Tuesday, May 23, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Mae and Rita

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Mae West and The Beatles — She Was NOT lonely and did not want to join their band.  Also — all of Sting, solo, on vinyl ... Alec Baldwin Loves Rita Hayworth ... and coffee that kills — literally!

“WHAT WOULD I be doing in a lonely hearts club band?!”
THAT’S what Mae West said when she was approached by artists Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, who designed the famous celebrity cover for The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.  They wished to include her.

"It is better to be looked over than overlooked."
I just love this story!  It is so Mae! 

Miss West was perhaps the most joyfully deluded narcissist in movie history.  She was Billy Wilder’s first choice to play Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” Of course she refused — what?  She was not concerned about aging or attracting men. 

Why, she was as beautiful and desirable as ever! (This in itself was a neat trick, as by the time forty-year-old Mae arrived in Hollywood, she was not particularly either.  But she was a genius at innuendo, and putting across her astonishing personality.) 

She believed her own self-created mythology and lived long and prosperously, never acknowledging age, changing times or tastes, or other sex-symbols. It worked for her.
Mae in "Myra Breckinridge" (top right). On Mae's planet, Raquel Welch did not exist. At all.
Eventually, Mae said yes. (The Beatles wrote her a letter — I would love to read how they finessed her ego!) She joined figures such as Marlon Brando ... Bob Dylan ... Fred Astaire ... Tony Curtis ... Shirley Temple ... Aubrey Beardsley ... Oscar Wilde ... Carl Jung ... Huntz Hall ... Lenny Bruce ... Albert Einstein ... Lewis Carroll ... Tyrone Power ... Sonny Liston ... H.G. Wells ... Dr. Livingston ... Laurel and Hardy and about 40 others, living and dead.

It’s likely Miss West never bothered to look at the cover.  If she had she might have been irked to see three other famous blonde ladies included — Marlene Dietrich, Diana Dors (Dors was the luscious and likeable British sex-bomb of the 1950s) and Marilyn Monroe. 

Of course Mae never admitted MM was anywhere close to the allure she embodied, and insisted Monroe had (as ALL women did!) copied her style. But years after Marilyn’s death, she said Monroe was “sweet” and if anybody had ever done a bio-pic, she might have “allowed” Monroe to play her.  Praise from Caesar indeed!

Anyway, I read this Mae tale in Entertainment WeeklyEric Renner Brown’s report on the big 50th anniversary reissue of the “Sgt. Pepper” album, which includes two discs of outtakes. 

Beatles fans are kvelling. (Some astute — and opinionated — music critics have recently dared to “slap the queen” and that declare for all its perceived innovations at the time, “Pepper” hasn’t aged particularly well and might even be their “worst” album.  Which means ... it’s still a work of art.)  

The big reissue happens on Friday.

P.S. John Lennon suggested three other people for the cover — Jesus, Gandhi and Hitler. All were rejected.

Hitler I understand. And The Beatles were perhaps still wary of John’s “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark. But Gandhi? He was so Sixties!
SPEAKING OF great big music news, On June 9th “Sting: The Complete Studio Collection” will be released as a vinyl box-set; all twelve of Sting’s solo career albums.  From 1985’s “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” to last year’s “57th and 9th.” (Sting is currently touring for the latter album.)   This is from Interscope Records. And yes, when they say vinyl, they mean it.  Invest in a turntable. Although these days, with vinyl having made such a comeback, most real music mavens don’t need to be prodded.  I still say it sounds better!
Pure perfection as Gilda.
I CAUGHT Rita Hayworth’s signature film, “Gilda” the other night on Turner Classic Movies. Each time I see it, I am more and more convinced that the words “Love Goddess” which were invented for her, were not only entirely correct, but no woman since has inherited the mantle.  Perhaps Ava Gardner came close. But Rita, in “Gilda” is perfection — the incredible structure of her face, the elegant, but-ripe-in-the-right-places body, the hair which seemed to have a sensuous life of its own, and her juicy, insinuating vivacity. 

Rita would lose that juice, that liveliness after “The “Loves of Carmen” (silly movie, thanks to Glenn Ford, but a brilliant Hayworth)   Whatever happened to Rita, during her marriage to Prince Aly Kahn and then a worse wedlock to singer Dick Haymes, robbed her of a certain inner life. She was still beautiful (that profile!) and could come to life in her dance numbers.  But, when she said to Robert Mitchum in 1957’s “Fire Down Below” — “armies have marched over me” and he responded, “I don’t make love to the dead” one feels an autobiographic sting.  Whether it was drink or early Alzheimer’s she seemed profoundly disconnected.  Which is why “Gilda” aside from its own pleasures, is so valuable; the woman whose most casual utterance seemed a triple entendre would soon vanish.

I was also charmed, before and after the screening, with the talk between guest hosts David Letterman and Alec Baldwin on the subject of “Gilda.”  I thought I couldn’t love Alec any more than I do, but his admiration for Miss Hayworth in her greatest film, was the cherry on the sundae, Or — the satin gown on the parquet floor upon which Gilda performed “Put the Blame on Mame.”   

But, then, I’ve always known Alec has great taste.
"Haven't you heard about me? If I'd been a ranch they would have called me the Bar Nothing."
THIS ‘N THAT:  I liked director David Lynch’s interview with New York magazine writer David Marchese. When Marchese asked Lynch if it was difficult to find his way back to the “Twin Peaks” characters in the new return of the series for Showtime, the director said: “It was just like falling off a log.”  Marchese: “Is that a good or bad thing?”  Lynch: “It’s a very good thing, David. It’s hard to stay on a log. Easy to fall off.”

As for “Twin Peaks: The Return” of course it’s completely crazy and hard to understand — even if you know the crazy, hard to understand sources.  But I love it. (I know this means I should love the  surreal “American Gods” but I just can’t. “Twin Peaks” is like an old friend whose dangerous tendencies have become affectionately regarded quirks.)
... SOMETHING fascinating I learned from The Week magazine. It’s called “Black Insomnia Coffee” and the brew is as daunting as it sounds. Get this — if a 160 pound man were to drink 15 cups of  “Black Insomnia”  it would kill him. (It is more powerful than something called Death Wish Coffee.) The info about this java was in the magazine’s “And for those who have everything” section. (Usually the item is something absurdly luxurious with the purpose of helping make life easier — not helping you to the other side.)

Coffee is supposed to be a pick-you-up. But I suppose it can also be a put-you-down-forever, if one aspires to become the Borgia of caffeine.

Contact Liz here.