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TOTAL RECALL

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2013 at 4:18 pm

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Patricia, amazingly alive and vibrant at 99, was a great beauty in her days in Hollywood.

BY DAVID NOH | On the ninth floor of a high rise in one of the cushiest areas of Los Angeles, there resides an honest to God show business legend. At 99, Patricia Morison is amazingly alive and vibrant, with pristine recall of her storied past. And what a past: understudying Helen Hayes in “Victoria Regina” at the age of 20, signed to a Paramount contract in 1939, and subsequently appearing in films opposite Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Myrna Loy, John Garfield, and Deanna Durbin. In 1948, she starred in the original production of Cole Porter’s greatest show, “Kiss Me, Kate”, and followed that up with “The King and I” opposite Yul Brynner.

I thought of Morison when I heard that “Song of Norway,” one of Morison’s favorite shows, will be done at Carnegie Hall by the Collegiate Chorale on April 30 (6:30 p.m.; collegiatechorale.org).

Patricia Morison shares her incredible life; John Irving and Jane Clementi, both parents of gays

“I first did it in Auckland, New Zealand, back when that country was not very well known,” she told me. “In order to get there, the plane had to make so many stops! It was a wonderful experience and I loved playing the prima donna who accompanies [Edvard] Grieg to Italy. A lot of fun. I had a wonderful song, ‘Now, now, not tomorrow but now.” I wonder who’s going to play the prima donna?” (The answer to Morison’s question is Judy Kaye.)

Although one of the great beauties of her time — with long raven tresses, huge limpid eyes, and the kind of luscious natural mouth that makes thin-lipped unfortunates scream for collagen — Hollywood never knew quite what to do with her. She was inevitably cast as a slinky villainess, the epitome of Sondheim’s  “sloe-eyed vamp.” Her big break could have been in the classic film noir “Kiss of Death” (1947), but it was unfortunately stymied. Years before, she had been replaced by Susan Hayward in “Beau Geste,” and then by Veronica Lake in  “The Glass Key” “because I was too tall for Alan Ladd.”

Honey,” she said — using this preface with the perfect been-around-the-block, wised-up inflection that calls up whole histories of Tinseltown and Broadway — “I was supposed to be the wife of Victor Mature. He’s sent up the river and I have a baby and it was one of the few roles where I was not glamorous. Just an Italian girl with a baby, and we shot it on location in Little Italy. He gets a henchman to look after me and the guy rapes me, and afterwards I’m so ashamed that I shut the kitchen windows and turn on the oven and commit suicide. I still have the telegram from [producer Darryl] Zanuck saying, ‘Pat, this could be an Academy Award.’

“But the censors would not allow a rape or a suicide to be shown, so the entire thing was cut out. I eventually got over it, but I enjoyed doing it because it was so entirely different for me as an actress. They shot me carrying the baby, going into the Italian grocery to buy cheese, all done at night. It was a lot of fun.”

Morison said working for Zanuck was fine, although he would have liked to have gotten her into bed “because he did that with most of his actresses.” In the course of our long conversation this became a leitmotif, with the actress tossing off the spurned advances of Rudy Vallee, John Garfield, and more, with a chuckling “That’s par for the course. When you’ve been around as long as I have, you get used to that.”

Zsa Zsa Garbor was always trying to set her up with men and, finally, in frustration, told a mutual friend, “You know vat’s wrong with Pat? She has no initiative!” Morison never married, but said, “I came close. Not that I haven’t had love in my life, nobody well known. But I chose my own romances and was very fortunate with my relationships with lovely, interesting people.”

“I Hate Men,” of course, was Morison’s big song in “Kiss Me Kate”: “My agent, Wynn Roccamora, said, ‘I’m taking you out to Cole Porter’s house in Brentwood. It’s not for anything, I just want you to get used to singing for people. Cole had two pianos in his living room because he liked to play classical music with friends, and I sang for him. He handed me the score of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ and said, ‘I want you to learn this and come back and sing it for me.’

“He was having a hard time raising money because all his friends thought a musical of Shakespeare would flop. I had just signed to do one of the first TV series, “The Cases of Eddie Drake,” but I went to New York and sang for the producers at the Century Theater. They didn’t want me because they had an opera star, Jarmila Novotna, in mind, but [writer] Bella Spewack loved me, so they called me back from the coast.

“When we were rehearsing ‘I Hate Men,’ the director [John C. Wilson] said, ‘You gotta get Cole to take that number out because it’s gonna make you look so bad.’ I went to Cole and he said, ‘Honey, there’s an operetta by Victor Herbert in which a guy sings “I want what I want when I want it!” and bangs a tankard on the table.’ ‘You just use that tankard,’ and, of course, on opening night in Philadelphia, we didn’t know what we had. We thought if we got good personal reviews, we were lucky. When I went out to do that song, I was scared to death, and it stopped the show! See how lucky I’ve been?”

Early on, during “The King and I,” Morison was having lunch with Richard Rodgers when a friend came up and asked, “So how did your audition go?” Rodgers said, “Miss Morison does not audition.”

“Wasn’t that wonderful? Honey, I had heard all the rumors about Yul Brynner, that he had a telephone in his dressing room and would call Joan Crawford in Hollywood and sometimes after the last show on Saturday night would fly out to Hollywood and come back just to do the Monday performance. Joan, Marlene, honey, a lot!

“I was rehearsing when he came back from vacation, and the day before I went in the show, he shows up dressed in black leather and started doing all these acrobatic things. He said, ‘We’re going to start working on Monday, so I’d like to take you to dinner.’ I said, ‘No thank you.’ ‘Then would you stop by my dressing room on your way out?’ So I knocked on the door, he said, ‘Come in,’ and he was sitting in front of his mirror, completely nude. I didn’t take my eyes off his face and said, ‘You wish to speak to me, Mr. Brynner?’ He got embarrassed and said, ‘You know, I have to stay in my body.’ ‘I understand Mr. Brynner.’

“It started that way but we ended the best of friends because he was such a true professional. You’re doing seven performances a week of this strenuous show all over the country for years, and sometimes he’d be naughty and come off the stage with a sort of guilty look on his face and I’d go, ‘Uh huh.”

“[Costume designer] Irene Sharaff was a stickler for authenticity. For hoopskirts, they usually used plastic hoops that don’t weigh anything and are always wrong onstage because they don’t stay still. She made mine out of bamboo with all kinds of weights on them so they would stay still and move with you. My skirt was too big for the dressing room doors so we had a makeshift bunch of flats with a platform. They’d lay the gown on the floor, I’d put a towel around my waist and then the Merry Widow corset, then the pantalettes. I’d step into the gown and it took two people to hold it up while another one hooked me in it.

“Once in it, I was stuck and halfway through the show comes a time when you have to go to the bathroom. Someone had given me a silver ice bucket with champagne for opening night so my dresser would pull the curtains of this fake dressing room and she would slide the bucket underneath me and no one would know. When the show closed, the only souvenir she wanted was that silver bucket!”

David Noh with Jane Clementi and Seven Guy, executive director of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which aims to foster discussions about the respect and dignity due everyone in society. | EDWARD BOHAN

David Noh with Jane Clementi and Seven Guy, executive director of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which aims to foster discussions about the respect and dignity due everyone in society. | EDWARD BOHAN

On April 5, I attended the New York Times GLBT & Allies Network’s hosting at Sardi’s of John Irving, promoting his book “In One Person,” about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman. Irving’s son, Everett, is gay, but the author was at pains to make clear that the book was not about him and that he had started it before knowing about Everett’s sexuality.

Irving also stated that, although his books are rife with transgender characters, starting with Roberta Muldoon in “The World According to Garp,” he, himself, is not bisexual. He described his books as works of the imagination, especially the more violent episodes in them about which he said he imagined the worst thing that could happen and then wrote about it.

Hearing this, I could not help but turn to my tablemate, Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi, who tragically committed suicide after being the target of Internet bullying at Rutgers in 2010. A spitting image, facially, of her son, she came across as a dignified, sweet and sensitive soul who has doubtlessly wrestled with her own demons, having struggled to accept her son in life due to her anti-homosexual fundamentalist Christian views, which she has since disavowed.

“I was thinking that very same thing,” she said, when I mentioned how she has actually experienced — not just written about — the very worst thing that could happen to her.

“You asked if it has gotten any better for me. Well, it’s really an ongoing process, and the [Tyler Clementi] Foundation [tylerclementifoundation.org] we’ve started does help keep his memory alive, as you say. It’s just not about gay bullying, however, but about creating a safe, positive environment for all people who feel they are different.

“I have met with the mother of Matthew Shepard, and that was interesting. We are, of course, in two different places in regard to what happened to us. Different circumstances, as well as the time frame. For her, it’s been what? Fourteen years. And for me, just a couple.”

MRS. TOM HANKS GOES CABARET

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

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Last night, Rita Wilson made her NY cabaret debut at 54 Below, with a show of songs she grew up hearing on AM/FM radio in Los Angeles. A packed house, including her husband Tom Hanks and Broadway director George C. Wolfe, gave her very Left Coast show hearty applause, as, backed up by no less than three guitars and the essential big black female backup singer, she sang familiar chestnuts. The Everly Brothers’ “Dream,” The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” “Angel of the Morning” and, strangely “Wichita Lineman,” were some of her familiar selections – what might be deemed as “wimp rock” – along with a couple of self-penned ditties.

Her patter was relentlessly upbeat but generic, with very little personal info, aside from childhood drives in the family car listening to the music which shaped her. We did learn that she was in a “Charlie” perfume commercial, and she sang the jingle, as well as the one for Jordache jeans, which rather expressed the tone of the evening.

As for her pipes, themselves,  well, one could say that it is maybe one of the better “shower voices” around, but still not quite ready for prime time, especially a venue like 54 Below. It’s a thin affair which strained  – sometimes unsuccessfully – to hit the high notes. She was particularly out of her depth trying to cover the Linda Ronstadt hit “Love Has No Pride,” but her warm, genial stage presence  – like a favorite aunt performing in your living room for indulgent relatives – completely won the audience, consisting, it appeared, mostly of friends and movie fans – over. (Some even signified their approval at the end with upheld lit cellphones, attempting to turn the intimate elegant room into a rock arena.)

I sat near Sting, who arrived very late in the set with wife Trudie Styler, and, if body language is any judge, appeared profoundly bored. 

Under the immediate circumstances, Wilson’s decision to include Kenny Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston” – even with a mea culpa spoken tribute to the survivors and victims of yesterday’s bombing – seemed questionable, to say the least.

THE INDOMITABLE LADIES OF MGM

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm

One week in Manhattan alone saw a bevy of gorgeous grande dames, all of whom know each other well and were once under contract to the legendary MGM studio in the heyday of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Liliane Montevecchi, Debbie Reynolds and Arlene Dahl.

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David Noh with Liliane Montevecchi, in her Sutton Place apartment

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Debbie Reynolds, greeting her fans at the 92nd Street YMCA, after discussing her new memoir, UNSINKABLE

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with Arlene Dahl, ageless MGM beauty, at the Marty Richards Memorial Gala at the Edison Ballroom

 

Here’s to the Ladies who LIVE! …on and on and on

read about ‘em here

http://gaycitynews.com/montevecchi-the-magnificent/

BEST STREISAND HOMAGE EVER

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

 

 

ImageDays after seeing Jonathan Tolins’ fiendishly clever and funny BUYER & CELLAR, I can’t get it out of my mind…in many ways the best, definitely the wittiest Streisand homage ever. Here’s my review:
http://www.nitelifeexchange.com/review/theatre/2374-buyer-a-cellar-theatre-review.html

MOST APPEALING GUY IN THE MOVIES

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2013 at 8:12 am

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Bradley Cooper? Ryan Gosling? Nah – It’s Michael Angarano, so good in CEREMONY, and just as charming in THE BRASS TEAPOT, a fun new black comedy

Read my review here

http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/reviews/specialty-releases/e3i852183df965012d45bae7641849042a0

BERT STERN: THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2013 at 8:05 am

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His images of Marilyn Monroe in her final portrait sitting are burned into our consciousness. Read my review of the fantastic new documentary about Bert Stern in FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL here

http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/reviews/specialty-releases/e3i852183df965012d4352a682e6bc6af96

PHILIP ROTH: UNMASKED

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 8:13 pm

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Read my review of this new documentary here

http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3i6876fa404dcc4adc2c58708b2da88eaa

MARILYN MAYE – GREATEST CABARET SINGER ALIVE?

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm

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It’s not at all hard to see why Marilyn Maye was Johnny Carson’s favorite singer, appearing some 76 times on the Tonight Show. From her big New York comeback at the Metropolitan Room in 2006, where she stunned a heard-it-all, jaded cabaret audience with the ravishing, imperishable freshness of her voice and phrasing, she has been a happily constant presence in Manhattan.

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With “Maye-den Voyage”, her show at 54 Below, she does nothing but consolidate her eminence as  the reigning queen of cabaret. Name one other singer who brings such mellifluous tonality, supernal phrasing, emotional resonance, and, essentially, pure ebullient joy to her work. A Cole Porter medley started her set and, resplendent in red, she opened with that killer charmer, “Looking at You,” which had me immediately in her silken pocket, with its lovely evocation of two other cabaret aristocrats who loved to sing it: Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short. She wove her bewitching way through “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Just One of Those Things,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and a splendidly sexy “All of You,” making each one of these oft-done chestnuts utterly her own.

 

People blather on about the importance of hearing new or more varied music in cabaret, but let’s face it, the Great American Songbook is what we all really love and want to hear, especially as done by one of its last remaining truly great interpreters. Maye’s brilliance was completely matched by the unmatched piano stylings of the greatest accompanist in the business right now, Ted Firth. Their superbly sinuous interaction, with each taking a cue from the other’s sublimely hip and fluid approach to these familiar tunes was pure magic, pure jazz, causing listener endorphins to positively flood the room.

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One after another, like gloriously triumphant cannon volleys, came the beloved standards, often cannily entwined in wonderfully chosen musical bouquets: a rapturous “Get Happy Medley” (with happy guy Vincent Youmans’  “I Want to Be Happy”  and Sometimes I’m Happy”), a throbbing “Lover Man” with “When Your Lover Has Gone,” a shimmering ”Lazy Afternoon” with Blossom Dearie’s “Bye Bye Country Boy.”

 

The songs of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer demand a seasoned performer who can bring authentic, hard-won life experience – as well as excellent pipes – to really put them across, otherwise the rendition, however prettily sung, can seem just paltry and bland. Maye, like the late Margaret Whiting, has this in spades, and to hear her do “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home” or “Blues in the Night” is a simple master class in interpretation, or, more simply put, really feeling and knowing that music.

 

And, when it comes to sheer sophistication, Maye has few rivals, as witness the effortless, yet impassioned rueful humor and resignation she brings to those classic bar ditties, “Guess Who I Saw Today” and “Something Cool.” She makes you know this particular urban lady, who slips out of the afternoon sun and her mink into a dark boite for a drink and dawning self-discovery.

 

The Divine One, as I think she should now be officially dubbed, ended her set with a beneficent job on “On a Clear Day,” which simply made you, like it says in the song, glad to be alive. And, as if all that went before weren’t enough, she sizzlingly encored with Paul Desmond’s lyrics to “Take Five,” the complexity alone of which would easily defeat any singer a third of this magnificently ageless lady’s age. Incidentally, I don’t think she’ll mind my mentioning that this April 10. she turns an astounding 85.

 

MAYE-den Voyage
EXTENDED! April 1 & 5, 2013

Cover charge: $40 – $50

Food & Beverage Minimum $25

 

http://54below.com/wordpress/?artist=marilyn-maye

ADMISSION – THAT RARE AMERICAN MOVIE COMEDY WITH BRAINS (AND HEART)

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 7:56 pm

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Read my review here

http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3ib785504ef2971d110d8b8828fa448736

STILL ROARING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2013 at 7:18 am

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That forever liberated woman and eternal, unabashedly proud feminist, Helen Reddy, is making a long overdue return to perform in NY…I interviewed her and she fondly recalled performing at the Honolulu International Center in the 1970s, also mentioning the fact that Obama went to Punahou,which her close friend’s daughter also attended. I asked if she’d ever like to live in Hawaii, and Reddy, who now resides in Clearwater, Florida, said, “Are you kidding?! Of course! It’s my favorite state!”

Read the interview here:

http://gaycitynews.com/a-gift-from-down-under/

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