SPEAKING OF old-time stars who really twinkled reminds me of something I read in the New York Times last Sunday. They reported that a two-floor penthouse in what used to be the Volney Hotel on an upper East Side street sold for a mere $17,500,000.
This makes me think of the days visiting the one and only Dorothy Parker who lived in the Volney. Although Dotty didn’t have two floors, she definitely had a nice place wherein to grow old. Her glory days seemed to be over by then.
But she was still an authoritative star of the literary world, ever complaining about how poor she was, how she’d been forgotten by her public (not true!) and wishing someone like Gloria Vanderbilt would rescue her with money, gowns and shoes to match. If she was invited anywhere, she went on bitterly about how they didn’t give her anything to wear, or send a car or loan her jewelry, or do anything else to accommodate her.
The chief thing Miss Parker complained about was the plethora of books she was sent by publishers who were trying, or hoping, to maybe get a quote out of her. She was always shoving them at visitors by the armload.
Yet when Dorothy Parker died in 1967, she left drawers full of un-cashed checks from magazines, publishers and syndication. Maybe she could have made a down payment on the valuable real estate where she was living.
PENNY MARSHALL has cultivated a kind of loveably irascible, slightly depressed persona. It’s not totally a “persona.” But the other night, at The Monkey Bar, the only aspect of Penny on display was loveable. The actress/director/producer was there to drumbeat her funny, touching, new memoir, My Mother Was Nuts. Penny worked the room non-stop, and when asked, as she frequently was, “How are you?” Her reply was, “Well, if the damn tabloids would stop saying I’m dying, I’d be just great.” (Penny had a tremendous bout with cancer a few years ago — brain tumor and lung cancer. But she recovered and now looks like she has never even suffered a cold in her entire life.)
All earthlings available to the siren song of PR queen Peggy Siegal — and a few aliens, too — descended in full force on The Monkey Bar. I do mean such as David Geffen, in jeans and sneakers … Calvin Klein, beautifully suited up … Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg … Art Garfunkel (Penny’s old flame) … Lorne Michaels … Graydon Carter … Fran Lebowitz, who is determined not to smile too much as she moves around the room — this keeps unwanted admirers at bay … Roger Friedman, reporter extraordinaire … Carol Kane … Gayle King … Andy Cohen … Mort Zuckerman … Jacob Bernstein … Tom Brokaw … Barbara Walters, regal in a gorgeous red coat. You get it. It was one of those, “if a bomb dropped” evenings.
Joy and Regis Philbin were there, still talking about the Marvin Hamlisch memorial. “Now, that was a memorial,” said Joy. Turning to Regis, she continued, “That’s what I’ll try to do for you.” Regis feigned horror, “What? What? We don’t talk about death here.” Overhearing this exchange somebody said, “Joy, maybe you’ll go first.” She laughed, “Yeah, that’s exactly what he’s waiting for!”
Kyle MacLachlan was on hand, with a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair, which made him look younger. “I finally gave in to the gray. Who was I fooling?” Kyle is filming a new series for CBS titled “Made in Jersey.” “We shoot right next to where they do “Boardwalk Empire,” but I never get to see any of them in the lunchroom.” (Sweet, like high school — checking out the other kids in the lunch room.)
Anjelica Huston was there. Her necklace was admired. “Oh, look at these rubies,” she said, pulling rocks that seemed the size of Easter eggs from under her blouse. “Lauren Hutton gave them to me. She got them in Nepal or one of those exotic places she was always traveling to. I kept admiring them, and finally she just gave them to me. I wore her out.”
Miss Huston — who’s been smash on NBC’s “Smash” series — is writing her autobiography. “One or two volumes?” she was asked. “Volumes? What, do you think my life was like ‘War and Peace?” But she added a Cheshire Cat grin when she said it. (Anjelica is just about my favorite person in show biz.)
It was also one of those parties where you kept hearing snippets of conversations — “Baby, let’s face it. If I wrote my memoirs, nobody could accept the brutal truth” …. ”Oh, I heard that about her. Look, if there’s smoke there’s a blazing fire.” There was also a lot of chat about William J. Mann’s new and supposedly sizzling bio, Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand. (From Houghton Mifflin — and more on that anon!)
But the entrance of the night had to go to Mariah Carey. She arrived, practically to the sound of trumpets. She wore black, there was cleavage, some ruffles, too, heels (of course!) that tawny mane, tossed girlishly. She was adorable. She is adorable. One of the sweetest superstars ever! As she came in, she spotted a fellow wearing a tee-shirt with a blonde lady’s face on it, under his dressy blazer. Mariah said, “Ooohhhh, Marilyn! (her idol) and opened the guys coat. Alas, it was … Madonna. Mariah grinned. “Oh, well, that’s okay. But Marilyn’s the one.” And then she added, “I bought her white piano, you know.”
PENNY’S BOOK? One of the most amusing, straightforward and poignant (without self-pity) memoirs I’ve read yet. I learned lots of stuff about Penny, as a woman and a superb professional in a male dominated industry. She is super-candid on all matters, and fair. (Yes, of course, she tells the saga of Cindy Williams and “Laverne & Shirley” and she’s fair on that, too.)
She didn’t have trouble with Whitney Houston on “The Preacher’s Wife” (no signs of drug use) … her only problem with Madonna in “A League of Their Own” was her arms — she told M to stop already with the upper body workouts … and Bobby De Niro and Robin Williams did not come to blows during “Awakenings.”
There is so much wry humanity, so many great stories, and one of my favorites opens the book. Penny is being robbed in her L.A. home by two men dressed as ninjas. One of them demands the jewelry she’s wearing. Penny says, “I can’t. I’m doing a movie. I wore them on camera. I have to match the shots.” She adds: “They exchanged looks, and, I suppose, this being Hollywood, they understood.”
Loved this book. Love Penny Marshall.
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 9/21/12