Thursday, March 23, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Remembering David & Celebrating Sheila

A Rockefeller family portrait from 1920: Standing, John D. Rockefeller Jr.; seated from left, John D. Rockefeller 3d, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller holding David, John D. Rockefeller, Abby Rockefeller; on floor, from left: Winthrop, Nelson and Laurance.
by Liz Smith

Remembering David Rockefeller; Celebrating Sheila Nevins

“I BELIEVE the power to make money is a gift of God ... I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man according to the dictated of my conscience.” — John D. Rockefeller, interview, 1905
David Rockefeller died at age 101 in his sleep. That’s the way we all want to go. The giant economist and heir to the Rockefeller millions was “Mr. Nice Guy” personified! He was more than just a rich philanthropist. He was a dedicated genius at doing good all over the world with his family money and good works. I have answered any of the attacker’s of wealth with the simple, “Well. The Rockefellers gave New York State the Palisades over looking the Hudson River! So how’s that for Philanthropy!”
I, Liz, will tell now a story that I wrote here not very long ago. My friend, the saucy Suzanne Goodson and I went to the Loew’s Hotel not long ago at the invitation of our super friend Pete Peterson. He said his most admired pal, David, would speak. Suzanne and I appeared in a big ballroom and sought a seat before the dinner began. There wasn’t a seat to be had except at one large table where two people were seated. We made a beeline for the big table and realized we peremptorily had joined Joan Ganz Cooney and David Rockefeller.
Pete Peterson and David Rockefeller. Photo: Brian Stanton.
They welcomed us and made us feel comfortable. I asked, “David, why didn’t you let me promote and write about your wonderful last book?” he laughed and waved his hand, “Oh, Liz, I felt I didn’t need publicity!” We all laughed and then our table was attacked by a series of young men in suits and ties who took turns standing behind Mr. Rockefeller I realized they were taking selfies or handing their phones around taking photos of themselves “with” David.
I can imagine those young men today displaying the handily framed photo of themselves with their “friend” David.

He would have understood perfectly. So long, dear David, you did a lot for all us wannabees.

And I wish I had asked someone to take a picture of this great man and me.
The five Rockefeller brothers David, Winthrop, John D Rockefeller III, Nelson, and Laurance in New York, 1967.
YOU may or not recognize the name Sheila Nevins. But almost every person in show business, publicity, TV and network news, plus documentary film, certainly knows of the heroic Sheila.

She is also a law unto herself, the maestro of producing works that dissect someone or something and are seen the world over on HBO. Sheila is also beautiful, dashing, informal, indignant, affectionate, disorganized, a kind of “character.” Almost everybody adores, or fears, or approves, or disapproves of her (could this be the combination?)
Sheila and Liz.
I, Liz, personally adore Sheila and one of the proudest nights of my life was to be asked to present her to an audience that honored her in every way possible. After all she has been nominated for 166 Emmys, has won 31 of those, and 11 Oscars! Plus, three Peabody Awards!

Two of my favorite “famous” pals in the past were the popular Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and Broadway’s versatile Elaine Stritch. Sheila invited me to appear in her documentaries on Ann and Elaine and filmed me in her own Manhattan apartment. (Sheila will go anywhere, or not, as she sees fit. And you will go along.)
Sheila with fellow Texan Joe Armstrong and her Bichon Frise/Poodle rescue, Bogie.
This is a prelude to say that Sheila has a book coming out in May from Flatiron Books, titled “You Don’t Look Your Age ... And Other Fairy Tales.” I read this early on and dissolved in laughter, tears and amazement. Sheila prevails in her book, against all odds. She insisted that I record aloud a portion of this sometimes-shocking semi-memoir. Sheila taped me over and over, reading just one touching intimate chapter. She had selected it personally for me, even though I had lost my voice and haven’t recovered it to this day.

Click to order "You Don't Look Your Age...and Other Fairy Tales."
Then I found out that Sheila has rounded up over 100 star names to read her other chapters. Incredibly these VIP’s, who recorded the audio version of Sheila’s book, run from Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Gloria Steinem, Rosie O’Donnell and wonder of wonders Meryl Streep. (And that’s not the half of the list!)

Evidently, nobody says no to Sheila! The book is frank, sexy, heartbreaking, with tips about being a woman in a man’s world, the story of Sheila’s rise in spite of brutal competition, how to stay young and good looking, etc. Buy this book and also a copy of the amazing audio version (usually these are read by the author, but not this time!)

I asked Sheila why she gives herself the worst of it in some chapters and the best of it, alternately — I’ll just say, Sheila’s memoir is like nothing you have ever read or heard in the sphere of women using men to climb on, living under the burden of a very ill child, flirting, outrageously, advising the reader to marry for money, and many another contradicting and hilarious or sorrowful lifetimes. You’ll find that Sheila is an amazing, needy, arrogant, fun-loving, indecisive, and over-weaning bundle of contradictions.

Some people find Sheila either larger than life, or enigmatic, in her story. But there’s enough of Sheila Nevins to go around. She is usually great. And don’t miss the chance to become her friend. Sheila either innocently yearns to be gorgeous, sexy and all-alluring, or demanding that the reader-listener follow her “iffy” advice about face-lifts, being too fat, reading glasses and important matters — like marrying a man who is wearing a good-looking cashmere coat.  
P.S. I went to the HBO studio to record “my” final chapter yet again. As we were leaving the building, Sheila stopped me. She urged me into yet another studio and handed me a paper.

Sheila announced that she was recording people reading the Constitution of the United States. So, I sat down again and I recorded a part of the most important words in our world yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Sheila stopped me and commented on my Texas accent. She handed me the Constitution again. I did it trying to sound like Charlton Heston, trying to speak more correctly. Sheila nodded and let me go with her usual. “Wonderful!”

Contact Liz here.