“BEING A movie star!”
That was MGM’s swimming icon, Esther Williams, answering a query — “What do you consider your greatest achievement?” — in Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood issue. Esther took part in the famous Proust Questionnaire on the mag’s last page.
Well, if I recall my movie gossip from back in the day, it was Miss Williams — not Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner or Elizabeth Taylor — who was considered the “grandest” of all the lady stars. At least she thought so. Esther did pull off a remarkable achievement; she was just about the only sports figure to ever become a truly major movie star. (Johnny Weissmuller was confined to Tarzan movies that steadily declined in quality as the years rolled on. But skating’s Sonja Henie was a top tier star at 20th Century Fox.) In any case, Esther’s ego has never been waterlogged.
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THE HOLLYWOOD issue, as usual, features a fold-out cover of the current crop of Hollywood lovelies, all decked out in pastel satin gowns, done up in glamour makeup and hairstyles evoking past icons. Naturally, I had to go to Krista Smith’s article inside (way inside!) to identify these young women, photographed by Mario Testino. The grouping includes only two current Oscar nominees — Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and Jessica Chastain from “The Help.” Otherwise, they are all somehow indistinguishable from one another. Nor do any of the names leap out, instantly. But next year any one of them could be featured solo on VF’s cover, starring in some hot new movie.
Elsewhere the issue tackles the infamous rise and fall of dermatologist to the stars, Arnie Klein … the latest age-defying injectable, H.G.H … there’s a great 12-page ad for Neiman Marcus, featuring Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri Martino, posing in everything from Tom Ford to Lanvin to Carolina Herrera to Oscar de la Renta … and Jim Wolcott ponders “The Penis In Cinema.” (Why is male movie nudity more often comic than sexual — Michael Fassbender notwithstanding?)
There’s more, more, more as there always is in the jam-packed Hollywood issue, but real movie mavens will appreciate the profiles of Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. The Bardot interview, by Henry-Jean Servat does not include any current photos of France’s most famous sex-symbol. She is now 77. But the pages of BB in her prime are breathtaking. The star, who retired from films in 1973, at the age of 41, says she has never regretted her decision. “I was really sick of it. Good thing I stopped, because what happened to Marilyn Monroe and Romy Schneider would have happened to me.”
Bardot does not look back at her glorious image. “I have better things to do than study myself onscreen.” (She is famously active in animal protection, and has become more conservative in her maturity.)
Sophia Loren is also in her late 70’s, but she happily and glamorously poses for Annie Leibovitz and goes over her life story once again with Sam Kashner. Loren never reveals much — it’s the same tale of a poverty-stricken childhood, Carlo Ponti mentoring her, Cary Grant wooing her and her wise decision to rebuff Grant and choose security with Ponti, who died in 2007. Sophia is rumored to be, of all the great screen beauties, the most normal and well-adjusted. She enjoys the little box out of which jumps the still-glorious Sophia, with her overflowing bosoms and huge eyes and famously lush mouth. Then she puts it all away and lives privately and without drama. The photo layout, which also includes many vintage shots, is another stunner.
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I WANT to address this to a reader named Briana Baran, who recently complained (quite politely) about “Too much Madonna and Brad and Angie in your column.” Why don’t I write of others?
Let’s see, in recent days and weeks my column has featured items or lead stories on Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender, the director James Toback, a luncheon saluting “The Artist,” opinions about the SAG awards, books I have read, Miss Streep (lots of Miss Streep!), Demi and Ashton, the new movie “Haywire,” the return of Guns N’ Roses, heart disease in women, an art exhibition at the Met, “The Borgias” and, yes … Madonna. I’ve been writing about her since 1984 and I’ll write about her till she is 84. Considerations of talent and what are perceived as her pretensions aside, she is a big star, and not a victim of celebrity. Not gonna read about her falling in the street or being rushed to an emergency room or checking into rehab, or broke or desperate. She has been married only twice, has four kids, a gazillion dollars and a 24-year-old boyfriend. She has created herself, her fortune and her fame. I admire her. And I am hardly alone in paying attention, particularly when she is out promoting herself. As for Brad/Angie, they are on the cover of every magazine, relentlessly discussed and covered everywhere. I should ignore them?
Whom, at my stage in life and in this time in pop culture, should I be writing about? I try to stay as current as possible, in the era of the Internet, but I continue, as always, to write about what interests me. This is my forum.
So, Briana, when you see the name Madonna or anything about Miss Jolie and her consort, simply skip that item, and read on. I hope you will find more to your pleasure.
However, there was Madonna last Friday on the front and back pages of all the New York tabloids, in advance of her Super Bowl appearance. For somebody who is supposed to be perpetually “over,” the rest of the media still seems to like her, too. (The tepid reviews of her movie “W.E.” were totally overshadowed.)
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“IF THIS is not a birthday treat, what is?” writes my stalwart assistant Denis Ferrara as he hands me a fabulous paparazzi photo of the late Elizabeth Taylor, strolling in L.A., in her 1970’s hotpants. With her boots, studded belt, jeweled choker and mammoth mane of hair, she still looked every inch the star she was. She is. She ever will be!
It was a birthday for me to enjoy on February 2nd and nothing could have pleased me more than this photograph.