Monday, March 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Crazy Salad

The arrest of Louis XVI and his family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes in June 1791 by Thomas Falcon Marshall.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Remembering Nora Ephron's Palm Beach Daze.  Also — Oscar Night Gossip We Can't Tell You (Yet) ... Great Reads in The New Yorker and GQ, and Marie Antoinette — still the victim of "fake news!"

“IT’S certain that fine writing women eat a crazy salad with their meat,” wrote William Butler Yeats.
ONCE upon a time, I went to Palm Beach, as a typical lowly aspiring reporter. I didn’t know anybody who was rich and/or famous. Yet here I was trying to cover the rich and famous as an outsider.

Portrait of Jerome Zipkin, in the style of Van Eyck, 1988
The only person I knew in Palm Beach was the New York Times’ ace correspondent Charlotte Curtis. We just happened to be there at the same time. She was a first-class name for the Times, eventually vaulting to the top of publishing and the editorial pages. Back then in the '60s, Charlotte took a shine to me and also took pity on me. She liked to teach and frequently corrected me. (“Liz, in Palm Beach, people don’t wear blue jeans, or Levi’s as ‘informal wear!’”)

She introduced me around and also encouraged so-called “Society’s” much-feared and acerbic Jerome Zipkin to adopt me. (Thereby, I was given ‘access’ to certain circles I could never have received on my own. For instance, in the far off future, Zipkin’s backing me meant that I’d creep into the Nancy-Ronnie crowd.)

It amused Mr. Zipkin to force other uppity souls to accept me. He himself was so critical that he once criticized the Colony Hotel, forcing them to tear down and replace closets so that these no longer crushed the shoulders of his suits. When it was done Jerry sniffed and never patronized the hotel again.
Nancy Reagan and Liz in 1985.
With this tiny basic foundation, I began to write a bylined column for an unassuming publication named The Palm Beach Social Pictorial. This was a local little publication that used lots of pictures and pleased advertisers and people who were, I guess, climbing. (I should explain that this slim beginning gave me the eventual boost to land a run-away real column in The New York Daily News.)  I was lucky enough to reap the whirlwind of its Hearst founder Walter Winchell. This fame as a byline lasted 40 years.)
It may be all ancient history but just the other day I was weeding books out of my library. I picked up "Crazy Salad," the best selling book by my pal Nora Ephron, written in the  early 1970s. "Crazy Salad" was only the beginning of Nora’s wicked witty output. It ended with her untimely death in 2012. This, after she’d become a successful screenwriter, movie director and world-class social critic.

In “Crazy Salad,” Nora examined The Palm Beach Social Pictorial. That was the last word from Nora on the playground of the rich, now reverberating down the years at Mar-a-Lago — the current president's winter White House.
Would that Nora Ephron were alive today to give us her 2017 viewpoint. 

However, I do want to print the end of Nora’s chapter on Palm Beach—I wish I could reprint the entire thing, but that would be three columns, and I try to resist being quite that lazy! 

Here’s Nora:

“The rich are different from you and me; we all know that even if some people in Palm Beach don’t. But it is impossible to read the Social Pictorial without suspecting that the rich in Palm Beach are even more different. One of my friends tells me that Palm Beach used to be a rather nice place and that now it has become a parody of itself; I don’t know if she’s right, but if she is, the Social Pictorial reflects this perfectly. If there were more communities like it, I don’t think I would find The Palm Beach Social Pictorial so amusing.  But there aren’t, so I do.”

Oh, and Nora did me the favor, in her chapter, of writing nicely about my column and how I covered Palm Beach and its goings on.  She also included this quote which I am repeating, because I want to remind my readers that this column was never “just about” show biz:  Here’s Liz:  “So here are the most fascinating and frightening statistics I’ve read recently, from The New Republic — it’s liberal, left, and riddled with integrity, but even so, don’t ignore the statistics.”
I HAD dinner the other evening with a person who has a lot of inside dish on Oscar night.  I wish I could spill, but I was sworn to secrecy.  Actually, another scribe will soon be printing up many of these tidbits, and it would be wrong of me to scoop a competitor. Sigh!  Why must we have values at this point?  Nobody else does! Anyway, some of this stuff is hilarious, and as soon as we can, we’ll be repeating it.
Over baby lamb chops and steak au poivre, white wine and margaritas, we wheedled and tried to bargain a bit — just one story! — but we gave up.  We’re stuck on the high road.  That’s why sometimes when we indulge in a bit of snark, we’ll receive the occasional “how could you?” email.  Uhhh ... because we’re human.   

P.S. Speaking of being human, we are so anxious to see Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly!” that we jumped the gun last week, putting the opening night on March 15th.  Actually, previews of “Dolly” begin this week, and the great big opening night is scheduled for April 20th. 
READING:  Late in noting this article, but please go and find it online. I mean Lauren Collins’ big story on the child refugee crisis in Europe. (Kids fleeing war torn Mid-East for Europe, trapped in miserable camps, displaced, embittered, depressed, victimized — but still hoping for a better life.) This appeared in the February 27th issue of The New Yorker.  I have been haunted ever since by ghastly sweep of the piece, and one boy, Wasil, from Afghanistan, whom writer Collins chronicles. This is an important human document. I hope to read, at some point, the rest of Wasil’s story. I hope it’s a happy ending.
... I ALWAYS love Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s celebrity profiles in GQ. They are vivid and perceptive, and the writer is so clever at getting her subjects to display delightful aspects of themselves. In her current cover piece on Tom Hiddleston, Taffy shares Mr. Hiddleston’s homemade spaghetti Bolognese. It was actually left-over from the night before, and Hiddleston heated it up, before he and the journalist headed out for another day of wandering and chat.  It’s a terrific article, Tom sounds like a lovely guy. That he can cook, too, is almost more than we can stand!
... FINALLY, I picked up something at the newsstand titled “100 Women Who Changed Our World.”  All the usual suspects were on the cover — Mary, mother of Jesus ... Mother Teresa ... Billie Holiday ... Amelia Earhart ... Gloria Steinem ... Michelle Obama ... Joan Rivers ... Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary, Jackie, Diana, Madonna, Marilyn, Oprah, Aretha, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Sappho, and on and on. (One cover cavil — Megyn Kelly, really?)

The brief capsule bios inside were okay — broad sketches of each remarkable woman. Easy listening reading. But the Marie Antoinette bio annoyed me, particularly the final graph: “The crude brutality of her death more than offsets the indulgences of a life lived principally for pleasure and vanity.”
We are big Marie apologists here, and feel it is our duty to point out that her “indulgences” were no greater, actually, than any other girl (an innocent 14 when she arrived in France, from Austria) who was brought up to be a queen, insulated and isolated from reality. (If you want to talk real indulgence, read up on Madame Du Barry.)

Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1783.
Antoinette’s husband Louis XVI was a nice guy, but weak, un-kingly and unable to consummate their marriage for seven years.

While waiting, she shopped.  After Louis got over it, and Marie began having children, her attitudes changed quite a bit.  She was still a queen, however, and lived liked a queen. (She did NOT, however, suggest the starving common people “eat cake,” since bread was in short supply.)

Her life was filled with tragedies, and she was victimized constantly by what we would refer to as “fake news.”  In her final years, as France dissolved into rebellion and revolt, she acquitted herself with courage and nobility.  She died — after horrible suffering and indignities — with splendid courage. 

Don’t mess with us Marie Antoinette fans. Oh, and that goes for Mary, Queen of Scots, too.

Contact Liz here.