Thursday, April 20, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Something in the water

Zachary Scott and Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

How to Keep Your Batteries Working and be a Genius at  94!  One RingyDingy — I Get No Satisfaction On My Phone.  Also, Remembering Liz 'n Larry Fortensky.

“I HAVE asked myself over and over — was there something in the water at the University of Texas in the 1940s?”
THE OTHER day I was fascinated and pleased with the New York Times headline “To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old.”  I thought, “they’ve discovered me, because I have only been 94 since February 2nd of this year.”

Of course the Times story — written by the colorfully named Pagan Kennedy — was about the real genius, Dr. John Goodenough.
John Goodenough. Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times
He is a big deal (again!) at the University of Texas at Austin.  It seems in addition to encouraging the progressive atmosphere that makes Austin a Mecca of liberal futurism, this 94-year-old guy has also filed a patent on a new type of battery that is expected to revolutionize energy in the future.  We all use batteries, but these will be enclosed and much safer. (There is a lot of enthusiasm for this patent; back in 1957, Goodenough co-invented the handy lithium-ion battery.)

I see a Nobel Prize or something equally grand in the future. It makes me extremely proud to be a Texas ex, circa 1948.
President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Science to John Goodenough at the White House in February 2013. AP
And I see that the Texas Exes of New York are holding their Chili Cook-Out on May 20th, a Saturday.  This “Come and Taste It” event happens at Solas O at 21st Street and the East River. www.texasexesnyc for info.

How I wish all my Texas Exes could join me, but there aren’t that many still from 1948.  I’ll just name Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, creators of “The Fantasticks” and “I Do, I Do” ... Bob Benton, three-time Oscar winning writer-director  of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Places in the Heart” ... the great stage and screen actress Barbara Barrie, still knocking ‘em dead on Broadway, off-Broadway and TV.

Speaking of talent from Texas classes of the Forties, some are dead and some aren’t but I’ll just hit the highlights  of the ones I knew or remember.   

I went to the University of T with these winners:  Jayne Mansfield ... Kathy Grant (later Mrs. Bing Crosby) ... Fess “Davy Crockett” Parker ... Life photographer John Bryson ... cartoonists Bill Yates and Richard Wilson ... liberal leaders Cactus Pryor and Ronnie Dugger ... actor Eli Wallach.
University of T alum Jayne Mansfield photographed by fellow University of T alum John Bryson.
I recall we often took in vain the name of the only real movie star who had preceded us — dashing Zachary Scott, perhaps now best known as Joan Crawford’s faithless love interest in “Mildred Pierce.”

Was it something in the water?
P.S. The author of the New York Times piece wondered if age was a benefit to Dr. Goodenough?  He was 57 when he made his first battery breakthrough, and now 94, has something new.  He compared himself to the slow but steady turtle, and finally shrugged that at his time of life, “You no longer worry about keeping your job!”
SOMEBODY, please re-invent and bring back American Telephone and Telegraph! Do you remember how efficient telephones were then? AT&T was deemed a monopoly. But killing it, was indefensible.

Now, my phone rings all the time and is always cutting off conversation for no good reason. Sometimes it cuts out three times in one brief talk. Plus — how many times do I have to answer only to have a pre-recorded voice pushing Home Defense, the Democratic Party’s war cry, or tummy reduction?

And there is no one to complain to about this. The process for cutting these phones off is too dense to be understood by most humans.

My phone now speaks before I can answer, announcing it’s a call from California! So, I answer hoping it might be a movie star.

But it’s someone in New York calling. And while we talk (between cut outs) the phone keeps signaling California is on the line.

Nowadays, one can’t get no satisfaction. If I hang up on someone, they just thought it was a cut-out!
WE HERE at the Liz Smith office were saddened to learn about the death of Larry Fortensky, Elizabeth Taylor’s seventh husband (eighth marriage — she wed Richard Burton twice.)  Apparently, he died some time back, but the death was kept almost totally under the radar, because of some kind of family unpleasantness. 
  
We last saw Larry at Elizabeth’s memorial service in Hollywood, back in 2011.  Never having really recovered from a terrible fall suffered after he and La Liz split, the once hunky construction worker was all but unrecognizable.
   
We always felt that the marriage of Liz n’Larry made some sense, despite the 20-year age difference and his less than sophisticated personality.

They met in rehab, in 1988, Taylor’s second stint there.  She was overweight again, in pain from yet another injury to her back, and deeply depressed that she’d resorted to her old ways. (“I stupidly thought I could be a social drinker” she later admitted.) Larry was the first man to ever encounter her in such a run-down state.  She was not the glamorous goddess, bustin’ her bodice, that every other husband and lover had first laid eyes on. She was just a woman in pain, in trouble.  They bonded over their addictions and it is almost certain that she felt Larry had seen the “real” Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, and loved that woman, not the image. 
They lived together happily for several years.  He stood by during a life-threatening bout with pneumonia that brought Taylor closer to death’s door than had a similar illness in 1961.  But soon ET was fully recovered, revitalized, had a new fragrance to launch and was, of course continuing her fight against AIDS.  Her life and commitments once again put her front and center, and the higher she rose, the less comfortable Larry felt.  He loved her, he didn’t love her life.  When they married at Michael Jackson’s Neverland, ET was at another pinnacle of beauty, and Larry had been remodeled as well.  This column was the only news entity in the world to cover those nuptials. (All proceeds from the story going to AIDS research.) But Larry was not happy in the limelight.  He wasn’t thrilled with Elizabeth traipsing all over the globe to defend her pal Michael Jackson.  He became sullen and withdrew. 
In 1993, this column's Denis Ferrara went to Venice for an AIDS fundraiser Elizabeth was hosting. “At some point, Larry was parted from Elizabeth and the entourage and I had him alone, briefly.  He was very attractive and nice and seemed so happy to talk to somebody.  I tried not to speak of Elizabeth, but he brought her up, telling about work he was doing at the house, closets he was building, the different kinds of wood he was using.  I was impressed.  He seemed quite genuine, and kind of sad. 
“A few months later, I interviewed Elizabeth in L.A. when she was promoting her first line of jewelry.  The atmosphere was already chilly because she wasn’t happy that Liz Smith had family obligations and couldn’t do the interview herself.  Taylor wasn’t rude, exactly, but she gave very little. Desperate at one point, I mentioned chatting with Larry in Venice.  The chill turned to ice. ‘You spoke to HIM? About THAT?’  Had I said, ‘Larry and I spoke about your sex life’ the reaction might have made sense. ‘Yes. He was very nice. It was sweet. Nice, he was ... nice.’  Miss T. silently gave me a glimpse of her exquisite, famous profile, to display her disapproval.  Then we went on.  Apparently, at that point “nice” was not a word she associated with her hubby. (She also terrified the staff of Avon, which was producing the jewelry line. It just wasn’t a good day, all around.)
“Soon her health would decline precipitously, and that, combined with their other issues, ended the marriage.  She remained friendly with him, gave him a settlement, and likely contributed to his medical costs after his accident.  She had no bitterness.  She took a chance, and I don’t think she regretted it.”

RIP, Larry.  You were Elizabeth Taylor’s last grasp at the gold ring.  And for a little while, it did indeed shine. 

Contact Liz here.