Monday, January 23, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Independent heroines

Melinda Hughes is planning a one-woman show about the famous cabaret star Margo Lion.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Melinda Hughes — She is a Vamp, and so much more! Also, Boo, Hiss, to Ryan Murphy, torturing Monica Lewinsky all over again. And an eyewitness tells the real tale of Elizabeth Taylor and 9/11.

“AND NOW I’m going to sing ... ’Aida!’”

That was Judy Garland during one of those late-career concerts, in which her troubled voice, for one night (or one song) was miraculously restored, and her audiences went berserk.

Miss Garland never sang “Aida” but last week I spent a delightful evening with a woman who has performed Verdi’s tale of old Egypt.  She’s also sung “Tosca” and “Madame Butterfly.” But at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Room Melinda Hughes was no opera diva, but rather a brilliant cabaret goddess, a satirist of high order.

Perhaps because it was the night before the night before the inauguration; perhaps Miss Hughes’ love and knowledge of Weimar cabaret (Berlin before the war) played a part, but the audience that greeted Hughes so ecstatically were definitely in a mood.  The atmosphere was at once joyous and desperate.  And Hughes — wittily, wisely, movingly — knew exactly the right note to play (and hit — her operatic skills did go unused.) 

With able assistance from Jeremy Limb and Lloyd Evans, Hughes has written and delivers such topical ditties as “Britannia Waives the Rules” (Brexit) ... ”Selfie” ... and “Tweets in the Night” (inspired by and dedicated to the man who now occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)   She also digs deep in Weimar, with Mischa Spoliansky's “The Smart Set”, a mash-up of “Das Lila Lied” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and “I Am a Vamp.”  (“I am a vamp, I am a vamp, half-woman half-beast/I suck my men and drain them dry, and then I bake them in a pie.”)  She was accompanied by David Shenton, piano, Mark Wade, bass, and Doug Yowell, on the drums.
Melinda Hughes taking selfies during her ”Selfie” song.
When Hughes left the stage, I was not alone in wishing she’d start all over again, from the top.  She is both elegant and madcap — if Emma Thompson had gone into cabaret, she’d be Melinda Hughes.  And the way Hughes puts her songs across, she’s likely an excellent actress.  (I can easily see her as one of Jane Austen’s independent heroines.) In London, where she is adored, some fans refer to Melinda's onstage persona as "Noel Coward on drugs!"
Melinda on stage in London.
Melinda in "Adia" and "Madame Butterfly.”
If The Metropolitan Room is smart, they’d rebook her instantly.  Melinda is planning a one-woman show, titled “Margo” about the famous cabaret star Margo Lion (Margo knew Dietrich “when.”)  In 2011 she released a CD “Smoke and Noise” that was very much admired.  When we suggested she’d be more than ideal as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” Melinda exclaimed, “Is it being revived again?  If it is, I want in!!”

I wasn’t familiar with Melinda Hughes before last week. Now I want to be overly familiar! 
Hoisting celebratory cocktails afterward at Zoute BXL, with her charming French boyfriend, Denis Mirlesse, she was delightful, full of fun, but aware of the particular vibe her audience was giving off, and how her performance that night seemed inevitably shaped by it.  Also, she is strikingly attractive; has a perfect, flawless English complexion. Cloudy skies and damp mist are quite the beauty treatment.  (Melinda was dressed by Marchesa, and wore it so stylishly they are letting her keep it.)
Melinda, dressed in Marchesa, with superfan Mario Batali.

... I WAS amused to read, in the Hollywood Reporter, that Netflix has reported its strongest subscriber increase in its history.  Well, of course it has, look what it’s done to me! (I mentioned Netflix so often over the past year I feel we should be stockholders.)  I also have Amazon, and it has been suggested that I also subscribe to Hulu. The dealer passes; there are limits.
... I was NOT amused to read that Ryan Murphy is considering dramatizing Monica Lewinsky’s unhappy saga for his “America Crime Story” anthology series.  Please don’t. Have a heart.  The real crime will be dragging her name through it all, again.
... FILM historian and writer Scott Eyman wrote to thank us for our column on his recent collaboration with Robert Wagner, “I Loved Her in The Movies.”  He also gave us a bit of news.  His next one is titled “Hank and Jim” about the friendship between Henry Fonda and James Stewart.  It arrives this fall.
MAYBE Tim Mendelson, who was Elizabeth Taylor’s assistant and good friend for almost 20 years, reads this space?  Just a few days after we ranted here, over the British “satire” (now shelved) regarding Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando attempting to flee New York after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Mendelson, who was with Elizabeth, told the tale of those days, in detail.  Tim related his story to People magazine, which is only right, considering how many times La Liz decorated People’s cover. (Bested only by Princess Diana.)
So, yes, Debbie Reynolds stayed with Taylor at the St. Regis. Neither star was hysterical. Michael, Marlon and a getaway car were nowhere in sight.  As Tim noted “Elizabeth kept all of us calm.  She’d been through a lot in her life.” (Despite the relentless emotionalism and drama of her love life, Elizabeth was surprisingly level-headed and, well, “normal” in most other ways, believe it or not.)
ET and Tim.
Elizabeth also visited the New York Armory, mingling with with families waiting for word on their missing loved ones.  And the star was taken down to Ground Zero, which she later described to Mendelson as “looking into the gates of Hell.” 

Thank you, Tim, for jumping into this.  He really knows from whence he speaks, in terms of the kind of woman ET was.  When Tim’s mother was terminally ill and nearing the end, she asked if she could spend her last days at Taylor’s home, which was so beautiful and restful.  Without hesitation, Elizabeth said yes, and provided every care.  And, she stood with Tim, in the middle of the night, as his mother passed.
Tim, here with Colin Farrell, works hard to maintain the legacy of Elizabeth's unflagging work as an AIDS activist.
P.S.  Elizabeth’s personal photographer, Gianni Bozzacchi, has a new book out, “My Life In Focus: A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set.”  Gianni was part of the Taylor/Burton entourage for about ten crazy years. This is his second Taylor-themed book.  The first was titled “The Queen and I.”

I have not seen this new book yet, but some of the photos are appearing.  I like the ones of Elizabeth in a frilly pink dress/caftan/nightie thing.  She looks gorgeous.  These were taken in 1973, right after the first split from Burton.  She wanted to do the pictures to show the world that even un-Burtoned and in her early forties, she was not pining away. Indeed not. 
Although Richard was her great obsessive love, at the time these pictures were taken La Liz was entertaining herself with used car dealer Henry Wynberg. 

It was basically just sex and fun, but for three years, Wynberg became a world famous name, as consort to the world’s most famous woman.
ENDQUOTE:  From Maya Angelou: “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments — can see a possibility of hope.” 

Well, from your mouth to God’s ear, Maya. Let’s have a few hundred rainbows, because the only colors I see right now are ... varying shades of orange.
Contact Liz here.