Thursday, April 26, 2012

LIZ SMITH: Remembering The Divine Norris ...

Remembering The Divine Norris Church Mailer ... Angelina Jolie — Just Your Ordinary L.A. Housewife with Kids. Really! And a Cult Goddess Emerges — Melody Gardot.
by Liz Smith
Thursday, April 26, 2012

“I AM not in favor of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable,” said Oscar Wilde.
DESPITE THE global media anticipation of the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt nuptials, the eternally gossiped-about couple continue their normal lifestyle. And I mean, truly “normal.”

Last week Miss Jolie was spotted in L.A. dropping off a few of her children at the Universal Child Care Center. Both she and Brad do this often, no helpers or nannies to be seen. Jolie looked and behaved like any other young mother. Except, well—she is Angelina Jolie. People try not to stare, but even dressed down and minimally made-up, Jolie is a striking creature. (A few days later she was at Eva’s Hair Salon, accompanied by daughter Zahara. They were having some cozy mani/pedi time.)
Angelina Jolie with a few of her children. Jolie with Zahara.
Angelina is planning to appear next month at her former grammar school El Rodeo School in Beverly Hills. She will read excerpts from her favorite book as a child, Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes.

Jolie has also been active in rallying L.A. public schools to pay more attention to their libraries, which have suffered budget cuts.
Angelina Jolie's alma mater: El Rodeo School in Beverly Hills. 
Sofia Vergara and Gwyneth Paltrow have also been crusading to “save the library” in public schools. Paltrow has even blogged about it on her website, “Goop.”

See? There’s more to some of these glamorous women than their red-carpet appearances suggest. 
Paltrow crusading. Photo: Vogue.
DO YOU FEEL like I always do, that I missed the most important thing of the week while doing something else less important?

That’s how I think about the memorial to Norris Church Mailer which happened at The Players Club on April 22nd. I couldn’t be there. But my good friend, Maury Hopson who had charge of my flowing locks for the recent Annie Leibovitz photo in Times Square, has written me a heartfelt paragraph on the late wife of Norman Mailer – one Norris Church.

Needless to say, Norris was about the most adorable woman to ever come into Norman’s orbit.

Her recent memoir, A Ticket to the Circus, was a refreshing, great, uncensored screed to love, romance, sex and how a beautiful girl from Arkansas caused an American literary idol to fall for her. The aftermath became novelistic history. She also became a wonderful painter, writer and the caring mother of all of Norman's children.

But here’s Maury: “She was quite a force and she was another friend who leaves a hole in all of our hearts. The program ended with a great still photo of her with Norman and a hauntingly beautiful song “You’ll Come Back (You Always Do)” with lyrics by Norman, sung in a gorgeous voice by Norris herself.

“I didn’t think it could have been more perfect until the reception began and they passed trays of fried catfish that were amazing, probably a special favorite of Norris and maybe her recipe. Somehow, it had never tasted that good when I was growing up in Marshall, near Caddo Lake.”

Thank you, Maury. And thanks to John Buffalo Mailer who caused such a fabulous remembrance of his wonderful mother.
Norman and Norris.
IMAGINE a singer who shares disparate qualities with legends such as Marlene Dietrich, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, with a bit of kd. lang thrown in, for absolute purity of voice. If you think such a creature cannot exist, you have never seen or heard the extraordinary Melody Gardot.

Miss Gardot put on a brief but mesmerizing show early this week at The Box, way downtown in Manhattan. (This is a deliciously baroque retro spot dedicated to the avant-garde, the odd and the daring—all apt descriptions of Gardot.)  Melody was born in Philadelphia, but she has traveled the world, and her globetrotting has produced an artist with a jazzy, international vibe. As a child, she suffered a serious cycling accident that left her with chronic pain, hypersensitivity to strong light and loud sounds.

Melody Gardot.
Marlene D.’s “Hot Voodoo" coif.
Some of these issues were intriguingly obvious during her set at The Box. The lights were low, Melody wore dark glasses. She had also plopped a great big blonde afro wig on her head, reminiscent of Marlene D.’s famous “Hot Voodoo” musical number. (She adores a good turban, too.)

She wore a flowing low-cut gown, that appeared always on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction as she crouched, slouched, sat, and stood--graceful, dramatic, unique. Melody’s songs were infused with a slow-burning Brazilian beat. Her voice is gorgeous, but that sensitivity to sound also includes the sound of her own voice, which she won’t or can’t open up totally—you feel she is about to all fortissimo, and then, the hushed, sultry tones return. This resulted in an audience raptly leaning forward, eager to catch every word. It was almost a quality of teasing sexual tension. Talk about turning a disadvantage into a grace note!

But the big “reveal” arrived at Melody’s last number, “Yemanja,” during which she urged the audience to sing along. (This is usually a very aggravating tactic. Miss Gardot did it charmingly.) Well, surprise! After all her husky-voiced posturing, it turns out she’s just this cheerful all-American girl. The lights came up a little, and Melody closed with a bang. Or as much bang as she can muster, given the above-discussed issues. The audience loved her.

Later, the singer and her family segued off to Bowery Hotel. She was still fairly elusive, though hardly invisible with that wig and four-inch heels. (She’d changed into a short black dress.)  But just as her press rep, Liz Rosenberg was leaving, Melody got up and embraced Liz. She went on to kiss and hug everybody in Miss Rosenberg’s party, all of whom were strangers.

Melody then said: “You know what’s following me tonight at The Box? An act in which naked women sit on chairs with their legs crossed, reading aloud.” She paused. “I don’t know what they’re reading, but I feel certain it would be more interesting if they uncrossed their legs!”

Gardot’s new album is “The Absence” on Verve. Hard to say if she is a great big star about to explode, but she is definitely a cult goddess waiting to happen. Perhaps, judging by the enthusiasm and curiosity of her audience at The Box, the latter has already happened.
Melody Gardot performing "Baby I'm a Fool."

Contact Liz Smith here.

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