Liz Smith: The New Agatha Christie Mystery — Jennifer Garner as Miss Marple?!!

Jennifer Garner: The new Miss Marple?

And more from our Gossip Girl: The “Private Lives” of Liz n’ Dick

“IF YOU want a thing done well, get a couple of old broads to do it,” said Bette Davis as she and Joan Crawford were about to embark on “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (Miss Crawford, of course, did not care to be referred to as “an old broad.”)

I was reminded of this while reading an astonishing (to me) report that the venerable Agatha Christie creation, elderly spinster Miss Marple, is going to be, as they say today “re-booted.”

There is a new Miss Marple on the horizon in the young and shapely form of Jennifer Garner. Miss Garner will perform her sleuthing for Disney, in a movie written by Mark Frost of “Twin Peaks” fame.

Now maybe writer Frost thinks a young sexy Miss Marple will be just what the coroner ordered. And perhaps he intends to put a quirky twist on the project. But I’m going to be from Missouri on this one. Marple was a role made immortal on the big screen by Margaret Rutherford in a whole series of Christie films. Angela Lansbury then played her very well in the all-star movie “The Mirror Crack’d.” And from Britain and the BBC we have seen Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie tramp through misty moors, poke around dark mansions, ask impertinent questions and always solve the crime. All these ladies of a certain age have been divine and perfect.

If they wanted to sex Miss Marple up a bit, how about casting Helen Mirren? She’s no spring chicken, but she’s a knockout woman who could certainly give Agatha’s nosy heroine a goosing.

I like Jennifer Garner a lot. (And I love her hubby, Ben Affleck). We shall see about this. Certainly, given her looks and age, we can’t expect Miss Garner’s Miss Marple to be a “spinster.” Not even in a Disney movie. Not even with virginity supposedly making a big comeback.

* * *

THEATER’S charming enfant terrible Michael Riedel gave Miss Elizabeth Taylor a nice send-off in his remembrance of her 1981 Broadway triumph “The Little Foxes.” (Was Michael even a glimmer in anybody’s eye back in 1981?)

However, in recalling the debacle of “Private Lives” two years later, he wasn’t quite up on the tortured trajectory of that show. It was a sell-out and could have run for much longer than its 63 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne. It was a limited run to begin with.

The opening night, which I attended, was an absolute riot of paparazzi, theater-mavens, movie fans and those who enjoy a good bear-baiting. The star’s after-performance party getup included a feather boa and a tiara. It was, as I commented the next day on television, “not an outfit one could disappear in.”

But Elizabeth herself was falling apart, and she took her show down with her. She often cancelled, and when she did cancel, the show could not go on. Nobody wanted to see Richard Burton and his stand-in. Elizabeth was playing games, showing him that their co-starring billing meant nothing — she and only she was the star. And in fact, she was. The audiences came, the crowds outside waited for … her.

Elizabeth was also being spiteful because Richard had married Sally Hay. (“Private Lives” was Elizabeth’s idea — she thought if she and Burton worked together again, they’d naturally reconcile as a couple. She had divorced John Warner the year before. And while Richard had been happy to cash in on her publicity when “Little Foxes” debuted in London, he was not looking to rekindle their romance — despite his indiscreet confession that they had slept together on the night of her 50th birthday celebration in London.)

Her drinking and drug taking had reached epic proportions, while Richard was trying to stay sober. And to top it off, the usually oh-go-to-hell-with-your-opinion Elizabeth had been terribly hurt by the criticisms of her appearance in “Private Lives.” Critic John Simon was especially cruel, mentioning “the legs that movie designers had worked decades to conceal.”

In fact, La Liz was a bit slimmer than she’d been in “Foxes” and had by then had a facelift. She looked terrif, if not the slender thirty-ish gazelle of Noel Coward’s initial imagining. (Taylor was an alluringly zaftig 52.)

After the show left Broadway, it toured to great success. And Elizabeth’s performance — which was quite funny to begin with — loosened up even more. As did her corset. From city to city, the star put on pounds. Her entire wardrobe had to be replaced. She ditched her blonde 1930’s-style wig and went back to the familiar dark bouffant. She threw biscuits into the front rows, carried her pet parrot onstage and generally left the audiences screaming for more. (It was rowdy low vaudeville; hardly what The Master, Noel Coward, would have approved of, but highly entertaining.)

By the time the show reached Los Angeles, she was engaged to Mexican millionaire Victor Luna. She was no longer speaking to her producer (and rumored former lover) Zev Bufman. And was in so deep substance-abuse-wise, that her family and close friends staged an intervention. Taylor entered The Betty Ford Center just before Christmas, 1983.

She would never again appear onstage, but it didn’t matter. The woman who emerged from Betty Ford was a new Elizabeth Taylor. She would not marry Mr. Luna, or anybody else for 10 years. She would make history in a different way. AIDS had struck.


8 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    I’ll believe Jennifer Garner as Miss Marple, the moment that they remake “Come Back, Little Sheba” with Angelina Jolie playing Lola Delaney. Maybe the new audience of the day can see the Garner transition easier than us older folks see only Margaret Rutherford (or Angela Lansbury) as Miss Marple. With those two mature ladies as Miss Marple, the world made sense again.
    Of course, “Private Lives” was just a vehicle for Elizabeth to worm herself back into Richard’s life again. Like “Cleopatra” of the stage but neither were at a point in their lives to make it possible. So lonely on her 50th birthday in February 1982, she was in sheer joy when Richard surprised her in London. Another tryst? Another chance? But he knew her marriage (to Warner) was ending, “The Little Foxes” was ending, she had gained weight and her addictions were becoming out of control. And maybe Elizabeth did rub in his face the fact she was nominated for a Best Actress Tony, after he was quite confident that Elizabeth would fall on her face on Broadway in 1981. But it was another time in entertainment media history by the time Richard and Elizabeth appeared on stage together in 1983. Global importance of the possibility of their reconciliation didn’t seem as news worthy then. Her personal life had done her in. Engaged to Victor Luna (did he speak English?) and Richard’s sudden romance/ marriage to Sally Hay did make the airwaves. Elizabeth looked old and lumpy in the photo of the two couples posing together, in contrast to a young, perky Sally Hay. And when she could not over ride her hurt, the play suffered with too many cancellations and was soon canceled. Everyone knew Elizabeth’s addictions were out of control…but no one was saying anything, until her children intervened. It was one of the most adult decisions that she had made in her life. In 1984, a new post Betty Ford Elizabeth Taylor emerged…ready for a third marriage to Mr Burton. She quickly let go of Victor, or he stayed until he was officially dismissed, and she went to work on Burton. Then, he had the audacity to die! Lost, but sober, without Luna, without work…she wanted her life to move forward again. At age 53, she wasn’t ready to jump out of the limelight. She did what she did best, make a TV movie (‘Malice in Wonderland’) and fell in love again. Dennis Stein was soon a fiancé for a matter of weeks, but Elizabeth was becoming too smart to make, yet, another mistake and she quickly dropped him. Finally, looking beautiful, she heard about the disease AIDS…and the rest, as they say…..


  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    What she was hoping for was to return to her starring role in “The Burtons” which she continued anyway by assuming the role of “the widow” after he died. Reality is the passion turned into an obsession. A very unhealthy obsesssion.  Fueled, or perhaps enabled would be a better word, by the entourage and the fans and most of all by the media who missed the “razzle dazzle days” of flash-and-trash and four letter words flying through the air along with an occasional object,  When that role fizzled, she moved on to reprise her starring role in The Driver’s Seat

    As for the “love letters” there was a final note by Burton. I was told he is the one who decided to be buried in Switzerland rather than Wales where he and Elizabeth had intended at one point to be buried together which they would have been had he been buried there. Supposedly it was for tax purposes, But perhaps it simply was to put an end to “The Burtons.”

    In any case, it was a sad tale. With a sad ending.

  3. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Richard…as you know, just before she did “Private Lives” she appeared in an HBO TV movie with Carol Burnett, “Between Friends” in which she played a woman with a drinking problem.  There were an amazing collection of close-to-the-bone utterances and situations in that one.  As usual–as with all the grand stars–she was letting us in on her life through her work. (And was probably not even quite aware she was doing it.)

    As for “PL”  she did not look dumpy or old onstage, not in NY anyway.  She was heftier in Philly, Chicago and Washington, but as Miss Smith says, she was suddenly having much more fun.  Or much more Jack Daniels.  Listen, Joan Collins did it a few years later, and her version closed after  a mere11 performances.  Always the bridesmaid in ET’s shadow.

    And wasn’t “Malice In Wonderland” a hoot and  ahalf?

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      We have this “conversation” going on elsewhere about smoking but of course we never have the same “conversation” about drinking.  And reality is reality.  The drinking did her in. It is the most common cause of congestive heart failure. Add the cocktail of pain killers and diet pills and it became a deadly cocktail. And she was probably diagnosed with it long before 2004. And probably told to stop drinking. Hopefully she did. Some maintain she didn’t. Her focus was on AIDS. Our focus should be, at least partially, on what killed her.

      Our little cocktail parties as I call them, at least what I call mine, are fun when we’re young. Not so fun when we begin to get older and the parties begin to take their toll. 

      The drink in one hand and the cigarette in the other. The picture of elegance.  Still is to some degree despite the campaign against smoking. Quite a few only “puff” as I do. My lungs seem to be a little better a year into this odyssey of mine. Will have another CAT scan in May. But I was told in no uncertain terms on Friday that regardless of anything else the “second hand” tar and chemicals are still finding their way into my lungs. Those are what kill us. Not the nicotine. And I have to stop finally. If it hasn’t killed me already, it will.

      And she smoked as well. Heavily at one time I was told. That probably contributed to the problems caused by the congestive heart failure. We talk about addictions. Part of the problem is the delusion that because we look good and feel good and “function” we are just fine and “it won’t happen to us.”  And then suddenly it does.

  4. avatar rick gould says:

    I always thought it was a shame that “The Little Foxes” wasn’t filmed for television.

    “Private Lives” served as a bittersweet lesson: That Burton needed a nurse as much as a wife to help him through his occasional falls off the wagon (like the night of ET’s 50th when they supposedly reunited…but she claimed he passed out on her sofa) and that she wasn’t going to win anyone back as a middle-aged drunk and drug addict. Their old ways had brought unhappy dividends–for both of them. Though their reunion had an unhappy ending for ET, it ultimately sent her in a different and more productive direction: rehab and activism.

    PS…regarding Joan. Ever notice the one big hit in her career–“Dynasty”–happened during when Liz was a semi-retired senator’s wife? Another what if in the life and career of Liz that is chock full of them!

    • avatar Richard Bassett says:

      Hi Rick,

      Dynasty was on from 1981- 1989, and reached its peak around 1985. In LA, there were “Dynasty” parties (viewings) in many of the bars. The Sacred Hour. In reality, no one wanted to go out ‘that’ early!!  I’m sure this occurred in NYC, as well…so Elizabeth was in the middle of her great transformation when the show was at its most popular. Actually, filming a ‘play’ puts the project at a disadvantage. First, it is non-stop (except for intermittence) and there are limited camera angles, no close ups, different lighting. Film requires the intricate where less is more, and theater would come across very exaggerated, as action is a bit ‘larger than life’…so those in row 50 can see it as well. The camera would be all over the place. Someone just asked me the same question about “Private Lives”. I just do not think the piece would be seen at its best if it were to be filmed (especially with a single camera). But there is a 1942 movie of “The Little Foxes” starring Bette Davis.

  5. avatar Bethany Christian says:

    Jennifer Garner as Mis Marple – What is the world coming to?!?!? 

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