Liz Smith: Who Will Take A “Chance” in Nicole Kidman’s “Sweet Bird”?

Nicole Kidman; Raquel Welch © AARP

Raquel Welch–stunning at 70…Jane Lynch, the fabulous Emmy hostess with the mostess

“YOU WILL have only one job, as my butler or my lover, as I see fit. Soon, you will be through with your good looks and I will be through with you. And that is the truth, are you ready to face the truth?”

That was Geraldine Page lacing into Paul Newman in the 1962 screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams‘ “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

Miss Paige’s performance, which she had originated on Broadway, has always been the one to beat—and no one ever really has. Not even Irene Worth, who won a Tony Award for the 1975 revival. Not even the great Lauren Bacall, who starred in the first London production, in 1985. (Elizabeth Ashley came pretty close, in a production of the play done some years back in Washington; it never made to Broadway, unfortunately. Of Elizabeth Taylor’s TV version, well…it had its moments. )

Now Nicole Kidman, an actress determined to stretch herself to the limits, has taken on the role of aging screen star Alexandra Del Lago, desperately fleeing her disastrous comeback. She picks up an opportunistic, blackmailing hustler during her journey across the country—with a little hashish and drink on the side. Kidman, who is going to have to act as she’s never acted before, opens in the play later this year, on Broadway. It will be directed by David Cromer and produced by Scott Rudin.

This is the good news. The bad news is that James Franco, who had been announced to co-star opposite Nicole as Chance Wayne, has dropped out. Franco, who conveys many of the qualities so vital to a Tennessee Williams character—sex appeal, a certain ambiguity, tough, tender, coarse and sensitive—would have been perfect.

Oh, well. They say Mr. Franco’s studies at Yale came first. Miss Kidman remains on board. As for re-casting? If he could manage a rougher, more complex vibe, there’s Ryan Reynolds, who has the required good looks, and is the right age. (He is best known for his romantic comedies, such as “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock, and the recent “Green Lantern.”)

Or, if they want to get adventurous, how about former “Third Rock From the Sun” child star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt? He is not traditionally leading-mannish, but he is a brilliant young actor with an amazing range—“500 Days of Summer,” “Inception”– and many do find him very sexy. (He’s on the thin side, but that’s what trainers are for.)

Whoever is chosen to be used and abused by Tennessee’s raging lady, I am very much looking forward to seeing Miss Kidman in this totally uncharacteristic role.

* * *

SO THERE she is on the cover of AARP—Miss Raquel Welch, age 70. Yes, the girl in the fur bikini, Loana, Queen of the Shell People in “One Million Years B.C.” is 70 years old.

Miss Welch looks like one million bucks on the cover—strong, voluptuous, and still rocking a big mane of shoulder-length hair. (“They” say after a certain age women should not wear their hair so long. Often, especially with women who diet themselves into wraiths, this is true. But Welch has kept her face and body fulsome, nicely balancing her amber waves.)

Inside, Raquel speaks of her struggles in the industry…the oddity (in the 1960’s) of being a young sex-symbol who was also a mother of two children—children her studio preferred she not mention too much…issues of aging and image. Of the latter, she confesses at one point to trying to emulate Mary Tyler Moore: “I flipped my hair and put a bow in it—to make myself look less exotic. But at some point I said, ‘I’m not going to fight it. This is what makes me different.’” She also laughs to recall when she’d try to “go up for lovely romantic parts, and they’d say ‘Oh, no, you look so European. What are you, anyway?’ I’d say ‘Well, my father is from Bolivia.’ ‘Bolivia! Where is that?’”

Of Lindsay Lohan, Raquel observes: “I know she misbehaves terribly, but sometimes it just seems like its open season on her.”

I got my biggest laugh when Raquel recalled the disastrous filming of “Myra Breckenridge.” She says, “I’d go to the bathroom and cry. John Huston knocked one time and said, ‘Now, Raquel what seems to be the problem?’ And I said, ‘John, I’m worried we’re going to make a bad movie!’”

Well, they did a movie that was considered a horror at the time, but “Myra” has been re-evaluated over the years. (Camille Paglia thinks it is a work of genius!) Raquel herself has come around to being rather proud of it, in many ways.

Now, you guys in Hollywood. There have to be roles for gorgeous, sexy seventy-year old Bolivian actresses. (Whose American mother can date her ancestors back to the Mayflower!) Just give it a moment of thought.

* * *

I DON’T know about you or if the charming advertisement for Jane “Glee” Lynch as host of the Emmy Awards has appeared in your publications, but she is a wonder , forming her own chorus line, tap dancing, clutching the Emmy she won  last year and exuding good will in all her tuxedoed glory. Nothing like this has happened since Ellen DeGeneres came out. And today the level of intelligence, tolerance and acceptance is so much better in spite of evangelicals and The Tea Party.

You can download your at home ballot for this show on the Emmys website. Jane Lynch will appear dancing and handling the mic in this event which happens on Fox, Sunday, September 18 on Fox.

31 comments so far.

  1. avatar Paul Smith says:

    James Franco should exit from the role, especially after the spin in Marilyn drag at the Oscars. This role requires low rent beauty and certain masculinity. Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be a brilliant fit, since the movie Killshot is practically an audition. His lanky fury and sexual  menance would just make him a shoo-in to turn up the heat with Nicole Kidman. Speaking of Camille Caglia, you should raid the Salon and bring her here, to fire up and energize this site. That would be a real coup. 

  2. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Look, the Count is in no position to judge. I’ve been upfront that I have had a lower face lift, and I use Botox and Restalyne regularly. So I am not hating on Nicole. But for that role, she doesn’t look old or “hard” enough. Of course, that is why it is called acting. Am I the only one that would rather see Raquel Welch in that role? I saw her when she took over for Bacall in “Woman of the Year” and she can act her ass off.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Count…

      Miss Kidman is just about the same age as Miss Page when Gerry took the role. And even on  a good day, Nicole can look admirably hard. (extreme dieting is not a beauty treatment ladies!)  This will a fascinating turn.

      Raquel?  Love her.  She is a better actress than she’s ever been given a chance to be, but…she ain’t up to Tennessee. 

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        @Mr. Wow – Really? You don’t think Raquel could pull off Tennessee? You may well be right, but I sure would love to see her try. And yes, I will come see Nicole in the role. As you say, at the very least it should be fascinating. Or at least interesting. XOXO – The Count

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Count…

        Who can say.  My opinion.  Raquel is  very good, but not as raw as she’d need to be.  But hey, Miss Taylor didn’t cover herself with glory in “Sweet Bird.”  Or “Boom!”   (Yes, yes…we do love her shrieking “Go shit on your mother!”)

        Listen, what about Raquel as Mrs. Venable in “Suddenly Last Summer?”

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Mr. Wow,

        That’s not a bad idea – Raquel as Mrs. Venable. She at least would be credible as the “luring” predecessor for Catherine. I could never quite envision Katharine Hepburn as the forerunner of Elizabeth Taylor in that respect.

        As I said some months back, I remain a fan of “Boom!” for a number of reasons, including ET’s over the top performance.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Dan…

        Exactly…just who the hell was Katie “luring?”

        For sure she never wore that swimsuit that was “a scandal to the jaybirds!”

      • avatar rick gould says:

        I always thought Vivien Leigh should have played Aunt Violet in the 59 version (she turned it down, I’ve read). THAT would have been fascinating.

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Who knows, it might even have nabbed Vivien a third Oscar! She made too few movies – her heart was in the theatre, apparently. She and ET had a kind of “family resemblance” in a way that ET and Hepburn did not.

  3. avatar O E says:

    “Whoever is chosen ”
    Tsk, tsk, Liz… I expect to read proper grammar from you. I was taken aback by this. It should be “Whomever is chosen”. I know the editors are young and few know better; but you can’t give them the opportunity to flaunt it.

  4. avatar O E says:

    Oops! another one, Liz.

    “its open season on her”
    Should be: “it’s open season on her”.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Raquel Welch, who Mae West referred to as Rachel Woooooosh during filming, does look stunning at 70.  So did Mae West. Good genes, taking care of yourself, and most likely some “nip and tuck” here and there along the way does wonders. Along with the airbrush! 

    Not sure that I would call Myra Breckenridge a work of genius but it certainly remains one of the campiest films Hollywood ever released.  And what woman hasn’t wanted to “ride a cowboy” and show him what it’s like to be ridden? That scene alone deserved an Academy Award!

  6. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Careful O E – Liz doesn’t take kindly to correction.

    • avatar O E says:

      Our Liz is a big girl and has been a professional for a long time. She can take it in the spirit in which it is brought up, and smile.

  7. avatar John Dillon says:

    I, too am a bit hesitant about Ms. Kidman in the role. She seems much too young and will have to really do something to make it appear that she has ‘been thru the mill’. Raquel is a natural for it tho. As for Joseph Gordon Levitt, he is one of America’s ‘flying under the radar’ major talents. I don’t think there is anything he cannot handle with expertise and aplomb. The role calls for a stud, a stud can come in all shapes/heights. The actor whose name bursts into mind with the description ‘stud’ is Colin Farrell. He has built-in cachet for the role and he is a superior acting force. There, 2 cents and all.

  8. avatar Liz Smith says:

    DEAR OE..

    Feeling better now?  I’m glad my errors made your day.

    As for “whoever vs. whomever” I have been advised by my excellent syndicate editors that “whomever” is rarely used anymore, and that in fact it is “old-fashioned.”   

    And as I am so very modern, I prefer “whoever”   Today.  Tomorrow I might revert.  Whatever.

    my best to you,

    • avatar O E says:

      No, it didn’t make my day, Liz. I am careful about what makes my day and it certainly isn’t prodding you. Were it so, I wouldn’t bother to read your column. See my comment in reply to Count Snarkula. Sorry to have caused you to show your claws.

      It is also “modern” to say “me and him went here and there” instead of “he and I…” “Modern” here being lazy-speak or a lack of knowledge. I’m sure you don’t fall into that trap. As for “old fashioned”, I’ll take that any day rather than lower my standards for the sake of being “with it”.

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Well, while we are on it, the thing that drives me crazy is that people have apparently decided that “disrespect” can be used as a verb. You cannot “disrespect” someone. You can SHOW disrespect to someone. I know, I’ll just toddle off to the corner and diagram sentences until I feel better. Damn that English degree ! ! !

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        This is a gossip column.  Who cares?

  9. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Count…

    I take kindly to kindly worded corrections.  I don’t understand people who seem to take pleasure in “correcting.”  Nobody’s perfect.



    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      @Liz, of course, that is what I meant. I didn’t like the way I pointed out the Streisand error, and I didn’t like the way O E pointed out the ones today. I take kindly to kindly worded ANYTHING these days. XOXO – The Count

  10. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear OE…

    I have not shown my claws. Take my word for it.  And i’m not offended or upset.  I do fall into grammatical traps, but I’ve never claimed great writing skills.  I try to entertain and even enlighten now and then.  This is not brain surgery and I do not take myself seriously.

    My best to you,

  11. avatar rick gould says:

    How about Lindsay Lohan as Alexandra Del Lago and Justin Bieber as Chance Wayne?!

  12. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    I recently watched the Elizabeth Taylor/Mark Harmon version of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH again (it’s now on DVD). I had seen it when it originally aired, and had not been much impressed. Taylor had seemed too strung out, too enervated, not hard enough or dynamic enough. Harmon was pretty but ineffectual. This time around, I liked it a bit more. While I can understand the criticisms, I think Taylor actually provides an engrossing characterization of a star on the skids and then beginning to find her moxie again. The portrayal has integrity. Taylor was too often dismissed as a lightweight actress (no jokes, please!) but I’ve been watching her old movies a lot lately and really coming to respect her talent – as well as her unassailable star quality.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Dan…

      The big problem with ET’s “Sweet Bird” was her inability to move.  She was just off another back fracture, and had gained weight.  The face looked great, the body awkward. And the director didn’t know how to “cover” her.  She actually couldn’t walk. 

      She has some lovely moments, especially her final scene with Chance (a badly miscast Mark Harmon)   It’s a softer Alexandra.  In time, this performance will be re-thought.

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Dear Mr. Wow,

        I did not know that about Miss Taylor, thanks for the info – that does explain things. You’re right, a better director would have done more. She remains a pleasure to watch, whatever she does. When she does the big “Star” speech, it carries its own built-in conviction.

        Great article on Lombard and Hurricane Irene, BTW. I’ve got to get hold of “In Name Only.” I’ve never seen it and it sounds like just my cuppa.


      • avatar rick gould says:

        Hey Guys-

        If they had only done “Sweet Bird” with Taylor a couple of years before, when Liz was trim and healthy, with Don Johnson as Chance, that bird might have flown. Liz and Don did a Bob Hope special around that time, and boy did the sparks fly!  

  13. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    Also, Liz’s use of “whoever” is entirely correct. “Whomever” would be incorrect in this context. “Whoever” is the subject of the sentence, not the object. You would say “he is chosen,” not “him is chosen.”

  14. avatar Grace OMalley says:

    I wish that Liz and the Count could come to work with me.  I work for a lawyer and he picks to death every single word of his own dictation.  He also has an overt fondness for commas.  He could stand some re-editing from a few experts!