Monday, February 20, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The Hidden Law

Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, and Bette Davis at the Hollywood Canteen Wall of Honor, 1943.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Classic Cher — Still the Greatest Concert Goddess, EVER.  Also, Seth Sikes ... Barbara Nichols ... Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars at iHeartRadio Awards ... Keeping it Cool with Susan Sarandon ... Re-appreciating Michael Nava's "Henry Rios" mysteries.

“MARLENE Dietrich approached her life and her art with a real fearlessness!  She would do whatever had to be done. Whatever she did, she went all the way. She did not complain, she did not explain — at least not publicly. She paved the way for women like me — she and Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn.  They were not timid, on or off the screen. They took what they wanted, and if they regretted their choices, it was not for public consumption.

“But also I understand, in the deepest sense of the word, how hard it is. My sell-by date is so past due, and so was Marlene's. I keep going too, but it's very difficult. It's harder as time goes on — you know, the older you get, the harder it is. But it's also hard to give up something that you love to do. Even though the grind is killing, it’s your life.”
That was the one and only Cher, discussing Marlene Dietrich a few years back.  I thought of this, after reading the rapturous reviews of Cher’s new concert stint, “Classic Cher”  in Las Vegas — raves upon raves, multiple standing ovations, crying, flower-throwing, stage-rushing.  Not only have I always loved Cher as a woman, I have always considered her the all-time best at what she does in concert.  Total entertainment, the HITS, a still powerful and inescapably distinctive voice and her wry, self-deprecating humor. 
Nobody does it better, and it is Cher, at a very youthful 70 years, who has inherited the glamorous concertizing mantle of Dietrich.  Yeah, it’s different — Marlene didn’t have quite the production values and amusing costume changes, but she too gave her audiences what they wanted, and in return Dietrich’s fans rushed her stages, sold out her shows and worshipped her until the legend’s self-imposed end — that  end was physical infirmity, of which Cher shows no sign. She needs to rethink her quote above about her "sell-by date." Cher’s luscious produce is still fresh.
She continues at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas until Feb 25. She will return for nine additional dates in May. In between Cher will take her show to Nevada and Maryland. Visit for info on all her dates. Or contact

By the way, I haven’t been to Vegas in years.  

... THE current Vanity Fair Hollywood issue is chock full of goodies, but here’s what caught my attention, on page 90.

It was a showcase for current baubles by the likes of Dior, Tiffany, Harry Winston, Chanel, Repossi, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc., decorated with luscious photos of vintage stars.  Ingrid Bergman and Olivia de Havilland were shown, bedecked.  I was pleased to see a shot of the divine Dorothy Dandridge, and even happier to spot the oft-forgotten blonde bombshell Barbara Nichols.
A talented, tough-talking, well-built fixture, Barbara was one of innumerable blondes who were referred to as “Marilyn imitators” though her style was distinctly different.  She was a great asset to films such as “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”…”The King and Four Queens”…”Pal Joey”…”The Pajama Game”…”Ten North Fredrick”…”That Kind of Woman” and simply superb in “Sweet Smell of Success.”  Never the star, always a welcome side-dish, she also did lots of TV, including the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Twenty Two” as a glamorous actress with a terrible premonition.  She died young, at the age of 47, robbing us of years of snappy character roles.  I’m glad VF gave her memory a little boost.
Barbara Nichols and Tony Curtis in the "Sweet Smell of Success."
With Fred Wayne in the "Twilight Zone." With Sophia Loren in "That Kind of Woman."
... MANHATTAN cabaret’s most adorable (and one of its nicest and most talented) performers, Seth Sikes returns to Feinstein’s/54 Below for his new show, "Seth Sikes Sings Bernadette Peters" on February 25th.  Seth was brilliant doing Judy’s songs, epic as a Liza interpreter. Very much looking forward to see what Seth does with the magical music of Broadway’s eternally girlish diva, Bernadette. (As Mr. Sikes knows, I am looking forward to “Time Heals Everything” and “Look What Happened to Mabel.” I wouldn’t mind some of Bernadette’s numbers from her 1980 album debut, including “Gee Whiz.”  But, no pressure kid.)  A couple of tix might still be had.  Call 646-476-3551.
... ALICE’S immortal adventures, down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass, are freshly reinvented with the NYC premiere of “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure.”

Performances begin March 4th at the Linda Gross Theatre (336 West 20th Street). With a book, lyrics and music by Rachel Rockwell and Michael Mahler, directed by Marshall Pailet, the show is recommended for “children ages 8 and up, but kids of all ages are welcome.” 

Among the cast — Lily Fryburg as the irritatingly curious and curiouser Alice ... Paul Hinkes as Chesire Cat ... Amando Gutierrez as March Hare/King of Hearts ... Sam Saint Ours as White Rabbit/Tweedle Dee and Crystal Arnette as the furious, "off with their heads" Queen of Hearts. Call 866-811-4111 for tickets.

... ON March 5th, Bruno Mars will be joined by Katy Perry, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, The Chainsmokers, Noah Cyrus, and Big Sean at the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Award. These will be telecast live on TBS, TNT and truTV, from L.A.’s historic Forum. This should be quite a show, with Bruno hot off his sizzling Prince tribute at the Grammys. Visit
WE received mail praising our attention to the coming limited series “Feud: Bette and Joan.”  But several readers wanted to know why we hadn’t “confronted” Susan Sarandon at the Monkey Bar after-party. (The actress, a Bernie Sanders supporter infamously voted for Jill Stein, rather than support Mrs. Clinton.) 
Susan Sarandon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jessica Lange at the screening of “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
To be honest, we’d already referred to Sarandon as an “idiot” here, months back, and the party was no place to have such a discussion. We were all there for “Feud.”  To be more honest, I avoided her, just in case I couldn’t control myself.

After I saw Susan with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, I realized discretion was the better part of valor for us. Hayes, who tends to be a nervous guy, mishandled the prickly Sarandon, who had no desire to explain or defend herself or give any opinions on the current administration.
Bra-less Betty.
She is entitled to her opinion and even that prickly attitude.  She’s a good actress and still maintains a lush rack. (An asset she has in common with the woman she plays on “Feud,” Bette Davis. Although the Davis structure was a trial to dress designers — she did not like to wear a bra.)

More than anything, the evening’s hostess, Peggy Siegal  would not have appreciated any drama. We love Peggy.

P.S. Ryan Murphy, producer and creator of “Feud” “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story” and “Scream Queens” revealed on Andy Cohen’s “What Happens Live” (where else?) that he would indeed pursue a series about the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Well, perhaps Miss Lewinsky is supporting it in some way unknown to us, but I doubt it.  I feel bad.  We know Monica, a lovely, intelligent woman who has suffered a lot.  We don’t want to see her suffer more.
"Feud" co-stars with their producer Ryan Murphy.
ENDQUOTE: “YOU know, we are the only people who get born into the enemy camp.  I mean, black babies get born into black families. Jewish babies get born into Jewish families, but gay babies, we get born into straight families.  How we survive at all is a miracle.”

So muses a character in ”The Hidden Law,” one of author Michael Nava’s acclaimed Henry Rios mystery series. This was a seven-book endeavor, beginning in 1986 and concluding in 2001.  These are beautifully, often poetically written novels; they combine the usual noir plot complexity (for all you whodunit fans) along with forward-thinking issues on coming out, staying in, and coping with AIDS during the worst of the plague.  They have not dated.

The author said 2001’s “Rag and Bone” would be his last Henry Rios book. But Nava, who worked in law and run for political office, has considerably and brilliantly rewritten his first Rios book, “A Little Death.”  It is now titled “Lay Your Sleeping Head.”

If no major movie studio is interested, outlets such as Netflix and Amazon would be the place to go with the Rios saga.  We need it now. And we always need to remember those years when the band played on, despite the terrible winnowing of the orchestra.
Contact Liz here.