Friday, October 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Dishing and dissing

MM famously pale in “Bus Stop.” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Bette and Marilyn — Bet You Never Thought Any Kind of Comparison Could Ever Be Found! ... Will & Graceless ... Who Dare Diss Lena?

“EVERYTHING is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke,” said Will Rogers
IN THE crowded world of  late-night talk show hosts, Jimmy Kimmel has never been one of my favorites. Not for any particular reason, he just never connected — maybe I simply didn’t watch him enough. Well, now he has connected.  Over the past few weeks, his passionate stances on health care and other issues, and his recent remarks on gun control, have convinced me that Kimmel is wasting his time on TV — at least as a chat-host, schmoozing  celebs.

He has a real and relatable Everyman kind of sincerity and brains behind his opinions. He is impressive.

If  “SNL” alum Al Franken can become an influential Senator, I imagine Kimmel, should he care to plunge into the murky pond of politics, going at least that far.  I don’t see a lot of options among real politicians right now. As if reality and politicians even exists!
MEMO to the very good director Matthew Vaugh. I loved your 2015 spy-parody romp “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

I love the current big-hit sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” almost as much. Almost.

To me, everything worked in “Golden Circle” except for 21 minutes. The movie is two hours and 21 minutes long.  I never got bored, but yes, if pressed, a tad restless. If there is to be a third in the series — and personally, I can never get enough of Colin Firth, now a surprise action star! — the old less-is-more adage is not to be despised. Particularly for this kind of movie.
A WHITER Shade of Pale: Over the weekend, trying to avoid cable news, I caught Bette Davis in “The Little Foxes” and Marilyn Monroe in “Bus Stop.”  Two very different stars in two very different types of movies to be sure. But there was one thing they had in common, one at least one occasion. Miss Davis and Miss Monroe both famously insisted on wearing an unnaturally pale makeup for their respective films.
Davis applied controversial paint for her role as Lillian Hellman’s greedy Regina Giddons, the upwardly mobile matriarch of a mendacious, dysfunctional family in a struggling Deep South. Monroe powdered down as Cherie, William Inge’s fragile, frazzled Ozark “chanteuse” — hopelessly untalented, dreaming of Hollywood stardom.
Teresa Wright and Bette Davis with William Wyler.
Cameramen, studio heads, make-up artists and at least one of the directors (William Wyler on “Foxes”) were wildly opposed to their stars “disfiguring” themselves. (In time, Davis would over-rely on grotesque externals, as biographer Barbara Leaming points out in her fascinating but uncharitably rough biography of Bette.)

Davis seemed to layer on what amounted to a kabuki mask, and added to it a hard eyeliner, which narrowed her famous popping orbs. In repose, the face was inscrutable. (Was she calling on the memory of Gale Sondergaard, her nemesis in “The Letter”?)  Bette’s Regina was devoid of any warmth or sensuality — qualities that Tallulah Bankhead, who originated the role on Broadway, had so much of.  And surely that was the point.  The insecure Davis was alert to being compared unfavorably to Bankhead. (Years later, however, she’d deliberately channel Bankhead’s persona for “All About Eve.” Movie stars — go figure!)
Davis in “The Little Foxes.”
The result of the makeup, startling as it is, even in black and white, seemed to reign in Davis’ tendency to over-emote.  It’s a cold, deliberate, brilliant performance. William Wyler still thought his star — with whom he had worked with so successfully in “Jezebel” and “The Letter” — was too fussy, and they fought throughout the shoot.  Wyler was wrong — Davis is admirably, icily restrained. (In 1981, Elizabeth Taylor would triumphantly play Regina on Broadway. And she — like Tallulah — would call upon the more humorous, voluptuous aspects of the character.) But Davis had made her acting choice, and it was correct and riveting.
As for Monroe and “Bus Stop” there was even more consternation.  After over a year on strike, while she fought for better roles, a choice in directors, and the right to make independent films, her home studio, 20th Century Fox was appalled.  Their troublesome sex-symbol, who had last been seen onscreen as the ripe, luscious fantasy figure of “The Seven Year Itch” was making herself “ugly” for her comeback film!
MM had already rejected a glamorous wardrobe, by Travilla. (The one design she accepted, she then deliberately battered. Cherie, she reasoned could not have afforded anything expensive, nor was she the type to keep her clothes pristine.)   Immersed now in “method” acting, Marilyn decided that Cherie’s major physical characteristic was her fatigue — she worked all night in a smoky, sleazy bar room.  She slept all day. She was kind of a mess, and it showed. (“Some people might say I’ve led a real wicked life, and I guess I have!”) And she had to be pale — dead white. (Her own complexion was famously fair, but she took nature one step beyond.)  
Her director, Joshua Logan, who came to adore her, was the only member of the “Bus Stop” team who sided with her.  Every day, he said, he received furious complaints about the makeup. But he considered Monroe courageous and on-target in her vision. 

Upon release, “Bus Stop” would garner Marilyn her best reviews and many — including Logan — felt she deserved an Oscar nomination.  Seen today, her pallor is striking, and although she is lovely and luminous, the makeup is not necessarily flattering. It ages her; she appears unhealthy — especially up against her robustly handsome, deeply tanned co-star Don Murray. But that, apparently, was what Marilyn was going for. And she never regretted her decision.
Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe — bet you never thought any kind of comparison could ever be found! 
MAIL:  Lots of response to our item here on the return of “Will & Grace.” With the exception of one fan, everybody else hoped, as we did, that the emphasis on our president was a one-time only, let’s-get-it-out-of-the-way thing.  One reader offered: “I suffer over the guy who is in the White House, but is it healthy to include some reference to him in every single aspect of pop culture, to ask every celebrity their opinion on him, to be unable to escape?  He loves to be a victim, and in some ways, we are making his case, to his base, for him. Does nobody see that?”
Also, a remarkable number of readers chimed in trying to guess who was the singer we interviewed some years back, who dissed Lena Horne?  We received a lot of Cher and Madonna which surprised me.  I’ve never known Cher to criticize another performer’s talent — that’s just not how she is at all.  As for Madonna, she has made some rude remarks about contemporaries — Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, etc. — but never a classic star such as Horne.  She actually has a lot of respect for that kind of history.  But the big “winner” was — for some reason — Ethel Merman!

In truth, nobody got it right, and I’m not telling. This lady is still with us, and while rather intimidating, was very nice, smart, and offered a fascinating interview. We simply agreed to disagree about Lena Horne.
 
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