ZOE DISSES REX ROYALLY
Do NOT fuck with Zoe Caldwell! At the Tennessee Williams Festival Gala, “Remembering Tennessee,” tonight (March 24) in New Orleans, Rex Reed, a journalist who, despite his seasoned years of experience, and justifiable, sincere enthusiasm about film and theater history, has always struck me as 1. a deadly over-writer and 2. often pushing the boundaries of plain good taste with an overweening entitlement (perhaps borne from his own celebrity as star of the 1970 legendary turkey MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) which should be anathema to every good journalist, went over the line with Caldwell, for whom the adjective “redoubtable” might have been coined.
In an unnecessary effort to paint this acclaimed serious actress as something of a deep-down hot tomato, he first appalingly cited the fact that she was mentioned as a correspondent in Albert Finney’s divorce proceedings in the 1960s, something which made her ordinary ramrod posture become even more erect. But she became positively perpendicular when he told a tale about her close pal, the late Maureen Stapleton, which he claimed to have happened when he escorted that actress to the premiere of her 1961 film BYE BYE BIRDIE. That fact alone is rather suspect as I read this particular anecdote in BIRDIE composer Charles Strouse’s autobiography – with no mention of Reed being there. (Was he even in New York writing at the time, at the age of 21?)
As Reed told it, they were at the after-party at Sardi’s, with Stapleton getting progressively drunker and muttering how she didn’t want to be interviewed about a film during which she said she spent the entire time with her head in the oven. When the true star of the film, Ann-Margret arrrived, to a frenzied reception, the microphone was finally passed to Stapleton, who slurred, “Well, I guess I’m the only one here who doesn’t want to fuck Ann-Margret!”
What any of this had to do with Tennessee Williams was something to ponder. But there was no doubting Caldwell’s barely suppressed fury, watching her reactions while Reed ranted. He got his payback, which unfortunately affected the paying audience, when Caldwell later refused to read two Williams poems she had been scheduled to do, because, as she said, “Mr. Reed chose to tell certain stories about a friend of mine.”
No amount of cajoling from the clueless Reed or the audience could dissuade her, and there was even applause for her decision, as Reed’s tackiness evidently did not go unmarked by many present.
The panel discussion continued, but I noticed co-panelist Shirley Knight mouth the words, “Thank you,” to Caldwell.
Moral: Don’t mess with Medea!
ADDENDUM: It was quite a lively night as, later, the always outspoken Knight, whose brave forthrightness belies her angelic prettiness, said, “I want to get political here,” and described how Broadway producers today are only concerned with hiring movie and TV stars to increase the box office. She brought things to even more of a point when she described how disgusted she was when the Tony for Best Actress last year was awarded to the worst performance of the year, saying how these same producers also own the greatest number of Tony votes “and it was as if they wrote on the ballot, mark what you think is the worst performance. All I’ll say is she’s Welsh and married to Michael Douglas.”
Catherine Zeta Jones, even if you weren’t in the Big Easy tonight, were your ears burning?