Tuesday, June 27, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Hurly-burly of show biz and politics

“In my imaginary life? Audrey Hepburn," says Franken.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Senator Franken is "concerned" — and he loves Audrey Hepburn, too. (Who doesn't?) The talented Mr. Billy Lykken. 

THIS is the personal quality that is most important to Minnesota’s senator Al Franken. Factual inaccuracy is what he dislikes most. 

Illustration by Risko.
Sen. Franken was answering the usual list of questions in this month’s Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire. 

I often point to Sen. Franken as what politically motivated actors, singers, entertainers, comedians, sports figures should do, if they are so deeply moved by what’s happening in the world — retire from the hurly-burly of show biz and become a politician. Or at least concentrate solely on being an activist for whatever cause, on whatever side of the political spectrum you want to express yourself. 

How weary I am of actors just spouting off, on talk shows, red-carpets, during interviews. Few say anything of intelligence, simply allowing their emotions to run amok. This is not helpful.

I am thinking of three, right now, who one after the other, did or said absurd, unnecessary things. Liberals, upset by Trump. Me too!  

But what’s the point of public vulgarity, “artistic” stunts or “funny” threats?  I’m not going to name these three latest. One I admire a great deal, one has entertained me occasionally in movies and the other I don’t care to even give space to the name. But I’d rather not get into a public pissing match with any of them.

Is it too much to ask that public figures think once, twice, three times before speaking about the president.  Everything hyperbolically negative that can be said has been said.  Some of it printed here, during the campaign.  Bashing him every day won’t get him out of office.  The Russian investigation will go on for a very long time. 

We have to move past the cult of his bizarre personality and look to the issues of health care, LGBT rights, spending, taxes, jobs.  Issues he has apparently very little knowledge of or interest in, really. 

The president is not an emperor or king. He serves at the pleasure of the American public.  The sky is ominously cloudy, but it is not falling. We (those who did not support the former real estate mogul) lost. But we don’t have to behave like losers, whining every day.  That won’t help those who need help.  To celebrities — put your often considerable money where your mouth is, and watch that mouth.  Free speech is a marvelous thing, a right.  But it comes with consequences. 

“I did not support him. We all need to fight regressive, backward legislation and policies.  I’m writing a check as we speak. My state of mind, like that of Senator Al Franken is ‘concerned.’”

There, is that so hard?

P.S. Franken says that the greatest love of his life is his wife, Franni. But then he adds, “In my imaginary life? Audrey Hepburn.”
SPEAKING of the divine Audrey, she is Turner Classic Movies “Star of the Month.”  I watched “Roman Holiday” the other night, and it never ceases to amaze me that in her first major Hollywood film, “Roman Holiday,” she appears as a fully formed, dazzling and endearing personality, as if she’d been “Audrey Hepburn” for quite some time. (She’d been seen briefly in several British films, and had made a name onstage in “Gigi,” but she was a Hollywood unknown. Indeed Elizabeth Taylor was initially in the running for the role of the runaway princess.) 
Audrey in “Roman Holiday."
Audrey was one of those unique stars who became instantly iconic — so different, so appealing that the Academy could not resist gifting her with an Oscar. (She was up against another gamine, Leslie Caron in “Lili” ... lusty Ava Gardner in “Mogambo” ... disastrously miscast Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity” ... and the odd, shy Maggie McNamara in “The Moon is Blue.”)   

Years later, the Academy would bizarrely decline to nominate her for “My Fair Lady” because she “took” the role Julie Andrews made famous on Broadway.  Then it was decided her singing voice was not up to snuff — much to Audrey’s distress.  Julie Andrews in her screen debut, was nominated and won for “Mary Poppins,” a performance not nearly was as nuanced as Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle. (Although the George Cukor film itself is a leaden thing.)
Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.
Hepburn didn’t have great range as an actor, but then again, few true stars do, and what is “range” anyway?  She had charm layered on charm, a look entirely her own, a distinct, unmistakable voice. And an innate gentle goodness that shone through in every role. (Did she ever play a “bad” girl?  Was she ever convincingly bitchy?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think these were things she could have summoned up.)

When Audrey died in 1993 I recall we wrote that we’d never heard one unflattering, unkind thing ever said of her.  It was true. 
ON SATURDAY, I took in a new (to me) cabaret act at The Metropolitan Club. He is Billy Lykken who offers up an intense, eclectic show, a big elastic voice that borrows on the sounds and styling of great divas but remains his own.  Also gender-bending high-gloss makeup and costumes (not quite drag, not a tee shirt and jeans.)  He’s got talent to spare.  It is an entertaining act.  But what stuck with me was his closing song, “If You Believe” from “The Wiz.”  Given that it was Gay Pride weekend, the song’s empowering lyrics moved beyond the confines of Good Witch Glinda giving Dorothy some advice.  

The only version I’ve ever heard of this song, was from Lena Horne, who appeared as Glinda in the 1978 film version of “The Wiz.”  She also performed it with astonishing intensity onstage, in her “The Lady and Her Music” concert.  
If Mr. Lykken is not up to Lena Horne, it was still a great moment, a brilliant, knowing choice. (Tomorrow marks the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall riots — a spontaneous, furious declaration of independence that irrevocably altered gay life as it had previously existed.)

As for the talented Mr. Lykken, for all his amusing, exotic glam flash, he could do all that he does, minus the feathers, sequins, eye shadow. Talent will out, and often less is so much more. 

Contact Liz here.