Liz Smith: Remembering Susannah York

Chicago Sun-Times

And more from our Gossip Girl: farewell to Regis, good riddance to Joe Lieberman!  Also, PAL’s big night in New York City

“WOULD YOU rather change in there?  You don’t want everybody to know you’re a size twelve.”

That was the divine Susannah York, sticking it to Elizabeth Taylor in the randy 1972 marital drama, “X Y and Zee.” Taylor replied, of course: “Why not? I’m proud of it!” (York was playing a dressmaker on the make for Taylor’s hubby, Michael Caine. La Liz had stopped in to scope out the competition. Eventually, Taylor and York end up in bed together. Well, it was the 70’s!)

I was shocked last week to learn of Miss York’s death at the far too young age of 72. I don’t think most people were even aware that this icon of 1960’s film was ill.

Miss York — along with Julie Christie — became a symbol of the changing tide in cinema, the beautiful, blonde, British “It Girl.” She is best remembered for her roles in “Tom Jones,” “Kaleidoscope,” “A Man for All Seasons.” “Battle of Britain,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” and perhaps most infamously, as the manipulative, childlike lover of Coral Brown in “The Killing of Sister George.” (The love scene between Brown and York was considered one of the most shocking episodes put on film up to that time. Today it wouldn’t turn a hair — especially if you’ve seen something like “Black Swan.” But it 1968, audiences were stunned.)

And of course, to newer generations she was “Superman’s mother” in several of those movies. But she worked continuously — in films, on TV and on the stage — and she never lost that particular quality of wry elegance mixed with vulnerability. Nor did she lose her beauty. (She gave an especially lovely performance in the splendid 1984 TV version of “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott.) Her final professional appearance was last August in Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet” at the Oxford Playhouse

Personally, Miss York was one of those rare creatures of whom one never heard a disparaging word. Her friends and family have lost a lovely person. We have lost a fabulous actress.

* * *

LOOKING over the news. It was such a relief that suddenly, Jennifer Aniston’s hairstyle came back on front pages with a vengeance. She now says she hated “The Rachel look” that predominated during the TV episodes of “Friends.” Hmmm, well, hairstyles of the rich and famous have always made news. The late Farrah Fawcett’s hair was much bigger and made bigger news during the “Charlie’s Angels” era.

Katie Couric used to respond to critics of whatever she was doing on TV, by saying, “Yes, it’s always and forever about my hair!”

* * *

My own amazement continues over the Tuscon, Arizona guy who has been seen as a spectator/commentator in that recent tragic story of mass shootings. Mr. Whoever-He-Was staggered TV audiences with his extreme purple-dyed hair over a scruffy beard, and I didn’t see a single news person who talked to him mention how outré he looked. This is progress for America in the genre of accepting other people’s peculiarities.

* * *

ONE HAIL and two farewells department. This week, a duet of famous souls announced their retirements.

The one I will really hate to see depart is the ever-funny and adorably gracious Regis Philbin, my old friend for ages. Regis and I had the pleasure many years ago of being on a jaunt to France together, and at that time we surveyed the Bayeux Tapestries, courtesy of our host, the late Malcolm Forbes. It was actually an intellectual and cultural high, being in the company of Regis, and I will miss him when he leaves ABC.

That’s the “hail!” part. The “farewell” comes with the departure of faux Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the man who endorsed John McCain for President. What a jerk! Connecticut, one of my favorite states, will be much better off without Lieberman to confuse intentions in the Senate.

But we aren’t done yet. He’ll stick around for two more years, bragging on himself and being a pain in the you-know-what for everybody with any sense.

Goodbye and good riddance.

* * *

THE POLICE Athletic League, informally called PAL, is one of my favorite New York charities, arranging salvation for thousands of kids who have nowhere to go and nothing to do after school. So it is no small thing that on January 27th at Cipriani on 42nd Street, John McEnroe himself will emcee a dinner honoring the general manager of the New York Mets — Sandy Alderson — as well as Mets manager Terry Collins.

This event has names galore, top cops, district attorneys and big moneymen of the City. Call 212-477-9450, ext 310 for ticket info.

19 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    Yes! The subtle scene where York, as Mrs. Cratchit, tells the children, after the loss of Tiny Tim, tells the children that they must be brave for their father…bring out the hankies!
    She was in so many great movies of the 60s and early 70s. Lovely, classy lady.
    I just watched some clips of “Sister George,” where she gets snatched away from actress/lover Beryl Reid by feral Coral Browne. Creepy!
    And X, Y and Zee is highly underrated, with York as the lovely bird getting caught in the crossfire of mod couple fiery Liz and sleazy Caine. I might watch it again!

  2. avatar rdorr says:

    Good goshamighty, Liz!  Such vitriol!  First Sarah Palin and now Joe Lieberman.  I would think that after the shootings in Tucson, an intelligent woman like yourself could be more gracious towards people she disagrees with.  You hostility and hatred are damaging to our society.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I thought she was very gracious compared to how others describe him and I suspect he is retiring simply because he knows the voters of Connecticut aren’t going to make that same mistake twice.  

    • avatar Jay Gentile says:

      What damages our society is the elevation of demogogues like Palin and Lieberman who position themselves as somehow above the rest of us little people and the people who support their divisive agendas. From my perspective, Ms. Smith showed remarkable restraint in her descriptions of a common grifter like Palin and a true coward like Lieberman.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Ah, the rhetoric of the Right. Express your distaste for the ideology, actions, and proselytizing of one of their eidolons…and you are immediately accused of hatred and vitriol, no matter how relatively mild your statement might be. I do not think referring to Joe Lieberman as a “jerk” or a “pain in the-you-know-what” can be equated with hatred…and the statement would hardly singe the tender skin of a sow’s underbelly.
      But, golly gosh, you know the Right. They love everybody. And you’re next…

  3. avatar Harriet Shoebridge says:

    Julie Christie did a movie up here, Great White North, entitled Away From Her, 2006, along with Canadian actors Sarah Poley and Gordon Pinsent.  She played a wife slowly slipping into Alzheimer’s, graceful and beautiful woman in this fine and tender film.  If you get a chance, Ms.Smith, try and see it. 

  4. avatar Lizzie R. says:

    I was totally amazed by that guy with the purple hair being interviewed. There are a million people living here and I have never seen one with purple hair until him.  Where did he come from? We’re getting quite a reputation. It’s really a wonderful city…I love it in spite of he recent negatives.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      He was just a reminder of how much Tucson is like everywhere else. And it is.  Despite my feelings over the “memorial” it was nonetheless a reminder of how communities, no matter how large or small, do tend to come together in tragedy in this country. All are suddenly part of the one. Including the all with purple hair!  It’s a shame that we can’t remain together. Maybe some day we will.  And today the media circus comes to Houston!

      I think in a strange way Gabrielle Giffords will determine where we go from here. She is her own voice in Congress. And has been part of so many of the raging debates. Now a victim.  It will be interesting to see how it has affected her positions. 

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      We’re everywhere now. Sigh.
      Now I’ll have to go cobalt…

  5. avatar Bonnie O says:

    Dear Liz –  Of course, you can send off Senator Lieberman with your not-so-fond sayonara but he was clearly a senator who was pushed forward by the Dems as their example of a “moderate” who could and would negotiate with the Right.  But when Lieberman truly reached out to achieve bi-partisanship on the issues of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Dems clearly gave him a push out of the inner circle and put forth another nominee to garner the next senatorial nomination.  However, Joe did not go gently into the political night, he won as an Independent.

    Many in the country are now more in tune with Senator Libermann than either the Dems or the GOP.  The Independent voter is on the rise and making a difference, along with a lot of noise, in our current political climate.   I think that is a good thing.  As for Joe, I think he was as disappointed in his fellow Dems as some of them have been of him.

  6. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Sussanah York was so wonderful in so many movies.  I will also remember her as Superman’s (the late precious Christopher Reeve) mother in the first 2 Superman movies.  Marlon Brando played his father.  Yes, it was camp, but she was so beautiful.  As James Taylor sings, “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”.  It is so true except we keep losing such lovely people.

  7. avatar Maggie W says:

    Joe Lieberman, don’t let the door hit you.  Joe pushed for repeal of DADT and also, as chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee, Joe energetically pushed the Patriot Act . Everything Joe was involved in was either totally self serving or he was involved in other repressive legislation this country would like to forget. He still insists WMDs were the right reason for invading Iraq. His clarity of thinking is not far removed from Strom Thrurmond in recent years. 

    I liked Mr. Purple Hair. He was confident and well versed in his remarks ,and those remarks added somewhat to audience understanding of the madman we now know as Jared Loughner…. in other photographs, a relaxed and smiling and clean cut Jared looked “normal” .  

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      Are you saying that pushing for the repeal of DADT was a BAD thing?

      • avatar Maggie W says:

        It was about motive.  He championed something that clearly was going to happen. Even so, with 31% approval in Connecticut, the writing was on the wall.  He might have taken the right side (in my opinion) on that issue, but it was for political favor. That has always been his story and now his legacy. Perhaps Israel might secede from the Union now.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Count… You think he was sincere?  I’d rather the thousands and thousands of young Americans he helped kill in Iraq—not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who died–were still live.  He’s a terrible person, “sweetheart”—to use his own condescending term when talking to Arianna Huffington the other day–about “weapons of mass destruction.” 

        He, and Rove and Cheney and George W. and Judith Miller—they are the real weapons of mass destruction.  True killers.

        I’m with Liz–good riddance to vile rubbish.

        • avatar Sharon Belko says:

          AMEN and so very well said Mr. Wow!!! Could NOT agree more!

        • avatar Bonnie O says:

          Mr. Wow –

          Instead of political rhetoric trending towards more respectful phrases of disagreement, we are at the point of calling those in the opposing party “killers”.   For shame, Mr. Wow.  After the last couple of weeks, I see little chance that our political representatives dare step away from the extreme views of their party and seek compromise with their opponents because if they do, they are sure to be politically assassinated by remarks such as yours.   The same can be said of some on the Right.

          At some point, we Americans are going to have to seek political compromises with each other.  And calling other Americans “killers” just moves that time further away.   Too bad.

          By the way, when I was in Berkeley in the 60’s and 70’s, I heard enough young Americans call other Americans “killers” to last me a lifetime.  It sickened me then;  it sickens me now.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            By the way, when I was in Berkeley in the 60′s and 70′s, I heard enough young Americans call other Americans “killers” to last me a lifetime.  It sickened me then;  it sickens me now.

            Then as now we were engaged in a war that was being fought against an enemy that simply didn’t exist. 

            We were told we were fighting communism.  And as we were killing communists in Vietnam, George HW Bush was off making deals with communists in China.  Something wrong with the picture. Then. And now.  Then and now it was about oil.

            We were told it was about democracy. Then and now. It was about oil and oligarchy. Then and now.  Then it was reserves in the South China Sea that turned out to not be as large as expected. Now it is reserves in Iraq.   And  Afghanistan.  And lots of minerals in Afghanistan as well.  And pipeline to bypass the Persian Gulf.

            Millions of lives for billions of barrels.  That has been our real foreign policy for decades.  Put in place that day in Dallas.

            Then we had men who had no choice but to become natural born killers in a war in which we were the aggressors. Now we have men and women who volunteer to become natural born killers in a war in which we are the aggressors. That is what sickens me.

            Aggressors never prevail in war.  Which is why we didn’t preavial then. And why we will not prevail now. 

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Bonnie…I’m sorry.  That was inflamatory.  But…I can’t disagree with myself.  There was no reason to go to war in Iraq.  It was a false war, based on lies.  If “we” were so concerned about Saddam Hussein, “we” should just have had him (and maybe his crazy sons) assassinated, and allowed the county to go on its un-merry way.

            As for Afghanistan–please, a lost cause.  Our boys are dying every day.  For what?   If this wasn’t a volunteer army, we’d be out–later this afternoon!

            Also–I didn’t call our brave soldiers “killers”–I reserve that for the old men and women, safe at home, who put them where they are.