Memories of Diahann Carroll … An Evening With “Frankie” and the Divine Indifference of Isabelle Huppert.

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I NEVER have expected much
I never have rejected much
I want my dinner, some conversation
And loads of lovely love

The dumb ones go for quantity
The wise ones go for quality
I’ve got the answer now
It’s not how much but how

I do not ask for bliss I guess
It all boils down to this I guess
I just want money and then some money
And loads of lovely love!

THOSE are some of the lyrics to the Richard Rodgers song, “Loads of Love” from the 1962 musical, No Strings, sung by the late great Diahann Carroll.

According to my iPod/iPhone, I’ve played that song about 300 times over the past five years. It just got in my head. Since Miss Carroll’s death on October 4th, I’ve had “Loads of Love” in my head and in my ears again and again.

No Strings made Carroll a groundbreaking Broadway star (first Best Actress Tony Award to an African American woman). The 1968 TV series Julia  transformed her into a groundbreaking symbol — the first African American star of a series who did not conform to stereotypes. In 1974, she broke even more ground as only the fourth African American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in Claudine.

And in 1984, Miss Carroll cracked the earth open, when, in her own words, she gleefully became “the first black bitch on television!” via her role as “Dynasty’s Dominique Deveraux. Not only did she get to complain about champagne that had been frozen in the bottle, and what she considered the best caviar, Diahann/Dominique also delivered a slap to Joan Collins’ Alexis that rivaled June Allyson’s classic slug to Joan’s kisser in The Opposite Sex. (Joan herself loathed all the fight scenes in Dynasty but for some reason, the producers wanted her beat up at least three times a year.)

There was considerably more along the way, but those four accomplishments alone placed her in a rarefied category, a pantheon she was justifiably proud of.

I interviewed Carroll around 2010.  But for the life of me I have been unable to find the column.  Sometimes that happens.  Things just disappear into the ether.  Even in the “permanent” world of the Internet.

I remember the meeting well, however, even if some specifics elude me. The star was in New York. She’d remembered we’d written a favorable review of her autobiography two years previously. Perhaps she was in for a concert, or the paperback version of her book?

She was ensconced at a midtown hotel and I was nervous, as usual, though I rarely showed it.  My interview “technique” (I use that word laughingly) was to approach the star without too much deference and engage in a “normal” conversation, one that often included little, sometimes intimate details of my own life; barriers usually fell and the results were pleasing.

Carroll was everything I’d expected from her book, and then some. She was full of salt, and pepper, a fascinating mix of grand star and earthy dame. She made fun of her image, but took it seriously, too — its maintenance and its importance. She was unsparing of herself, took responsibility for her “failures” as a wife and sometimes as a mother (the work and business of “being Diahann Carroll” often came first.) Her childhood had been painful, as had her climb in show business — astonishing tales of racism, casual and overt. (She said, “It was agonizing, but you just had to take it.  Those things I never forget — or forgive.”)

And there was great dish — dealing with the difficult Pearl Bailey, whom she appeared with in the movie Carmen Jones, and her terrifying Sunset Boulevard audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber — she got the role of Norma Desmond in the Canadian production of “SB” but the emotional price she paid trying out for it almost did her in.

I found her full of heart, without the treacle of sentimentality. She had ballsy heart! She was also very beautiful, and sitting across from beauty is always a pleasure. And yet, wildly attractive as she was, and as carefully as she tended to those natural and inevitably transitory gifts, she was insecure — about her beauty, her talent; she masked her fears with an open embrace of all the accoutrements of fame, but it seemed to me, she never quite believed she deserved what she had. Well, few sane people do. As soon as you think you really deserve something, quit! I was charmed by Carroll, impressed and deeply moved.

Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll face off on either side of Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones.

RIP, my dear. You were lovely, and you paved a road that, unfortunately, is still frustratingly difficult to travel.

Something else happened during the interview that makes it stand out.  While I was sitting in the lobby, waiting to be ushered up to Miss Carroll’s room, I heard a familiar woman’s voice, chatting on her cell phone. She was sitting in a huge chair obscured from my view.  I simply couldn’t place the very self assured tones.  But just a few minutes after sitting down with Diahann, somebody knocked at her door.  The actress answered the knock and who should stride in but the formidable Amy Greene-Andrews, one-time model and ex-wife of photographer Milton Greene, who became most famous because of his collaboration with Marilyn Monroe.

Milton and Amy Green with MM on Person-to-Person, the live television interview program hosted by Edward R. Murrow, in April 1955.

Amy was involved with an upcoming documentary on MM, Love, Marilyn, and she had worked hard over the years to preserve all of her ex-husband’s work, with and without Monroe.

After I finished up with Diahann, Amy wandered in.  I introduced myself and we spoke glowingly of Diahann and then of my boss, Liz Smith.  Amy said, “Liz is always so lovely about Marilyn.”  Then she paused, gave me a searching glance and added, “Or is that you?”  Caught!

I said, “I won’t ask about her.  It probably irritates you at this point —always Marilyn.”  She laughed, “It does, sometimes, but go ahead.  I know you want to.” And so I had another interview, with Amy!  As usual, she was quite admiring of Marilyn, with just a hint of condescension.  Though Amy always denied it, most people believe Milton and Marilyn were romantically involved during the two years the Greenes essentially supported Monroe during her strike against 20th Century Fox and the formation, with Milton, of MM’s own production company.

We spoke of Arthur Miller — whom she loathed — and Joe DiMaggio, whom she adored. She asked what my favorite Monroe/Greene photo collaboration was?  I told her it was the great Black Sitting, Marilyn in fishnets and a bowler hat and diaphanous lingerie. “Yes!” exclaimed Amy.  “Good taste.  The best thing they ever did.” She gave me her number and insisted I call, “I’ll send you a print.”  I was tempted, but somehow I couldn’t.  It was very generous, but I felt she’d given enough in the matter of Miss Monroe.

Diahann Carroll came back in the room — she was dressing for dinner — and said “Oh, are you talking about Marilyn?”  And then she related meeting Marilyn when she (Carroll) was pregnant.  Monroe asked to feel Diahann’s stomach.  Amy said, “She did the same thing with me when I was pregnant with my second son.  We were at the premiere of The Prince and the Showgirl, and she and Milton had already dissolved their partnership, because of that prick, Miller.  Of course I let her.  I couldn’t be mad.”

After Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy B’day” to JFK, she and others watch Diahann Carroll really sing!

Amy added, meaningfully, “I don’t know that having a baby would have changed much, but she seemed to believe it would.  Or tried to convince herself, anyway.”

P.S. on Diahann — do yourself a favor and go to You Tube and find Ms. Carroll, Rosalind Cash and Irene Cara, in a 1982 TV movie, “Sister, Sister.” These actresses (Yes, Ms. Cara, too) dive thrillingly into Maya Angelou’s script.

I watched it again last week (I have a deteriorating VHS copy, somewhere!) and it is as potent as ever.  Let me warn you, the final ten-minute confrontation between Carroll, Cash (gone far too soon) and Cara will knock you into another room, in another country!

THE DIVINE indifference of Isabelle Huppert! 

On Monday I attended an Andrew Saffir Cinema Society screening of a new film, “Frankie” starring Ms. Huppert and Marisa Tomei.  It’s one of those languid “art-and-feelings” films that some people are going to love and others are going to, well — not love.  I adore Huppert because she has this matter-of-fact quality that seems to infuse most of her roles, no matter now intense the circumstances. (Such as 2016’s riveting, controversial Elle. In that she played a woman who is raped and exacts a strange, eerily composed revenge.)  She has this quality in life, too.

Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei at the Cinema Society screening of their new film, Frankie.

Marisa and Isabelle in Frankie.

I recall a press luncheon for Elle and her bemused surprise at the attitudes of journalists who were apparently expecting her to be more emotional about her role, or more radical on the subject of rape.  Her basic message was — it’s a movie, I do what my director tells me, I’m not emotionally involved or calling on some past trauma.

There was something deliciously wicked and provoking in her resistance to reveal a great technique or a unique relating to her character’s circumstance.

In Frankie she is an actress with a very serious problem (I won’t spoil) who gathers family and friends at a gorgeous seaside resort in Lisbon with specific plans in mind.  There’s an ex-husband, current husband, estranged son, friend Marisa Tomei and Marisa’s hubby, Greg Kinnear.  (Kinnear appears to be totally out of his element here, though I suspect that is exactly what was intended.  Still, he seems more shallow than necessary.)

The film’s leisurely pace and Huppert’s patented resistance to chewing scenery, render  “Frankie” and its inherently dramatic content occasionally somnolent.  Maybe I simply wasn’t in the mood.  Sometimes you just want a little gore, a little sex, and some “Here’s-my-Oscar-scene” moments.    I was also amusingly distracted by the fact that although Huppert is very beautiful and apparently not distorted by procedures — if she’s had any — she looks noticeably younger than everybody in the movie, including her son!  Well, she’s playing an actress, after all.

“Frankie” with her son, played by Jérémie Renier.

Later, Huppert, Tomei (now on Broadway in “The Rose Tattoo”), Tyne Daly, Donna Karan, Dana Delany, Linda Yellen, Peter Cincotti, Brenda Vaccaro, etc, partied at The Crown at Hotel 50 Bowery.  I hadn’t intended on trying to corner Ms. Huppert, because parties are rarely an ideal interview set-up (for me, anyway).  But lunging across the room to grab a slider, I bumped into the star. I couldn’t say I loved the film, but I had loved her, and said, “She’s so calm, almost indifferent most of the time.”  Then I mentioned Elle and her performance there.

Marisa Tomei and Dana Delaney.
Tyne Daly and Brenda Vaccaro.
Zeynep Onaran and Peter Cincotti.
Donna Karan and Tory Burch.

Huppert smiled, offered a shrug that conveyed more than a thousand words and replied:  “There’s no point in getting too hysterical about things you can’t control — which is everything, yes?”


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