Thursday, February 26, 2009

Barack, the Musical

Not since the overture for the revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center, when the lid of the pit drew slowly back like the top of a piano, and the lush sound of that wonderful music played by a full orchestra invaded my ears, have I been so moved. To have a president who can speak! Explain! Inspire courage and at the same time love his wife, was overwhelming. I wept at his words, the resonance of his voice, the truth that we have survived the moron and his Vice, as Maureen Dowd called him all the time, accurately, and have a chance at restoration was beyond uplifting. Maybe we had to fall so low so we could rise.
The President’s speech was preceded by my foray into my next career which should have been my first one: the musical theater. There was a ‘MeetnGreet’ for all those submitting projects to NYMF, the New York Musical Festival, and I went enthusiastically, which my son once explained to me meant ‘infused with the love of God.’ Well, I have that, too, on occasion, but mainly what I am and have always been is infused with the love of musicals, a passion that has been increasingly hard to sustain for the past several years as I saw/heard what was out there, including a revival of what is arguably the best of all time, Gypsy, as I am that rare dissenting voice that cannot bear Patti Lupone, and had to leave at intermission because she was so ferocious singing ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ I was afraid of what she might do with ‘Roses’Turn.’ I had the joyful privilege of a friendship with Julie Styne, the composer, and am happy for him that the show lives forever, but think he would have been frightened of her, too. Of the new, ‘In the Heights’ which won the Tony was likewise awful, in my opinion, and I hear the new ‘Guys and Dolls’ by my old special friend Frank Loesser is really the worst, so I will skip that and any personal stories about Frank although I have some good ones. Those theater folk with whom I late-dinnered the other evening after ‘Love and Loss and What I Wore’ a reading of a light but touching piece by five clever actresses, were all annoyed at Jo Sullivan, Frank’s very rich widow, for permitting it to be so miscast(Oliver Platt as Sky,) heavy-laden(the set obscures much of it from the audience) and dopily re-set in the ‘30s, which makes no sense at all, unless they were also reviving the Depression. So the only honorable thing I could do was put my work where my opinion was, and try to bring back what it was about the musical comedy I loved, and just DO it. Thus it was that I found myself deep into 44th Street, at a bar above a bar, with the others who had made submissions. I expected them all to be twenty, as I was when I Gung-Hoed into the world after Bryn Mawr, but rather than uniformly young, what they were, at least those I met, were beyond eclectic. One was a parole officer who’s written ‘Charles and Diana, the Musical,’ another a man who sells tickets on Broadway at TCKTS where you get them cheap—he’s written a Hip-hop--, a man who has “The Gay Bride of Frankenstein” and another sweet but vaguely depressed guy who’s written a musical about Jonestown. My my. Best of last season’s presentations one attender opined was a musical about pedophilia, while another expressed pleasure over a musical based on Meet John Doe, the classic starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, about a good guy who becomes the hood ornament for needy American men who pledges to jump from a tall building to rectify the lack of attention being paid to needy good guys, and who, on realizing it is a swindle, is really going to jump, dissuaded only by the love and pleadings (and could she plead!) of Barbara, only in the musical they changed the locale to the Brooklyn Bridge and in it he jumped. That must have been a spirit lifter.
But in the midst of that mélange, where we all wore name tags, a man said to me ‘You didn’t write The Pretenders?’ and I all but shouted ‘YES, I did!’ SO it turned out that my evening was MADE, MADE, MADE. And I went happily home to watch my president, whom I can proudly claim at last is genuinely MY president, and listen to him be eloquent and make wonderful sense. When he said he would end the war in Iraq the camera flashed on a less than elated John McCain as, at the Academy Awards, it had focused on Angelina when Jennifer Aniston was speaking, but this time with a wee bit more portent. A tad more weighty, though without the 115 carats of emerald dangling from each ear. I thought they were green glass, and admired her for putting all her money into needy babies, those she didn’t actually adopt. The high angled cube of glass on her artfully held finger, then, must also have been an emerald, but that in no way is meant to diminish John McCain, who wore only a patriot’s insignia in his lapel, and looked a little less unhappy at the news that we do not torture.
So were we in our original times, the country that is, not the adaptation of musicals, a town crier could ring his bell and announce the hour and say “All’s Right with the World.” Well, maybe not exactly, but it’s righter than it was, and I have almost as much conviction as Obama that we will make it right, now that we have a real leader. You’ll find out what happens with our history. And I will let you know what happens with my musical. At least I will if Life is Fair, which it seldom is but happens sometime. God Bless us Almost Every One.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Ghost of Oscars Past

Astrologers tell us that birthdays are hard, usually a little depressing, because of the Solar Return, or some such nonsense, the planets all aligning the way they were at our birth, and not because we are getting older, as, in my opinion, older is a privilege to be able to become. For me the Oscars is a hard time, because for so much of my life I was in love with movies and movie stars, and at the time of my breakthrough success with 'The Pretenders,' I was invited to everything in Hollywood, because (I hope you're sitting down) the town is just a little bullshitty, and success is the currency. So it was that Don and I, still young and pretty and sure the world was fair, with our two beautiful little children, Robert, 2, in white jacket and black bow tie, and Madeleine 4, in a taffeta and velvet gown, gave a Black Tie party to watch the event on TV. We were the first to dare to mock, and it was in the words of the great journalist who covered it for Time Magazine, an 'anti-Oscar party.' And everybody came.

Sandra Burton was the one who covered it:she had heard through our mutual hairdresser, Dusty, that he was going to a great party, and she called me to ask if she could come. I of course was nearly overcome with rapture, as caught up as I was in my temporary fame, with a publicist who never stopped longing for more press, Time was at the time as close as you could get to publicity Valhalla. I had been cooking for days--caught up in ephemera though I was, I was still a Ballabusta, if that's how it's spelled, loving to feed friends and family with my own recipes. So I made wontons and those South American things I don't remember the name of,--oh, empanadas-- to be passed on trays, with a Sabrett stand(imported from New York) serving hot dogs in the back yard. We had a red carpet outside the walkway to our house, a klieg light at the curb, an usher's uniform from the Roxy on a friend's son who showed everyone in with a flashlight. Don tended bar and did a Jackie Gleason impression,wiping the bar and singing "My Wild Irish Rose'--(he was a GREAT bartender and did terrible impressions) The house had three rooms for watching: Orthodox(no talking, reverential) Conservative(Talking and watching) and Reformed (talktalktalk and yell back at the set.) It was 1970, and there was Vietnam, and everybody hated Bob Hope and John Wayne."Oh, shut up, John Wayne," yelled Shirley MacLaine, the only thing she said that night that Sandy actually quoted, which was truly generous of her as Shirley was stoned and never stopped spewing invective about Mike Frankovitch who was still, as I recall, the head of Columbia. Shirley was to attack me when the article came out, saying "I thought I was at a private party!" But Sandy had stood in front of her with conspicuous pad and pencil and thrice, as Tommy Thompson might have said, told her she was there for Time Magazine, as I did, too. I spent many years trying to make it up to Shirley who told me I had to make it up to her, but never did, except for offering her my musical, which she said she would do only five performances a week in and wanted to own. When the Awards broadcast was over, she sat staring at the TV on which Sandor Vanocur was, sound off, as she was at the time having an affair with Sandor VAnocur. I do not consider this a tale told out of school, as there are few interesting men whom Shirley has known with whom she did not have an affair. ('Did you know Rod Gurney?" I asked her once, speaking of the psychiatrist stepson of my mentor,Yip Harburg, who had collaborated with Jay Gorney on 'Brother Can You Spare a Dime,' and then made off with his wife. "I had an affair with him," Shirley said.}

That was the first time I met Sandy, who was to become a lifelong friend, though her life was not long enough, ending five years ago when, after a career of dangerous adventures, including being with Aquino on his return to Manila and recording his murder when they wouldn't let her follow him off the plane, Beijing during Tiannammen Square, an elephant stampede, a daring interview with the Nobel prize winner Shu under house arrest in Burma, she retired to the peace and quiet of Bali where she was brutally murdered in her bathroom. So this day sits heavy on my soul, as I loved her as much as any friend I ever had, she had more clarity than anyone I have ever known except for Jack my Jewru(it really amused her that my guru was named 'Jack,') and there are not a lot of people I can go to whom I admire that much and say 'What shall I do?' and trust that the answer will be the one I should listen to. I miss her all the time, and resent with a passion her life being so cruelly cut short, though I realize in my more rational moments that it was harder on her than me, Still, though, I wonder from time to time whether death isn't harder on those left behind.

Anyway, back to the party: the 42nd Annual Academy Awards, so you know how Ago it was, tonight's being the 81st. The invitations were engraved, 'The Mitchell Academy of Arts and Games,' they read, and like I said, everybody came. Ruth Berle, wife of Milton, the dowager doyenne of Beverly Hills, a tough, dear woman who had been a sergeant in the army and did jiu-jitsu on a man nastily tryimg to cut into a line waiting to hear Sinatra, a special friend of hers,had accepted, so everyone else did, too.(Sandy called her the 'Bellweather of Beverly Hills society.') Lee Marvin was there, having won Best Actor the year before, with Michelle who was shortly to become semi-infamous for 'Palimony,' and most of the gifted and beautiful and funny and sometimes surprisingly bright celebs we knew. Everybody brought a prize, and the big winner of the evening for accurate picks was the super-talented and slick-haired Jack Cassidy, whose prize was what Ruth Berle had brought: an autographed picture of Ruth Roman. It was a glorious evening, with endless reverberations as everybody who hadn't been invited was mad about those who were, as,-- if you're still sitting down,-- there's a lot of jealousy and venom in that town. At least there was when there were, as Rex Reed noted in his terrific article about the Oscars in this week's Observer, REAL STARS.

So this night for me is especially painful, because Sandy is gone and her death is unavenged, and there is no justice in Bali if you have money to pay off the police. Also, they don't have too many really good movies anymore as a rule, I don't care how they pretend or market or raise the prices in a Depression because people are so desperate to be distracted, they will pay $12.50 for dross, to put it poetically. I really miss Cary Grant. I really miss Sandy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Of Mice and Mimi

Saturday gave us a faux Spring day, the kind of impossible warmth that suddenly appears in midst of Winter, that in Paris, would send tens of thousands of Parisians into walking their glorious streets, crossing their wonderful bridges. But I am not in Paris. I am in New York. So I am given to exploring our own particular less-than wonders, checking out the neighborhood, after giving Mimi a footbath to clean off the slush. A few days ago, having joyfully accepted and frolicked in the snow, it was so cold that she stuck to the sidewalk. She looked up at me with a kind of ‘Huh?’ so I gently pried her pad loose. She is not so fond of ice now, but didn’t know that gentler weather meant another bath.
You wouldn’t know from the Barnes and Noble that the book business was in trouble. The store on Broadway was full, with a line of would-be buyers waiting their turn to spend what’s left of their money. There were fifteen magazines in the stand by the line with Obama covers, all the news mags, Vanity Fair and something called PT that said “Yes, he did, but can he?”
Whole Foods, aka Whole Paycheck, was likewise busy, with a line of potted Spring flowers, baby daffodils and primroses by the cash register, brightening the shelves, so I bought two red primroses and one sunshine yellow to replace the frozen, dead peppers that are on my balcony. I asked the clerk if a frost comes and kills them in the next few days, could I bring them back and get a refund.
But the days stay temperate, almost balmy, through to today, Tuesday. Still, iIt was blowy cold on the corner of Madison Avenue yesterday, walking home from the dentist, and a very frail, not very old man was hunched shivering in his wheelchair, holding out a cup, saying “I’m so cold, won’t somebody help me get a hot meal.” Most people can walk by that in this city, but I couldn’t, and gave him what I had. Then I walked up the avenue to Aveda to buy myself some shampoo and conditioner but the store wasn’t there anymore. Just darkness and a sign that offered Retail Space.
I had gone Saturday afternoon to see ‘Coraline’, trying for a transition to childrens’ books, but found it terrifying, not because of the 3D glasses but because of the darkness of the depiction of the other world Coraline goes into, with a seductive better mother who eventually morphs into a bony, sunken-eyed monster, though I was delighted that evil is depicted as too thin. Still, I sent out a warning alert so my son would not take Silas.
Caught as I am in the study and exercise of words and the feelings they give rise to, I must now make a small aside for ‘Scurrying’. I returned to my little atelier which it would be in Paris, here it’s a studio, and opened the door under the sink where the garbage can is and saw a mouse. There were mice in ‘Coraline,’ highly entertaining mice, but they, too, eventually morphed into the horrific and became rats. After the cliche shriek, I closed the mouse into the plastic bag that lines my garbage can and dropped it down the chute, which upset my tender-hearted friend Joie who worried on the phone over its slow death, but there is no incinerator below, only a pile of garbage, so it would have been a soft landing. Still she suffered over its suffering. I called down to the desk to ask for help, and they sent someone, but the family (four it turned out) endured till yesterday when the building closed up the hole. Last night, one little mouse came out looking for its relatives. I was reminded of the time I was working for the Journal, staying in a then moderately priced hotel in Paris, interviewing the genial manager in the bar, when a mouse came out and looked around with the same confusion. The manager turned to it and said “I thought I told you to stay in the kitchen.” I really liked that hotel.
Today the building sent an exterminator who couldn’t set traps because of Mimi, so under my red dragon=painted chest from Chang-Mai, a silver box that has a hole in it that will catch the mouse, as it will be attracted to the shine, be curious, and go inside. So it will not be the cat only that curiosity killed. Oh, dear. I really hate to think about it, but I don’t like thinking I am sharing quarters with something besides Mimi. Scurrying.
As for the demise of the mice family, I handle it by thinking of them as Republicans. I really can’t believe how stubbornly and stupidly and rodently they are behaving. What will it take to make them understand the country literally hangs in the balance? I thought Obama was clear and candid and brilliant last night, promising that he was saving the best answers for Geithner to give today. But the investment banker who lives next door told me Geithner said nothing in his half-hour talk, so the market fell three hundred points.
Oh, craven new world that has such creatures in it. So much to worry about. Did A=Rod use drugs to enhance his performance with Madonna?