Liz Smith: Mel Brooks Honored

mainUntitled“HE LOOKED like my father and he acted like my mother!” said the great actress Anne Bancroft of her husband-of-41 years. (Miss Bancroft died in 2005 and Mel Brooks has never gotten over his loss.)

Now comes Channel Thirteen, offering a full look at the genius that is Mel Brooks, who has earned more major awards than any other living entertainer. “American

Masters Mel Brooks: Make a Noise” starts on PBS come Monday, May 20th at 9 p.m. (est). Mel is 86 years old and became enamored with show biz when he saw his first Broadway musical —Ethel Merman in ”Anything Goes.”

He has since starred and created himself, works for Sid Caesar‘s “Your Show of Shows” to wildly comic films: “Blazing Saddles” … “Young Frankenstein” … “The Producers.” Some of these have been big hits on the stage.

When Mel decided to shoot a movie called “High Anxiety,” a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Vertigo,” the maestro told Brooks, after seeing a rough cut, that he had one thing wrong: “Shower rings, you have 13. We only had 10.”

In June, Mel Brooks will be honored with an AFI Life Achievement Award, the highest honor for a career in film.

You could go to thirteen.org/americanmasters and try to win or buy tickets for the 92nd Street Y showcase of Mel Brooks, happening on May 15. Joy Beharwill be the emcee.

Watch Mel Brooks: Make a Noise on PBS. See more from American Masters.

I AM SO happy to see Cicely Tyson having a triumph on Broadway in Horton Foote‘s classic “The Trip to Bountiful.”

In 1974 I was in Leningrad with this highly talented Oscar-nominee, Ms. Tyson. She was disgustedly playing a cat in the 20th Century-Fox/USSR co-production of the fairytale “The Bluebird.” She wore a costume with an actual tail and she thought it was utter nonsense. Her co-star, the dog, the late Jimmy Coco, was more sanguine about his silly costume and often cooked a late dinner for some of us reporters, while wagging his tail in director George Cukor‘s hotel suite. Jimmy could make pasta in a frying pan and we were all starving because of the bad Russian food . We were constantly promised caviar by the producers but it never appeared. (Jimmy often did imitations ofRita Moreno from her comedy play “The Ritz.”)

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We were all staying in a hotel built by the Finns and the knobs, handles and buttons on everything simply fell off or didn’t work if you even touched them. There was a jail in the basement which was a collection center for drunks crossing over from Finland and everyone was released on Monday mornings.

Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jane Fonda headed the cast but I had to fly back to London to interview Miz Liz because she had fled Russia … Jane Fonda filmed and disappeared … and I often encountered a friendly Ava on the hotel backstairs. She would always say to me, “Liz, we’ve got to stop meeting like this!” But she wouldn’t give me an interview because Rex Reed was in our gang and she opined, “He is always either at your feet or at your throat!”

bluebird

Ms. Tyson stayed apart from all us low lifes. But she was intelligent and dignified and there was no gainsaying that she was correct. It was all a disaster; one of the biggest flops in international film. I never did get to see the finished product. But I developed quite a loving relationship with Mr. Cukor and later, with Ava when she lived in London.

And I remembered that the vanilla ice cream cones in Russia were always grey. So much for communism.

DON’T HAVE the strength yet to rave about the Bette Midler one-woman play as the late agent Sue Mengers.

Just wait a bit and rush to buy tickets right now from the Booth on 45th Street. I am going back for a second look.

bette

wc3IT WAS fun this week to hear the complaints that writing about the late C.Z. Guest was “boring” to some and then the kudos of those who liked it. And especially the glamorous photographs.

But better still was the response we received writing about the Churchill book The Last Lion again, to enthusiastic response. As we’d written about this new work by William Manchester and Paul Reid, I feared we’d be accused of overkill.

I know, I know but I, personally, prefer Churchill the hero.

But I will quote from a letter received by Manchester’s co-author who finished his long and exhausting work:

Thank you for your two wonderful and generous reviews of ‘The Last Lion’. Bill Manchester would surely have clipped those reviews for his scrap book, and so shall I. I’ve very much enjoyed your columns over the years , but these two — well, these two mean a great deal to me.

I apologize for the heft of the book, and indeed once suggested two volumes to Little, Brown, but they quickly disabused me of that too, rightly so, in that I had been at it for about six years at that point, and L.B. just wanted the darn manuscript.

In its defense, when properly wielded the tome doubles nicely as a cudgel in the event a miscreant with sinister motives appears … as well, everyone needs a good doorstop.

wc

weiner_dog001021I AM a dog lover and especially fond of dachshunds, having participatedslightly as a breeder affiliated with the Dachsmith-Love Kennel in Vermont, which has

produced number one smooth champions all over the country. You’ve seen these winners at Westminster for years.

Doxie owners kind of resent their little champs being called “Weiner Dogs,” but there will be a movie opening tomorrow at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It is titled “Wiener Dog Nationals,” and when they announced the premiere, it sold out in five hours time so they had to schedule another viewing for Sunday.

This is definitely a family movie with actor Julian Feder adopting a runt of a dog named “Shelly.” My interest here is not only the welfare of our animal friends but the fact that one of my all-time favorite actors — Morgan Fairchild — is in this film. Add Alicia Witt of TV’s wonderful “Friday Night Lights” and Bryan Batt of “Mad Men,” plus Jason London, Caitlin Carmichael, and Austin Anderson. The director is Kevan Peterson.

This one looks like it might win the race for family popularity.

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This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 4/26/13

4 comments so far.

  1. avatar JERILYN says:

    Thank you Liz Smith I have that picture of Elizabeth with Ava but watched that film three times and thought I missed the scene! LOL They never appeared together on screen and this scene should have been included. The filming in Russia seemed like a nightmare for all!

  2. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    I haven’t much patience for actors who complain about their roles. She knew the role was a cat when she accepted it. If the idea so offended her delicate artistic sensibilities, Ms. Tyson should have declined — but she didn’t because the producers paid boatloads of money to the stars.

  3. avatar mickie1 says:

    HEY LIZ I GOT A COPY OF THR BLUE BIRD ON DVD. GOT IT THRU AMAZON.COM. THE COVER IS IN RUSSIAN !!!! NO LESS !!! THE REASON I GOT IT WAS I NEEDED IT TO ADD TO MY ELIZABETH TAYLOR DVD/VHS COLLECTION (GOT ALL HER MOVIES IN MY LIBRARY — EVEN A BOOTLEG COPY OF THE YOUNG TOSCANINI— WHICH WAS NEVER RELEASED HER IN THE STATES ) OOPS I DIGRESS!!! ANYWAY —THE BLUE BIRD IS A HORRIBLE MOVIE — THE SET WERE CHEAP, THE COSTUMES WERE CHEAP— EVEN THE ACTING WAS CHEAP — EXCEPT FOR LA LIZ WHO HAD 3 ROLES TO PLAY AND DID THEM VERY WELL. SO IF YOU WANT TO SEE I’D BE GLAD TO LOAN IT TO YOU !!!

  4. avatar Rho says:

    Mel Brooks deserves this award.