Friday, September 15, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Illuminated, Encouraged and Enlightened

"America's long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what's right ... Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America." — Barack Obama
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Finally, Friday! Edith Windsor ... Kathleen Chalfant ... Jared Kushner ... "West Side Story" anniversary show ... more on Darnell and Crain and Olivia de Havilland.  

the truth is if you really care about the quality of somebody’s life as much as you care about the quality of your own, you have it made,” said gay rights activist Edith Windsor, who died on Tuesday, at age 88.

Windsor’s life, her two great loves (Thea Spyer and Judith Kasen Windsor) her tenacity, passionate commitment to what was simply just and fair — she battled the Supreme Court and she won — illuminated, encouraged and enlightened millions who looked at her with something akin to awe.  She had succeeded in vibrant old age, winning federal rights for same-sex couples, where youthful firebrands had been stalled. 
Edie Windsor at DC Pride 2017.
I especially love this memory of Ms. Windsor from New Yorker writer and friend Ariel Levy: “The last time I saw her, that summer on the Cape, it was a month after her eighty-sixth birthday. We were by the bay outside the apartment she’d rented for the season, splashing our feet in the water and trying to determine if the glittering ripples were from phosphorescent plankton or from moonlight. It was almost midnight when I told her that I should probably get on my bike and go home, so she could get some sleep. ‘Sleep!’ she shrieked. ‘Are you kidding, cookie? I want to go out dancing!’”
SPEAKING of The New Yorker, which we almost always are, several stories caught my attention. 

One was Hilton Als’ celebration of the great actress Kathleen Chalfant, who is now appearing at the Playwrights Horizon’s production of “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday.”  Chalfant is one of those actors who you instantly recognize, know the voice, have seen her plenty in films, on TV and stage, but somehow can’t quite “place” her or immediately remember the name.  She is invariably fascinating. 
Kathleen Chalfant in For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday. Photo: Bill Brymer/Actors Theatre of Louisville
Another New Yorker piece that amused me was “Jared Kushner’s Harvard Admissions Essay” by Megan Amram.  It begins: “Dear Harvard: How are you?  I hope you are well!  My name is Jared Kusher, and I would like to go to you. As an example of how smart I am, here is some money.”  It gets even better from there. 

You know there are times I can actually summon up some sympathy for Donald Trump — the narcissist can’t help it. As I wrote many months ago, warning Democrats not to be so complacent, he is a child, but a surly, dangerous one.   However, his adult offspring and in-laws?  The staff?  The enablers?  Nope. I’m cold as ice.     
Illustration by Luci Gutiérrez for the The New Yorker
Also noteworthy in this issue — Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Invasion Equation” chronicling the unending mysteries of cancer.  As well as Rachel Aviv’s heartbreaking and eye-opening tale of a police officer’s rise and fall, “A Muslim Cop’s Trial.” 

And with politics on our mind, Jessica Pressler’s profile and interview of Michael Moore  in the September 7-11 issue of New York magazine should be required reading. Especially by all those (you know who you are) who chortle and smirk every evening on cable TV, assured that the convoluted “Russian scandal” will bring down the president.  Moore, who might have been the only person other than myself, who I knew of, who thought Hillary Clinton would lose, has wise, scary words on Russia and the over-optimism generated there.  But he is a Cassandra, his prophecies unheeded until the great walls of Troy fall.
Photograph by Platon for New York magazine
WHO doesn’t love “West Side Story”?  Really?  I don’t want to know. Anyway, the great Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein/ Arthur Laurents musical celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.  And on Tuesday, September 26th at Feinstein’s 54 Below, a concert celebration will occur, “featuring young talent and theater veterans.” (I hope this means Miss Chita Rivera pops in!)  Michael Portantiere will produce and host. Matthew Martin Ward is the musical director. This promises to be a big, delicious evening. For tix info visit   
MAIL:  Lots of response to our mention of “A Letter to Three Wives,” Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain earlier this week.

Rick Gould
says Darnell “might be the cinematic cousin to Cher’s Loretta in ‘Moonstruck.’ Smart, no-nonsense and a bit snarky, both characters think they’ve got all the answers, until an unlikely sparring partner comes along.”  (True, except that Darnell’s Lora trades on her sexual allure.  Cher in “Moonstruck” is a widow who thinks her sexuality is past expiration.)
Bill Biss recalls Darnell from her most sensationally famous film, “Forever Amber,” a watered-down version of the bodice-ripping Kathleen Winsor bestseller.
Paul Ross reminded us that 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck had toyed with the idea of Jeanne Crain to play Eve opposite Claudette Colbert’s Margo Channing in “All About Eve.”  But Anne Baxter got the role, then Colbert broke her back just before production began, Miss Bette Davis was quickly hired — and history was made!

Many readers chimed in to remind us the insinuating voice of unseen, omnipresent Addie Ross in “A Letter to Three Wives” was the wonderful Celeste Holm.  (Holm would have a pivotal onscreen role in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s  next movie, “All About Eve.”)
And artist Russ Elliott wrote in on another subject we broached recently, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  Russ — who was also a Marlboro Man briefly — recalled: “Huntington Hartford called and asked me to escort the Duke and his wife to Salvador Dali’s one man show.  For fun I said why not?  They arrived with a pug under each arm.  And introduced me to martinis. I ended up with both dogs under my arms after gaining their love for pigs in a blanket.  The Duke and Duchess were great fun. And very much in love.”

Most people who encountered the famous couple came away with something of the opposite view.  And certainly the Duchesses own letters reveal dissatisfaction and regret.  But they carried on their public life as an example of the sacrifices of great love, and were likely at least sometimes satisfied with their fame and mythology.
AND HERE is a final shout-out to the great actress and star Olivia de Havilland.  I understand she is NOT, absolutely NOT backing down on her lawsuit against Ryan Murphy and the interpretation of herself in his “Feud” TV series.  This woman doesn’t kid around.  She took on Jack Warner back in the 1940s and succeeded where even Bette Davis failed.  She is, in business, much less the simpering Melanie in “Gone With the Wind” and more Cousin Miriam from “Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”

I say, give the lady what she wants, Mr. Murphy. Be a gent.
Contact Liz here.