Thursday, March 9, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Letters of Love

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

My Own "Letter of Love" To Kirk Douglas ... Michelle Dockery Talks Lady Mary, Letty Raines and "The Sense of An Ending."

“YOU NEVER get a second chance to make a first impression,” said Will Rogers.
I’VE told this tale before, so sue me!

The first  movie star I ever saw — in the flesh — was Kirk Douglas. He is now 100 years old and literally has 91 movies to his credit.

But when I first saw him, I was working on a Dell Publishing movie magazine that was just a P.R. machine for actors-into-stars. One Christmas Mr. Delacorte of Dell ordered all of his slaves to assemble in a big room near his headquarters. We were to receive what was called our “annual bonus”, as a gift! This check must have been a hearty $10 or $15, at the most. But as I, a journalism graduate, only made $65 a week. In the early '50s, this was momentous.

When we were together, Mr. Delacorte announced, proudly, that an actor named Kirk Douglas would do the honors.

Although “Spartacus” was in Kirk’s future, we knew he was important — and good looking- and sexy. And he’d come across country to thrill us. He leapt onto the tiny stage!

I was much taken by his blond, handsomeness and he was wearing a deftly tailored Glen Plaid suit. I had never seen such a suit in all my Texas years.

So when it was my turn, I stepped up, put my hand out, almost fainted from his friendly smile and stumbled away clutching my reward. My real reward was Kirk!

Naturally, I inflated this non-incident and often name-dropped and put words in the star’s mouth and was a transparent fan.
Kirk Douglas made movie after movie and became top of the heap in Hollywood and the world.

Eventually, I myself climbed the ladder to a kind of success as a Hollywood expert and even a competitor to Louella and Hedda. So, thereby, I actually became friendly with Kirk and his wife Anne. I often dined with them when we met on both coasts.

Kirk, to his credit, always listened to my little nothing tale of how we had “met” when he was on his way up in the 50s.
Kirk and his wife Anne.
To his credit, Kirk, who was now a superstar, has added many movies and awards and children and millions of fans to his bio. He loved my story.

After reminding him and saying there were at least 150 Dell other employees who were there at that occasion, Kirk would lean forward at the table and say, “And I remember you, Liz, out of all those others. I remember you!”

He would lean back, beaming. It was so great.

So, it’s no wonder that Kirk Douglas has “chosen” me to receive his latest book. He described it as “Photos and Words that I guess will be the last of the Douglas literacy factory.”

Running Press, a Hachette imprint, is bringing out Kirk’s book May 2nd. His grandson Cameron and granddaughter Kelsey are recording the audio in NYC later this very month. “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, and a Lifetime in Hollywood.” Buy it and enjoy it.

I am so happy that this grand star remembers me so vividly. (Kidding!)
Click to order "Kirk and Anne (Turner Classic Movies): Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood."
“WE’VE HAD about six episodes directed by men and women from Sweden or Denmark. You wouldn’t think they’d ‘get’ the material, the landscape of that part of America, or the characters so well, but they did!”  

That was Michelle Dockery, talking about her TV series, “Good Behavior” which debuted last year, and which was — to the cheers of fans — picked up for a second. (Dockery and her co-star, Juan Diego Botto, begin shooting season two in about a week.)
We caught Michelle for a few words at the Manhattan screening of her intriguing new movie, “The Sense of an Ending” (based on Julian Barnes’ much-admired short novel.)

In person, in the almost transparent pale flesh (accentuated  by scarlet lips) Ms. Dockery is even more attractive than her most famous character, “Downton Abbey's” haughty Lady Mary or her current morally ambiguous Letty Raines, of  “Good Behavior.”
Marion Curtis/Starpix
Although Michelle was attending this Peggy Siegal event at The Museum of Modern Art to talk up her role as Jim Broadbent’s daughter in “The Sense of ...”   she was not adverse to compliments and discussion about Mary or Letty.  She laughed recalling the various ‘teams” during the run of “Downton” — Team Mary, Team Edith, etc. 

“First of all, Mary was no ‘lady’ — let’s never forget the dead Turk in her boudoir!  Or that she had to make sure that one of her suitors after Matthew’s death, was sexually compatible, before she’d consider marriage. I didn’t mind when she was being a bitch.  That’s fun to play, of course.  But I felt what she said came from honesty.  Her own honesty.  She wasn’t a hypocrite, she wasn’t — as we’d say today — ‘politically correct.’”
AS for the 180-degree turn she’s taken with Letty — a drugging, drinking, American thief and ex-convict, involved with a professional hit man (Botto)  Dockery is thrilled and happily surprised:  “Obviously, I knew there was life after ‘Downton’ but I didn’t think it would arrive so swiftly and so vividly. I love Letty’s aspirations to be better, in the face of so much temptation, her own ‘bad’ nature, her disappointments. And I couldn’t ask for better writing or more connection with the actors — especially Juan and Lusia Strus, who plays my mother, Estelle.  (This led to a bawdy discussion of Ms.Strus’ instantly famous scene with Letty, a discussion in which Estelle compares their sexual history; throwing shade, most profanely!) 
Dockery with her mother, played by Lusia Strus.
Dockery also said she was blown away when she read the pilot script, and saw how much Letty drives the series. “This is good, I don’t see it that much on TV.  But things are improving.  Even in feature films.  Amy Adams is ‘Arrival.’ And Emma Stone is ‘La La Land.’  Jeremy Renner and Ryan Gosling are very pretty of course ...”   She broke off laughing, “No, no. They are wonderful actors. But those films belong to the women, in my opinion. And that can’t be bad.”
Michelle Dockery and Jim Broadbent at the Manhattan screening of “The Sense of an Ending."
OF HER new film, Michelle said, “Well, I love my character, but it’s really Jim Broadbent’s movie.”  Broadbent was nearby and leaned in, “No, it’s not.  It’s just that my character is the only one who has to learn something.  Everybody else, all the women, they are fully formed.  My character has a rather cruel time of it.”  When I asked him what drew him to the character, he said, “Nothing.  That is, I wait to be offered and persuaded and I’m easily persuaded.  The man I play has a lot to learn, he’s complex and confused, human.”

Indeed, Broadbent plays a man whose memories of an old love and long-past traumas are re-ignited by a death, a mysterious diary and facing up to hard truths. It is exquisitely acted by Broadbent, Harriet Walker (so very good!) as his divorced wife, Dockery as his single, about-to-give-birth daughter, and the hooded-eyed goddess herself, Charlotte Rampling as that long-lost love. (Flashbacks, performed by a young talented cast are well done, with a particularly effective cameo by Emily Mortimer as the nervous, flirtatious mother of one of the adolescents.)

Not having read the book, I don’t know how closely the movie, briskly directed by Ritesh Batra, follows the source material.  There’s a lot of charm, and — can’t say it enough — wonderful acting.  But intentionally or not, things become ambiguous or confusing. I’m still not sure about certain motivations, revelations — and I was not alone in this confusion, discussing the movie after, although like me, everybody agreed it hardly mattered, given the pleasure of the performances.  (Almost all said, “I want to see it again!”)
The movie concerns itself with the vagaries of memory, understanding — or misunderstanding — what others say and do. So perhaps we are meant — like Mr. Broadbent’s lonely, cranky but caring character — to not quite “get it.”  Simply accept the humanity and inevitably of time passing, people changing, youthful passion — which can lead to middle-aged resignation, morbidity or wise, amused acceptance.

And realize, too, that regrets are meant for dinner invitations. In life, and in “The Sense of an Ending,” it is far more complicated. 

Contact Liz here.