Thursday, October 12, 2017

LIZ SMITH: End Credits

Marlene Dietrich in her Ringmaster outfit by Milton H. Greene.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The Best From The New Vanity Fair ... Rick Skye ... Rainbow
Flags ... and The End Credits Roll For Harvey Weinstein.

“WHY? Are you planning to kill me?!”

That is Shonda Rhimes of  “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, answering Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire query “How would you like to die?” 

I love the PQ. I usually turn to it first, for laughs and more than occasional inspiration, before tackling the rest of the magazine.
NOVEMBER’s VF, with Kate McKinnon on the cover, is one of those issues simply packed with great stuff. 

McKinnon’s profile, by Lili Anolik begins with a great Annie Leibowitz photo of Kate done up like Marlene Dietrich, when Marlene acted as a circus ringmaster for some Mike Todd extravaganza back in the 1950’s.  (Todd was one of Marlene’s many lovers.  He was also the second of her amours to marry Elizabeth Taylor.  Dietrich took it personally and really disliked La Liz.  Marlene would exclaim bitterly: “She is an idiot. It must be those enormous bosoms of hers!”)  I don’t know if Kate was aware of the history behind her photo, but surely Annie Leibowitz was.

Photograph by Annie Leibovitz; Styled by Jessica Diehl.
The interview with the talented Ms. McKinnon is very good, but I liked especially the beginning in which writer Anolik describes the tightrope elements of such a sit-down; “They are by their very nature transactional ... Use and be used, give and take, a mutual hustle and slide ... it’s easy to forget that our interests are at odds and that the relationship is, at heart, antagonistic.”  Luckily for interviewer and subject, in this case, nobody is antagonized or left feeling they didn’t get what they came for.

ALSO of note in the new VF is Rich Cohen’s big take on Jared Kushner — “The Potemkin Prince” — which is chock full of eyebrows-to-the-hairline observations and quotes on Kushner’s character, his history, his mysterious and infuriatingly “opaque”  personality, his handling and helming of New York’s once prestigious broadsheet, The Observer, his accomplishments so far in Washington.  I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite passage from this article.  But here’s one that has a lot of color: “Donald Trump is all about loyalty and is vindictive; Jared is his de facto favorite son; the Kushners are also all about loyalty ... so people are also freaked about Jared.  They project a lot onto him.  He’s like the heir apparent to a Mob family that happens to run the whole country.  So the big question is: is he Sonny or is he Michael?”  Author Cohen adds:  “Here’s what I ask: What about Fredo?”

VF OFFERS as well James Ellroy’s gritty rat-a-tat-tat dissection of the infamous 1963 “career girl” murders in New York City, titled “Buzz M for Murder” ... ”Fatal Initiation” Benjamin Wallace’s tragic and frustrating story of the hazing death of Penn State student Tim Piazza ... and Joe Hagan’s tale of the initially fond, then abruptly and bitterly aborted relationship between Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, and John Lennon. (There’s redemption in the end, however.)  This is an excerpt from Hagan’s coming book on Wenner, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.”  (Hagan will be at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Foster Theater on November 6th to discuss the book.)  
Credit: Daily News, Aug 29, 1963; Robles image, H.S. Stuttman, Inc., 1994
AND then there is the brilliant and always fired up James Wolcott, spewing righteous (and mostly correct, from our point of view) flames at our 45th president. But it is an article — yet another — that rests on the idea that Trump is somehow not going to finish his first term, and will certainly not have a second.

The piece, titled “The Tyrant Trap” warns how to avoid another Trump. Alas, that horse has left the stable.  This wishful thinking — “The moment Trump leaves the White House for early retirement, jail, a sanitarium or a Russian refuge” — fatally underestimates the power of his small but made-of-steel base.  Every time a “Tillerson called Trump a moron” story emerges, it encourages that base to be ever steelier. (That story may very well be true — Tillerson did not deny those words — but what was the point of it, except for Trump’s detractors to gloat all over cable TV and preach to the choir?)  

This sort of piece also fails to recognize the radical alt-right elements who will almost definitely take over the Republican party very soon — Alabama’s Roy Moore is just the scary beginning.  And even if by some far-flung chance Trump exits before his time, we are left with the terrifying Mike Pence, religious ideologue who wishes to run the country according to Biblical tenets. Faced with that, I think trying to handle Trump, for all his childishness, is the preferable deal.
 Official White House photo by Myles D. Cullen
SAVE YOUR Saturday nights every month, from now on. Why? Because down at New York’s famous Don’t Tell Mama cabaret, Rick Skye, the acclaimed Liza Minnelli channel-er, will be the host with the most at “Bazazz! A Sequined Variety.”  This will feature Skye, natch, doing his sensitive, boisterous and moving impersonation of Minnelli. Although “impersonation” is too banal a word for his affectionate, on-target work. (Skye trained with the Joffrey Ballet and Stella Adler.  He’s won a fistful of awards, and written and produced shows for himself and others.) There will be other well-known performers on the cabaret scene contributing — David Maiocco and Chuck Sweeney will join him for the first show. As well as Skye’s Kit Kat Boyz. They provide visually potent backup.  You can catch the first show on October 27th, at 7:00.  For tix, visit
YESTERDAY was a big day in Manhattan and in LGBT history. The iconic Rainbow Flag was unveiled and dedicated at the Stonewall National Monument (Christopher Street and 7th Avenue South.)  The Stonewall is, of course, the bar that was raided by police on June 28th, 1969.  This sparked a violent, totally unexpected response — “what, they’re fighting back?!” — and within 48 hours a new, powerful movement of liberation sprung vitally to life. This is the first time the Rainbow Flag will wave over federally-funded land, under the permanent protection of the National Park Service.
ENDTHOUGHT:  “Aren’t you ashamed of supporting Harvey Weinstein all these years?”

That’s the way a lot of our emails have been going, since last week, when the New York Times broke the ever metastasizing story of Weinstein’s three-decades of sexual harassment.

The answer is — no, and please don’t try that guilt crap with us.  We don’t regret praising his legitimate prowess as a filmmaker, back in the day. That has nothing to do with the horror stories unfolding here and now, in 2017. Okay?

We’ve struggled, actually, to write about the scandal. But just as it seemed “complete” another ghastly revelation would surface. (In fact I assume between filing this column and tomorrow morning, there’ll be another lurid element to the story.) 

It’s all over for Harvey — the end credits are rolling and no DVD extras.  I think it will be difficult for him to mount a successful redemptive second act, as often happens after a sex scandal.  This one is too much, a vomitorium of horrible behavior, intimidation, coercion, possibly rape.  (He asked for a “second chance” in his last public statement. And while most people are entitled to that, in this case I’d say, in show biz parlance, “don’t dress.”)

Not only has Harvey destroyed himself, his company may go under, his marriage is over, his children are — well, God knows what they are going through.  And every person connected with him has been stained, some quite unfairly.  It has, of course, become a political football, with conservatives forgetting SO much of their own history in such matters, and neatly side-stepping the fact that this story initially broke in that liberal bastion, The New York Times. (They only run “fake news” when it’s about the president, you see.)

Look, this emersion in sewage is not really a story about Harvey Weinstein or Hollywood or liberals. This is an indictment of the abuses of power in general, and the abuse of women, in particular. Somewhere, women in a law office or a bank or a restaurant or a tech company or even the halls of Congress, are dealing with their own Harvey Weinsteins. Alexander Hamilton said: “A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired.”  We’re not confident that as grisly as Harvey’s ruin is, it will deter other men, with a fondness for power.  But we can live in hope. 

As for who knew what and when, I think that was best addressed the other day by a distraught employee at the Weinstein Company:  “Everybody knew Harvey did dirty things.  But we didn’t know THIS.” 

Indeed, everybody knew — or assumed — that Harvey was a lech, unfaithful to his spouse, etc.  It was the kind of gossip one hears regularly about movie stars, sports figures, your next door neighbor, your friends. (You might even gleefully repeat such gossip yourself.)  It was also the sort of tattle associated with movie moguls since the dawn of talkies.  The words harassment or rape were not a part of any Weinstein chat we were ever privy to. (In fact, the most alarming stories we heard had much more to do with his terrible temper, the treatment of his staff, rather than his sexual predilections.)

Between the daily distress alarms sent up from Washington, D.C., the Las Vegas massacre, the horrific California wildfires, and this business with Mr. Weinstein, with its many tentacles repercussions, and partisan hypocrisies, we have never felt wearier, grimmer or less inclined to write “entertainment.”

But we’ll get over it. 

Photographs by Patrick McMullan (Harvey Weinstein)

Contact Liz here.