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.
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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.