Liz Smith: ‘The Borgias’ Will Slay You


And more from our Gossip Girl: Nathan Gunn will seduce you … the evolution of a miniseries

“I WOULD much prefer to suffer from the clean incision of of an honest lancet than from a sweetened poison,” wrote Mark Twain.

* * *

WELL, Mr. Twain would have had his choice of lancet, saber, stiletto or a dash of belladonna in his wine had he lived in the 13th century, around the time of the Borgia family — Spaniards who immigrated to Italy and forged a powerful and deadly dynasty.

Lucky as I am, I have had the opportunity to view the first two episodes of Showtime’s latest extravaganza, “The Borgias.” We have been waiting for this ever since “The Tudors” came to its inevitable end (luscious Jonathan Rhys Myers as Henry VIII had to age and die, damn it!)

I won’t tell too much of the Borgia plot, mostly because there’s a hell of a lot of plot to tell. Suffice that Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia is hot to become Pope. His children Cesare, Juan and Lucrezia are more or less for it, though his mistress and the mother of those children, Vanossa, is less amenable. (Especially after Rodrigo tells her that now he must remain above fleshly pleasures. Don’t bet the palazzo on that one!)

Rodrigo, feeling the dislike of the Italians because of his Spanish heritage, will bribe, threaten and speed to heaven those who stand in his way of becoming God’s big man on earth.

Jeremy Irons is grand, regal, malevolent, hypocritical, deadly. And he still packs a lot of appeal, even in his ecclesiastic robes. Joanne Whalley is brittle and tempestuous as The Pope’s Lady. Francois Arnaud and David Oakes are sexy in their tights, always ready for a fight, and brooding over who is daddy’s favorite? The answer to that is the delicious Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia. Blonde, nubile and innocent, this is not the Lucrezia of legend, usually thought of as a raven-haired degenerate poisoner. Actually, if you know your history, Lucrezia was much more a victim of her ambitious family, as women of her time and station tended to be. She never quite understood why people had this habit of dropping dead after lunch. Or, if she did understand, she certainly had nothing to do with it! (There was gossip that Rodrigo and Lucrezia were perhaps a bit closer than father and daughter should be. But they also said that about Lucrezia and her brothers. Boy — what those Renaissance busybodies could make out of a friendly hug!)

The production on “The Borgias” is magnificent — lush and lavish. It must have cost a pretty penny to produce the show and sure looks it. (One wonders that the “Mad Men” folks can’t get their act together.) We enjoyed six seasons of “The Tudors” and I can’t see any reason “The Borgias” won’t go on its bloody way in much the same fashion.

* * *

A WORD here on the evolution of the television movie. The good old days of the 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s are gone forever. Network TV is too busy with reality programming and the occasional sitcom to mount expensive, glam TV epics. (Remember “Roots,” “North and South,” “A.D.” “Harem,” to name a few.)

And so the genre has fallen, spectacularly, into the hands of Showtime, HBO and even Starz. “The Borgias” are about to debut for Showtime. HBO currently has its “Mildred Pierce” with Kate Winslet as the deluded mom of all time. And Starz has given us “Pillars of the Earth,” “Spartacus” and the upcoming “Camelot.” Oh, yes, and HBO is readying the medieval fantasy, “Game of Thrones.” Two years ago we had the fabulous mini “John Adams” on HBO.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a great trashy showbiz epic produced by one of these networks. You know, Gwen Davis’ hugely entertaining and popular 1969 novel “The Pretenders” was never made into a movie. More recently, Charles Casillo’s “The Fame Game” is ripe for some cable miniseries treatment, and that one contains a role that Lindsay — no last name, anymore! — was born to play. (As George Sanders said to Marilyn’s Miss Caswell in “All About Eve” — “Your next stop, I think, should be toward television.”)

HBO, Showtime, Starz, Lindsay — everybody think on this!

* * *

BY THE way, there’s a terrific profile on Jeremy Irons in the current New York magazine. Writer Jada Yuan describes him: “At 62, he still possesses a liquid-eyed hotness.” Wait until Jada sees “The Borgias.”

Something else is amusing in New York magazine. Recognizing the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, the mag prints a photo of Taylor with Eddie Fisher in 1959 at Leone’s restaurant in New York. She is in low-cut white, the part of her bosom not exposed is covered in diamonds. She wears white elbow-length gloves, holds a cigarette and Eddie Fisher looks besotted. The caption states “The Libertine.”

Later in the issue, the mag notes that in her last two years, Elizabeth attempted to stay current by going on Twitter. So New York magazine reprints, on one page, in miniscule type, every single one of Elizabeth Taylor’s 131 tweets.

No offense to Miss Taylor’s adventures in Twitter, but I prefer to remember her as she appeared in her photo — The Libertine.

* * *

IT WAS LADIES’ NIGHT for the opening of the super handsome and world-renowned opera singer, Nathan Gunn, making his debut nightclub appearance at the legendary Café Carlyle. Golly, this guy is handsome! And he has a luscious baritone voice, with which he seduced the mainly female audience on opening night. Among the gals present was opera director, Francesca Zambello, who arrived on crutches having broken a bone, and the one and only Broadway diva, Barbara Cook. Nothing will stop the dames from applauding the charming Grammy winner that Nathan is. His wife Julie Jordan Gunn accompanies her hubby on the piano. Julie is passionate about songs and loves to design recitals that include Broadway classics and cabaret favorites. You have until April 16 to enjoy a very warm and sweet evening in one of my favorite nightspots. For more info or 212-744-1600.

* * *

“I HAVE NO REGRETS!” No, that’s not Edith Piaf. It is Yankee baseball star Derek Jeter answering Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. Well, I always thought Edith might have had at least one or two regrets, despite her thrilling song, which insisted otherwise. But here’s to Mr. Jeter, who is regret-free. I would love to know how he manages that!


14 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I had to laugh at “The Libertine” because of late when someone asks if I’m a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent I always reply “I’m a Libertine.” Maybe it’s a Pisces thing.  She used to toss that our there when the question of  her “passion” was raised.  “I’m a Pisces.” Sort of a catch-all for everything. Including being a Libertine I suppose.

    She was Earth Mother. But slso Mother Liberation. As the years went by I suspect she got too liberated. Particularly on Twitter. 

    One might wonder if she, like Lucrezia Borgia, was more the victim of the men in her life and their passions than her own. 

  2. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    Wasn’t it Joanne Whalley who seduced the poor dentist in Mash and brought a limp dick to life?

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Phyllis. Shame on you. I will die laughing because of you.  Not sure if your comment is related to Elizabeth Taylor but if it is I suspect the “limp” ones got tossed very quickly. 

      • avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

        Hi, Snooks–––my comment has nothing to do with Liz Taylor although you are probably correct in assuming, except for her Richard, the dicks she encountered that were not up to snuff pretty much got “tossed” in the ash heap of history ( a little Reaganesqueness thrown in for good measure). No, I was referring to Ms Whalley who is playing the Pope’s mistress in “The Borgias” and I think she was the one who played a nurse in “Mash.” And shameful as it may be, that seduction scene remains memorable, since it was done to perfection. 🙂

  3. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    I do not how people exist without cable TV and still rely on the rabbit ears. You can get five channels if you are lucky, and the interference on the picture is 100% irritating. Growing up, we had a giant antenna on the roof, and then got one that you were able to move around from a device on the TV (which I broke by trying to turn it around and around and around). I still remember receiving only a handful of channels. Then, basic cable was introduced into our world…and you had to pay every month for television. That is as far as I go, except for TMC but most of the ‘good material’ channels are an extra cost and just add to your bill. It is a shame that quality TV shows resort to paid channels, and there are a dozen of them. My building will not allow direct TV because all of those mini- satellites have to be placed outside; per apartment…facing south…and aesthetically takes away from the beauty of the building. I can understand that. My bill for just having access to premium channel rises yearly. It has to end, and quality needs to return to ABC, NBC and CBS.
    Now, about the Libertine headline. I don’t get it. Are they calling them that because they are dressed so well? Am I missing something? Her presence on Twitter was no big deal. She didn’t disclose any secrets, but no one did on Twitter. It’s not for that.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I always found it fascinating that Hollywood aka Los Angeles had the worst television reception in the country despite the fact most of the shows were broadcast from there. Life in the canyons left much to be desired during prime time. Cable arrived. And all was well. Until reality tv arrived. I think most people stick to TCM these days. 

      A libertine is sort of a hedonist.  They throw caution, and mores, to the wind so to speak. But still with a little convention. Unlike a hedonist. I suspect only a Pisces can understand the word. Or live it. Or at least live it and get away with it. 

  4. avatar JLL says:

    For the record (and since the aithor is so enamored of “The Tudors”), the Borgias enjoyed the majority of their power in the 16th century – not the 13th – and were contemporaries of Henry VII and Henry VIII.  Historians concur that Lucrezia was basically a pawn and never poisoned anyone (nor was she ever “raven haried” – her portrait in the Vatican attests that she was indeed a blonde).  If “The Borgias” is anything like “The Tudors, viewers can expect more unhistorical tripe – “The Tudors” was undoubtedly one of the worst historical miniseries I have ever watched.  The sad thing is the REAL story was much more compelling than any of the made-up antics the writers could ever have thought up for the plot line for “The Tudors”.  Looks like Roderigo, Cesare et al can expect equal treatment.

  5. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Jeremy Irons is a wonderful actor. Love him!

  6. avatar Carole Del Monte says:

    “Luscious” Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  Indeed.  Jeremy Irons also has the “power”.  I think I first fell in love with his voice & acting ability in Brideshead Revisited.  Ever since then I’ve looked forward to his next project.  My husband & I saw him & Glenn Close in The Real Thing on Broadway, & I then noticed the grace with which he moves.  Have you seen him in the recent episodes of Law & Order SVU?  Excellent, as always.

  7. avatar Pietro Allar says:

    Liz, it really is time to hang up the Lindsay threads. You do them far too often & we do not care. She needs to go away. The pictures yesterday of her tripping and falling is just another tiresome reminder that some people got it & some people don’t, and, Liz, she don’t. Stop promoting this ungrateful, spoiled lowlife and maybe she can slither away and find happiness as a regular person. Don’t say it cannot be done. By promoting her over and over again, you only inject yourself into the story, thus becoming an enabler and an ultimate fool when she offs herself in unspectacular fashion. Love ya, Liz, you’ve been around a long time, and have known the great ones. Don’t degrade yourself or your readers any further, please.

  8. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Pietro Allar…as my late friend Miss Elizabeth Taylor would have said: “thank you for your opinion, but I am going to wear this miniskirt anyway!  In fact, I think I’ll make in shorter, now.”   

    All the best,
    Liz Smith 

  9. avatar Pietro Allar says:

    Still love you, Liz, and still reading you, but I’ll always remember you from when the stars were big, however awfully I’ve screwed up that classic line. Speaking of Sunset Boulevard, did you hear that Andrew Lloyd Webber thinks Madonna would be great for the movie version. I think she could do it if she could just loosen up. Love my Madonna. Patti Lupone is spitting tacks…. Ciao!