My weekend with MM, Betty Grable, “The Turning Point,” “Skins ” — plus, good coverage for bad skin
Weekends for Mr. wOw can go in several directions. Once upon a time, I was a big luncher/bruncher, always traveling into the city see friends, or at least gab and network with professional acquaintances. My phone rang a great deal. Those weekends are long gone. The last decade has been a sad siphoning of friends and activities. Depression is a bitch, and after a good deal of medication and a number of therapists, I am still not the wOw I was. And fear I’ll never be again. (Sometimes I can’t remember myself.)
So nowadays I’ll stay in a lot. After all, I reason unreasonably with myself — I managed to go out every day to work, right? What more can anybody expect? (Quite a bit more, but most of my friends have given up. I don’t blame them.) If I’m in, I can spend 48 hours supine, on the couch in my room, the blinds shut, dully channel surfing. B. will check in occasionally, asking how I am. “Fabulous, can’t you tell?” I’ll reply, more sharply than I intend. He leaves my dark room unhappy that I am so unhappy.
Other weekends are different, though not wildly so. I open the blinds in my room and let the sun shine in. I’ll read, and of course I’ll channel surf, but with a lot more interest and enthusiasm. (Notice I am still not leaving the house or meeting friends, but at least I give the impression of being among the living. B. looks relieved and hopes I’m “getting better.” Poor B.)
So it was an open-blinds weekend I just enjoyed. I didn’t read much — a couple of issues of Smithsonian magazine. But I was watching movies like a mad thing. Up early as always, I immediately went to my 200 movie channels. I almost stopped at “Taken,” the terrible but compellingly watchable thriller about a man trying to find his kidnapped daughter, killing dozens in the process. But I moved on ignoring several “Twilight” movies (I like vampires, but not that bunch of dullards) … the excruciating “Prince of Persia” with Jake Gyllenhaal … and even “Mean Girls” with Lindsay. But that made me sad. She was such a doll.
Then I found it –“Rancho Notorious,” a loony 1952 Technicolor western with Marlene Dietrich. She butches it up in jeans as the former bawdy girl who oversees a ranch for outlaws on the run. Marlene was gorgeous, still — if a bit on the embalmed side — and her acting was pretty good, given what she had to do. She even performed a sultry, husky little tune. Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer and Kevin McCarthy are on hand as the men who love and hate her. (Her best moment comes when she allows an aggressive Kevin McCarthy to kiss her. “That was for trying,” she purrs after their lips part. Then she backhands him twice: “That was for trying too hard!”)
This was a big flop — at that point Dietrich had moved onto the world’s concert stages; her days as a movie star were essentially over. But it’s a fascinating flop. (If not quite as fascinating as Marlene’s flops with Josef von Sternberg — “The Scarlet Empress,” for example.)
Then, after Marlene bit the dust — literally, I found myself on the FOX movie channel, and there were Marilyn and Jane Russell, shimmying and belting out “Two Little Girls From Little Rock” in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Oh, yes! This is hands down MM’s most entertaining film, with her very best co-star, Miss Russell. They play off each other beautifully. And with Monroe at her juicy peak, as the not-so-dumb Lorelei Lee, and the Amazonian Russell, snapping out hysterical wisecracks, it doesn’t get better than this. Not even “Some Like Hot” holds up as well as “Blondes” in the brief canon of Monroe films.
Then, because the gods were on my side, “Blondes” was followed by MM again: “Let’s Make Love.” This one has its moments, but is dragged down by languid direction and a script than gives MM nothing to do. She’s not dumb here — just a normal, attractive, affectionate young woman. She’s in Debbie Reynolds/Doris Day territory. But try as she might (and she tries!) she can’t breathe life into a lifeless character. So she is compelled to “do her Marilyn thing” in the musical numbers, which gives the film a distinctly schizzy vibe. The pouting, posturing, hip-shaking sex-symbol of the musical numbers has nothing to do with the (sweet, sincere but dull) character she plays. She is voluptuous to max here, and while I find her Rubens-come-to-life shape appealing, critics were not kind. Yves Montand, her co-star, is charming and they have a nice chemistry. (Well, they were lovers during the filming!)
Invigorated, Mr. wOw did some grocery shopping and a few household chores. When I got back to the TV, I knew there was divine power at work: there was Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine at the bar in “The Turning Point,” about to slap, scratch and kick their way from the barstools to the roof of Lincoln Center. My favorite moment? MacLaine tells Bancroft than her (MacLaine’s daughter) could never be like aging ballet diva Bancroft. “She’s not a killer; you’d walk over anybody to get what you want.” Bancroft doesn’t move a muscle, but she tenses exquisitely, and the thin material of her filmsy gown flutters, ever so slightly. Then she throws a drink in Shirley’s face and the battle is on. As far as ballet movies go, this is as good — in a more realistic way — as “The Red Shoes.” As for “Black Swan” — that is compelling and creepy, but if Natalie Portman wins the Oscar, Mr. wOw will be forced to write somebody a very mean letter. Please — give it to the brilliant Miss Bening. If for nothing else, she took Warren Beatty out of commission just as he was about to become a joke. (His affair with Madonna shocked him right into Miss Bening’s sensible, lovely arms.)
I clicked to Turner Classic Movies and was so pleased to find Betty Grable in “Coney Island.” Miss Grable was a gigantic star, and one of Mr. wOw’s childhood favorites. (Before he was seduced by the tragic messiness of Miss Monroe.) Grable was always a smart cookie in her movies, nobody’s fool. She was natural and appealing. She danced extremely well, and sang pleasantly. Betty was simply fun to watch, engaging and a good role model for women, I’d say. And she was so popular that “Coney Island” was re-made six years later as “Wabash Avenue.” Same story, same dialogue, different leading man. It was successful as the original. Try that one on any star today! Betty, I love you just as I did as a child. And appreciate you more.
Mr. wOw was blissed out. Later, I watched the controversial MTV program “Skins.” This has been trumpeted as scandalous and offensive –“the secret life of teenagers!” Really? Is it any secret teenagers are interested in, and have, sex? Or that they are tempted by, and often take, drugs? The show isn’t a patch on the British original. “Skins” is nothing new, just a little grungier and with an occasional flash of breast or buttock. Mr. wOw was not shocked. Or entertained. Give me “Beverly Hills 90210”–the first three seasons.
And then I came upon one of my favorite infomercials. It touts one of those “mineral makeups” that are supposed to cover beautifully but not look like makeup. Troubled since age 13 with oily skin, acne and now rosacea (with painful adult acne still an issue,) Mr. wOw has long searched for some kind of coverage that wouldn’t make him look like he was auditioning for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I’ve tried a lot. When I was a kid, I did wear a more obvious makeup. So what? I was living on my own, in my teens and frankly I applied it very well — and I could do a nifty-looking job on my eyes, too! (Anyway, the whole long-haired teenage boy in makeup thing was hot in the late 60’s, early 70’s.) But time went on. I eventually had a job and couldn’t apply a complete maquillage. I had settle for spot coverage or sometimes when I was at an event — a dark event — I’d apply a light base, the most transparent I could find. But I was never satisfied.
Three months ago I was wandering through Sephora, having just suffered another bout with a particularly aggressive breakout. I was depressed. And there it was, the so-called miracle mineral base, being sold, in a store! I snapped it up, took it home, and applied as directed. I looked flawless. Like a flawless guy, let me stress. Blotchy areas, broken capillaries (ah, the price of drink!) everything was smoothed out. I asked B. I asked my one or two remaining friends. I asked my boss. Did I look a big old aging queen? Nope. I just looked like my skin had cleared up. Nice and fresh. (Well, one friend said, “Yes, you look like a big old aging queen. But you don’t look like you’re wearing makeup.” That’s what friends are for.)
I’ll never wear Max Factor again.