Side and the active charity circuit. The funeral is planned for 4pm on Saturday the 13th at St. James, 71st and Madison. The handsome, composed widower of Judith Peabody was a fixture of uptown elegance. He tried valiantly to carry on the work of his popular wife, who led the AIDS fight and adored the ballet. She died seven years ago, leaving Sam and their daughter Elizabeth, to carry on. Sam came from a distinguished family of leading New England public servants; his father started Groton. (His sister, Marietta Tree was known as a great hostess and Democratic supporter.) Sam and his sartorial elegance and civilized manner will be missed.
Photograph by Inez and Vinoodh. Styled by Jessica Diehl.
VANITY FAIR magazine for May impresses with luscious Brie Larson on the cover. She won her Oscar early, for "Room" and has impressed recently with “Kong: Skull Island,” and has wowed all who have met her, worked with her, with a remarkably grounded, down to earth personality.  Now, she has dipped her toe into directing (“Unicorn Storm” starring herself, Samuel S. Jackson, Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack.)

Then there is Evgenia Peretz's restrained and civilized examination of Melania Trump, the so-called “reluctant” First Lady.  Of the wedlock between Melania and the president, it seems pretty much as you might have imagined. I admired the restraint in the magazine’s presenting this. But, basically, I say, leave Melania alone! 

Finally, VF and writer James Reginato offer us a compelling look at just about the last of the great ladies of New York and Europe.  I do mean Mica Ertegan, widow of the late rock ‘n roll music  maestro Ahmet Ertegun.

Mica was the perfect wife, help-mate and genial hostess, super-philanthropist, designer, “live-and-let-live” loveable woman to frequent bad-bad boy Ahmet. (Some unlikely people — such as Kid Rock! — come out and praise Mica lavishly.  Rock almost sounds a little in love!)
Mica, at age 90, has rebounded from Ahmet’s unexpected death, and her years of support, continuing in her own glory, is still going strong in New York, Turkey and other far-flung ports of luxury. She remains, apparently, perfect in every way; lovable, generous, still glamorous.  This is a spectacular look at how some remarkable people who inhabit “the other half” can truly justify life at the top.  One of her gifts seems to be an ability to meet everyone as an equal, and in doing so, makes all who encounter her, “stand a bit straighter.” 

I recommend this article even if the name Mica Ertegun means nothing to you.  It will, after you finish reading Mr. Reginato’s paean.
Mica on her yacht in Bodrum, Turkey. Photograph by Jonathan Becker.

Contact Liz here.