Thursday, January 5, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Give a Girl a Break

Judy and Debbie, two of MGM's greatest triple-threat girls.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Thursday's Tumble — "Nutshell," A Unique Thriller ... More Debbie ... "Mrs. Warren's Profession" ... Eighties Music Stars Gather ... Judy Collins Loves Sondheim.

“IT’S ALREADY clear to me how much of life is forgotten even as it happens. Most of it. The unregarded  present spooling away from us, the soft tumble of unremarkable thoughts, the long-neglected miracle of existence ... she won’t remember the way she set down the spoon and the sound it made on slate, the frock she wore today, the touch of her sandal’s thong between her toes, the summer’s warmth, the white noise of the city beyond the house walls, a short burst of birdsong by a closed window. All gone, already.”

This is from Ian McEwan’s exquisite thriller “Nutshell.”  It is perhaps the most unusual and beautifully written “murder mystery”  I’ve read in years.  I can’t tell you one plot point without giving away what you’ll find out within the first two pages. But you need to find out for yourself.  All I can say, in a nutshell, is — this book is art. Most highly recommended.

P.S. My hat is off to anybody who tries to make a movie out of this one! But, as last year proved, nothing is impossible.
BACK in 1953, Debbie Reynolds appeared in a little movie titled “Give a Girl a Break.”  It was ostensibly a starring vehicle for MGM’s dancing duo, Marge and Gower Champion, but talented as the pair were, they were not terribly charismatic. Fred and Ginger weren’t losing sleep.  It was Debbie, vivacious and adorable, who benefited from that movie.
I’ve come to think the film’s title could have been the story of Debbie’s life, at least in terms of her husbands. Few women in public life suffered as much from lousy choices as did Debbie. As tough as she could be (and that was pretty tough!) and as smart as she was about her career, she was a sucker for men who used and abused her.  And Eddie Fisher was the least of it.  He humiliated her in his abandonment, leaping to the well-fleshed arms of Liz Taylor.  But clever Debbie claimed she and Fisher were very happy, and this was all coming as a big shock.  She wore diaper pins and pigtails to meet the press. She turned lemons into lemonade on a grand scale.  But that was her one and only success. (She also had the pleasure of watching Fisher humiliated when Taylor threw him over for Richard Burton.)
The newly widowed Taylor attending a premiere with Mr. and Mrs. Fisher.
The two that came after, Harry Karl and Richard Hamlett, were just downright evil and both bankrupted her. 

I have always been haunted by a phone call I received from Debbie some years back.  It must have been around the time her third marriage went under, and she was faced with losing money and property — all the wonderful movie memorabilia she had collected for her museum.   She called to thank us for a recent item.  Then she said, “You’ve  always been so good to me. A year ago you wrote something else, about how I was a real survivor.  And that’s true.  It’s been hard but I have survived.”  It seemed to me Debbie was becoming rather emotional.  She went on: “I saved that item.  I laminated it.  I have it here, with me now. It means so much!”  Then, shockingly, she burst into sobs.  What to do with a weeping living legend?  I let her cry.
Debbie swiftly pulled herself together, apologized, made light of her distress and we said our goodbyes.  I have never forgotten this glimpse of her great vulnerability and the pain she clearly carried with her.  She was, publicly, a cockeyed optimist, the show woman par excellence.  In her 2013 memoir, titled “Unsinkable” (in homage to her Oscar-nominated turn in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) she found more humor than bitterness in relating the horror of her final marriage.  Or at least she chose to put the humor front and center—MGM girls hold their heads high.
She later sent thanks when we praised her marvelous performance in “Mother” with Albert Brooks and when we expressed our severe disappointment that she had not received an Academy Award nomination.
Debbie and her daughter Carrie Fisher will be buried side by side in a joint service at Forest Lawn, tomorrow.
Fanny Brough as Mrs. Warren in the 1902 London production of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”

... Do you want to see a play that shocked Victorian London so much that it was censored for eight years?  The play that, when it opened in New York in 1895, caused the entire cast to be arrested?  Of course you do.

So, on January 16th, get yourself to SymphonySpace on 95th Street and Broadway for Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” This is part of The Gingold Theatrical Group’s ongoing “Project Shaw.”

I won’t spoil it by telling Mrs. Warren’s profession, but her name is Kitty. Go from there. The play stars Bill Kux, Charlotte Moore, A.J. Shively, Victor Slezak, J.Smith-Cameron, Talene Monahon and Paxton Whitehead. Call 212-864-5400.

... On January 28th, iHeartRadio will present the second annual iHeart80’s Party at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Well, who doesn’t “heart” Rick Astley, New Kids on the Block, Starship, Eddie Money, Astro and Mickey, Colin Hay of Men at Work, Ali Campbell, Night Ranger and UB40?  They’ll all be there, and the event will be hosted by Martha Quinn, one of the iconic original MTV veejays. For more info visit or email
... Last May, at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO, Judy Collins performed a “Love Letter to Sondheim.”  This tribute evening had Collins singing from such Sondheim treasures as “Merrily We Roll Along,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” Company,” and “Into the Woods.”  Collins says she always wanted to tackle more Sondheim, ever since her classic, Grammy-winning version of  “Send In The Clowns” in 1974.  So, in Denver, she did.  On February 24th, this dazzling concert will be available on DVD, from MVD Entertainment Group. Order at the MVD Shop or Amazon.
YESTERDAY, in commenting on pastor (and singer) Kim Burrell’s stringent anti-gay comments, and the strong reaction of Pharrell Williams, I said “stay tuned” in the matter of Pharrell and Kim performing their duet from the soundtrack of “Hidden Figures” on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. As it turns out, Burrell will not appear. Ellen released a very brief statement.
Now, some are saying this is an example of “liberal intolerance.”  No.  Ellen did not call for Burrell to lose her job, to be boycotted, to be shamed or bullied on the Internet.  And if others do, they are wrong. Ms. Burrell is entitled to her beliefs. And entitled to air them, too. We live in America, still.

But, since she has those beliefs, what part of Burrell’s brain thought it would be okay to appear on a program hosted by the most famous lesbian in America? 
“Glad to be here, Ellen.  Just the other day I was preaching that homosexuals should die this year, but maybe not you, if I get another gig on this show.”
And given Ellen’s legendary laid back, non-confrontational manner, there was no way the star was going to have Burrell on, and then get into a big hassle.  When beliefs are so ingrained, no amount of intelligent counter-argument or outraged “gotcha” moments will help.  Conversely one does not want to sit and chit-chat with somebody who thinks you should be dead because of who you love.
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, as the great song in “South Pacific” goes.  Ms. Burrell and her kind are lost causes.  Let’s leave her to heaven — more or less.

There are bigger battles to be fought.
Contact Liz here.