On “Borrowed Time,” Mary Wilson & Lady Gaga, “Suddenly, Last Summer”, Jonas Brothers, “GOT” and Linda Yellen

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Linda Yellen on set with Liza Minnelli in Parallel Lives.

“I CHECKED myself out in the mirror. The light wasn’t good in here, but even in dimness, I looked like a woman who’d just found a dead body in a box.”

So reflects private investigator Cassandra Raines in Tracy Clark’s new thriller, “Borrowed Time.”  Fans of this genre (are we not legion?) were introduced to Cassie Raines in last year’s  “Broken Places,” which was author Clark’s first book. This, the further adventures of Ms. Raines is even better.

Click to order Borrowed Time (A Chicago Mystery).

The nature of this sort of fiction borders on the absurdist — how many twists and turns and near-death scrapes, and suspects and red herrings and, well, bodies in boxes, can comfortably fit into a book —one that won’t make you roll your eyes?  Or put it down? Tracy Clark manages to keep her earthy, complex heroine and her twisty plot relentlessly entertaining.

So much happens in “Borrowed Time” that I was left pleasingly breathless as Cassie solves the mystery of who killed a wealthy, terminally ill young man?  Was it one of the long line of people who disliked him? His ex-lover; an artist who hops around on Slinkys when he paints?  His avaricious brother? The icy mother? Sketchy friend? Or maybe it’s that guy with “sleepy eyes the color of Chinese jade”?   Nope, I won’t tell.  Not even if you lock me in a deserted building and set it on fire. (Somebody really didn’t want Cassie to solve this case!)

Because we live in such fast times, and time might be running out, I have to pitch Tracy Clark’s thrillers to Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. Make a movie or a series.  Get Danai Gurira to star as Cassie.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I know the author. For many years Tracy Clark edited the Liz Smith column.  She dealt with and solved issues large and small. Although truth be told, I’m still not sure about my commas. (Liz wanted more, I wanted less; Tracy got it right.)

I wasn’t surprised when I learned Tracy had written a book, or that it had turned out so well. Editors know how to write.  Writers never know how to edit.

Tracy, photographed by Bauwerks, darn well knows her commas!

One more thing — although Tracy Clark’s style is vivid, vigorous and realistic, none of her characters use profanity.  I don’t even think there’s a “damn” anywhere in the book.  I don’t know at what point I noticed this, but it pleased me, oddly.  Now, I happen to have a filthy mouth and sometimes that bad habit strays into my writing.  After all, why should restrain myself?  I keep finding all sorts of non-deleted expletives everywhere.  Even in the New Yorker!

As times changed and language became more relaxed, certain once-forbidden words crept into Liz’s column (Miss Smith had quite the salty tongue herself.)  Once, after carefully and painstakingly correcting typos, misspellings and slanders to grammar, Tracy attached a little note to the final copy.  “Denis, this was a very funny column. But why all the profanity?!”  I promised her I’d be good.  I wasn’t. I’m not. But I won’t curse today. In print.


DO hurry over to Café Carlyle and catch Mary Wilson in what is described as “an intimate set” that combines music and reminiscence.  Yes, it’s THE Mary Wilson of Supremes fame. She has an evocative smoky singing voice, and well, sure — we don’t mind a little dish from the days when Miss Ross sang, “How can Mary tell me what to do?…” on “Back in My Arms Again.”  Wilson will be in residence until June 8th. Isaac Mizrahi (designer-turned-chanteuse) and Sutton Foster (Broadway baby and “Younger” TV star) close the spring season at the Carlyle. For tix and info call 212-744-1600.

ON June 24th, Lady Gaga performs at the New York’s fabled Apollo Theater.  This is a special invitation-only event for SiriusXM subscribers and Pandora Radio.  It’s a big deal that Sirius and Pandora are joining forces. Or so I’m told. It is likely sold out already, but just in case, visit siriusxm.com/Gaga.  Maybe La Germanotta will bless her fans with an extra performance?

Courtesy of the Apollo Theater Foundation; Photo by Shahar Azran

IF YOU happen to be in Hollywood on June 6th, you might consider stopping in at The Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.  To kick off L.A. Pride Week, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation will present a poolside party at The Standard and a screening of ET’s 1959 film “Suddenly, Last Summer.” (Tennessee Williams at his most Gothic … La Liz at her luscious peak … Katharine Hepburn at her most mannered and poor Monty Clift, pretending to be a brain surgeon.)  Cocktails at 7:00 p.m., movie at 8:00.  Minimum donation $25.

“He … bought me a bathing suit I didn’t want to wear. It was made of white, something or other. The water made it transparent! I told him I didn’t want to swim in it. It was a scandal to the jaybirds! But he pulled me into the water, all the way in. I came out looking … naked.”

Elizabeth’s dedication to her own foundation and to AmFAR — which she co-founded with Dr. Mathilde Krim in 1985 — never wavered, no matter her health issues, which bore down upon the star of stars relentlessly from 1994 until her death in 2011. Taylor was valiant; she had found a real purpose, a singular outlet to channel the benefits of her out-of-bounds fame.  She was there when others turned away, terrified.  So, even if you are not in Hollywood, make a donation.  Go to etaf.org/donate.  I will say that I find “Suddenly, Last Summer” with all its gay guilt and terrible death, a rather odd choice for Pride Week. I’d have gone with that 1972 masterpiece of raucous camp, “X, Y and Zee” myself.

Miss Taylor and her trusty teasing comb, in “X, Y and Zee.”

ALTHOUGH the oldest Jonas brother, Kevin, is only 31, he and his siblings Joe (29) and Nick (26) feel they have packed in enough living to write a joint autobiography, invitingly titled “Blood.”  This will tell the “incredible true story” of the gripping Jonas Brothers saga — how they rose, how they broke up, how they made-up. (New single, new album, new tour.) Macmillan will publish this tale of Three Hunky Boys — a much better title! — in November.  Neil Strauss will help the brothers collect their thoughts and fond memories. Strauss assisted members of Motley Crue to recall their misbehavior in a book called “Dirt.” Good luck with the Jonas tribe.  Aside from Nick and Joe taking off their shirts and posing in underwear a lot, they seem fairly sedate.  All are married.  (Joe Jonas recently wed Sophie Turner, aka Sansa Stark of “Game of Thrones.”)  Maybe this book will have a lot of pictures?

SPEAKING of “GOT” I’m so glad it’s done and over and I never have to think about it again.  To be honest, the show engaged me most when things were hopping in King’s Landing.  When Cersei was plotting and killing … when Tyrion mattered … when Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell) kept dropping in like a fantasy-world version of “Downton Abbey’s” Dowager Duchess of Grantham.

Photo courtesy of HBO/Helen Sloan

Everything in the North was cold, nobody had fashion sense and as we were told endlessly, winter was coming.  I was disappointed more than I was thrilled or entertained as the seasons dragged on, and as the hiatus from one season to the next grew longer.  Still, there were many pleasures to be had, particularly Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, Mother of Dragons.  I liked her a lot — the actress and the character.

As for the finale, sure lots of people were disappointed. That’s what series finales are for!  The characters who survived were the most boring (or had become boring).

Cersei (Lena Headey) Miss Evil Incarnate, kind of had to die, but my goodness couldn’t they have had her suffer a bit — a lot! — more? Daenerys’ goose had been cooked for a long time.  Once you kill hundreds of people to show how morally tuned-in you are (because they were “bad” people) it’s a short hop to incinerating thousands of innocents. Anyway, she  had only one dragon left. As to why she “suddenly” went mad — you try braiding your hair like that for years.

Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) survived and I so glad she did.  I didn’t care where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was going — always so gloomy! When he’s feeling better, the actor (now in rehab)  should do a comedy – in a cheery, sunny climate. I’ve seen Harington in one other endeavor, “Pompeii.” Lava was coming.

I won’t miss “GOT” as I did “The Sopranos” or “Downton Abbey” or “Six Feet Under.”  But I have to tip my hat to everybody involved in the series.  It was a hell of an effort, and when it was good, it was very good indeed.  HBO ran a two-hour behind-the-scenes look at what went into producing the show (“The Last Watch.”)   It focused a great deal on the workers, crafts people and extras.  If you were dismayed about the finale, catch the documentary. You’ll feel better about everything, and you might even experience the emotional tug missing from Season Eight, Episode Six.

FINALLY: Once upon a time there was a beautiful college student named Linda Yellen.  In her sophomore year at Barnard, she made a ten-minute film titled “Prospera.”  It won third prize at the New York Film Festival, behind Martin Scorsese and George Lucas.  Ta-da! A light bulb flashed over Linda’s golden tresses — movies, that’s the ticket!  Since then Ms. Yellen has produced, written and/or directed nearly 30 feature and TV films (“Playing for Time,” “Chantilly Lace,” Parallel Lives,” “Second Serve,” “The Last Film Festival,” “Fluidity,” etc.)  Emmy-winner Linda has worked with everybody from Dennis Hopper to Jacqueline Bisset to Elizabeth Taylor, Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave, Liza Minnelli, Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, William Hurt – well, you get it.

With Dennis Hopper in The Last Film Festival.
Linda with Jacqueline Bisset on the set of End of Summer.
Linda on set with Victor Garber.

Linda (with Bill Aucoin) holding her Emmy for Playing for Time.

This Saturday, at the Columbia Campus, Linda will receive the “Woman of Achievement” award from Barnard.  Her alma mater is justifiably very proud of Linda, who they correctly assess as providing an inspirational example to all Barnard women.  Previous honorees include Twyla Tharp, Francine du Plessix Gray, Delia Ephron, Sheila Nevins, Suzanne Vega, Cyndi Stivers, Ruth Bader Ginsburg – well, you get it. (I guess this is where I insert the smiley-face emoji.)

Linda is one of the most intelligent and sensitive people I’ve ever met. Truth be told, she’s a good friend. I promised Linda I wouldn’t mention our friendship if I wrote about her honor.  But I have to wiggle out of that one.  Her intelligence and sensitivity not only inform her work, but inform me, as human being, as her friend. I can’t separate the creative artist from the person. Why would I want to?  I’m not a Barnard woman, but Linda inspires me anyway.

Congratulations, honey.

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