Friday, April 21, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Marching on!

Joan Crawford on the set of "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Literacy Partners Marches On!  Heading Toward the End of "Feud" ... Andrea Martin, Hotter than Ever at 70!

“DURING THE night, I got another idea ... so I spoke to Robert Aldrich and told him there was one way to play this awful psychopath, who seemed to be a villainess from the very first scene:

Agnes Moorehead with Joan Crawford (above) before Crawford was replaced by Olivia de Havilland (below).
“Suppose we give her perfect manners.  You wouldn’t have to change a single scene. All you have to do is take out her rudeness. The audience will know she’s a villainess from the very first scene if she’s rude ... I was pretty sure Joan Crawford understood that something was going wrong, and that’s what made her sick. She knew she had to get out of the project, and she was right to get out the way it was written.”

That was the divine Olivia de Havilland, quoted in Gregory Speck’s 1992 book, “Hollywood Royalty.”  She was talking about replacing Miss Crawford on the film, “Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte."

Interesting stuff, in light of the Ryan Murphy FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan” which concludes this Sunday.   The series seemed to indicate that much of the fault lay in Joan’s interpretation of the role, not the script.  (Davis, still reeling from what she fantasized as Joan “lobbying against” her, and losing her the “Baby Jane” Oscar, did seem intent on driving Crawford crazy.)

Miss de Havilland, an old pal of Bette’s also spoke glowingly to Speck about Bette’s great spirit and generosity as an actress.  It would be fascinating to try to find Crawford’s footage; she filmed quite a bit.
Old pals Bette and Olivia.
I hesitate to contradict the lovely Olivia, but I always thought her extremely fine, silky, sexy performance in “Charlotte” also conveyed the character’s villainy right from the start.  As in “All About Eve” hers was as obvious a performance as Anne Baxter’s. And similarly only Bette’s maid (Thelma Ritter in “Eve,” Agnes Moorehead — spectacular! — in “Charlotte”) caught on.
I say, let’s try to find those Crawford scenes!  We say this with some hope because it was this column’s pressuring 20th Century Fox that led to the search and discovery of all the Marilyn Monroe footage from “Something’s Got to Give.”  Footage that put to rest the legend that MM was out of her mind and unable to perform (on those rare times she appeared on set.) 

Let’s try to do the same for Joan, although she’d be horrified to be in any way compared to Marilyn, whom she detested.  (Not enough of a “lady” for Joan’s regal taste.)

I’ve been writing personal letters to all, or nearly all the folks who have supported Literacy Partners for these many years. It’s over 20 years and I figure that designers Arnold Scaasi and book guy Parker Ladd joined me pretty early on. Our threesome managed to raise at least $20 million to fight illiteracy. Probably more!
Liz with Arnold and Parker way back in 2002 at an early Literacy Partners event.
There are still thousands of people who can’t read or write at the 5th grade level and maybe — five million of them are in the New York area. When Barbara Bush appeared on Literacy as a reader and a guest, we got a lot of publicity. Mrs. Bush, bless her, studied our methods and began her own Literacy project in Houston. She found out there were hordes of humans there who couldn’t read a medical Rx, a letter, a delivery address, etc. This made for lots of men and women who also couldn’t get good jobs to lift themselves out of poverty. (The U.S. didn’t copy the Japanese who won’t let anybody out of prison without them learning to read and write.)
Well, I digress. Mr. Scaasi insisted our Literacy fundraisers be glamorous. Sometimes we were. Mr. Ladd retired when Arnold died. And I miss them very much.

I was left in my 90s with not much glamour, energy or whatever it takes. But we are going to do it again this May 24th at Cipriani 42nd Street and I will be giving out “The Lizzie Award,” which I feel is over-rated and the recipient would probably prefer a stiff drink instead. Join us!
Here's the gang in 2006.
... ”HOW DO you have an interesting life?” asks Adam Sternbergh in New York magazine of comic legend Andrea Martin.  Here is her marvelous answer:  “I will tell you. I want you to write this down. Expand your mind. Read about history. Go to a museum. Go to the opera. Go to the ballet. Go to therapy. Understand why you tick!”

If I didn’t love Ms. Martin before I read her story in New York (and I did!) I love her more, now. Martin is familiar to millions, from her start on “Tales of Wells Fargo” (really!) in 1961, through her famous “SCTV” years, and on and on — a face and voice so familiar, yet sometimes the name escapes.  She also has more Tony and Drama desk nominations for Featured Actress in a Musical than any performer, ever.  She's won two of each.
Martin in the revival of “Pippin."
I saw Martin the revival of “Pippin” in 2013. When she came on to do the number (“No Time at All”)  that stopped the show back in 1973 with Irene Ryan, I thought, “Good as Andrea is, she’ll never top Irene.”  She did.  The audience went berserk.  Now Andrea has her very own NBC TV show coming, “Great News.”  Great good luck, Andrea.  

By the way, I always read history, I love museums, and I’ve been in therapy.  I’m iffy on ballet, but for you, Andrea, I might try again!
Also in this issue of New York magazine (with artist Kara Walker on the cover) there’s the story of another artist — Jerry Saltz.  He tells on himself; his painting, giving up his painting, becoming an art critic, re-discovering his paintings (and asking the wrong, or maybe the right? — person to assess his past efforts.)  Interesting and sometimes painfully honest. But what I liked best were his occasional quotes from Oscar Wilde, who is perpetually pertinent. This one made me smile: “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.” 
ENDTHOUGHT:  Memo to Democrats. Stop gloating in such an unseemly manner over the so-called “fall” of Bill O’Reilly. I am not defending or condemning Bill.  I have always had a cordial relationship with him.  His problems — like most everybody’s problems — are of his own making.  But his departure from FOX TV presages nothing.  The president is still the president — and he is Mr. O’Reilly’s friend and defender. Bill remains wildly popular among his fan base and will likely soon land another gig where he can opine.  He is very, very rich.  He has not apologized. He has been replaced by somebody — Tucker Carlson — who is as loathed by liberals as was Bill. Cable news has lost its signature star, but the horse bolted that stable years ago.  Nothing will change, in terms of how news — “fake” and otherwise — is handled.
His story was a ten-minute deal, not the hours and hours devoted to it on Wednesday. (I’d rather have had two hours on Korea or Syria.) So much smugness, condescension and wide-eyed faux surprise and outrage.

I’d like to hope women in the workplace — all workplaces! — will be better treated, more respected. However, considering what was ignored and thought amusing by so many during the presidential campaign, that hope remains fairly tenuous. Women’s battles are far from over.

Bill did his job in helping elect our current Commander in Chief, so one might say he did that very well, and — from the conservative point of view across the country — he is still a hero. For half of America, this has not been the "teachable moment" of lore.
To liberals who still cannot believe they lost the election and to rival news entities I say, don’t pop champagne corks yet. When your scandal arrives, as it inevitably will, it won’t be pretty.

And, I repeat, the president is still the president.

Contact Liz here.