Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: Whitney Houston ... Liam Neeson ... Barbara Tober ... Claudette Colbert

The cast of "Boom Town," 1940 — Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr, and Frank Morgan.
Friday, July 31, 2015
by Liz Smith

Friday's Fry-Up: Whitney Houston ... Liam Neeson ... Barbara Tober ... Claudette Colbert.

"THERE IS no such thing as accident; it is Fate misnamed," said Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801.
AS they are preparing to bury Whitney Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, beside her world-famous mother, I was reminded of the giant PR person Lois Smith. She made it possible for me to meet the still-vibrant Whitney, whom I interviewed for Good Housekeeping in 1997.  

January 1997 issue of Good Housekeeping where my interview with Whitney appeared.
(Whitney had begun her career spectacularly — her first album, 1985's "Whitney Houston" became the best-selling debut record by a woman in history. There were other great albums ... massive hits ... the phenomenon of her 1992 movie debut in "The Bodyguard" ... And, when I interviewed her, she was just coming off the success of her film, "The Preacher's Wife," which earned her a whopping $10 million salary.)

As a reporter, I failed completely to get any real story out of the young Whitney.  I just adored her; she was — or so she appeared — so fresh, so joyous, so adorable and seemed so deserving. Thus, we simply had a good time, gossiping, chatting and enjoying the meeting. I did not, could not, believe the gossip that was beginning to surround her, in the wake of her marriage to Bobby Brown.

So I became her fan to the delight of Lois Smith who always liked to exploit my naiveté. (Lois actually once said to me of Liza Minnelli: "Of course you stand behind Liza and love her. Drugs?  No, I have never heard of our Liza using any drugs!")
Anyway, I, and millions of others, suffered as Whitney Houston's magnificent talent became wasted through drug abuse. But there was nothing fans could do about it. Fan love couldn't save silent screen idol Wallace Reid ... Billie Holiday…Marilyn…Judy ... Janis ... Elvis ... Jim Morrison ... River Phoenix ... Heath Ledger ... Michael Jackson ... Amy Winehouse. In the end, these great talents made their tragic choices.
WRITERS, collectors of reality and truth-sayers can seldom be dissuaded from writing about subjects that beguile them.  My friend Marie Brenner and I have a running joke.  When she begins to tell me about some new enthusiasm she is doing as an expose for Vanity Fair, I always add a P.S.  "Please, Marie, don't decide to turn it into a book, or it means 'goodbye' to you for a couple of years!"
Marie Brenner with Texas Joe. I'm pretty sure that's me Marie is reaching for (I recognize the nail polish).
I thought this same thing about the writer Martha Elliott who is one of the smartest people I know and used to work with TV's famous explosive news ethicist, Fred Friendly. She wrote several books with him.

Click to order "The Man in the Monster: An Intimate Portrait of a Serial Killer."
When Martha began interviewing convicted Connecticut farm boy-turned-brutal rapist- and-murderer Michael Ross, she became obsessed and spent years following his legal battle to make the state let him die. He had been given the death penalty and he wanted the execution.   

I thought Martha was just wasting her time because most people I knew wanted his execution as well, so what else was there to say? (Ross said he wanted to end the nightmare for the families of women he'd killed.)  

But now Martha has brought forth "The Man in the Monster" and it is perfectly riveting.  A ten year conversation with a serial killer and she paints a moving and human portrait of Ross, one she couldn't have imagined when she began the project.  This includes Martha's analysis of what has happened in her life — her own voyage of discovery.

The book is out from Penguin on August 4th; Martha has 3 children, lives in Maine and works under Vassar's Time Out Grant, writing a novel.
Michael Ross, the subject of "The Man in the Monster: An Intimate Portrait of a Serial Killer."
MY friend, Barbara Tober has written me about a happening the week of September 28th - October 3rd at the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle. It's called LOOT and will showcase 50 plus art jewelers from around the world.

The reason I'm writing this is not because I love jewelry: I am indifferent. But Ms. Tober is the president of Acronym, a firm invested in art related projects.
MAD generous — Barbara and Donald Tober.
Since my charities are Literacy Partners, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, AIDS cures and psychiatric health, I wonder why, all these years, Barbara has been helping me when she has jewelry on her mind. But she and her husband Donald have done so much for so many. So please, let's aid this woman whose awards fill over half a page, in making her artists and their works even more compelling at the Museum. And if you see my name on the program, look around. You'll see me with my jewelry — glasses on a string hanging around my neck.
From LOOT 2015: This necklace is from Hayley Beckley whose collection of unique, structural collars, cuffs and bow ties, is made from digitally printed silk, hand pleated and finished with a delicate recycled sterling silver.
These fabulous earrings are from Dorine Decayeux. There's 48 more talented artists at Loot ... so SAVE THE DATE!
HOW are you going to win? The dignified and fabled Liam Neeson, now an action star, was glimpsed in Soho. His appearance, we were told, was "sparking concerns about his health."

The accompanying picture of Liam in Page Six, showed a perfectly normal-looking, tall thin guy.

Otherwise, they'd have described him as needing to lose weight from obesity. There is no "normal."
Okay, the only thing wrong with this picture is Liam's hat.
I'M SO flattered. Here's an e-mail reading "Just finished seeing "Boom Town" again with Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr and thought of YOU."

Well, I knew Claudette in her older years and have never forgotten her saying in that movie, to Clark Gable: "That's quite a moon!"
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in "Boom Town."
This woman had a collection of first-rate leading men during her years in Hollywood. For instance, other than Gable and Tracy, let's add Joel McCrea, William Powell, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Zachary Scott, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, MacDonald Carey — and those are just off the top of my head.
Claudette with one of her many leading men, Joel McCrea (in "The Palm Beach Story," 1942).
One of her ardent admirers was Frank Sinatra who spent his honeymoons with Mia, in Claudette's Barbados house, with Colbert right next door. And, just for good measure, she acted onstage with the difficult Rex Harrison and was admired to distraction by Noel Coward. Her last performance was in the delicious TV movie, "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles," in which she stole every scene from Ann-Margret, who was playing her wanton daughter-in-law. (A-M was brilliant but nothing could compare to Miss Colbert!)
Claudette with Ann-Margret in "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles."
Once Claudette's French sauce was tempered by mature age I always thought she should have married her last true love — the handsome ad man Peter Rogers, who adored her and let her boss him around. (For instance she wouldn't allow him at dinner in a collarless shirt. I wonder how she'd survive today's weird fashions.)

Peter now has retired to New Orleans, where he is devoted to this column. Hi, Peter!
Claudette and Peter in 1982 by Ron Galella.

Contact Liz Smith here.