Wednesday, February 1, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Living and dying

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Live By Night," Die By The Box-Office. Also — Darlene Love honored ... Lois Smith, "promising" at 86 ... and farewell to my favorite Caligula.  

“EVERY MAN is a king so long as he has someone to look down on,” wrote Sinclair Lewis in “It Can’t Happen Here” in 1935.

That book, along with George Orwell’s “1984” — published in 1949 — are both back on the bestseller lists.

Good reads never go out of style.
IF YOU watch awards shows, you’d think the only thing on Hollywood’s mind is the current administration in Washington, D.C. and who on earth is dressing Nicole Kidman?!
But actually, nobody can stop chattering about the astounding failure of Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night,” which cost over $70 million to make and publicize, and has so far taken in a meager $18 million. (Whenever I write something like this, I have to reflect on the changing times.  Back in the day — and I don’t mean silent movies! — a $18 million gross at the box-office was a huge, huge hit, a blockbuster.)  Ben wrote, directed and starred in the 1940’s-era gangster movie. It was a labor of love. 
Anyway, aside from the studio execs who are mournfully bathing in the red ink pouring from their wrists, the big “casualty” of  Ben’s movie is — Ben.  He has backed out of directing the “stand alone” Batman movie that has been in the works.  Right now, he still intends to star, but in Hollywood they are saying “don’t dress.”

Affleck already expressed some concerns that he wasn’t going to play Batman again (he was the umpteenth Caped Crusader in “Batman v Superman”) if the script wasn’t superior.  That was the distant sound of alarm bells. 
I say (because I am such an oracle and expert) forget Batman.  I like Ben as an actor — and as a person, in my experiences with him.  But he never convinces me as a superhero.  I have not seen “Live By Night” so I don’t know how convincing he is in that.  In any case, despite all the Edvard Munch “The Scream” expressions which are dogging Ben’s footsteps right now, this is just one of those typical downward blips in a career, like all careers, that rises and falls and rises again. (He’s not scraping for work.)
Still, I’d rather see him a small, intimate indie.  I think that’s what he does best, real guy roles.  Or, failing that, hook up with, say, Taylor Swift and get himself photographed on a yacht, working sunscreen into her backside, like the good old days with Jennifer Lopez.  We need entertainment!  It’s your duty Ben, in these troubled times.
"Back" in the good old days.
But this is interesting; Ben is slated to star in and produce a new big-screen version of “Witness to the Prosecution.”  Billy Wilder did a masterful version of this Agatha Christie classic in 1957, starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as woman with many tricks up her sleeve. (“Wanna kiss me, ducky?”)  And I just read an excellent review of a British TV version, starring the great Kim Cattrall.  I hope to see that over here, soon. 

I assume Ben will play the role of the man accused of killing the older woman he was keeping company with? As long as he doesn’t wear a cape or a mask, I’m on board.

... THE ETERNALLY fabulous Darlene Love will be one of among 16 performers honored at the 32nd Annual Bistro Awards gala on March 13th. This happens at NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club. The Bistro Awards has been “nurturing, encouraging, educating” cabaret, jazz and comedy artists for three decades. It is the oldest award of its kind in the biz.
Among the other winners — I just can’t list them all — Carol Woods, who receives The Enduring Artistry Award ... Jason Kravits, musical comedy ... Spider Saloff, ongoing jazz artistry ... Sally Darling for her tribute show, “Totally Noel” ... Lauren Standford, for her Helen Morgan in “More Than You Know.” Ms. Love is being honored with the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Previous honorees include Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, Eartha Kitt, Bobby Short, Ben Vereen, Betty Buckley, Lainie Kazan, Barbara Cook. For tix info visit 
Two former Bistro Award winners ...
... I LOVE that the brilliant character actress Lois Smith was included in the Hollywood Reporter’s column, “Poised to Break Out,” about five actors hoping to be noticed in a new batch of indie films.  The oldest of the four other actors in this article was 28.  Miss Smith is 86. Her film is titled “Marjorie Prime” and co-stars Jon Hamm.
Ms. Smith has worked for decades — long before she was a “character actress” — on stage, TV, feature films. Two Tony Award nominations and a shelf full of Obie and Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle wins crowd her shelves.  But she has never been Oscar-nominated, which is an astonishment.  I recall watching her mesmerizing performance in “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise, and thinking, “this has Oscar nod written all over it.”  Nope.  Maybe “Marjorie Prime” — and Jon Hamm — will get Lois, who is still in her prime, some golden guy recognition.
... RIP to Miguel Ferrer, who was so good (and so good at being bad!) in many movies and TV projects, gone too soon at 61. 
Farewell also to the great John Hurt. He was most honored and remembered for “The Elephant Man,” “The Naked Civil Servant” and his role in the “Harry Potter” movies.  But he’ll always loom large in my mind as the most insanely entertaining Caligula ever, in the classic miniseries “I, Claudius.” 
One more goodbye — the beautiful Barbara Hale, who became a household name as Raymond Burr’s able assistant in the long-running “Perry Mason” series.  With her looks and a terrifically distinctive, husky voice, I always thought Hale could have had a bigger career.  But she seemed content, and she certainly brought more to Della Street than what was usually written on the page. 

Ah, well, nobody promised that 2017 was going to take a holiday from death.
ENDTHING:  In perusing what is perhaps my favorite magazine, The Week, I was vastly amused to find something extraordinary, funny and grotesque on page 30, in the “And for those who have everything ... ” column. 

It is the ultimate “world domination armchair.” Designed by Harow in Paris, it’s a great big gold thing — 24-karat gold plate — with plush purple cushioning. Vulgar, but relatively normal. However, seen from the back, the chair is a massive, glittering, ominous skull!

It’s like something a James Bond villain or a mad dictator or emperor might enjoy.  One can appreciate the cinematic possibilities; walking into a room, seeing this huge skull which slowly revolves to reveal — somebody who wants to terrify, dominate, individually and globally.  (Or, for someone very insecure, who needs to overcompensate.)

If you can think of anybody who’d appreciate such an item, it’s a bargain at $500,000.  Visit
Contact Liz here.