Monday, June 5, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Still The World's Greatest Entertainer

When Geminis meet. Garland and Monroe embrace at the 1962 Golden Globe Awards. One wag noted, "The greatest meeting of pharmaceuticals in Hollywood history."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Judy Garland at 95 — Still "The World's Greatest Entertainer."  And Seth Sikes Will Honor Her in London and New York.  Also, rediscovering Frank Langella's memoir, and more on the divine Dina Merrill.

“SPRING being a tough act to follow, God created June,” said Al Bernstein.
Mythological figures Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.
WELL, when God created June, he certainly knew what he was doing! 

In the first week of that month, two of the most fabled movie stars, icons, mythological figures were born — Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.  Monroe on June 1st, Garland on the 10th.  Gemini’s to the core, they shared many similar qualities, though their lives and careers were vastly different. Vulnerability was the key. 

They were irresistible, unpredictable — impossible not to love, equally impossible to deal with.  They died young.  Monroe at 36, Garland at 47; both exhausted, both facing the dark night of the souls of their careers and personal lives. 

Marilyn was luckier, in terms of life-after-death. The industry that had derided the rebellious sex-symbol, hypocritically embraced her safely dead body and canonized her.  Today, more than fifty years after her passing, MM is the most famous dead movie star in Hollywood history. And she seems hardly dead at all! — still a cultural touchstone, mentioned almost every day, in some manner.

For Garland, who had worked since childhood, one of the most successful and adored movie stars of all time, respected by her peers, a live performing phenomenon, and a walking catalogue of personal carnage, her reputation took longer to be reassessed and re-appreciated. 

When she died in 1969, the press and public had been for too long inundated with “tragic Judy” stories. Only time would take the curse off. And of course, it did. 

Today Garland — who would be 95 — is honored and remembered as a brilliant actress, a totally unique, once-in-a-generation singer and the witty, no-flies on me raconteur of legend. 
All of which leads me to remind Garland fans that one of the most talented and charismatic carriers of the Judy torch — although that is not his only talent — is Seth Sikes.

Sikes has made a great name for himself in Manhattan cabaret, with concerts devoted to Garland, Liza Minnelli and more recently, Bernadette Peters.
On Judy’s birthday, the 10th, Seth will be in Garland’s favorite city, London (where she also tragically died) to perform his “Seth Sikes Sings Judy Garland” show at Live at Zedel.  If any of you want to make the trek, call 020-7734-4888.  London is lovely, and Seth is divine.
New York's famous and adorable cabaret star, Seth Sikes, in Russia, last week.
BUT, if battling TSA attendants and dealing with people who insist on reclining their seats into your lap is too much to handle, you can catch Seth do his stuff on June 24th at Feinstein’s/54 Below. 

This one will be called “Seth Sikes Sings Judy, Liza, Barbra, Etc ...” Wow.  I’ve never heard him interpret Streisand, and I wonder who are his “etcetera”? Yes, this show arrives smack in the middle of Gay Pride Month. And yes, Garland, Liza, Barbra and I assume “etceteras” are idols of the gay community.  (Although the epic Stonewall riots of June 28th had nothing to do with Judy’s funeral.  That was just one of those mystical coincidences. Still, some people want to believe it — so, go ahead.) 

Call 646-476-3551 for the Feinstein’s show. And hurry!
Mr. Sikes performs in Russia. His next act: "Seth Sikes Sings Dostoyevsky."
I RAVED about actor-star Frank Langella and his memoir  “Dropped Names” quite some time ago.

So many amazing tales.  Why, he’d met President John F. Kennedy, Jackie, Bunny Mellon, Noel Coward even before young Frank became a romantic “Dracula” on Broadway. He went on to play President Nixon on stage and screen in “Frost/Nixon” and to re-invent the essence of Noel Coward in “Present Laughter.” (His  resume contains everything from Madonna’s so-bad-it’s-good “Body of Evidence,” “Superman Returns” and the current TV favorite, “The Americans.”  On screens large and small, he has done The Lot.  Off-screen, he’s done quite a lot, too!)
Frank Langella as Dracula on Broadway.
As President Nixon in “Frost/Nixon."
As KGB agent Gaad in "The Americans."
Recently, I picked this book up again and in re-reading it I "discovered" it anew.

Click to order Frank's memoir.
I’ve noticed when I carry the Langella memoir around, everyone asks about it. People ask to borrow it as if it is a new and rare article of literature and they can’t afford to get it on Amazon or visit the Strand Bookstore just below 14th Street.

Indeed, I had forgotten myself how good it is, with its clever  take on the actors, movers, shakers, tycoons and famous he has known, admired, loved and — sometimes — casts a caustic eye upon.

It is enthralling. Did he like them? Did they come after him and he rejected them, or not? Did he despise them or end up in bed with them?  The book is not written in an ABC manner. Frank is a green — but always sexy — boy in one story. In another he is a star about to romance Rita Hayworth when she was on the downward slide to Alzheimer’s. (He is not afraid to come of as a young man with an ego, not always an innocent. In fact, he is quite cheerfully libidinous and sure of his allure.)  Brooke Astor, Queen Elizabeth and Elizabeth Taylor are just a few more who crossed Langella’s path.
Frank and Rita in the "Wrath of God."
He is analytical and perceptive. If you are interested in brilliant observations that may be entirely truthful or truth mixed with myth, or truth softened or hardened by time, I say this is a rare, delicious, often moving journey.

I had forgotten what a pleasure it is. And ... the chapter on Anne Bancroft is worth the price of any new or old book.

You’ll be surprised by the empathy with which Frank Langella sums them all up! And the hard eye he casts upon himself, from time to time. From HarperCollins Publishers.
Langella first met Bancroft in 1966 when they co-starred in a play.
I RECEIVED a lovely note from Ted Hartley, the late Dina Merrill’s husband.  He was her third spouse, and from all accounts the most fulfilling love of her life.  She was certainly his. 

Ted, who would have celebrated his and Dina’s 28th anniversary this autumn, describes her as “my first and only spouse.”   Ted reminded me of some of Dina’s troubles — the loss of two of her children, David and Heather, describing them as “wounds that never healed.” 
Dina and Ted in 2012.
He was pleased with our words of praise about Dina Merrill the woman about whom never an unkind word was ever said, as well as our tribute to her beauty and style.  And to her career, as well.  Ted wrote that Dina was a woman happiest with her family.  But now and then, she did wonder what would have happened had she been a little more selfish, concentrated on that career which seemed destined to go places?

But, Ted emphasized, Dina kept no grudges and carried no deep regrets — certainly not about never having become a big movie star. 

His regret, and ours, is that this lovely woman is no longer here.
Dina Merrill by Warhol, 1976.

Contact Liz here.