Liz Smith: “Breaking Bad” Brings Ratings Gold (And I Told You So!)

And more from our Liz: Barbra Streisand Soars with “What Matters Most”… Michael Buble’s “Christmas” Set to Become a Classic … and Elizabeth Taylor’s Life In Style

“NO DRUG, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of our society. If we are looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power,” said P.J. O’Rourke.

* * *

MY FAVORITE meth-lab drama, “Breaking Bad” and my favorite it-wasn’t-so-great-in-the 1960s show, “Mad Men” have both been profiled endlessly in the glamorous new Hollywood Reporter magazine.

First, everybody went nuts and seems to remain so over AMC’s “Mad Men.” “Breaking Bad”— also aired over AMC — was a slow-growing sensation, initially under-publicized. But it, too has found its stardom, pushed by Sony Pictures. (It is averaging 4.3 million viewers an episode in its fourth season, nearly double what “Mad Men” delivers.) We are going to see “Breaking Bad’s” ending in the next “super season.” AMC may break it into two short seasons, or simply run the last 16 episodes next summer.

I am happy to brag that I think I was just about the first journalist to write and have high expectations for “Mad Men,” and also, then, for “Breaking Bad.” I raved so much about the latter that the star Bryan Cranston sent me a “Breaking Bad” wrist watch. I have to be careful where I wear this as people think I’m hustling crystal meth.

* * *

MUSIC! MUSIC! MUSIC! As Teresa Brewer sang out back in the 1950‘s.

I have it in my hand, the gorgeous deluxe edition of Barbra Streisand’s “What Matters Most” album. This is her self-produced tribute to her old friends, the great lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. If the Bergmans didn’t quite “invent” Barbra, in the manner of John Kander and Fred Ebb, a la Liza Minnelli, they are responsible for so many of Streisand’s signature tunes—including the score for “Yentl”—that they have become vital to Barbara’s enduring legend. The Bergmans know her voice, her personality, her heart. (As for Liza, I think out of her fondness for Kander and Ebb, she has somewhat exaggerated their impact—after all, she was singing!)

“What Matters Most” is a two-disc set. The first disc is ten Bergman songs never recorded by Barbra, the second disc contains ten more familiar tunes—“The Way We Were,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”

But it is on the first disc that Barbra truly soars. Listen, it’s worth the price just to hear Barbra a’capella on the first bars of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Barbra has retained the exquisite upper register of her voice, but the tones have deepened—beautifully. Age has not withered her gift and life experience has given it much more resonance.

In a world of phony, over-hyped “talent,” I’m glad a true artist like Barbra is still here, working and reminding us that “perfectionist” is not a dirty word.

AND STILL more music: I loved the press release from Liz Rosenberg about Michael Buble’s “Christmas” album, produced by David Foster and Bob Rock. Along with listing some of the tracks—“Silent Night,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and Michael’s own composition, “December Night”—Liz R. included her own opinion: “Did we mention that this is the most incredible Christmas record ever? Well, we’re mentioning it now…it’s the most incredible Christmas record EVER!”

I don’t doubt it, because Michael Buble is one of the greatest singers, EVER. But I love Ms.Rosenberg’s enthusiasm and devotion to her clients. She is the real deal. And her clients are the real deal. I remember back in the day when she’d send me an advance look at one of Madonna’s new videos. “Liz,” she’d say, “Brace yourself. This is going to change your life!”

And you know what, those little works of art, like “Bad Girl,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Express Yourself,” “Material Girl,” “Oh, Father” and “Vogue” were life-changing. They made me appreciate and understand Madonna as an artist. This from naïve me, who once asked my office staff: “Why is this Madonna creature on the cover of Time magazine?”

Anyway, I can’t wait to hear what the adorable Mr. Buble does with “Jingle Bells.”

* * *

ON PAGE 114 of Susan Kelly’s book, Elizabeth Taylor: Her Life In Style, there is a photo of Miz Liz and George Hamilton, strolling through Paris, circa 1987. Elizabeth wears a stunningly chic and well-tailored white suit, open-toed pumps, a wide-brimmed hat and appropriate jewels. She looks like a dream walking.

Of course, on the next page she is shown with Malcolm Forbes, wearing a purple cocktail dress that looks like a malevolent, carnivorous orchid, about to devour her. Elizabeth’s “life in style” was a circus of extremes. She knew couture. She knew what good taste was. She just didn’t care to have good taste most of the time—wretched, expensive excess was her style, and she reveled in it. (See “X Y and Zee” for Elizabeth at her best—and worst.) Elizabeth’s cheerful, sexy vulgarity was one of the things that so excited her public, and drove Women’s Wear Daily to distraction.

Susan Kelly’s book is a lovely tribute, and respectful of Elizabeth’s iconic image. The photos end in 1993, just before Elizabeth’s health began to decline so drastically. (There are some stunning caption errors, but I assume these will be corrected in the next printing.)

However, I do wish Kelly had shown more of “mad, mod Liz” in her teeny mini-skirts and hot-pants. I did have a nostalgic laugh when I came to page 101. There is Elizabeth in Paris again, in 1968, at the premiere of “A Flea In Her Ear.” She was filming “The Only Game in Town” with Warren Beatty—a tale set in Las Vegas, but movie studios moved mountains for Elizabeth then. I was attempting to interview her for Cosmopolitan. She was very nice, as usual, but never answered a question, so I simply wrote about what she ate, drank, said and did en passant.

At this event, she wore her famous Bulgari emeralds—gifts from Richard—and sported a feather boa. She had attached feathers into her elaborate Alexandre de Paris hair-do. “You look like a fabulous chicken” I exclaimed upon seeing her.

She looked me dead in the eye and said, “Liz, I look like a chicken’s ass.”

And that was Elizabeth Taylor’s real style.

26 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Barbra Streisand is at her best on this album “What Matters Most”.  I think that her years lived, understanding gained in those years, comes through in how she sings in this album.  There is a new depth along with the same wonderful great voice.  For those of you who know Alan and Marilyn Bergman who are the lyricists, you may know they have been together from the mid-fifties on  . . . and those lyrics really tell how the couple feel about each other – then and now.  Knowing that somehow makes the songs more poignant and real – like you have walked into a secret of what a true love can be.  Streisand is as wonderful a singer as ever.  The album?  Well, it is very special.

  2. avatar Linda Myers says:

    My brother n law, hooked me on being a Barbara Steisand fan when I was 14, he still is a huge fan. I will be buying the CD. My favorite soundtrack is still from On A Clear Day and the dual singing of Come Back to Me. Not sure I have anybody in my life I would call back, but love the song and the way it was done.

    I heard of a teenage girl today who is having feather extensions put in her hair, so maybe being a chicken’s ass is the new style. 🙂

  3. avatar Lila says:

    Speaking of TV series, here’s some annoying news:  SyFy is canceling Eureka despite the fact that it is their top-rated show.  Why?  Cost of production.  They say they have run the numbers and can do better just running D-rated giant-bug movies or tired reruns.  I recognize this is a business, but it is also about entertainment, which is an art form.  Or should be.  There is such a thing as a “loss leader” in other businesses and I think for the sake of art, for the sake of loyalty to the audience, for the sake of a reputation as a leader, the idea of Eureka as a “loss leader” is worthwhile… rather than marking themselves as all about business, and screw their audience.  
    OK, I have just revealed myself to be an enormous geek.  Backing out now….

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Don’t back out Lila!  We are all geeks about something we love.  Maybe if enough Eureka fans state their case it will make a difference!

  4. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Barbra has been perfection since the came on the scene in the early 60s! And like fine wine she only gets better with age.  What Matters Most is GORGEOUS!!
    I think Michael Buble is a wonderful singer and entertainer. However, the best Christmas album EVER is Just in Time For Christmas by the late Nancy Lamott.  Her beautiful, clear bright voice was amazing and gone far too soon.  She died at 43 of uterine cancer but left 6 albums including Just In Time For Christmas.  Several years after her death two more were released.  All can be found on ITunes.  Give a listen.  She was a true treasure. 

  5. avatar Roxanna Chapman says:

    Totally hooked on Mad Men!  Ironically it was my 22 year old kid that insisisted I watch her DVD collection of the first seasons in sequence since I had missed so many. 
    The Breaking Bad watch “cracks” me up!  Some collector piece that is!

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Elizabeth Taylor – Where in the world did that photo of Liz Taylor come from? Oh My….not good. 🙂

    Michael Buble’ – I love a “pure” singing voice. I don’t like a lot of “over singing” or those that believe if they sing loud that translates into singing well (Jennifer Hudson). What I love about Michael Buble’ is he (like Barbara Streisand and Anita Baker) has a pure and clean sound. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform in person and he took command of the auditorium. He made every person, from those of us in the front row to those in the nose bleed seats, feel as if he was singing just for us. Directly to us. He is a talent that is unrivaled.

    Breaking Bad – AMC much like HBO is doing a great job at creating some of the most stimulating and captivating TV we have seen in a long time. Breaking Bad is an addiction for me (get it….addiction…because it’s about meth…I crack myself up! 🙂   Much like Mad Men it has a cast of actors that truly knows how to act. It’s not a cookie cutter version of a sitcom that abounds on TV these days. It’s deep and thoughtful programming. And I LOVE Bryan Cranston, he is ridiculously talented.

    Barbara Streisand – I LOVE Barbara Streisand! As I said she has a beautiful, clean and superb singing voice.  And nothing has changed, it’s still pure and clean.

    For those of us that love Barbara, let me share with you one of my favorite performances she made with one of my favorite men. It oozes with sexual tension and electricity and leaves those viewing it wondering…..”are we seeing something intimate?”  Enjoy.

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Belinda —

      I am keeping this Steisand youtube forever — she has never looked at someone in just that way as I remember and it left me — well – melted!!!  Thanks for sharing — and if you have more that are “out of this world”, please please share them.  WOW!

  7. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Oh for godssakes Liz.  Barbra is 69 now.  WHY are YOU of all people still spelling her name with the wrong “a”?  Barbara. Really?  And then you have the balls to criticize someones captions in a book?  C’mon Liz, I expect better of you.  If you need a proofer, I will do it for free.  XOXO – The Count

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Score one (or more) for the Count!  Because I have never spelled Barbra’s name wrong, I didn’t even notice.  You are so right, Liz should know better or whoever proof’s for her should know better!  I’d do it for free as well, but I’m sure she’d rather have you; since you are far more colorful than I. I also realize that missing the spelling is not good for a proofreader, hehe!

  8. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Count…

    Thank you for your charming comment.  I take credit for my errors, but in this case I cannot.  The staff at Wow is very young and very overworked. There was one misspeling of Barbra’s name in the copy I sent.  But when I then sent a note, “correct spelling on Streisand’s name” there was confusion. And so the extra A throughout.  Which will soon be corrected.   Nobody died.

    And so the balls I have to comment on caption errors remain in place.  And I expect better from you.  Would it have been so difficult to point out this error politely?

    Thank you,

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      Dearest Liz:
      I do indeed apologize sincerely and truly.  I woke up snarky today, and you were the undeserved recipient.  I live in Austin.  We are on day 67 of 100 degree plus weather.  I think my brain is truly fried.  I am a gentleman, even though my posting would never suggest that.  I think of you as family.  And as my dear, departed Mere used to say: “You can always show your ass to family if you have to.  They will always forgive you.”  So.  Though we are not related by blood, we are related by Texas.  So I do ask you forgiveness, and am truly sorry for showing my ass this morning.  XOXO – The Count

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        You could have taken the easy way out and just blamed me for being a bad influence and took the easier way out and blamed the heat which is beginning to affect us all.  Houston has returned to 100 plus degrees with 20% humidity instead of 200% humidity and I feel like I died and went to Palm Springs.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Alas, Liz, I have had similar experiences when I used to write briefings and papers for a pretty high-powered audience.  Turned in my article one day and when I saw it in print the following day, “ITS” possessive had been changed to “IT’S” in several places… making me look like an ungrammatical… ummm…  well, anyway, I went to the Editor:  “Hey!  You changed my grammar and made it wrong!”  He argued with me for a good five minutes on the correct use of ITS / IT’S but finally – suddenly – his light bulb went on and he realized he had had a brain cramp.  Still – grrrr.

  9. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Well, my favorite Christmas album is “A Christmas Gift fot You” with Darlene Love, The Ronettes, Bob B. Sox and the Blue Jeans, etc.  Yes, it was produced by Phil Spector.  He’s a creep and a killer, but he produced great music.   Oh, and Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas album, which is the only Mariah disc I own.  It is splendid.  But I’ll check out Mr. Buble. 

    And thanks to whoever found that incredible photo of our girl Miz Liz in her hotpants!  

  10. avatar Joe Albanese says:

    Per AMAZON, What Matters Most is #1 (a day before it is released to the public!).  That means that Barbra Streisand has had a well deserved #1 best selling album in each decade starting from the sixties.  No other artist has ever managed that feat.  And we can only pray that she will have another # 1 album sometime in the 2020’s!

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Absolute perfection!! She said on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday that she feels she can go on recording for decades!  I pray she does!!!

  11. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Count…

    You’ve shown your ass.  You don’t need to ask forgiveness.  I show mine everyday.  

    All the best,

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      At least you catch and correct the boo-boos which many don’t.  One of our local columnists was notorious for messing up names. And apparently believed they should just change their names to match the names in her column which is how their names forever appeared.

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      @Liz – Thanks so much!  In the back of my mind, I knew that you might forgive me for showing my ass.  I hit 50 on Wednesday.  Could not be more excited.  Cannot wait to see what wonders the next decade of my life will reveal.  Thanks for being Texas “family” and letting me off the hook.  You do know that I love you…right?  XOXO  – The Count

  12. avatar LuckyLady n/a says:

    Dear Liz:  Thanks for the P.J. O’Rourke quote–he is one of my favorites and what a wonderful quote to begin the down and dirty “election brigade”.  I have always loved your use of quotes and still save one in my cyber vault from Compton McKenzie.  “Women today do not find it difficult to behave like men.  However, they find it extremely difficult to behave like gentlemen”.  As my grandaughters progressed through various universities I have used it and, later, much later, they have thanked me for it.  And now I thank you.  Today will be devoted to reading my collection of P.J. O”Rourke tales, especially  the one where the family takes vacations in the middle east–I remember his description of freedom fighters coming down from the hills (and being called facists) and O’Rourke’s take on it was this:  If you were a l7 year old male would you rather be carrying a rifle and a band of bullets across your chest or would you rather be behind a plow behind a mule and still be up on the side of the mountain. Now I will find the actual quote.

  13. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Lucky Lady…

    Even those don’t care for my reportage (fancy-talk  for writing) like the opening quotes.  

    I like them too.  


    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Dearest Liz Smith,

       For the many, many of us readers who – for too many years to mention – have started our day on an upbeat because we have read your column:  It is you who is guaranteed to make us smile, make us laugh with your cleverness, or applaud when once again you have “nailed” someone in ways that we could not have thought of.   You haven’t lost one bit of the snappy pieces of writing that we only wish we could emulate.  And, to be frank, your name dropping ability exceeds mine by a long shot.  Miles, in fact, and – darn it! – I’m good!! 

      Kiddo – you have it!  And you must never let someone else’s bad day that sadly went over the top affect you.   I call those things “moments in time” and then GONE.  But WE have Liz! Know that we have Liz at her best every morning regaling us with the latest tidbits to start our day.

      What could be better!  I know I am speaking for “your public” in saying that we love you . . .
      and you gotta believe it!!

      Hugs,  Joan

  14. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Elizabeth Taylor had two looks – campy costume and classic couture. Campy costume seemed to be more fun for some reason.  As for the book, that’s it? Where are all the scandalous tell-alls? I think even she would be disappointed somehow. But then what scandal was left to tell?
    She will be missed. So few really are. But she will be. She was, well, fun. So few are.

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      @Baby Snooks:  I loved them all.  All the looks.  Because she was our Earth Mother, and it didn’t really matter what the costume was.  She was ours.  I loved them all.  And her all.
      And if they will hurry up and get that auction going, there are some fishes that are coming your way if I have anything to say about it.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Well they’re not on the inventory although it was indicated the inventory isn’t complete. So you never know. The fishes. The two novelty eggs a friend made for her, one with the Red Ribbon, another with the ETAF logo, my copy of the Red Ribbon egg auctioned off for DIFFA, the other copy sent to Mathilde Krim, at least I asked that it be sent to Mathilde Krim, and copies of a caricature of her as Cleopatra which were auctioned off the Alzheimer’s Association and ORBIS. Hopefully none of my notes. Hopefully she burned them all. Particularly my “My, my, if it isn’t the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Witch of the East” note about the Bushes being “dishonored” by being asked to remove themselves as the honorary chairs of the first amFAR gala in Houston in which I pointed out that George HW Bush had actively lobbied for passage of Ryan White and inclusion of AIDS in ADA. It was, well, not conducive to harmonious relations. But I did get a note from the secretary informing me she agreed with me that the Bushes were treated unfairly. Which started several wars. 

        It will be quite the auction. Several of them. There’s a lot of loot as they say.