It was an utterly abysmal Broadway season just passed, reflected in an utterly abysmal Tony Awards show, which should have been subtitled “You’re a Movie Star? PLEASE Come to Broadway and Show These Piddling Stage Actors How It’s Done.”
What was more embarassing? Catherine Zeta Jones’ clueless, tuneless hamming of “Send in the Clowns,” which went a long way towards destroying any good will I felt about her Broadway debut earlier this season? Or Lea Michele’s off-key, oh-so-desperate “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” which, if anything, only reminded us all of why reviving FUNNY GIRL seems such a misguided enterprise? Streisand’s shadow continues to loom monumentally over any would-be followers in her footsteps who’d be hard-pressed to match – let alone better – her in the role of Fanny Brice. I remember even thinking Vanessa Williams’ singing this song when she won Miss America in 1984 was both a tad presumptuous and extremely cheesy.
The one spot of true class at the Tonys was probably not even seen by most of its TV audience, unless you had local cable access to NY1, which showed the earlier “unimportant” awards like Best Costume and Lifetime Achievement that CBS, in its rampant philistinism, deemed of no interest to its viewers. The class I refer to was exhibited by Marian Seldes, a winner in the latter category, who looked as regal as a queen in her trademark purple as, with the help of a cane (due to an unfortunate fall earlier this year in her apartment), she made her way to the mic to deliver a speech which never came. Her total, wide-eyed speechlessness was a devastatingly audacious coup-de-theatre worthy of her idols, Duse and Bernhardt, and all the more deliciously surprising, as to know her is to absolutely adore her usual eloquent loquaciousness in all matters of stage import.
Reflecting upon this later, I realized the exquisite logic of her choice. Her career has been so long and honorable, as is her list of mentors, inspirations and beloved co-workers, that any speech she might have given might well have entered into the ranks of such legendary long-windedness as Greer Garson’s infamous 1942 Oscar acceptance speech for MRS. MINIVER. If brevity is the sole of wit, then, surely, Seldes is the wittiest human being alive.
A week or so before the Tonys, I had a typically delightful encounter with her at the New Dramatists’ lunch which you can read about here:
I hereby nominate Miss Marian Seldes for Empress of the Universe, in all her infinite variety:
when I saw HELEN in 2002, with Seldes hilariously playing a very Ftatateetah sort of maid to Donna Murphy’s face that launched a thousand ships, it suddenly struck me: Seldes looks like John Gielgud! Over lunch one day, I mentioned this resemblance to her, and she heartily agreed with me, saying that when she worked with Sir John, it was difficult as she could not stop staring at him in sheerest, hypnotized awe.