Tuesday, June 13, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Close to the marrow

Carroll Baker as Jean Harlow in "Harlow," 1965.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Tony Night Faves — Bette (Natch!) ... Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone ... Cynthia Nixon.  Also, Carroll Baker's "Something Wild" new on DVD ... the ABBA solo albums, and things we can never do without (according to Vanity Fair.)

“IT’S NOT just me! It’s not just me!”

I know everybody is still kvelling over Bette Midler’s “Shut that crap off!” bark, to the orchestra that was trying to hurry up her “Hello, Dolly!” acceptance speech on Sunday night. But I liked her acknowledgement that she stood there not alone, but representing all who helped her with the current production, and all who preceded her — including the great composer Jerry Herman, who I sometimes feel gets short shrift. 
Considering who Bette is, what she’s done, how people feel about her, I thought her speech was a miracle of brevity, really.  She could have gone on longer, and I would have been just fine with it.  It made up, kind of, for the star’s decision not to perform on the Tony Awards. 

To the very last, there were fans and Tony “experts” who were sure the “she won’t sing” edict was a big PR stunt, and that indeed a “Dolly” number would magically appear.  It did not. 

However, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole did rip through “Face to Face” from their joint starring vehicle “War Paint.”  Sublime.  
I want at some point to do a serious P.S. to my initial remarks on this extraordinary musical about cosmetic titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden.  Yes, it features two great Broadway divas, at their respective peaks, in dazzling period drag, being bigger-than-life.  But there is much more to the show.

If younger females have been empowered by the massive success of “Wonder Woman” onscreen, perhaps ladies (and gents) not quite so nubile, can appreciate the struggles and the ultimate power, the sacrifices, made by Rubinstein and Arden.  Don’t be fooled by the perceived superficial nature of the cosmetic business. Steve Jobs had nothing on Helena and Elizabeth. Likewise, Diana Prince and her magic bracelets. 
Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.
“Hello, Dolly!” is a Broadway must-see, natch.  But so is, “War Paint.”  And I don’t think you have to sell off dear relatives into questionable servitude to get tickets, either. 

As for the Tony show itself, it was fine.  I don’t think the great actor Kevin Spacey has the proper joie de vivre for hosting duties, but he was more than competent. (Perhaps he has played the terrible, ice-cold Frank Underwood of  “House of Cards” for too long?  I’ve yet to sit and watch, no less binge, the new season of politics most foul. Even the wacky, rapier comedy of “Veep” is too close to the marrow now.)  
I thought Cynthia Nixon, taking an award for the unusual current production of “The Little Foxes” gave perhaps the best speech of the evening. (In this revival of Lillian Hellman’s classic tale of greed, mendacity and murder in the South, Nixon and Laura Linney exchange roles, during the week — each has an opportunity to portray the rapacious Regina Giddons and the pathetic, abused Birdie. It is something to see!) 
THIS, That, and another thing:

... New on Criterion DVD, the strange and intense 1961 drama “Something Wild,” starring Carroll Baker as a rape victim and Ralph Meeker as her savior, who turns to be an unexpectedly very tormented fellow himself.  Shot in gritty black-and white, it is a difficult film; one with which women today might have a violently negative reaction. Or at least, a sense of confusion and frustration.  I won’t spoil.  I will say only that Miss Baker, is splendid. Meeker, too, in a deeply disturbing role.
Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker in “Something Wild."
Prior to her brief but highly publicized tenure as a “sex symbol” in films such as “Station-Six Sahara,” “Harlow,” “The Carpetbaggers” and “Sylvia,” Baker was considered a fine young actress in films such as “Giant,” Baby Doll,” “How the West Was Won” and “The Big Country.” 
Carroll Baker in “Station Six-Sahara,” 1962.
She was a beauty, with a fantastically distinctive, honky-tonk voice.  After she fled Hollywood, having had quite enough of what was being offered, she settled in Europe, living, in her own words, “a real la dolce vita” and starring in atmospheric thrillers.

“Something Wild” has been beautifully re-mastered and contains, among other extras, a new interview with Ms. Baker.  It is a tense, bizarre example of the New York “kitchen sink” Method of acting and screen presentation. It is not, by 21st century standards, politically correct.  It is still very much worth the time.
... WE ALL (well, many of us!) know the great success of the Swedish super-group ABBA.  They are responsible for mega-hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia!” Waterloo,” “Does Your Mother Know,” “The Winner Takes it All,” etc.

Their infectious music was also a big part of famous films such as “Muriel’s Wedding,” “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and the epically successful stage play “Mamma Mia!” (The less said of the film version, the better. Even though I hear a sequel is in the works!)
However, the group members — Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — were not always simpatico, or content with a collective vision.  All of them produced solo albums, some very well received.

Now, ABKCO is releasing six ABBA solo albums.  “Lycka” (Bjorn and Benny) ... ”Ensam,” “Shine” and “Something’s Going On” (Frida) ... ”Wrap Your Arms Around Me” and “Eyes of a Woman” (Agnetha).  All contain the original artwork and have been pressed for vinyl. The release occurs on the 28th. Visit abbasite.com or www.abkco.com
... FLIPPING through Vanity Fair (Carrie Fisher, on my cover) I came across one of those pages that  amuses me so much.  It is called “Cult Favorites” and tells what “perennially adored items will remain forever in style.”

Here are a few: Chanel sling backs ... Mane ‘n Tail Shampoo and Conditioner ... the Mason Pearson hairbrush ... Atillo Codognato Skull Ring ... Levi’s high-rise Ankle Crop Jeans, Polaroid’s Square 600 Camera and the Launer handbag. Why this bag? Because as VF tells us — “The Queen has one in every color.” 

I’m convinced. And it’s a steal at $2,061.

Contact Liz here.