Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Very Entertaining "UnMasking" of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Also — Olivia de Havilland Carries On!  And Gloria Swanson ... Microdosing ... and a warning from Maureen Dowd

Steve Barton, Harold Prince, Michael Crawford, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Sarah Brightman on opening night of “Phantom of the Opera," January 26, 1988.
by Denis Ferrara

“THIS TOME is not my fault!”

That is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s exclamation in the first paragraph of the introduction of his big (500 pages) memoir “Unmasked.”  He says he wrote it mostly to stop people from telling him he “had” to do it.  And he admits, “Autobiographies are self-serving and mine is no exception.”

Click to order Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unmasked."
Well, as far as “Unmasked” is concerned, let’s raise a glass to self-serving.  This is — especially the early chapters, in which he tells of himself as a supernaturally confident child, adolescent and young man — a really charming book. 

With the exception of “Evita” and “Phantom of the Opera” I’ve never been much of a Lloyd Webber enthusiast, but the way he tells his story — his creativity, the increasingly rocky relationship with collaborator Tim Rice, stars, producers, flops, hits — is infectious. He is upfront about his infamous tantrums — usually over sound quality — and admirably honest in his desire to make the best financial deals, right from the start.  We should all have his prescience and determination in that area!

His inside stories on performers such as Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige, Michael Crawford, etc. are a nice mixture of affection, respect and the occasional naughty nibble. I actually laughed out loud over the story about Barbra Streisand attending a performance of “Cats” — she was interested in recording the show’s big hit, “Memory.”  First she asked for milk, which was very difficult to get, then she suddenly announced she was claustrophobic and could not see the show after all.  She left.  Webber writes: “I attempted a rescue operation by sending her a letter apologizing for having an audience in the theater that night.” 

In time, Barbra did record her famously silky smooth rendition of “Memory” although Webber, like so many who have worked with Barbra mused that some of her earlier, less “perfect” takes were more emotionally powerful. 
Andrew Lloyd Webber in conversation with Glenn Close at The Town Hall in March.
As much as I don’t know, and honestly don’t care about how a song is created or how a huge complicated show is put together, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s book made me care as much as I am able, which turned out to be quite a bit, as I finished up his tale.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s book ends with the triumphant Broadway opening of “Phantom of the Opera” (still running, 30 years later!).  He says he might hunker down and deliver a second volume — he cheerfully admits to being far too wordy! — but he’s more or less pleased to close on a high note and not go into the nitty gritty let’s say of his divorce from Sarah Brightman (of whom he writes carefully in “Unmasked”) or all the delicious drama surrounding “Sunset Boulevard.”  Or what he really thinks of Madonna and the film version of “Evita.” 
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
If this is it, Lloyd Webber has delivered a masterful show biz memoir, full of wit and considerable wisdom and for me, a much greater appreciation of the intricate, maddening processes of musical theater — the pages leading up to the absolute final lyrics of “Memory” read like thriller!

I might not appreciate Lloyd Webber’s work as much as Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Cole Porter, but his book has actually made me dig out my old vinyl album of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  I’m always alert to looking at — and listening to — something in a new way.
“CATHERINE, can you be so cruel?” 

“Yes, I can be very cruel, aunt, I have been taught by masters.”

So it goes between Miriam Hopkins and Olivia de Havilland toward the terrible/wonderful end of the 1949 film, “The Heiress.” 
The great Miss de Havilland, now 101 years young, is not being cruel in her still ongoing suit again producer Ryan Murphy and his interpretation of her in “Feud: Bette and Joan.”  But she sure as hell is being as determined as Melanie Wilkes-Hamilton was, dragging that sword downstairs to defend herself, her sister-in-law Scarlett O’Hara and her honor in “Gone With the Wind.”   Miss de Havilland is now appealing to the California Supreme Court.  Those in the legal world predict she will likely lose again, but how does one not admire her gumption?  Why doesn’t Ryan Murphy just apologize to her — he should have ages ago anyway! — and remove the offending snippets of language that Olivia insists she never said? 
If Ryan Murphy is not careful he is going to end up like Bette Davis in "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte."
MAIL: Lots of agreement from fans of “The Americans” that the character played by Keri Russell, Elizabeth Phillips, must meet a grisly end.  However, many who watch the show fear this won’t happen, and most would also like junior spy Paige, played by Holly Taylor, to meet an even worse end — apparently her stupidity is more enraging than Elizabeth’s cold-bloodedness.  

There was more pleasant and affectionate mail regarding Rita Hayworth, who has certainly not been forgotten.  But my good friend Bill Goulding reminded me that, although she did not become a princess, it was Gloria Swanson of silent screen and “Sunset Boulevard” fame who was the first American actress to marry into foreign nobility — of a sort. 
Swanson and her hubby Henry de La Falaise, Marquis de la Coudraye.
In 1925, Swanson wed Henry de La Falaise, Marquis de la Coudraye. So she became a Marquise. (After the marriage in France she famously telegrammed to America, “Arriving with the Marquis tomorrow. Please arrange ovation.” That was a star, baby!)   However, Henry was rather threadbare, as royalty and a breadwinner. The marriage lasted five years although they saw little of each other — Swanson kept busy dallying with the married Joseph P. Kennedy.
"Please arrange ovation!" ordered the Marquise de la Falaise, aka Gloria Swanson. 
From Hal Wingo came this, regarding our mention of  Elizabeth Taylor’s appearance in the movie “Doctor Faustus” as Helen of Troy: “Your reference today to Liz Taylor as ‘arguably, at that time in real life The World’s Most Beautiful Woman’ brought to mind one of my favorite memories from the days when People magazine did an annual poll of viewers' opinions on almost everything/everyone. In The Most Beautiful Woman category, some young, lesser thing won the overall count, but La Liz was the favorite of the 50 and over crowd.  This prompted Dick Stolley, managing editor, to pencil in a classic bit of editing on the night the magazine closed in which he added that for the over 50 crowd, Taylor was the winner ‘in a triumph of nostalgia over eyesight’.”
Ouch!  Dear Dick.  Well, I’m sure the earthy Miss Taylor would likely have agreed with Mr. Stolley among friends — La Liz was apt to roll her eyes at flowery compliments to her beauty — but she likely also thought Mr. Stolley should have kept that bit of editorial bitchery out of print.

I already did my acid way back in the day!
Finally, I’d like to thank everybody who wrote in, suggesting various ways for me to get over myself, get out of the house, stop being depressed over working from home, go back to the gym, try to rent office space, aroma therapy, massage and even — although I’d already perused the New York magazine article with a degree of interest/alarm — many suggestions that I try “microdosing.”

If you don’t know, that is when you consume a tiny amount of a psychedelic — not to be high, but to be more “focused, creative and present.”  I appreciate this, but I did my acid way back in the day — and under a lot of peer pressure. (At 16, when somebody tells you “You’re bringing down the whole party because you’re the only one not stoned,” you pop that tab of acid.)

At this point in my life, at my age, the idea of accidentally going from micro to macro, just because I have a few issues about working from home, doesn’t seem like a good idea.  Still, I won’t deny it — I read every word of Simone Kitchens’ exhaustive take on microdosing — the good and the bad.  (It was a more comforting read than Frank Rich’s Roy Cohn cover story, after which I felt I needed a steaming antiseptic shower and tequila IV drip.)
Contact Denis here.