Liz Smith: Maria Bello Will Be America’s Prime Suspect — Not That We Could Ever Forget Helen Mirren

Actress Maria Bello

And more from our Gossip Girl: The bravery and heartbreak of “Becoming Chaz”… the royal honeymooners’ escape!

“I DON’T want to be knocked over by a car and have my obituary only talk about ‘Prime Suspect.’”

That was Helen Mirren back when her sizzling BBC police drama was first taking off. She’d yet to play Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth II, not to forget her great turn in “The Madness of King George,” as Queen Charlotte. She was famous in Britain and well known to discerning American theater-goers, but she had yet to ripen fully.

Now, of course, she is Dame Helen Mirren, and her mere presence in a movie assures the audience of at least that pleasure.

But “Prime Suspect” is coming back. No, no … Helen is finally done with detective Jane Tennison! But there’s an American version of the series in the works, from NBC, and Maria Bello will tackle the role of Tennison. (“ER” fans know Bello as Dr. Anna del Amico.)

The remake won’t be totally Americanized. Toby Stevens, the son of the great Maggie Smith, will play Jane Tennison’s “guy at home.” Tom Wilkinson did this role opposite Mirren in the Brit version.

As for Helen herself, I haven’t quite recovered from the fun of her as a madam in “Love Ranch.” Or a gun-toting gangstress in “Red.” And if she didn’t erase the original memory of Sir John Gielgud as caretaker to the dipsomaniacal millionaire in the recent remake of “Arthur,” she did manage to make Russell Brand seem almost palatable.

* * *

WELL, IT was fascinating to watch “Becoming Chaz” the other night, with a special interview and question and answer session with Rosie O’Donnell after the movie aired on Oprah’s OWN Network. (I guess this is a kind of dry run for Rosie’s new talk show, which will come to Own later this year. Rosie was tapped by Oprah after Ms. Winfrey herself opined that Rosie has always been her nemesis competitor and “the only one I was ever worried might best me!”)

But back to Chaz: the tale of Chastity Bono, daughter of Sonny and Cher. Transitioning to manhood is a powerful testament to Chaz’s determination. Chaz felt he had to put this need first, above society’s attitudes, public comment, his family. He is one hell of a brave guy. But there’s heartbreak as well. Chaz’s beautiful and intelligent girlfriend, Jen, who fell in love with Chasity the lesbian, now has to cope with Chaz the guy, and all his male energy, testosterone and perhaps some masculine insensitivity — “that great, open smile is gone, some of the things I fell in love with, are gone, or changed so much. The male aspect is now sometimes difficult to adjust to,” said Jen, who has struggled with a drinking problem.  Indeed, she announced to Chaz, “I can’t do this sober!” when Chaz began the transition, which included removal of his breasts.

And Cher? She is honest. She had a hard time with a gay daughter and is still struggling with a second son. (Her other boy is Elijah, born from her brief marriage to Greg Allman.)  You can see Cher’s pain when faced with Chaz’s insistence that he doesn’t recall much of his childhood, that he was never happy. Cher’s mother, her sister, Chaz’s stepmother, Mary Bono, and his half-brother and half-sister from Bono’s marriage to Mary, are much less conflicted than Cher. “We’re Bonos!” they all say, explaining their relaxed attitudes.

It was especially heartbreaking to hear Cher tell of calling Chaz’s phone and listening to a recorded message. She realized it was the last time she would hear Chastity’s voice (testosterone injections have deepened Chaz’s vocal tone.)  “Can’t I save that? Can’t I keep it?” she asked. (Cher admits that Sonny handled Chasity’s coming out as a lesbian better than she did, and probably would have handled this transition with similar aplomb.)

But, Chaz has charted his course and he seems pretty sure that in time his mother will be totally accepting.

Oh, and as for Rosie O’Donnell, she was very good interviewing Chaz and Jen, and it was bracing to see her on TV again. She seemed super-relaxed, looked well and eager to be back, connecting again with a live audience.

* * *

INSIDERS thought the brand new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) would probably select the isle of Mustique in the Caribbean for their honeymoon. (Mustique is a favorite for Britons, having been put on the map by the late Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister.)

But these young royals fooled them all and selected a  $6000-a-night private island in the Seychelles where each villa has its own chef and butler. (The Seychelles are islands with white beaches in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Gamblers who selected the Seychelles as a honeymoon destination over Mustique and Necker islands, or Lizard Island off Australia, had the Ladbroke  people paying 33 to 1 odds.)

The 155 islands of the Seychelles were under British control for more than 160 years before becoming independent and joining the Commonwealth in 1976. These islands have had many mysteries fomented upon them. There is said to be almost 200 million dollars buried somewhere there by the 18th century French pirate Oliver Levasseur. And some gullible Frenchies still believe that the Dauphin, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fled the guillotine by running off to the Seychelles.

The late James Bond creator Ian Fleming stayed in the Seychelles while writing “For Your Eyes Only.” Prince William had been in the Seychelles before, dubbing the islands “the best holiday I had ever had!”


22 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    What can be said about Dame Helen Mirren? Now, her body of work has included meatier roles since the “Prime Suspect” so I can hope that she can relax regarding her obituary. There will be more to print. Frankly, her role as Queen Elizabeth II put her on the map and I am sure she will remain there. And now “Prime Suspect”, a cross between a series and a mini-series, is coming to the USA. How unique. ANOTHER crime drama, thank God, because we have so few to chose from now. I sincerely hope that the Royal Newlyweds have a grand time on the Seychelles. It sounds like a bit of paradise away from the overcrowded and impoverished coast of Africa, a few thousand miles from similar circumstances in India. Most people only get one real honeymoon so going ‘all out’ is the time to do it. Chaz: Rosie is probably the best television host to interview Chaz. She has the rough sensitivity to ‘get’ Chaz, seeing him as a person instead of a hybrid of nature. How Chaz handles his sexual relationships are really only his business, as I am sure that this is confusing to him…as well. But if Jen (his significant other) is turning to alcohol to tolerate Chaz, then a red flag goes up because nothing good can come from that. There are those out there who will love Chaz for who he is. It is just a matter of time in finding them. But, as Liz said, this reassignment sexual surgery was on the top on his priority list, and that shows the strength that has gotten him over the rough patches, thus far. Nothing or no one has stopped him. Now, it seems that neither of Cher’s children have had an ideal childhood…so this must produce some motherly guilt. But, “If I could tape just one last phone message as Chastity, before her becoming Chaz” bull is pathetic. She knows that she can memorialize anything she wants. There weren’t home movies of Chastity/Chaz growing up with Sonny and Cher as parents? The Bono’s (Sonny’s side of the family) have no problem accepting Chaz, sending another message that Cher doesn’t. Well, she can’t turn back time and are we really looking forward to a 70 year old Cher still torn with the gender of 45 year old Chaz? By nature, Cher doesn’t seem to like the concept of change. Hasn’t she made 5 comebacks and has been playing Vegas since 1947? The longer she doesn’t come to terms with Chaz being Chaz, the harder (not easier) it gets. I know, I know, I know that she’s the mother and it would tear the heart out of any mother but, after all of these years, it is time she puts her own heart on a shelf and be there for her very adult child.

    • avatar Paul Smith says:

      Richard, this boring woman is boring as a man.  Without Cher’s clout the whole topic would be duller still.  Particularly strange is the lack of genuine happiness she exudes. 

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I think what bothers me is what probably bothers Cher and that is Jen who fell in love with another woman and then found herself living with a man.  Which would be similar to a wife finding herself living with another woman after her husband became a woman. It just doesn’t work. Reality seems to have gotten blurred by what seems to be some very unrealisitc expectations – I suspect Chaz is going to need some long-term psychological counseling which perhaps should have been pursued more fully prior to the transition from Chastity to Chaz.

    I don’t think Cher is unaccepting. Merely concerned. And apparently with good reason.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Baby…I have to agree.  I thought Jen was pretty cool and supportive.  I thought Chaz came off kind of like an asshole. Certainly to Jen.  Men!

      As for Cher, I know for a fact that she is a lovely person–genuine despite her choice in blurring the realities of her own physical self.    I’m with Liz Smith here–I thought the answering machine story was heartbreaking, and how hard for any parent to be told, “I was never happy. I was pretending.  Just forget all those photos and memories.”  More than gender change, I’d venture Cher is more distressed by what seems like an indictment by her child.   She has always admitted mothering while “being Cher” was not easy.  

      And frankly, for all her outward flash, Cher is not very worldly. 

  3. avatar rick gould says:

    Acceptance is sometimes gradual, not like a Lifetime movie where everyone’s hugging at the end of two hours.

    Comments in other stories about Chaz’ journey have often been ugly. And not surprisingly, Cher is getting a lot of raps on the knuckles for not being a good mother.
    Chaz says he’s happier than he’s ever been and Chaz says Cher is coming along.

    Why not give them the benefit of the doubt?

  4. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    ONCE more I’ll say that this has nothing to do with Cher right now. Heartbreaking message and all. It wasn’t Cher’s fault. She did the best that she could and these are the decisions that her adult children made. Her mothering skills had nothing to do with gender changing. There may be other issues…but that it not one of them. Cher may not agree or be slowly accepting it but it is not her life to live. I think that Jen would have known throughout her relationship that Chastity wanted to become a man and chose a relationship with her anyway. In fact, that fact could have provided a part of the attraction. It usually does in these cases. And the same is true with men to women. One day one does not wake up and decide to change their gender. And it is usually discussed with a partner. Per Liz Smith, Jen is now an alcoholic so she has her own set of issues to deal with. Chaz never claimed to be Mr. Marvelous when she changed gender. If one thinks that he is boring, so be it. Chaz isn’t a stand-up comic. He is talking about his life…and being truthful to Cher. And Paul, I truly believe: “Chaz says he’s happier than he’s ever been and Chaz says Cher is coming along”. Benefit of the doubt? How about just believing them.

  5. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Richard…but apparently Cher does feel her mothering skills are somehow at fault.  Clearly she is not, despite outward appearances, all that different from parents in the pokey mid-west, who would react with similiar ambivalence.   And as Cher herself has always been defined publicly by her sexual image, it has to raise even more turmoil than it would for that plain, unknown mom somewhere in Don’t Change Your Gender, USA. 

    As for Jen, sleeping with, falling in love with, a big butch dyke is not the same thing as sleeping with, being in love  with a person who defines themselves as male.   A person who wants to become male.  I don’t think I recall Jen blaming Chaz for her drinking–apparently this has been an ongoing problem.  But she did admit the process of transition was an excuse to abuse again. 
    I don’t think Chaz is boring, just kind of a…prick.  Right now, anyway. (maybe let’s lessen up on that testosterone!)  I met Chaz as Chastity about ten years ago. I wouldn’t have predicted this, but she was not a happy person. And the subject of her mother was not welcomed. 

    But breasts, hormones, wardrobe, whatever…Chaz needs to drop a few pounds unless he wants to die of a big manly heart attack. 

    I wonder how often Cher has had that unsatisfactory conversation with her child? 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I think he is merely “transferring” the “frustration” to his mother. He had unrealistic expectations. And is finding that changing his gender does not create instant happiness. So he has begun to blame others for it.  His mother in particular. “If I had had a perfect mother.”  No one understands what causes the problem of gender identification apart from the rare cases of hermaphroditism.  But most who have studied it agree it has nothing to do with the parents or the “familial identification” in terms of gender role models.

      Cher is a tough cookie. In the end, she will be there for Chaz. The way she was there for Chastity. Despite the appearances that she was not. In time Chaz will learn that there is more to a man than his penis. Which will put him ahead of most men.  The fact the Jen is still there, by the way, indicates that she fell in love with the person. Not the genitalia.

      A strange new world for all of us who have never known it.  Perhaps in the end a little less strange because of Chaz Bono.

  6. avatar Rho says:

    Why is Chaz on all TV shows now??  I feel so bad for Cher.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rho…now, let’s be fair.  I’m sure at one time Chaz thought—“why is mom on all TV shows?”  (Along with, “why is mom’s face changing so much?!  Is it really mom?! Wasn’t this a movie with Kevin McCarthy and pods?”)

      Chaz has a perfect right to tell his tale.   It is a story that is still in the works.  Well, that’s life.  We are never really done until…we’re done!

      So, I have a feeling we’ll have another documentary down the road.  Maybe by that time Cher will be in a better frame of mind about Chaz.  And herself. 

    • avatar Richard Bassett says:

      I know, Rho. She’s a freak, I don’t know how Cher deals with this atrocity.

      • avatar Rho says:

        She still has the same girlfriend.  Why couldn’t she stay that way.  I still cry for Cher, I have always been a fan of hers.

        • avatar Maggie W says:

          I am with you, Rho.   No one has ever rocked a gown like Cher.   She held her own while in the spotlight of the Hollywood valley of “stars.”    Unlike Madonna and Brittany and pathetic loser Lindsay, she actually can sing and act.    She was terrific in Mask.   

          Does she have her “crash and burn ” moments?  Probably.  Most probably more than anyone realizes.  Who really knows how she feels as a mother? Why all this fuss about her daughter-turned-son who has nothing remarkable going for him regardless of gender?  He is totally unremarkable . He is boring.  Who the hell cares about him or some person named Jen?

           Is Cher at fault for his ongoing miserable existence?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Cher made her own way… with plenty of criticism along the way.  Bagel Boy… her business, screw the Hollywood busy bodies who would have no life whatsoever if there was no Tinsel Town to drool over.   That is why I love her.   Same reason I am tuned to Lady Gaga.

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            I personally think that Chaz should be given no rights whatsoever to appear on television and talk about his boring story when there are so many other more interesting stories to read about. His life is meaningless. Stupid operation that no one needs to know about. A freak of nature. You are SO right, Maggie. Why he even lives with his miserable existence is a mystery to me. He has NOTHING going for him and this Jen.The drug addict/acoloholic. Again, who cares? Geez, they will print anything on Hollywood. Now CHER, is wonderful….and it is so hard to believe that she is close to 70. She still is fabulous. I still remember her in her video where she wore so little (or nothing at all) in “If I could Turn Back Time” in front of all those soilders. Now THAT takes talent. I think she was 55 even then! And who cares if her boyfriends are of barely legal age. It is her business. She still shines and does not let this foolishness with her children drag her down. And Lady GaGa…don’t EVEN get me started, Rho and Maggie. A Queen was born who’ll pick up right where Cher leaves off when she retires. Oh wait, she’s said that she’s been retiring for twenty years now. There is her Vegas farewell tour…but yet she still remains. I hope that she can keep it up until she is 80, then I’ll be happy.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Elsewhere you have questioned my being “judgemental” about people in Hollywood and here you are being judgemental about someone yourself.  Calling someone a freak of nature?  Chastity Bono for whatever reason obviously never felt comfortable as a girl or as a woman. And decided to change her gender and become Chaz Bono. As have thousands of others in this country. The discrimination by society in general is enormous. And it is made worse by the discriminstion by the gay and lesbian community which fought inclusion of transgendered individuals in proposed federal legislation.  No doubt you were among them.

            Chaz may not be your cup of tea but you know what? He’s not driving around the streets of Los Angeles stoned or drunk endangering people. He’s not in and out of courtrooms for various charges including assault and theft. He’s not abusive towards others either verbally or physically. And so in my book he is way better than this trash you keep saying we have to play “Poor Baby” with.  He is a human being. And his life is not meaningless. Despite your declaring that it is.

            I don’t think Cher is unaccepting. She is merely being a parent. And having to deal with more than just a child who declared she was a lesbian and then declared she was not happy as a woman and changed her gender.  Like most celebrity parents, Chaz should have kept the “family dysfunction” within the confines of a psychiatrist’s office. Between herself and her mother.  She has made any resolution that much harder for herself and for her mother.

            Cher’s real concern probably is the same as mine. That there were unrealiistic expectations with regard to the transition.  Which raises the question of the psychiatrist who approved the transitiion. While they have gotten better with the “new genitalia” with the male-to-female patients there isn’t much they can do with the “new genitalia” of the female-to-male patients. And some have unrealistic expectations and so in the end have new psychological problems to deal with that should have been dealt with prior to the transition. 

            Sadly they were not. Which has merely added to the problems. And added to Cher’s concern. At least she doesn’t have to deal with a child wallowing around in the sewers of Hollywood. So she did something right.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            And even I, as libertine as I am, still slip and think of Chaz as Chastity and refer to him as her.  He is no longer her.  Some call it “gender bendering” but the problem is ours. Not theirs. Takes time. I’ll get there. Cher will get there. Chaz is already there.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:


        A freak? Well, count me in among the damned because a great many people in these good old United States of America consider garden variety homosexuals  to be “freaks” with no right to live and prosper or tell their story. 

        And somebody like me–a homo with AIDS?  I’m not just a freak, but a fatal freak. 

        Your words are distressing.  As for Cher–how does she deal with the atrocity of her own face?  (I love her, but really) 

        • avatar Richard Bassett says:

          Mr Wow. Internet communication is so vague. I was being very sacrastic as to the judgements between Rho and Maggie. about crying for Cher at Chaz’s desicions and stating he was totally uninteresting, boring, and who the hell cared about him and Jen…’Why couldn’t she stay that way?’ I was reflecting words to that interchange. My comment is at the top of this post. Wow, I guess even my sarcasm carry’s weight. How can you POSSIBLY think that those were my views? I should have kept quiet but it’s good to know that I am able to debate both opinions. The same for you Baby, this is what ‘judgement’ sound like. I work with transgenders and anyone who is ‘against’ them, I have no tolerance for…even if it is an opinion opposite from my own. I have learned to be the voice of the voiceless in many matters. You ,both, should have been much more angry at my words than you were.

  7. avatar rick gould says:

    I don’t understand why people seem to want to make either Chaz OR Cher the “bad guy.”

    I realize they’re both public figures, but they are also people. Trying to figure it out as individuals and toward each other. I don’t get the judgments and name calling about either… How does this help?

  8. avatar Carole Del Monte says:

    This is a sad, bizarre story.  I keep thinking, what if Chaz eventually changes his mind about the transition?  He seemed more destined for a comfortable life as Chastity.  I would not be surprised if Jen decides she has to leave him.