Liz Smith: Lunching New York Style with Nora Ephron and David Geffen

courtesy Forbes

And more from our Gossip Girl: Julia Roberts, a perfectly evil queen … remembering the Hollywood witch hunt

“THE professionals gave us the Titanic; the amateurs gave us the Ark!” So said Kinky Friedman.

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The regulars in Swifty’s dashing little restaurant up on Lexington Avenue at 72nd Street didn’t know that the unassuming guy in their midst last Wednesday was one of the world’s most dynamic billionaires.

Hollywood titan David Geffen was in town briefly to inspect a painting he was considering buying. He lunched with his longtime friend, the best-selling writer and movie director Nora Ephron. She had the curried chicken and he chose Swifty’s meatloaf.

David was fresh from the news and business furor surrounding the sale of his good pal, Arianna Huffington’s HuffPo political writing site to AOL for $315 million. When I suggested David might have been the brains behind the entire deal, he laughed and said, “I had nothing to do with it.” He is, however, a known advisor to Arianna and said he was delighted with events because it is an absolutely “great sweetheart deal and she deserves it. She is a true innovator.”

Mr. Geffen, who helped invent the modern music business, is an acute advisor on all matters relating to entertainment, politics and culture. He is one of the most respected minds in international finance and very much above the fray because he made his money the old-fashioned way; earning it before everybody else began striving to at least be millionaires. And to me, he doesn’t look a day older than when I first met him back in the heyday of Cher. (David’s advice and friendship did a lot for Cher’s career after her Sonny and Cher days were over.)

As David dropped himself off after lunch at the Sherry Netherland to inspect his new painting, Nora was on her way to lecturing in Texas. Her most recent book “I Remember Nothing” is on its way to matching up and surpassing her hit, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”

To my way of thinking, the current hit tome, while very witty and funny, is a trenchant look at the prospects of getting older – and wiser!

This was quite a lunch we three enjoyed and we also had the pleasure at Swifty’s of running into the great talent Barbara Carroll, who is just about the world’s most brilliant jazz and pop music woman on piano. You can still catch Barbara with Sunday brunch at The Algonquin these weekends. She hasn’t changed one bit since she began her career with all the greats from Peggy Lee to Tony Bennett.

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THE GUYS who are producing the movie “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,” say that their “first and only choice” to play the famous tale’s Evil Queen was … Julia Roberts! Well, even though Julia has played against type fairly often, I don’t quite recall her as an out-and-out villain. Except for an episode of “Law & Order,” which she did back when she and Benjamin Brat were a hot item. She was an unredeemable bitch in that. And she was very good at it.

So I think her Evil Queen will be a knockout. Still, she is going up against Charlize Theron, who will also play the malicious fairy-tale monarch in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” And we all know Charlize can be bad to the bone — remember her Oscar-winning “Monster?”

For the title role of innocent Miss White, rumors swirl around both productions, but nobody’s bitten into the apple officially.

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THE NEW issue of the Hollywood Reporter with Mark Wahlberg on the cover has one of its terrific short tales of show biz on its “80 Years of Hollywood Reporter” last page.

This one tells the incredible story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had flirted with Communism early in life, as many young idealists did. But after renouncing the dictums of Karl Marx, Dalton refused to name names before the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He wouldn’t snitch on others who had similarly mused on the Communist way of life. Trumbo spent 10 months in federal prison and was blacklisted — he could only work under assumed names. And sometimes he worked in such unworthy fare as B-level teen thrillers. But he also wrote Oscar-winning scripts for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.” It took Kirk Douglas to openly credit Trumbo for writing “Spartacus” in 1960. (Hedda Hopper almost had a stroke!)

What a horrifying episode in American history—other careers were totally ruined– and it should give all struggling screenwriters pause. You might be having a hard time, but consider Mr. Trumbo. He had to use the name Sally Stubblefield at one point!

11 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    You are too kind, since there’s a very good reason why David Geffen doesn’t look a day older than when he was cough, cough, “friends” with Cher.  It’s the same reason Cher doesn’t look a day older from her Sonny and Cher days!
    That said, more power to him, as if he needs any…
    It must be Read Between the Lines Day 😉

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Some believe if you’re going to date someone half your age, you should look half your age.

      And some should consider adoption as a marriage option. So to speak.

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    We tend to think of the “blacklisting” as a thing of the past but it is very much a thing of the present. Rearing its ugly little head from time to time in Washington. The latest incarnation was the “either you’re with us or against us” maxim of George W Bush which divided the country into patriots and traitors. The patriots of course were silenced along with the traitors.

    It’s a shame that Hedda Hooper didn’t have a moment of sanity with regard to her defense of Lucille Ball. While saying that everyone was mistaken about Lucille Ball she never stopped to think that everyone was wrong about everyone else as well. Everyone including herself.

    Not the best of times for any of us. Certainly not the best of times for Hedda Hopper. Or for Ronald Reagan which few people remember. He was part of the “Get the Commies” crowd in Hollywood. Some would say, as they would say about the others, that he named names simply because he saw personal advantage in destroying other people’s lives. Nancy Reagan, by the way, also named names. And as far as I know, neither felt any remorse over having done so.

  3. avatar Richard Bassett says:

     I wish that they would have gone into more depth in “The Way we Were” as the Commie witch hunt eventually pulled Redford and Streisand apart. Hubble had to leave Katie, with her Communist views and associates, to save his own career. That part of the film is, more or less, glossed over. I was only 16 when the film was released and, in all innocence, always asked, “Now, why exactly did they break up?”
      Lucille Ball just claimed ignorance when her name popped up on the communist list. Her grandfather was associated with communism, and Lucille followed his advice and checked, the “Communist” box as her party of choice when registering to vote. It didn’t come back to haunt her until years later. She was filming the beginning of the third season on “I Love Lucy” in the fall of 1953, when that news was released and before the show (The one with Madam X being a local thief, and Lucy and Ethel believe it is each other) Desi told the audience that there was nothing valid about the communist headlines. He felt that he had to do that to keep Lucy safe (and calm) during the show. As for David Geffen, did he come out before or after his alleged romance with Cher? I cannot remember.

  4. avatar rick gould says:

    A lot of folks made political hay during the “Red Scare.” Along with Reagan, Richard Nixon famously smeared his political opponent, Helen Douglas (Melvyn’s wife). And most famously Roy Cohn and McCarthy.
    Richard B., in Arthur Laurents’ excellent first autobio, he laments that his original screenplay for The Way We Were lost a lot of its political bite due to cuts during filming. Even in the early ’70s the Red Scare still rattled folks, particularly Hollywood’s old guard. And Laurents hints that the studio demanded the cuts to make Redford’s character more sympathetic and play up the romance. Which may explain why the movie’s editing is so choppy.
    And according to Geffen’s bio and interviews, his relationship with Cher was serious and sexual. He also told her of his affairs with men. In “The Operator,” there’s a funny anecdote of when he takes Cher home to meet his formidable Jewish mama. And Cher’s way of reassuring a nervous Geffen is to tell him not to worry, that most mothers drive their kids nuts 😉

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick….the second half of “The Way we Were” falls apart, once Babs and Redford get to Hollywood. (Redeemed by their last tearful scene outside the Plaza)  Nobody wanted to see a movie about Hollywood blacklisting, with these two very attractive people as the stars.

      There’s a nice confrontation between Katie and Hubble toward the end–“Hubble, people are their principals!”  But all that got in the way of the romance.  Not to mention Miss Streisand’s very bad “40’s style” wigs.  Eh, I saw it four times.  I didn’t care much about blacklisting myself, back in 1973.

  5. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Speaking of Dalton Trembo, Mr. Wow, could I trouble you to repeat the comment you made under the Hedda Hopper posting?  The one that revealed what Elizabeth Taylor said to HH at the opening of “The Sandpiper”?  I think it belongs under this posting too.  Your fan – CS

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Count…at the Hollywood premiere of “The Sandpiper” scripted by Mr. Trumbo, Hedda began to loudly condemn him.  Elizabeth turned around in her seat and said, “Shut the fuck up, Hedda.”

      HH died shortly after.  I mean–not that night, but within the year. 

      Miss Taylor did not send flowers.

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Thank you.  I LOVE that story!

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Wonderful story, thanks for sharing it!  You have to hand it to Miss Taylor, a woman of real courage: she was never afraid to speak her mind.  Of course, she and Hedda had long had their differences.