And more from our Gossip Girl: on the eve of Oscar, Liz considers the nominees (will Harvey Weinstein make a comeback?)
“COME ON, let me buy you a drink,” says Gary Merrill to Bette Davis in the movie “All About Eve.”
Miss Davis answers in the words of playwright-scriptwriter Joseph Mankiewicz: “Well! I’ll admit that I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail – like a salted peanut.”
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I write this with a kind of rueful joy that Turner Classic Movies will be showing the 1950 film again next Tuesday, on March 1. When I see the date of its release, I can hardly believe it was so long ago – only a year after I came to New York from Texas and entered the worlds of theater, television and journalism.
And that world is exactly what the genius who was Joe Mankiewicz was writing about. Some people believe that Mankiewicz wrote the last movie ever with true dialogue, as in a dramatic play. (This classic is supposed to represent treachery in the New York theater world, but it’s really all about stardom – in any medium.)
While I was re-visiting my happiness at “All About Eve,” my righthand man, Denis Ferrara, who knows more about films and everything else to do with entertainment, chided me. He reminded me that when I was invited on Turner Classic Movies by Bob Osborne to talk about four of my favorites, I omitted “All About Eve” and singled out “Tootsie,” “Double Indemnity,” ”The Barkleys of Broadway” and “Kitty Foyle” as my big four.
Oh, I protested, I could have named 100 favorites and I was instructed by Osborne not to go into “Gone With the Wind” because they had just done too much on that one. It doesn’t matter, but now thinking it over, I believe “All About Eve” is the best film ever made about show business.
And although Joe Mankiewicz is considered to have failed with “Cleopatra” for 20th Century Fox and Elizabeth Taylor, in the end, I think he didn’t fail. The words he put in the mouths of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the words that eventually came to define their real-life, otherworldly personas.
For instance, he has Burton as Mark Antony saying things like “I’ll never be free of you; I want to be free of you!” and other utterances that eventually became the staples of their marriage outside of film.
If ever you loved a cast of people, take a look at the cast for “All About Eve.” The incomparable Bette Davis who seemed to be playing herself (or Tallulah Bankhead!)…her soon-to-be husband Gary Merrill, still in his prime before she cut him down to size … Marilyn Monroe in an astonishing brief and telling appearance … Celeste Holm as everybody’s friend … Thelma Ritter as Bette’s dresser in a work of comic genius … George Sanders at his sardonic best as the drama critic with the best asides. (This was before Zsa Zsa Gabor ruined George — “She tossed me aside like a squeezed lemon,” he said of their real-life split.) And Anne Baxter as Eve. I confess I didn’t buy Miss Baxter’s butch aggressive villainess. She over-played by a mile and a half. But even that can’t ruin “All About Eve.”
You get Bette Davis at her peak, on a platter, as the insecurely grand aging actress-star. She is simply great. But she didn’t win the Oscar that year. The award went to Judy Holiday in “Born Yesterday.”
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SPEAKING OF Oscar, on Sunday night Hollywood falls all over itself once again, giving out those little golden guys. A few thoughts: Doris Day, still not honored — you should all be ashamed out there! Natalie Portman is presumed the frontrunner for Best Actress but I feel it might just be Annette Bening’s year. She is a four-time nominee, and brilliant, always (some say she should win her own Honorary Oscar for taming Warren Beatty) … Melissa Leo of “The Fighter” was hot in her Best Supporting category, but now she’s not, because of those glam “For Your Consideration” ads she placed for herself, and her complaint that she was “too young to play Mark Wahlberg’s mother.” (Honey, you’re an actress — it’s called “acting.”) So, perhaps Helena Bohnam Carter will swan up to the podium, instead — or Ms. Leo’s co-star, Amy Adams, also nominated in the Best Supporting category … Colin Firth seems a shoo-in for Best Actor, and it’s neck and neck between “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” for Best Picture. I am rooting for the former, not only because I loved it, but a win will solidify Harvey Weinstein’s great comeback. And we are all waiting curiously to see how Anne Hathaway and James Franco fare as the evening’s hosts. (It won’t be Ricky Gervais-time, no matter what.)
Oh, and while we muse on great ladies who should be honored by Oscar, how about … Maureen O’Hara? Maureen has at least five classic films to her name —“Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Quiet Man,” “How Green Was My Valley, “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Rio Grande.” One of her best performances came in 1991’s “Only the Lonely,” with the late John Candy. Of course, she also starred in movies like “The Flame of Araby,” “The Spanish Main” and “Sinbad the Sailor.” But who could resist fiery-haired Maureen in Technicolor, her bodice perpetually ripped? Miss O’Hara was and is one of the most beautiful women to ever appear onscreen.
And Maureen was brave. She sued the infamous muckraking Confidential magazine and she won!