Liz Smith: Jane Fonda Channels Her Inner Ted Turner in New HBO Series

And more from our Gossip Girl: Broadway’s “Other Desert Cities” is a knockout! … Elizabeth Taylor’s couture rakes in millions

“I DON’T believe in coincidence,” says the actress Juliette Binoche.

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LOVE, LOVE, love the idea of Jane Fonda playing a Ted Turner-esque TV titan, running a 24-hour cable news program. This will be the new Aaron Sorkin production for HBO. Fonda’s co-stars include Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Olivia Munn, Emily Mortimer and Dev Patel. Fonda certainly knows the territory, having been married to Turner for ten years. They remain friends. (At least until the first episode airs.)

Jane was interviewed recently by CNN’s Piers Morgan, and rose admirably above the experience. No matter who Morgan interviews, he looks (and acts) as if he’s smelling something really bad and that talking to these people is far beneath him. Jane appeared rather amused.

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THE SECOND night of Elizabeth Taylor’s auction — a goodly portion of her couture — did not have quite the level of hysteria that attended the sale of her jewels, but it was still reasonably intense. And there were some gasp-inducing moments, such as Elizabeth’s 1968 Dior gown finally going for $300,000, a Versace jacket, embroidered with Elizabeth’s face all over it, raking in $105,000 and a charming, if not extraordinary fish charm necklace taking $24,000. (Gossip in the audience insisted that the House of Dior bought the ’68 stunner and that Donatella Versace was the winning bidder on the Face Jacket.)

I mean, a hot pink feathered Valentino evening bag was snapped up for $11,000. There were bargains to be had. Elizabeth’s pristine Gina Frati wedding dress — worn at La Liz’s second marriage to Richard in the African bush — went for $50,000, as did one of her filmy Irene Sharaff negligees from “Cleopatra.” I thought both would go for much more.

Still, when all was done, including the sale of an Andy Warhol “Liz,” the evening’s total exceeded $2 million. There are lots more clothes to come. And even more in storage that the estate just doesn’t know what to do with. (The auction continues with more designer duds, her art, and various luscious knickknacks.)

And a great big brava to the auctioneer, Andrea Fiuczynski, who is handling the Taylor sale. She works for Christie’s in L.A. She is strikingly attractive, graceful, witty and cool as a cucumber. Her gestures and inflections are almost theatrical. Well, she has experience in both dance and athletics. When the auction action ended, Andrea was the recipient of the night’s biggest round of applause. (A female auctioneer presiding is like a female croupier or female orchestra leader. Rare, and when it happens, breathtaking — and very sexy!)

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I’M not just a little late; I’m late in a slathering personal recommendation of a Broadway play that knocked me for a loop. I know the regular Broadway critics already had their way with Jon Robin Baitz’s drama “Other Desert Cities,” but better late ringing in than never!

When I see the names “Andre Bishop & Bernard Gersten under the direction of Lincoln Center Theater,” I am instantly alerted that the play or musical must be something of note! These names denote classic New York entertainment. And at the Booth Theater on West 45th Street, they are offering a play that I found simply riveting.

“Other Desert Cities” is about a retired couple, a movie hero and a TV star of yesteryear, now wealthy and ensconced in the politically conservative and critical life of that California “paradise.” The pair are dealing on Christmas Eve with a visit from what people in 1930s radio used to refer to as “their bewildering offspring.”

Three of my favorite actors are making sarcastic, pointed, and blissfully neurotic motions on stage — the classic actor Stacy Keach as a former western star … that stalwart workhorse of theater glamour, Stockard Channing as an “I Love Lucy” type TV name, and Judith Light, who has been loved since “Who’s the Boss?,” and here, does her damndest to erase every character she ever played before. All are rousingly good, great professionals, and brilliant actors. For instance, Judith, as an alcoholic failure of a sister living on the couple’s charity, is simply out of this world — funny, tragic, pithy and looking really comically terrible. She is a mainspring of the contorted plot.

The “offspring,” played by Australia’s gift to acting – Rachel Griffiths — and her “brother” Matthew Risch are the centerpiece of the Palm Springs’ couple’s lives. Two more really fine performers! Ms. Griffiths is asked to alternately emote as a writer in crisis; Mr. Risch to be superficial and smart-ass as a commercial TV series creator. Both are great.

What starts out as a schadenfreude parent-child mystery with lots of recognizable sardonic overtones descends into real drama, conflict and tragedy. A lot of people don’t like the second act. I simply reveled in it. It’s got everything — scripts thrown in the air, alternate gasping and weeping, revelations you can hardly abide and the drama behind it all — the Iraq war. (Oddly enough, I saw this play on the day President Obama declared that particular war to be over!) So looking back at the year 2004 was very effective. And the set by John Lee Beatty is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I won’t say a word more for fear of interfering with your own pleasure. This show is a hit; not a single empty seat the night I went. There is so much personal recognition in it! So many surprises. Such Tony-award acting.

The contrast between the two mature sisters is done so well. Miss Channing, glamourous, blonde, overly made-up and deliciously plasticized; Miss Light screaming for a drink, looking blowsy, tottering and destroyed. Both are lovely looking women in real life. Here, they transcend themselves.

7 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    I wonder if there will be a Elizabeth sequel auction. There are so many significant on-camera/off-camera costumes that Taylor must have kept… the bicentennial Red Halston, her first gown by him, that Mr. Wow pondered about…other “Cleopatra” goodies… ponchos from “The Sandpiper” that she kept… who the heck has the white Maggie the Cat cocktail dress, anyway?

    And Taylor, a known giftie, must have received all kinds of gifts and trinkets from other stars, royalty, rulers, etc. from the ’50s on that have significance…

    Time will tell…

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Piers Morgan. Bleah. I didn’t really know much about him other than that he was a judge on some Idol show or other… wondered how he landed a talk show… and then he interviewed Condi Rice. There is SO much of SUCH significance one would ask her in an interview… I mean, dang, here’s this woman who was a Stanford professor, a National Security Advisor, a Secretary of State, and held top leadership positions in a controversial administration at a controversial time…. and Morgan bypasses all of that to ask – no, to positively interrogate her on: why she isn’t married.

  3. avatar Wiley Canuck says:

    Liz you could not have said it more succinctly than that about Piers Morgan. Can’t stand the man. And yes, you’re absolutely right – it does look like he’s smelling something offputting. I saw the Jane Fonda interview and she looked like she was just barely tolerating the situation. Did not look happy at all. I find his voice very irritating – so high pitched. For that reason, and the fact that he’s not a good interviewer, I don’t watch the show anymore. Once again, thank you for describing him so well.

  4. avatar O E says:

    So right on Piers Morgan, Liz. His Brit arrogance is transparent no matter how interested he appears on the subject of the interview. I’m so glad Howard Stern is replacing him as judge in “American Got Talent”. Who needs imports to judge talent here, anyway? I suppose the network has to bring imports into these shows because the shows themselves are clones from shows in England and maybe even owned by British networks and franchised to the U.S. “…Talent” already has Sharon Osborne as a judge, so that should suffice as the token Brit, with the benefit that she’s not abrasive on the viewer as Morgan is. I, too, quit watching his CNN show after a couple of viewings when it started and I’m surprised it is still on. Whatever happened with his connection with the News of the World that had him entangled with the phone hacking in England? I understand he edited that rag at sometime.

    About the Taylor auction, the only thing that molifies the obscene amounts of the bids (when millions of people in the middle class and the poor are suffering) is that at least some of the proceeds go toward Taylor’s humanitarian causes.

  5. avatar Aline says:

    I’ve watched Piers Morgan’s show on CNN a few times. When he interviews female celebrities, he always has to steer the conversation to a sexual direction and tries to flirt with the guest. It is rather unprofessional and disgusting to watch. What in the world were they thinking when they hired him to take over Larry King’s place?!??

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