Liz Smith: Remembering Music Giant Nick Ashford and Connecticut and Manhattan’s Beloved Casey Ribicoff

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson

And more from our Gossip Girl: Madonna chooses her dancers…Tom chooses a leading lady and the Billy Wilder stamp–would he approve?

“AIN’T NOTHING like the real thing, baby,” go the lyrics to one of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s great Motown hits.

The music world had an unhappy shock on Monday with the passing of Nick Ashford, from throat cancer. Nick was the real thing, baby–one of the nicest, loveliest men in the business, partnered with and married to one of the nicest, loveliest women in the business. Real people in an unreal world, still very much in love after 38 years of marriage.

Together and separately Nick and Valerie made music history, writing, producing and performing some of the most thrilling, soulful, joyous songs ever.

Nick will be deeply missed by his many friends, family, his wife and two daughters and an industry sorely in need of what Nick had in abundance: talent, heart and soul.

Rest in peace, Nick Ashford.

* * *

AND WHEN it rains it pours. New York and Connecticut have lost a good friend. The inimitable and stylish Casey Ribicoff has left us this week. She has soldiered on since the death of her famous and distinguished husband Abe who was one of Connecticut’s favorite governors and most effective Democratic senators. Casey was well known behind the scenes as First Lady of Connecticut.

Casey became something of a Manhattan legend after Abe’s death, playing generous hostess in her Sutton Place apartment and treating her pals to the glories of Shun Lee Palace East Chinese food. She was regularly on the phone with her pal Nancy Reagan exchanging the lastest. She often took off for California visiting her sons and grandchildren and checking up on her pet designer and friend Jimmy Galanos. Being in her 90’s didn’t faze Casey a bit. Her old-fashioned style, avid interest in what’s going on, good-humored gossip and fun will be sorely missed. There will be a memorial announced later in September.

So long, sweetheart. I lift an egg roll and barbecued rib to you.

* * *

AND NOW for things so much lighter they barely exist.

There isn’t much question that the TV show “Jersey Shore” scores high in the “most tacky” sweepstakes. But sometimes tacky can be used for profit by others who see themselves as not so tacky.

Take the recent tale of how Abercrombie & Fitch offered to pay off the MTV show if it would stop putting its sporty clothes on the over-muscled back of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. That was a real doozy, with cynics rolling their eyes, claiming it was all just a publicity ploy. (I mean we are talking Abercrombie & Fitch of the notorious catalogues in which nobody seems to be wearing any A&F clothing!)

Let’s not forget that this past summer, the ravishing Renaissance city of Florence played host to the “Jersey Shore” actors and producers and the city

fathers didn’t like the situation—or “The Situation”– one bit. Maybe some extra American dollars flowed into the City’s coffers but Florence maintained its class.

* * *

ALTHOUGH SOME of Madonna’s admirers would prefer it if the pop icon didn’t run herself ragged on another world concert tour, that is exactly what she will be doing next year. M is recording songs for a new album and the concert will follow. Well, I suppose you can’t blame her. The last tour was the highest-grossing tour for a solo artist—ever. It was somewhere in the $400 millions. And a girl can never have too many millions.

Madonna has teamed with Smirnoff to hold a “global dance competition.” The winner will join the star’s troupe as they all writhe and grind their way around the world. This is the first time Madonna has chosen a dancer this way. Well, there has to be a first time for everything and everyone, even Madonna.

She’ll choose her other dancers as she always has in the past.

* * *

WELL, IT’S Rosamund Pike who will star opposite Tom Cruise in “One Shot.” She is British and lovely. But that won’t change a thing—fans of the Lee Child-created character Tom plays, Jack Reacher, are still fuming over Cruise’s casting.

As a fan of Mr. Child’s novels I, too, have some reservations. But like Madonna’s tours, this is going to happen, people. Relax, Tom might surprise us.

* * *

“SHE HAS breasts like granite and a brain like Swiss cheese, full of holes!” That was one of Billy Wilder’s many comments about Marilyn Monroe, a woman who vexed him endlessly, but of whom he also said, “Nobody except Garbo had such luminosity onscreen. When Monroe appears, people drop the popcorn bags, believe me.”

So given his ambivalence, how would Billy—who died in 2002– feel about Marilyn appearing in the background, on a stamp dedicated to him? He’d probably shrug and accept the fact that as he had directed Marilyn in two of her three most famous films, “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot” (the third being Howard Hawks’ “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”) that sharing stamp space with her was inevitable. Then he’d tell again how she could do very difficult scenes easily but falter inexplicably on one word or phrase—the infamous “Where’s the bourbon?” tale from “Some Like It Hot.” (Every time Billy told the story, the amount of takes MM required expanded.)

The Billy Wilder stamp, along with stamps honoring Frank Capra, John Huston and John Ford will appear next year.

9 comments so far.

  1. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    If I remember correctly, there was also an uproar when Cruise was set to star in Interview With The Vampire.  Having read the book, I was one of them but he played the part marvelously and quieted his critics.  History can repeat itself.

    • avatar Susan says:

      TheTexasMom, Have you read any of Lee Childs books. The character that Tom Cruise is supposed to play is about a foot taller and a lot bigger then he is. Not a good choice and I like Tom, but not for this part.

      • avatar TheTexasMom says:

        Susan – Yes I have and I get what you are saying.  I only meant to convey the thought that perhaps Cruise whould play the part so well you would forget about the physical differences.  It’s happened before.

  2. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Liz!  Thank you so much for the perfectly beautiful tribute to Nick Ashford. I was so sad to learn of his death and you lovely words made me cry again this morning.  You are so right he was ‘the real thing’.  Sending lots of love to Valerie.

  3. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Casey Ribicoff was a true lady.  She was genuine, and did not take NY society seriously.  Or herself seriously.  She was a delight to be next to.  Like the Count’s Mere, when you were next to her, you felt like you were the most interesting, important person on earth.  She liked people.  And she showed it.  RIP sweet one.  Say hello to my Mere for me.  XOXO – The Count

  4. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Lovely today on Nick Ashford and Casey Ribicoff–you’ve got heart, honey!

    As for Madonna, I am looking forward to the the album, the tour not so much.  I’ll go see her, of course. But I’d rather she just stood still and sang.  She does have a voice.  I mean, she ain’t ready for “Aida” but it’s a good voice. 

    Billy and Marilyn.  He was so happy when production on “Some Like It Hot” began–all the scenes on the beach and on location at the Del Corando Hotel were done in one or two takes.  Then they went back to Hollywood and MM felt the pressure.  Where was that bourbon?!   (Although even Wilder had to admit she did the upper berth scene with Jack Lemmon and all the girls in one seamless take.  But then…stumbling on “it’s me, Sugar” or “have you ever tried French girls?”)

    Still,  they made up.  Wilder wanted to work with her again, and would have, had she lived. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I should have gotten to know Liz Smith along the way so someone would write something nice about me to drown out the “Ding Dong the Rhymes-With-Witch is Dead…” in the streets.

      I think everyone in Hollywood eventually makes up with each other. An oddity I’ve noticed through the years. Usually when there’s a part someone wants or when someone wants them for a part. 

  5. avatar Rho says:

    How about Jerry Lieber?  He passed away too.