Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: The Cutting Edge ...

Howard Rosenman with La Liz, whom he first met by sneaking into the premiere of "Cleopatra."
Friday, March 27, 2015
by Liz Smith

Anne Rice on Broadway: The Cutting Edge and the Dream Factor ... Lunch with the prolific Howard Rosenman ... It's Tax Time for me and The Smurfs.

“THE WORLD is divided into two classes — those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable,” said Oscar Wilde.
ABOUT ten years ago, a musical version of Anne Rice’s vampire novel, “Lestat,” was made into a musical. It featured songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It was hilariously, stupendously awful; one of the best “bad” nights I’ve ever had in the theater. I’m sure Joe Allen restaurant must have the poster up on its “wall of flops.”
However, never say never when it comes to unusual musicals or the unusual woman who is Anne Rice. (She revived the vampire genre, then drove a stake through its heart and went to Jesus, then returned to her vampires — who were always pretty religiously inclined anyway.)

Another Anne Rice musical is being prepared. Two more, actually! One is based on Rice’s 1982 book, “Cry to Heaven.” No vampires. But don’t relax. We’re still not in Lerner and Loewe, or Cole Porter territory. “Cry to Heaven” concerns itself with the 18th century castrati who gave their all (or most of it) to ensure their pure, perfect soprano voices.

No jazz hands or kick-lines for this one! ( I can’t imagine what the “big numbers” are going to look and sound like. It is, after all, a dicey subject.)

I learned of the second Anne Rice musical while lunching with my good friend, producer Howard Rosenman the other day. This show is based on a dream that Howard had back in the 1980s. Apparently Howard told Rice his dream; she was impressed and wrote a treatment. Titled “Voce,” it is about fame and immortality — familiar Anne Rice themes. No vampires for this one, either. Howard will be one of the producers. I’m looking forward to “Voce.” Well, I always knew Howard dreamed big.
LUNCHING with Howard Rosenman is always invigorating. We discussed the differences between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The former is more orthodox and all for Benjamin Netanyahu. The latter is more liberal and doesn’t much care what is, or is not given to the Palestinians. Howard described Tel Aviv as “a cross between Berlin in the 1930s and New York in the 1980s. Totally cosmopolitan and incredibly wealthy. Skyscrapers everywhere. One of the most sophisticated and sexy cities in the world. Everybody is young and beautiful!”

Howard comes by his worldly view legitimately. Studying to be a doctor, he served in Israel’s Six-Day war, leaving America to do so. He always kids about his early adventures, saying: “At the first operation, when the surgeon tossed a leg in a trash basket, I decided I wanted to go into show business, not medicine.”
Anita Bryant with pie in her face.
I WON'T tire you with our political chat, which was vigorous. Howard has so many fish frying in so many pans he’s like a one-man show-biz restaurant on wheels.

Along with the Anne Rice musical, Howard also is part of the producing team on the coming feature film about Anita Bryant. Remember Anita? — the beauty queen and Florida orange juice lady who just didn’t like gays. Back when they were merely “homosexuals.” (Either way, Anita didn’t think they should have civil rights.) Uma Thurman and Zachary Quinto are attached to this project.

Then there’s Howard’s movie “Shepherd,” about a dog who saves the life of a little boy during the Holocaust ... ”A Matter of Size,” which concerns itself with sumo wrestlers ... and “The Celluloid Closet 2: The Door Opens.” (The original film, released in 1995 won a Peabody Award. Howard’s “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt,” took an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1990.)

And in the midst of all this, next year Howard will be teaching courses at the Film School of Brooklyn College. He’ll tell interested up-and-comers how to produce and get things done without wasting money, and how to successfully pitch ideas, without being left with a lot of eye-rolling and the check at The Ivy in L.A.
Joshua and Caleb, the subjects of “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog."
A scene from ”A Matter of Size."
A scene from “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt."
I’ve known Howard for so many years and he always seems to be a man improving and refining and re-inventing himself.

Howard knows everything. For instance — he told me that “Into the Woods” had made much more money than I’d imagined. (“Wasn’t it kind of a flop after the first week?” I said.) So, great for Stephen Sondheim — a movie hit at last. I still don’t think it had much impact, as a film. But maybe I simply remain irritated that Emily Blunt was not Oscar nominated.
TALKING income taxes with my accountant, he asked why I was receiving several small amounts on big important looking checks, which sometimes paid only $14.08 — or even less than that. I told him I guessed the checks were for my much-ignored TV appearances — such as "The Nanny" or "Murphy Brown" in the past. And a few of them were movie turns, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or even more recent, a modest $8.54 for appearing in the "Smurfs" movie which was a hit.

Joan Rivers and I had been window dressing for the latter; we just sat around at tables on the roof of Rockefeller Center, pretending we were at a party while around us whirled our friend the fashion maven Tim Gunn, who had a real part with many lines. Joan and I thought our unrehearsed comic asides were good but somehow they disappeared from the final film.

Meantime, none of the stars who were the Smurfs actually were seen at the filming. The Smurfs would be added later. This naturally led to Joan and Liz who were curious as to how much our pal Tim was (and still is) receiving for his larger role. (But we agreed that Tim had earned it.)

He was very busy and of course, well tailored, at the filming and Tim is better known for his hosting of the Emmy-winning "Project Runway." Tim is that rare thing, one of the truly good guys of TV. Now he has written another book, A master class epic from Gallery Books on mentoring and motivating "making life work." The title? "Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor."

With so many well-intentioned young people seeming to want to do good in the world, while also getting ahead — well, Tim is a leader of guidance and he is raved about on the book's cover by Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, and Heidi Klum.

Tim Gunn deserves to keep getting those big checks. He is, as Heidi says, "the consummate gentleman."

Contact Liz Smith here.