Wednesday, August 2, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Speaking of Marlene

Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film, “Stage Fright.” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

On Stage — "Dietrich Rides Again" and "Jerry's Girls." Also — Where Dance Music is Deluxe: Ibiza (and DJ Paris Hilton!) is still tops, but Mykonos is catching up.

“WHAT VERMIN some vermin are!”

That is Marlene Dietrich, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film, “Stage Fright.”  Miss Dietrich, as the somewhat shady but extremely glamorous stage star Charlotte Inwood, is unburdening herself to Jane Wyman, who has been posing as Dietrich’s dim, plain assistant, the better to trap Miss Teasdale into admitting to murder. 

I watched this little gem again recently, and came away, as usual, astonished that it is considered minor or inferior Hitchcock. It is really quite splendid.  Certainly it is a great Dietrich performance!  (But I’m no film critic.  I also have an odd fondness for Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case” which is considered even less effective. Alida Valli is just hypnotic in that.  Maybe we’re simply suckers here for ladies with remarkable bone structure.) 
Alida Valli in “The Paradine Case.”
One thing about the pivotal Dietrich/Wyman scene; Jane reveals herself when it looks like Marlene isn’t going to confess.  “This sounds remarkably like blackmail,” purrs Marlene, “Perhaps we should go to the police.” 

When the star then realizes her maid is no maid, she flings aside her white fur wrap, the better to confront her enemy.  However, Miss Inwood also held a cigarette in that hand — the hand that tossed the fur. The camera closes in and we don’t know if Marlene is still holding her ciggie or has it been discarded with the fur, perhaps smoldering in the fur? 

This is why we’ll never be real movie critics. Things like the possible ruin of ermine get in the way of genuine analysis.
“This sounds remarkably like blackmail."
Justyna Kostek as Marlene.
SPEAKING of Marlene — yes, there was a point to all that! — on August 4th, this Friday, there will be a special “VIP Industry Preview” of  “Dietrich Rides Again: A New Theatrical Event & Musical Affair About  a Woman Who Mattered.”
This happens at Workshop Theatre (312 West 36th Street) at 8:45 p.m. The show has been written and is performed by Justyna Kostek, directed by Oliver Conant. (Film fans may recall Conant as a young actor in movies such as “Summer of ’42,” and “Class of ’44.”  Also onstage in Jean Kerr’s 1973 play, “Finishing Touches.”)   Kostek is the founder of Denmark’s acclaimed theater company Atelier Teatral, and has among her New York credits a musical about Helen of Troy.

Miss Kostek will perform such Dietrich classics as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” ... ”Falling in Love Again” ... ”Look Me Over Closely” ... .”The Boys in the Backroom” and  the wild and wacky “Hot Voodoo” from “Blonde Venus.” (Will she, as Marlene did, slowly emerge from a gorilla costume, warbling about sin, gin and dancing wearing only a smile?)  

This show has a limited run, from August 31st until September 17th at the Medicine Show Theatre (549 West 52nd Street.)  For ticket info about the special preview and/or the regular run, call 866-811-4111. Or  518-386-9533.
ANOTHER limited engagement you might want to invest time in.  At The York Theater Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue) beginning Saturday, August 5th and running through the 13th. It is a special presentation of “Jerry’s Girls.”  This is a marvelous tribute to the big songs, sung by the great women of such Herman classics as “Hello, Dolly!” ... “Mame” ... “Mack and Mable” ... “Dear World” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”  (Okay, ZaZa from “La Cage” is really drag performer, Albin, a man. But let’s not split hairs or smudge the mascara.) 

On board so far are Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Christine Pedi and Stephanie Umoh. All are well known to theater-goers. I say “so far” because “Jerry’s Girls” is the kind of show that begs for surprise appearances — Bernadette, Bette, are you there? 

This delicious revue has been around since the mid-1980’s, often revived. On Broadway in ’85 the cast included Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Leslie Uggams, Dorothy Loudon and Andrea McArdle.

Call 212-935-5820 or visit
REMEMBER Paris Hilton?  I know, it seems centuries ago that her antics consumed tabloids, magazines and real news airtime. (I’ll never forget Anderson Cooper’s barely concealed ire that he — a respectable CNN anchor — was obliged to cover Paris’ epic release from jail back in 2007, which was being relayed live on every station.  In the years since, he’s relaxed his standards.)
Well, after her somewhat wild youth, Paris settled down, more or less.  And for the past five years she has been a big deal in Ibiza, Spain, of all places, as a much-respected DJ.  Recently, she made a bit of a return to her “singing career,” but mostly she concentrates on her businesses and her power to drive people crazy on the dance floor, mixing and choosing songs to maximum impact.

In an interview with Billboard magazine she explained her technique and also declared to writer Steven J. Horowitz: “I love blowing people away and showing them that I’m more talent than name.” 
(Personally, I was never sure of Paris’ talent — and I certainly don’t know what expertise is involved in being a DJ, but I always thought she was much nicer and smarter than her one-time spoiled party girl image.)

But Miss Hilton’s dominance in Ibiza might be dimming. In the same issue of Billboard, Jack Tregoning reports that despite the dire economics of Greece, the fabled island of Mykonos — where Zeus and the Titans battled for divine supremacy — is “becoming an international Mecca for sun-drenched, ouzo-fueled partying as fans pour in to hear the latest dance music.”  Although Ibiza is still going strong, the consensus is, if you want the biggest bang out of new dance music, head to Mykonos.

We knew you’d want to know.
MAIL: “Liz, I wish there was a comment section to this column on Marilyn. I’d love to read the many sure to be interesting remarks!”  That was Mike Sapio, emailing us about Monday’s column on the Turner Classic Movies tribute to Miss M.

Well, Mike, we have received quite a few, but two are most worthy of mention. 

One, from the great actor/playwright Charles Busch. Charles wrote about MM’s immersion in The Method:  “To me the interesting aspect to her approach was that while it may have been totally self-indulgent and time-consuming, it provides a wonderful, vulnerable, soulfulness and honesty that adds something of value to her work. In the end, what mattered was what she got up on the screen.”
Another message signed only “A Liz Smith and Marilyn fan” stated: “I was annoyed at Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey’s intros and outros to ‘Some Like It Hot’ a while ago.  There was something smug about Tina Fey’s sage acknowledgement that Billy Wilder’s script was ‘very well constructed.’ And they both dismissed Marilyn’s contribution entirely, just talking about how late she was and how ‘fat’ she was!”

Hmmm. Well, I’m certain my friend Mr. Baldwin and surely Ms. Fey didn’t mean to body shame MM.  Perhaps they were unaware that Marilyn was heavily pregnant by the time production ended on “Hot.”  She would lose that baby shortly after — her third miscarriage in three years with Arthur Miller. 
A pregnant Marilyn erupts from her gown on location for "Some Like It Hot." As filming  went on, her condition became increasingly obvious.   
As a woman, a mother and a nice person, how could Tina Fey not feel compassion for Monroe’s struggles — the psychological and physical effects of repeated miscarriages.  Not to mention the star’s excruciating lifelong battle with endometriosis. (Marilyn’s menstrual periods were so debilitating she would fall to the floor in agony. She was reliant on painkillers from adolescence onward.)

Under the glamour, as one close friend noted, there was constant physical pain, and the cruel irony that the great sex-symbol felt she was a failure to herself, as a “real woman.”
Contact Liz here.