Liz Smith: The Big Mix — Aretha! Lindsay! George Clooney!

Music great Aretha Franklin

And more from our Liz: Christopher Hitchens … Japan … and Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” handmaiden

“FRIENDS, ENEMIES and those of you who are not yet decided!”

This is how Malcolm X started all his speeches — and Malcolm has been gone a long time, so I have stolen it.

Well, anyway, I am just back from a quick trip to Harbour Island in the Bahamas. Every time I went out to dinner at this little vacation spot in the Bahamian Exumas, I just missed running into Revlon’s chief Ron Perelman, who has a house just down the pink sand beach. I have been announcing over and over that I am “the next Mrs. Ron Perelman!” — so I am pretty furious that he dared to marry another woman in the meantime. (I hear she’s very nice.)

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GOOD GRIEF! See what happens when I am away a couple of days? I come back to find Lindsay Lohan not only determined to go to trial on that alleged jewelry theft, but wishing to rid herself of her last name, and be known only as “Lindsay.” Like Cher and Madonna and … Charo. Well, why not? When the media says “Lindsay,” we certainly know who that is. (Also — she despises her father, Michael Lohan. So, there are deeper issues.)

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YOU’VE been reading everywhere about how Aretha Franklin has been all over town, out with the tycoon Clive Davis at Le Bernardin and elsewhere, being feted by this one and that. Funny! I didn’t see anything about last week when this giant of music turned up in a crowd at the best French restaurant in New York – La Grenouille – with her pal Smokey Robinson. No doubt the owner, Charles Masson, delivered his famous Dover sole to the Queen of Soul!

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READING THE English press! Andrew Lloyd Webber turned 63 last week, and he is now being painted by artist Alan Hyde. ALW’s wife, Madeleine, commissioned the work — and nobody will say right now whether or not the finished oil painting will be hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

…THE RAGE in Great Britain is over – guess who? None other than George Clooney! But not the Hollywood matinee idol, statesman and influential politician behind the scenes — but the younger Clooney who starred in “E.R.” Television re-runs of George and his gorgeous co-star, Julianna Margulies, are the current rage for couch sitters.

…IF YOU visit the Galapagos and spy a biscuit on the ground, don’t pick it up and eat it. Scientists who prize the unusual native species have arranged for thousands of poisoned biscuits, unattractive to sea lions, birds, marine iguana and turtles, be dropped to rid the islands of its black rats.

…“NOTHING should be built here again!” says one beleaguered resident of the villages wiped out by the Japanese tsunami. But some of those who were wiped out are ready to build again. Seems to me they shouldn’t – not unless Japan can build a seawall 70 feet high. And maybe not even then.

…HELICOPTER  SHOTS of masses of the cars destroyed so effectively by the tsunami brings home the fact that the world is over, and factories are now suffering from lower production and a lack of parts. GM closed a pickup truck factory in Louisiana last week and Toyota is lowering work schedules at its own plant in San Antonio, Texas. Honda is also seeing “interruptions” in getting parts. Mazda suspended orders from U.S. dealers. Mitsubishi also reduced production.

…THE FAMOUS atheist Christopher Hitchens, one of my all-time favorites, is being treated for cancer by a Christian evangelical doctor who is well known for debating Chris as to whether God exists. The doctor is Frank Collins, a geneticist with an experimental plan. Hitchens says: “I won’t say he doesn’t pray for me, because I think he probably does; but he doesn’t discuss it with me.” The two became friends after debating one another in public. (Incidentally, don’t miss Christopher Hitchens’ article in the April Vanity Fair as to why Egypt is not a country with an army, but an Army with a country!”)

…WHEN THE English actress Francesca Annis was only age 16, she was tapped to play the handmaiden Eiras to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. The company in Rome was moved to Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, where the star and her entourage were in a five-star hotel and Francesca was set to live with the crew at the other end of the island. “Elizabeth said, ‘There is no question of Francesca staying down with the unit. She’s too young. She must come up and be with me and the family.” Francesca says that she mostly stood around when filming thinking, “Gosh, this woman is so beautiful … but Elizabeth was also protective of young actors. During the filming, I remember one of the makeup women had a child fall ill and Elizabeth quietly paid all the doctor bills … In those days, bottled water was not the rage it became. But Elizabeth refused to drink it unless everyone in the cast and crew was supplied with bottled water as well. The public has instincts about stars. They have antennae. They know when someone is histrionic or when the causes they support are all an affectation. And they knew Elizabeth Taylor was genuine…Elizabeth was never one to stand apart on the set. I remember most her laughing a lot. And she was able to laugh at herself… When I went on to another film, the first day I found my dressing room filled with flowers from her – irises, a nod to the character I played in ‘Cleopatra,’ and a handwritten card of good luck.”

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A COMMENT on Elizabeth from her real handmaiden, Liz Smith. I noted people giving tribute to Miss Taylor; people like Anne Hathaway, Debbie Reynolds, Joan Collins, Barbra Streisand. But why, I wondered, didn’t the international press seek out some of her other famous co-actors; for instance, Peter O’Toole, Warren Beatty, George Segal, Jane Alexander, Michael Caine, Geraldine Chaplin, John Goodman, Tom Skerritt, Tony Geary, C. Thomas Howell, Robert Wagner, Chad Lowe, Billie Whitelaw, Shirley MacLaine,  Mark Harmon, Valerie Perrine, Diana Rigg, Cicely Tyson, Lesley Anne Down, Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou, Dennis Christopher, Susan Tyrell, Liz Torres, James Brolin, Kim Novak, Mia Farrow, or directors like Mike Nichols, Austin Pendleton, and Hal Prince. I would have loved to hear from some of these famous souls.

Maybe I just missed their words. Or maybe some sharp biographer ought to get on the ball!

 

9 comments so far.

  1. avatar Laura Ward says:

    I don’t think some of those older stars are electronically connected like the younger stars. But it would be good to hear from them too.

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    The death of Elizabeth Taylor certainly was not the media circus everyone thought it would be and the media apparently just contacted whoever was around so to speak to get a quote.  Some may have called the house. And were left a little dumbfounded by “security” not really knowing who to call and not really caring if they did or not.  But then everyone was preparing  for a funeral the following day which left them equally dumbfounded since that doesn’t happen a lot in Hollywood.  And which sort of stopped the presses in itself. Perhaps by the time the plans for the memorial service are announced things will pick up where they were left off the day she died.  And the media circus everyone expected may finally arrive.

    There is a lot of unpleasantness about. Fortunately the media isn’t aware of it or is merely respecting the week of mourning for the family. 

  3. avatar rick gould says:

    I have enjoyed reading tributes by people other than co-stars: The NYT had a great remembrance by her stand-in, which kind of jolted me… I know actors have stand-ins, but the thought of ET having a stand-in…what a thankless job!

    But it seems many papers ran items regarding the so-called “little people” who encountered her, and the one common thread throughout was that Elizabeth Taylor was polite, and given the right circumstances, surprisingly approachable. Given her status in life, she didn’t have to be. And nobody would have expected her to be.

    I am also amused that the most vocal tributes have been given by ET’s “frenemies,” who seemed to pay tribute to themselves as much as Taylor: Joan Rivers, Joan Collins, Debbie Reynolds and the reaction of Zsa Zsa Gabor (thru her idiot husband). I am sure somewhere Elizabeth is rolling her eyes and probably having a hearty chuckle.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Zsa Zsa is incapable of speech, literally…Joan Collins all too capable (a jealous, bitter tranny)…Debbie is okay.  She’s come through a  lot, including several husbands who took her for every dime.  Debbie is a real survivor.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Joan Collins is a tranny? I’d wondered from time to time…

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Baby…wonder no more.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        Joan is starting to remind me of a latter-day Mae West: begirdled, bewigged and be-pushup bra is she. Nothing wrong with feeling sexy at any age, but to try to look like your former sex kitten when you’re pushing 80 cries caricature. Sorry. But it’s true.

  4. avatar Richard Bassett says:


    And lest we not forget Mickey Rooney. Her first leading man. But I read (in some biography) that Elizabeth, at 13, was already a sexy siren, blossoming quickly and even ‘he’ had a thing for her. I don’t think that Rooney would want that statement made public now. Maybe those who are listed have no special memories of Elizabeth that they care to share. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t aware of working with her. Usually in the biographies of others, the memories of Elizabeth Taylor are mentioned. Over the week, I’ve read statements from the hand maiden, the double, a camera man and other remote crew members from the past…now in their 80’s. A lot of memories are from the Warner years when she attended a Mayberry State Fair, or a ribbon cutting, or society gala and most say that Elizabeth was pleasant, but certainly not her zealous self that she has been reputed to be in Hollywood. And, in time…in their own autobiographies, more opinions of working with Elizabeth will come forth. And what is with Zsa Zsa???  Lindsay Lohan becoming just ‘Lindsay’ is a little peculiar at this point in her career, But who cares? And Aretha is making the rounds lately, possibly feeling better having lost 80 pounds. Good for her! (despite not knowing about her discrete medical condition). A movie about her is being planned…so maybe being out in the public again is a way of promoting herself.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I think, again, the sudden funeral no one expected just “stopped the presses” and that come Friday the media circus will begin. Probably with an announcement of the memorial service. Although some are working overtime on rumors the most ridiculous of which is the billion dollar empire.  People forget the van Gogh. She wasn’t selling it because she decided to redecorate and it no longer fit in with the decor. She was selling it to “pump up the reserves” so to speak.  I suspect in reality no one will really know apart from whatever is sold at auction. Between the corporations and trusts the will most likely will be very short and rather boring. She may not have been lucky with husbands but she lucky with tax attorneys and accountants. But not a billion dollars lucky.