Wednesday, June 21, 2017

LIZ SMITH: What Would Ethel Merman Do?

Elizabeth Taylor is guided through the maddening crowd by Calvin Klein at a massive AIDS fundraiser at New York's Javits Center, 1986. Photo by Bill Goulding.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

What Would Ethel Merman Do About Today's Broadway Audiences? Also — Bette Midler's Thunderous Triumph ... Tommy Tune ... More memories of Ava, and Bad News From Turner Classic Movies.  

“MERMAN would not put up with this ... she would storm into the audience and rip the drinks out of the audience’s hands! I hate going to the theater!! It’s a disgrace what has happened. It’s no longer sacred grounds; it’s become a picnic area. They sell candy, ice drinks, swizzlers, etc. with a lovely ‘you can take snacks/drinks back to your seats.’ They shake the ice throughout the show and then chew on the ice ... so distracting! Unwrapping candy and chewing like cows ... right in your ear plus of course when they get bored they flip open the phone and the light goes on.”

Taylor at 3 a.m. leaving NYC's D'Oriental restaurant in 1974. Photo by Bill Goulding.
That’s reader Bill Goulding, who is one of many still reacting to our column here on the travails of current-day theater going, and the over-reactions of audiences who feel compelled to stand and ovate for almost anything.

Mr. Goulding is not just a constant reader and friend to this column he is also a marvelous photographer who has brilliant candid shots of hundreds of stars (real stars!)  I’d refer to him as a gentleman paparazzo. Bill’s greatest object of desire was Elizabeth Taylor, who he followed for years. His collection on Taylor is staggering; so evocative are these images they deserve a book treatment. 

And Elizabeth herself deserves a great book.  I’ve written several times that a truly fine, accurate biography is still possible — many of those who knew and worked with La Liz are still with us. (I once even printed a massive list of all who could contribute significantly.) But if nobody wants to tackle a full bio, or even one beginning, say, in 1973, when Liz ‘n Dick began their endless round of splitting and reconciling, a luscious photo book is the next best thing.  Actually for fans, it’s better than a biography. 

In any case, no matter what happens with Mr. Goulding’s treasure trove, I love the image he’s now put in my head; of Ethel Merman stopping the show to deal with — in her famously sweet, inimitable way — an audience too busy munching, drinking and checking devices to fully appreciate “Rose’s Turn.”
"Yeah, yeah. Relax for a minute, honey. I have to take care of this guy with the drink and the cell phone, third row center."
ON MONDAY night, Bette Midler defied thunder, lightning and rain to preside over her annual New York Restoration Project picnic.  This event is always a big deal but this year, with Midler the adored Tony-winning star of Broadway’s smash revival of “Hello, Dolly!” there was even more electricity in the air.  (Hence the storm?  I’m surprised Bette didn’t command the bad weather to cease with her now-immortal Tony night phrase, “Cut that crap out!”)

Everybody looked summery, despite the damp, and Bette herself was adorable in black pants, a white blouse, sandals and a multi-colored turban.  Our spies, who are everywhere, described it as “a wet and thrilling evening!”
JUST IN case you missed it, I am here to tell you that my old Texas friend, Tommy Tune, was just magnificent on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” on June 13th with Jane Pauley.

Back in the day, I might not even bother writing about this, because what was gone was gone, unless you trekked over to the Museum of Television & Radio, which is now called the Paley Center for Media. But today, nothing is lost, everything lingers in DVR or on YouTube, etc.
Tommy on CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”
So — Tommy, the apparently ageless, eternally energetic and optimistic 10-time Tony Award winner, replayed his recent trip to Japan as a director.  That was great. But the end of the show was a video and photo montage of Tune from his high school days, to his great triumphs on stages all over the world.  This was a stunning finale, and I honestly don’t know how they gathered all these great clips. (Kudos to all who toil so brilliantly at “CBS Sunday.”)
And, Tommy looks as good as ever! His phenomenal energy and obvious good health radiates an enviable boyish youthfulness. (In this he is much like Joan Collins, who still moves like a girl of twenty! Surely Tommy won’t mind this comparison to Dame Joan.)

In the fall, we have Mr. Tune and Miss Chita Rivera, touring the country together.  In a world seemingly bereft of sense and hope and purpose, Tommy and Chita are worth sticking it out for. 
Joseph Sinnott/Thirteen Productions, LLC, Peter Glebo
Click to order “Ava: A Life In Movies."
AVA ODD ‘n ENDS:  Lots of response to our column here about the fabulous new book about Ava Gardner, “Ava: A Life In Movies.”

From Russell Ellison:

“During his final illness I visited long-time New York based accordionist, Jimmy Scatuccio, father of a friend. I found myself alone with Jimmy by his hospital bed trying to think of something to talk about. I knew he had performed for years in clubs like the Copa, and Miami’s Fontainebleau, and had known a lot of celebrities. So I asked him if he had ever met Ava Gardner. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘And she was really beautiful but she had a real mouth on her.’

“’One night Sinatra was singing in New Jersey and he asked me if she could drive over with me and my wife, Marie. We picked her up at her hotel and Ava was real friendly and talked a lot, but kept cussing.  Finally, I said, Ava, please be careful, my wife is here. She said, ‘Jesus, Jimmy, I’m sorry,’ and she was real good after that.’”
Lynn Leatart recalls:

“Growing up in Los Angeles, I distinctly remember, as a child in the '50s, riding through Laurel Canyon, and where the infamous canyon country store stands, was a photographer’s studio (I wish I could remember who it was) and in the enormous front window, was a large b/w portrait of Ms. Gardner. She was staring straight at the road, and it was cropped just below her breasts, and I believe she was wearing something simple and dotted with jewels.”
And from William O’ Shaughnessy comes this:

“Your piece brought a flash of deja vu: As a young man working at the fabled WNEW, I used to have lunch almost every day with William B. Williams, the legendary disc jockey who had a brief ‘something’ with Ava.

“One day I was emboldened to ask: ‘What was so great about her?’ Without missing a beat: ‘Her neck ... her beautiful neck.’” 
SPEAKING OF great movie stars, we better to get bad news out as soon as possible. Many film fans, of all ages, depend on Turner Classic Movies magazine as a go-to monthly guide. But now TCM warns that come August 2017 the print version of TCM will arrive for the last time! (In other words if you have subscribed and depend on this vivid little magazine, you can’t anymore.)

You will have to depend on calling up this much-needed information by other means. On the networks  Internet site? That won't be nearly as handy for those of us who adored the print version.

Contact Liz here.