Liz Smith: Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd: My Treasured Friends Face Hard Times

Liz Smith, Arnold Scaasi, Iris Love and Parker Ladd

“OLD AGE is a shipwreck!” said Charles de Gaulle.

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IT’S DIFFICULT when you have close friends who aren’t well. Suddenly, something happens and you realize that you don’t even know the names of any of their relatives. (Maybe, like me, they are orphans, with only vestigial nieces and nephews.)

I’ve been working and socializing with my pals, Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd, for more years than I can count. Here we are in a photo with the archaeologist Iris Love when we were all younger and Iris and I could still wear Arnold’s famous designs. (This Canadian designer cut a wide swath in fashion from the mid-1950s onward. He was the guy who designed Barbra Streisand’s see-through fashion pajamas when she went up the steps to accept her Oscar for “Funny Girl.” And he had a good effect on the Bush I White House, as well as its First Lady, Barbara.)

Arnold and Parker (who is a well-known book person and literary interviewer in Palm Beach), have been together since heaven knows when. They married last year and the New York Times gave them quite a write-up. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, attended their wedding party in the glamourous Le Cirque restaurant.

In the fall the couple left their Beekman Place house on the East River and went for a little sun and fun in Palm Beach, where they own a delightful small house. I knew neither of them was feeling all that good and I worried about them. But they had their faithful helper Glendina with them, so I tried to put aside my fears.

Now Parker has fallen and is in St. Mary’s Hospital in Palm Beach with a cracked head. And because he has been taking the anti-blood clot medicine Coumadin — well, that compounds the trouble. After Parker was taken to the hospital, Arnold was naturally very upset and he eventually landed in Good Samaritan Hospital with his heart acting up.

I don’t have all the details yet but will report more in the next few days. I was begging Arnold and Parker to come back to New York for the May 21ST Literacy Partners black tie gala, a charity which the three of us have worked on together for many, many years. This spring it takes place inside Jazz@Lincoln Center, and I sure hope I don’t have to host it without Arnold and Parker!

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“I SEE a woman can be made a fool, if she had not the spirit to resist!” declares literature’s most recalcitrant and battling virgin, William Shakespeare’s Katharina in “The Taming of the Shrew.” Notable actresses on stage and screen have interpreted the fiery Katharina, including Mary Pickford, who was attempting to change her image. Her swashbuckling hubby Douglas Fairbanks was Petruchio. More recently, Elizabeth Taylor, who was simply playing into her image, romped through Franco Zefferelli’s version. Richard Burton was her sly, materialistic suitor.

But now we might see somebody else very famous punching, kicking, spouting imprecations, and eventually being somewhat (if not entirely) domesticated and resigned to her fate. I do mean screen queen Julia Roberts.

In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Julia and her pal, director Mike Nichols, reveal that he would very much like to do a production of “Taming” (or maybe “Much Ado About Nothing”) in Central Park. Mike has directed Julia in two movies: “Closer” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Miss Roberts exclaims, “To have fun and be in the Park! That would be a dream of mine. Seeing Shakespeare in the Park, for me, it’s just this side of feeling like you’ve witnessed some kind of magic. It’s this spell you’re under, to be a part of that.”

Well, let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can fall under Julia’s spell on a warm summer’s night, announcing, as the supposedly tamed shrew — “I am ashamed that women are so simple.” (Like Miss Taylor, I think Julia would indicate that despite her soothing words, Petruchio was still in for a hell of time with her!)

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THE CULT of movie icon Kim Novak — the Blonde Who Got Away, as I always refer to her — grows with each passing year. Kim’s hushed, hesitant style, often criticized during her heyday as one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office attractions, looks far more modern and accessible than the work of many of her contemporaries. And, despite her loathing of Harry Cohn, the despot of Columbia Pictures (and of Hollywood attitudes in general), Kim was given the leading lady treatment. She had varied roles, great leading men, and although she was considered “troublesome” (since she asked questions, and wouldn’t obey directors blindly,) she was better liked and better respected than Marilyn Monroe. But eventually, Kim removed herself from a still-thriving career and left Hollywood, returning sporadically, and only when she felt like it.

On June 14th The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society will present Kim with its Cinematic Icon Award. Kim herself will appear at the grand Old Mint at Fifth and Mission Streets in S.F. Kim filmed two of her most famous movies in Frisco, a city she adores. These were “Pal Joey” and “Vertigo” Novak says: “What an honor it will be to receive this special award. It will be like coming home again.” Call 415-710-7332 or email for info.

Novak’s films are seen more and more on Turner Classic Movies, including “Bell, Book and Candle,” Paddy Chayefsky‘s grim drama, “Middle of the Night,” and her great 1960 melodrama with Kirk Douglas, “Strangers When We Meet.” She is fun to watch even in campier fare such as “Jeanne Eagels” and “The Legend of Lylah Clare.” The latter film is famous for actress Coral Browne’s “impersonation” of gossip columnist Radie Harris, who had a wooden leg. Watching Miss Novak and Miss Browne square off is perverse pleasure at its peak.

Oh, and of course, how could we ever forget Kim in 1980’s “The Mirror Crack’d,” in which she shrieks one of cinema’s great put-downs: “I could eat a can of Kodak and puke a better movie!”

10 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    What an exquisite photo. Were four people ever more beautiful, or beautifully dressed? Even Liz and Iris Love’s feet positions match!

  2. avatar Daniel Sugar says:

    Kim is terrific. (“Bell, Book And Candle” is one of my fave movies.)

  3. avatar rick gould says:

    I always thought the Taylor-Burton “Taming of the Shrew” was a ton of fun, though some critics at the time commented Liz was a bit mature at 35 to be playing Kate…which I thought of since Julia will nearly 45 if she tackles the role this summer.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Well, Julia will onstage, with forgiving distance.   I thought La Liz was fine.  The movie was shot in sequence.  She’d come straight from doing “Virginia Wolfe.”   She began “Shrew” at around 140 pounds, but all the running, jumping, slugging it out with Burton got her down to 120 by the time it was done.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        Ah, hopefully forgiving enough where she won’t turn into Mrs. Stone ; )

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Rick…

          Julia looks good.  And she does not abuse herself.  She would make an acceptable Kate.  Visually, anyway.

          But, let’s face it.  Who overflows a blouse like Miss Taylor?

  4. avatar cb says:

    I’m with Karen F – what a perfect vision of what looks like a heck of a night. What I wouldn’t give for a chance to peruse your photo albums Liz. All thoughts of beauty aside (though yours is abundant) you always look like you’re having so damn much fun!

  5. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    Count me among those who never “got” the appeal of Novak. Her dead line delivery and listless movements made her the cinematic equivalent of warm milk. She was pretty, but no prettier than thousands of other young women. She was no Grace Kelly. She was no Marilyn Monroe. Decades later when she appeared on “Falcon Crest,” her acting hadn’t improved one whit. The same dead line delivery, the same listless movements. She ruined “Vertigo” and “Pal Joey” for me. When she tries to sing, it becomes painful. Imagine how Rita Hayworth felt to have her voice dubbed while Novak warbled tunelessly to Sinatra.

  6. avatar rick gould says:

    I always thought Kim Novak was truly an enigma.
    There was always something in her, struggling against the studio manufacturer’s label.

    Yet, Novak was manufactured, more than most. And Kim never carried a movie on her own. She always had a big name leading man opposite her. And when she left the Columbia “factory,” the downhill slide was pretty fast.

    But Kim definitely had her moments. And Novak made her escape to a personal life, unlike Marilyn.

  7. avatar Lila says:

    Liz, hoping the best for your friends and their swift recovery. Hospitals are no fun at all.

    And – have never liked The Taming of the Shrew. Sad, outrageous, insulting, annoying… something… but never enjoyable to me. SO glad I live in turn-of-the-21st century America.