Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: Re-Discovered ...

Cecil B. DeMille with Jackie the Lion on the set of "Samson & Delilah" (1949).
Friday, December 19, 2014
by Liz Smith

Cecil B. DeMille Re-Discovered ... Dolly Parton's New Platinum ... Discussing "Better Call Saul" at the 92nd Street Y.

“EGYPT! EGYPT! Always Egypt. But my Caesar is gone, my lover is dead!”

That was the delicious Claudette Colbert in Cecil B. DeMille’s opulent, witty “Cleopatra.” (Claudette/Cleo was reacting to the death of Julius Caesar. Her faithful handmaidens, Iris and Charimon, prevented the queen from “going to him” by intoning, helpfully, “He never loved you, it was always the crown!” She whips them, but gets over it.)

Cecil B. is having a renaissance. His name has been mentioned often — and favorably — in the reviews of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

There is a giant coffee table book out — “Cecil B.DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic.” This book, by Cecilia deMille Presley and Mark Vieira, is everything DeMille’s movies were — stupendous, lavish, colorful, too much and not enough.

It is packed with fabulous photos — of the great DeMille stars, mammoth sets, costume sketches. And chock full of anecdotes about the man himself. He was called “the greatest showman on earth” by the end of his incredible career.
Click to order "Cecil B.DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic."
NOW comes word that the UCLA Film & Television Archive will present some of C.B. biggest films. This series runs from January 9-February 28 at the Billy Wilder Theater in L.A. (How appropriate! DeMille appeared as himself in director Wilder’s caustic Hollywood fable, “Sunset Boulevard.”)
Wilder, Swanson, and DeMille on the set of "Sunset Boulevard."
Among the movies to be screened — the above mentioned “Cleopatra” ... ”The Sign of the Cross” (again with Colbert as the wickedest woman in Rome) ... ”Reap The Wild Wind” ... ”The King of Kings” ... ”Madam Satan” ... ”The Crusades” ... ”The Greatest Show on Earth” (Betty Hutton on the trapeze and giving her most appealing performance) ... and but of course, “The Ten Commandments.”
It is odd that DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” is not being screened. It contains a great moment after Delilah (gorgeous Hedy Lamarr) has shorn Samson (a voluptuous Victor Mature) of his magical locks. Strutting up to the chained Mature, surrounded by the Philistines, Lamarr explains her betrayal: “Nobody leaves Delilah.” Then she sashays out. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore (movies or movie stars like Miss Lamarr.)
Mature and Lamarr as Samson and Delilah.
DOLLY PARTON has racked up (pun intended) another triumph in a career that has spanned fortysomething years.

Her overseas tour was a smash and she now has another platinum album to her credit. Her CD, “Blue Smoke,” mixes some of her great hits with new compositions.

Dolly, whose voice retains the clarity of country spring water, has sold, worldwide, over one hundred million records.
FOR THOSE of you anxiously awaiting AMC’s “prequel” to its legendary “Breaking Bad” series, titled “Better Call Saul,” then you better call the 92nd Street Y.

On Feb 5th Bob Odenkirk (Saul), Michael McKean and Jonathan Banks will discuss the show. And maybe there will even be a sneak peek? Call 212-415-5435 (not the number below!).

“Better Call Saul” debuts on AMC Feb 8th and 9th.
“DID CHARLES Chaplin cancel “The Great Dictator to appease Hitler?”

I’ve received a number of notes from folks asking this question, and I’ve heard Chaplin’s 1940 satire mentioned endlessly, as an example of why Sony Pictures got it all wrong in stopping the release of “The Interview.” (Chaplin plays a thinly disguised version of Hitler, two years before the U.S. entered World War II.)
Good grief, people! I detest censorship and I am appalled by the deadening political correctness that abounds — let’s destroy the career of somebody who used a bad word twenty years ago ... let’s sue the bakery that won’t make our gay wedding cake ... let’s force false apologies from people whose attitudes are only hardened in the face of public. shaming. There’s a lot in the popular culture I find in poor taste, but I support the right of everybody to wallow wherever they want. There’s a cover for every garbage can.
But I cannot say — as unfortunate and ominous as Sony’s decision was — that they could have gone any other way, in the face of threats to life and limb in movie theaters, over an absurd comedy. This is a watershed moment. But let’s not make it out to be entirely an “artistic” matter. Isn’t it only a matter of time before America is cyber-attacked and hacked for REAL. The power grid, electricity, running water, the works. For days, weeks, months.
Let’s spend billions on improving our system, and protecting our country, rather than a lot of empty hand-wringing over “free speech,” about a movie whose concept was just asking for trouble. This is momentary. Everyone will probably eventually have the opportunity to see “The Interview” — even though Sony insists it will not be available on cable or DVD. After all, it’s apparently quite easy to pirate any kind of material. I doubt “The Interview” will be a difficult catch.

I suppose if somebody had set off a bomb or run amok with a gun, many of you so offended by Sony’s action — and my comments in this column — would feel the deaths of those strangers were worth it, just so long as Seth Rogen and James Franco didn’t have their “art” compromised.
P.S. Some of the notes I have received recently, asking if I am "aware" of "The Great Dictator" also contain adjectives concerning my patriotism and intelligence. "Jerk" is the only one I can print in a family column. But I love these readers, too. We all have our opinions.

Contact Liz Smith here.