No Holds Barred: All Hail the Queen of one-liners

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"A demanding year ...." Queen Elizabeth II declared during her annual Christmas Day message to the nation, at Windsor Castle, England. (Steve Parsons/pool via AP).

Nobody sums up the cultural bottom line better than Queen Elizabeth in her year-end address. After all, if not her, then who?  Remember in 1992 with the Windsor Castle fire, Charles and Diana’s marriage disintegration, and the queen announcing her “annus horribilis.”  What year hasn’t been an “annus horribilis” lately?

So, this year for her, between Brexit, Prince Phillip hospitalized and stepping down, and son “Randy Andy” caught up with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the Queen declared 2019: “a demanding year — the path not always smooth and at times this year felt quite a bit bumpy.”

Bumpy?  No kidding!  But there she sat with her perfectly coifed white helmet hair, in a blue cashmere dress, sensible triple-strand of pearls and a serious diamond circle pin, her desk filled with photos of her extended family (sans Meghan, Harry and Archie — a hidden message there?).  She assured the world that “small steps taken in faith and hope can overcome long held differences, and deep-seated divisions, to bring harmony and understanding.”  We can only hope.  And good luck with that.

Kate and William front and center on the Queen’s desk. (Steve Parsons/pool via AP).

But even the 3rd season of the popular Netflix “Crown” (which took place in a boring time in history – 1960-1977), wasn’t as interesting as the current Royal Story which is now loaded with inner-family squabbles, sex scandals, and the poor Queen having to enter the social media hysteria. Imagine … at this stage of her life?  Trump tweets, but Elizabeth still sits and speaks.

Many have suggested she should finally retire and turn Buckingham Palace into a luxury (?) hotel.  She can make Prince Charles and Prince William “co-hosts” to what’s left of the Royal Business while Meghan and Harry can move to Hollywood to pursue a reality show career on Bravo Housewives.  This may sound sad, but times they are a-changing, and fast!

Des Willie, NETFLIX

And speaking of “The Crown,” look at what “at home streaming” (escapism entertainment for one and all) is offering of late.  There is “The Irishman” — Martin Scorsese’s (too long!) swan song to mob cinema, with the intense De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino doing what they have always done, enhanced with technology tricks.  But at this point, it is tough to top “The Sopranos” which said it all and said it best.  And no visual pyrotechnics needed.

“The Sopranos” — still the top.

“The Two Popes” (great virtuoso performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce) highlighted the gorgeousness of the Vatican setting.  And then there’s the depressingly popular “Marriage Story,” which I found tedious (except for the awful reality of the devious divorce attorneys).  I prefer my divorce tales told with a little buoyancy and some humor like “Kramer vs. Kramer” or “War of the Roses.”  But divorces nowadays are as divisive and hateful as everything else, so “Marriage Story” left me going down a dark bottomless pit to nowhere. A popular journey of late.

Obviously “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”  clearly comes in to save the day.  Now … you either love that show for all the “viv,” froth, nostalgic music, glorious costumes and sets, brilliant ensemble actors, and fast-paced sharp script, Or, you find it superficial, antisemitic and stupidly fixed on Upper West Side New York City privilege. Nowadays, I want my “escapes” to be full of breeziness, moxie, and fun. I am sick of weighty and issue-oriented heft.  I get that 24/7 in real life.

“Maisel” has become a recent style phenomenon, with Bergdorf’s cashing into the 3rd season by dedicating their late October windows and popup store to the costumes. I found the series to be more than just fun, with an Upper West Side wife and mother leaving her family to start a career in stand-up comedy in the late ’50s/early ’60s.

Bergdorf’s October windows dedicated to “Maisel.”

Sure, you can’t beat the flash of colorful vintage clothes, Playtex push-up bras and girdles, and a fabulous soundtrack of Bobby Darin singing “Beyond the Sea” or Barbra Streisand opening an episode with “I’m the Greatest Star.”  The entire production in clothes and design transports you to a better, more joyful place in time. And the “Maisel” fashion seems to have led the popularity.

Even lead actor Tony Shaloub (already won an Emmy for his role as Mrs. Maisel’s Columbia University Professor father) recognized the importance and impact of the “Maisel Style.” He said “It’s almost like the clothes are a character unto themselves … it’s like the clothes are speaking to us and through us (as actors).  I’m always sort of jazzed and energized by that.”

And so are legions of fans who have applauded that certain pink fuchsia swing coat, or quirky green hat created by costume designer Donna Zakowska.  This hasn’t merely been a “Mad Men” makeover of dull vintage cardigans and shirtwaists bought directly from the high-end thrift boutiques.

Zakowska has re-invented and personally designed the wardrobe for all the leads and made such a swing-skirted statement that even Amazon is offering an online Maisel boutique.  There has been a run on the “Midge Red” lipstick (a certain Chanel #1 Red or YSL “modern coral”) at Sephora.  Revlon just launched their Maisel “Marvelous Super Lustrous Collection” of 3 reds used in the show.  Good for Revlon who is struggling to stay in business by re-issuing their notorious 1950 shades of “Fire and Ice”, “Certainly Red” and “Cherries in the Snow.”

“Take the Stage Reds” from Revlon’s The Marvelous Super Lustrous Collection.

Ironically, Maisel lead actress Rachel Brosnahan (Midge Maisel) is actually designer Kate Spade’s niece and has now become the face of Spade’s Specialty line “Frances Valentine.”

I remember Diana Vreeland once advised a Hollywood Producer with his film to “do it big, do it right, and give it class.”  That is exactly what “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” did down to the details; recreating Fifth Avenue’s B. Altman’s Department Store’s wooden floors and basement phone banks; A Las Vegas’ strip in the 1950’s, and Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel’s giant swirl of a lobby “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” staircase.  They even make a Catskills Resort swimming pool look glamorous.

B. Altman’s basement phone banks from Making Maisel Marvelous exhibit The Paley Center for Media.
Midge on Oquaga Lake at Scott’s Family Resort in the Catskills.

Maisel is all a joy to behold and a fun innocent time now so long gone. It is hard to remember we were like that. You definitely need to be upbeat to grasp the speed of the dialogue. And the self-empowered perseverance of a woman coming to grips with her talent as an entertainer while dealing with her 1958 role as Mother and Daughter.

The show thrives on high flying optimism and family — another sad lost topic of late. The Maisel family is portrayed as a supportive unit of eccentric characters not like today’s version, so often depicted as a dysfunctional selfish mess.

All done at a time not very supportive of any of that. Please, no talk of Feminism — the show takes place in the late ’50s/early ’60s before Jack Kennedy’s assassination, Betty Frieden’s “lectures,” the bra-less demonstrations, or Gloria Steinem’s Playboy Bunny waitress revelations.  That social “game-changer” may happen next season and perhaps Maisel’s  joyride may crash land in a “jump the shark” moment. We will see.

But for now, we can enjoy coasting on the Maisel Jet Stream of Sinatra crooning “Fly Me to the Moon”, glamorous jewel tone hats and gloves, and snappy small arm bags.  And how about those great Upper West Side pre-war apartments!!??  People have wondered about the Maisel ten-room apartment of classic molding, multi fireplaces, bedroom hallways that resembles a bowling alley, classic kitchen with glass cabinets, wood paneled libraries and all that velvet burgundy and gold lived-in furniture. Not to mention the great Westside river views.

Maisel’s home — Strathmore Apartment House, 404 Riverside.

A lot has been written about the exterior shots at the Strathmore Apartment House, 404 Riverside.  In 1967, a 10-room apartment would have been $30,000.  Today it is $3,000,000.  Ah yes, those were the days.  Pre-Central Park South “Pencil Dick” million-dollar high-rises.

Maisel gave me that great “intermission” from today’s non-stop hourly rhythm of “Breaking News” cycles, “Bombshell” raging headlines, and “grab your cellphone” notification alarms every ten minutes.  I honestly turned off my “Amber Alerts” and “Flood Warnings.”  I pray I can live through it all unscathed and unannounced.  Maybe it’s best I don’t know.  TMI!!

I recently read where the “Breaking News” blasts have a lifespan of an hour or a day.  So, the longest “bombshells” this year have been Hurricane Dorian, Game of Thrones finale, Jeffrey Epstein, and The Impeachment (which the media keeps alive as their screen saving issue).  The first three peaked for a day, but no real public interest lasts longer than an hour. Face it, we are all struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder from headline bombardment.  The message clearly is “nothing lasts forever” — and Warhol’s iconic statement of; “Everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” is now down to a 30-second sound bite.

Which leads me to the demise of the famous Maximilian Fur Company, operating since 1922.  Last week, Bloomingdales and Macy’s announced their Maximillian Fur Salon closure with a crash and burn sale. Gone are the minks, sables, and beavers and all the storage and vaults are done.

Obviously, who hasn’t bailed out of fur in the last 4 years what with animal rights. But more importantly is the change in what is considered luxury. Now it is all about The Puffer quilted jacket. It is clearly a cheaper, lighter, and frankly warmer alternative to fur which was just too costly and heavy and not all that warm.  As for the fake fur explosion – I have yet to see one that doesn’t feel like a polyester dog toy and make you look like a stuffed animal.

So now Montcler has offered their puffer long ball gowns and full-length puffer coats and dresses.  They cost $2700 – $3565 and come in great colors. Saks is almost sold out. Imagine you can go to a party dressed in a dazzling “sleeping bag.”  Could this be a trend coming from our “homeless” tent city issues?  Talk about the real street fashion having an impact!

Moncler Genius

By the way, Mrs. Maisel featured very few if any fur coats — just great one-liners. And I was thinking that the popularity of that show could stem from most men and women today wanting to find their own standup comedy amidst their daily down-and-out drama.

So, in 2020, we all could use a little of that “Maisel Mazel” and the Queen’s recommendation of hope. But how exactly?  Maybe chant the good luck cheer that Midge and her manager say before every performance:

“Tits Up!!”

And how.

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