Friday, May 26, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Whatever Happened to Class?

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Whatever Happened to Class? Farewells to Dina Merrill and Roger Moore.

“I SAW a woman today. Perfectly respectable, perfectly beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful, too dear.”

“Well, I have a face. That’s not what I mean.”

“I’ve seen that kind of beauty Gloria, it takes a lifetime to achieve.”

So it went between semi-call girl Elizabeth Taylor, and her look-the-other-way mother Mildred Natwick in 1960’s wildly successful potboiler, “Butterfield 8.”

The “perfectly beautiful” woman Taylor refers to is the elegant wife — Dina Merrill — of her lover, caddish Larry Harvey.

Indeed, Dina, so slender, so chiseled, so exquisitely dressed, here actually gives the occasionally overripe La Liz a run for her money in the beauty sweepstakes.
27 years after "Butterfield 8" Liz and Dina, still great beauties, attend Malcolm Forbes' 70th birthday party in Morocco.
SO LET’S say a really fond goodbye to that most glorious — and one of the most rebellious and open-minded of “rich girls” — Dina Merrill.

"Desk Set" was a movie starring Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy back in 1957. Dina Merrill, in her screen debut, had a small role. But it was also Broadway show in which I invested, and reaped $10,000! This was not an inconsiderable amount of money in 1955 and I of course considered it a massive fortune. Here's the rub. I find no record of Dina having appeared in "Desk Set" onstage — I have exhausted every obit and Google entry. But maybe Dina had some hand in the show, because whenever we met, she would always say, "Remember Liz, I made you rich!" (I am now depending on my intelligent readers to help me out!)
Dina Merrill in her screen debut with Sue Randall, Katharine Hepburn, and Joan Blondell in "Desk Set."
Sue Randall, Joan Blondell, and Dina Merrill.
I got to know Dina pretty well, and like the rest of the world, loved her as a friend, philanthropist and an underrated actress.

She was unfailingly beautiful, civilized, talented, and I don’t think she ever made an enemy in the world. Several summers ago, I saw Dina at the East Hampton Maidstone Club.  As usual, she quipped “Remember, Liz, I made you rich,” as she stood in line for a sandwich. She had a marvelous full life — three husbands and a number of children. (Most famously, there was her 20-year marriage to actor Clift Robertson.)
Dina Merrill and Cliff Robertson on their wedding day, 1966.
Dina gave achievement and beauty and being a “normal” person, a good name. She died at 93, as blamelessly as she had lived. 

Dina Merrill and mother Marjorie Merriweather Post at Dina's wedding to Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. in 1946. Courtesy Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
Dina made her stage debut in 1945’s “The Mermaid’s Singing” and then “George Washington Slept Here.”  Merrill quit a year later, under pressure from her mother, the formidable owner of General Foods, Marjorie Merriweather Post. (Dina grew up at Mar-a-Lago, long before it became the “Southern White House.”  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that!)

But maternal displeasure be damned, Dina couldn’t shake the acting bug. She later appeared in several dozen films, always better than her material, and rising above the patented patrician image.  One felt there was considerably more to Dina that her incredible cheekbones and immaculately blonde coif.  And, there was! 

Aside from “Butterfield” she scored in “Desk Set,” “The Sundowners,” “Operation Petticoat,” “The Courtship of Eddie's Father,” “The Young Savages.” Later, for Bob Altman, she lent her allure and assurance to Bob Altman’s “The Player” and “A Wedding.”  Dina was a constant presence on TV for decades.  Her acting credits number about 100! She gave tons of her money to great causes, and she didn’t make a great fuss about it, either.

Rest easy, girl!
ANOTHER ICON of real style and genuine niceness has also passed, Sir Roger Moore.  Famous as the big screen’s James Bond and the small screen’s “The Saint” Roger was effortlessly engaging and self-amused.  He just didn’t take himself very seriously, or at least he never seemed to, publicly. Running into him was always an unalloyed pleasure.

He was so beautiful as a young man, he once remarked that certain actresses just refused to appear opposite him. (One who did not refuse was Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last time I Saw Paris.”  He appeared as her lover. (ET and Van Johnson were portraying watered down MGM versions of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.) When Moore and Taylor shared the screen it was almost more than Technicolor could bear!

I was never a huge fan of his Bond films, but he had an undeniable elan, and certainly audiences reacted to Moore’s urbane take on Ian Fleming’s iconic character. (I simply prefer the rougher 007 as embodied by Connery and Craig.  As for Pierce Brosnan, I think he’s more sexy and Bond-ish now, than he was during his spy vs. spy tenure!)

The passing of Moore and Dina Merrill isn’t simply sad because they are gone — neither were youngsters.  But it’s what they represented, what we are losing so rapidly.  Beautiful, well-behaved celebrities who spelled class with a capital C and never took a false step, at least not that we ever saw.

Sure, we still have a few of those left, and some younger types who are attempting to raise standards, but it’s a tough fight.
JUNE 6th is “National Seersucker Day” and it will be celebrated with a kick-off at the popular Michael’s café on West 55th St., NYC.

This is the 4th annual and the invited will wear the popular summer suit invented in 1909.

Haspel Clothing is hosting an invited list of editors, fashionistas, as well as Carson Kressley and Jeremy Piven.
ENDTHINGS:  “YouTube!!”  That’s the response I’ve received from dozens of readers, in response to and item I ran on the perceived problem of documentary-making.  Apparently, YouTube is the place to go. I do know “stars” of varying legitimacy have been launched there, but it’s also fresh ground for filmmakers. “You just have to go viral!” said one fledging director.  I asked, “How do you go viral?  The response?  “Luck!”  Well, in whatever form, that’s showbiz.

Finally, as if Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the rest aren’t enough, there  are two new streaming services,  Boomerang and Crunchyroll, which are devoted exclusively to cartoons, a vast majority are vintage classics — Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Elmer Fudd, Yogi Bear, Tom and Jerry, etc.  I think the traffic on my TV is almost too much to bear right now, and I’ll pass on this archive of animated art.

On the other hand I've always had a soft spot for Tweety Bird. We shall see.

Contact Liz here.