Liz Smith: Vanity Fair's Hollywood Issue — New Stars, Great Stars, Frontal Nudity — Funny or Not?

And more from our Liz: L.A.’s addiction of youth .. Bardot has no regrets … neither does Loren … and hotpants for my birthday!

“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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.)

* * *

“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.

14 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    What a delight to read that we’ll be reading Liz’s Ciccone items until Madonna’s 84 –because that means Liz will be writing at least until Madonna’s 84! I saw Madonna once, when she was entering a restaurant that was back to back with my apartment building in New York (Café Luxembourg). And I saw Liz once, when she was crossing the Champs Elysées in Paris (? could it have been Christmas about ’82?). If I could choose another sighting –it’d be Liz, hands down. She’d capture my attention even if she was writing about J. Fred Muggs.

    • avatar D C says:

      My husband said, after watching Cat On A Hot Tin Roof a few months ago, “Paul Newman should have won the Oscar for best actor for convincing audiences he didn’t want to sleep with Elizabeth Taylor.” 

  2. avatar Harriet Shoebridge says:

    Interesting that the Vanity Fair cover should pair up the words ‘fresh’ and ‘young’ and … goes without saying … put three young women on the cover.  God forbid that a woman should reach 30 years of age without taking the veil and retiring.  I for one enjoy older British actresses … Maggie Smith, Judie Dench, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Regrave, etc. … who seem to have forsaken Botox and such and consistently crank out wonderful performances.  And ‘fresh’???  What about Judie Dench as the boss in the latest round of 007 films?  And Helen Mirren in the British Prime Suspect series?  Fresh and formidable, that’s what these women serve up.  Something to do with North American culture that seems to harbour a phobic reaction to older, strong women.  Ah, dear.  ‘Fresh’ and ‘Young’ … thinking of the expression “makes a good first impression but wears thin really fast.”  Then, maybe that’s it, the powers that be only too aware of the thin veneer and the possibilities of control … that said … a quick ‘thank you’ for the wonderful photograph of Elizabeth Taylor striding out in those hot pants … maybe a tad heavy in the hips and some grey on the roof … but a woman in complete ‘self’ control … and maybe that’s what the powers that be obsession is all about … coming down to control of women … and some things never change … Take care, Ms.Smith.

  3. avatar Wiley Canuck says:

    Was it because, without trying, that Liz always was the focus of attention in the Taylor-Burton marriage? It must have been very hard on Burton’s ego, even although he was madly in love with Liz. I saw an interview once with the both of them and she totally controlled the discussiion. I did not get the impression that that was her intent – it just happened. Sad.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Wiley…

      She didn’t intend it.  She just couldn’t help it.  She was Elizabeth Taylor.  And no man was her equal.

      Burton once admitted he was ashamed that his great fame had come to him through his relationship with her.   That he couldn’t do it on his own.  Imagine the torments of their relationship. 

  4. avatar Lila says:

    “Otherwise, they are all somehow indistinguishable from one another.” Liz, you have touched on something that my friends and I have noted in recent years: it seems like MOST of the women onscreen these days are indistinguishable from each other. Oh, this one is blonde and that one brunette; but it’s all the same hair, the same makeup, the same face shape and body shape. Even if that has to be achieved or maintained with a little nip, tuck, and filler (or more).

    I sure do miss the days when the people onscreen had as much variation as the people offscreen. What we have lost is immediately obvious when we watch older movies.

    Speaking of older movies, saw Alien on cable last night. Now there is a movie that has held up remarkably well over its 33 years. The effects still look quite good… oh, and every actor is an individual, not a cookie-cutout clone.

  5. avatar JERILYN says:

    Liz Smith I have loved reading your column for so many years! What a great birthday treat for you this hot picture of my idol Dame Elizabeth! It was amazing to see the Float to honor “OUR CHAMPION” Dame Elizabeth that even won the QUEEN’S Award! I always called her “The Queen of the Night”. I yelled it out to her once in New York in 1964 and she smiled so I hope she liked the title I know she hated being called “LIZ”. Madonna honored her at the Super Bowl last night and the SAG AWARD SHOW had a short but touching tribute at the end of their memoriams on their show. I hope you honor your friend Dame Elizabeth on February 27th which you know would have been her 80th Birthday. I will be very disappointed if the ACADEMY AWARDS DOES NOTHING TO HONOR THIS STAR OF STARS. Thank you for keeping her memory alive forever. Your writing is exceptional and always keeps your readers informed and interested! Brava Liz Smith for all you do!

  6. avatar D C says:

    Liz…. oh Liz…. BRAVO!

  7. avatar D C says:

    Regarding Madonna — Yesterday’s Superbowl halftime was one of the best halftime shows at that game in a long time.  That girl knows how to entertain! And being a halftime show purist, I especially appreciated the DCI drummers featured during the section with CeLo Green. 

  8. avatar Alex Wrong says:

    An FYI, Madonna also had a deeper connection with the original Hollywood Cleopatra wearing diamond earrings that once belonged to Elizabeth Taylor and were purchased from the jeweler Marina Bulgari from the late actress’ recent auction.

  9. avatar central coast cabin home says:

    The VF cover looks anemic, Liz looks great!

  10. avatar chickwow says:

    Elizabeth Taylor was born on February 27th…………..her birthday is still to come! My birthday is in February also and I like to know which celebrities were born in my month. La Liz brings up the rear in Feb…

  11. avatar rick gould says:

    My belated New Year’s resolution is to only read about and comment on celebrities who I enjoy…
    …and I have been skipping over items about Madonna’s every marketed move ; )

  12. avatar Briana Baran says:

    To Ms. Liz, the only Celebutard Gossip columnist I read: I wish you spent more time on books, and less time on *stars* that so many lesser mortals cover endlessly, ad nauseum. As in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. And Madonna. None of these people do anything even remotely interesting (I am not the sort to find the antics of the Lindsay Lohans…I once had considerable empathy for her, by the way….Kardashians, Demis and Ashtons and those who are shameless and/or fallen fascinating, compelling, or contemptible, they are just humans doing what humans do), just the same thing, repeatedly. I did comment on another site that Madonna’s performance of “Like a Prayer” is the only live or video performance of hers that I’ve ever seen during which she exhibited actual depth, emotion and power. The rest of the Stupor Bowl act was fluff on the grand scale, and her outfit, with its peculiar underlay of a black body-suit (for what? Modesty? To prevent a wardrobe malfunction?) that seemed to be the ultimate statement of the truth behind her mythology, and her inability to perform most of her stunts without considerable aid from her dancers, plus the amateurishness of her dancing left me feeling sad. It all seemed so desperate.

    Your talent and insight is a rare thing, and do so wish you would invest more time on books, and music (not just the usual suspects) than on these somewhat vapid beings. I have a difficult time admiring Madonna…perhaps because billions of dollars truly don’t impress me, her background is not as dull, nor sordid as she likes to pretend, only having two divorces is not of consequence to me (I only have two as well…and I am married to a man 10 years my junior. My sister’s husband is younger than her by 13 years. And so…? A 24 year old boyfriend for a 53 year old woman for me is not remarkable…but then I am not your usual social animal), and the personage she presents on stage, so “sexual”, sensual, “daring” (please)…is clearly a manufactured image. The same thing can be said for Angelina Jolie, with her ink, and her vials of blood, and rumored lust for her sibling, thieving of husbands, deliberate pregnancy, refusal to get married (the last is not one bit unconventional in the 21st century, and the two proceeding ventures are the stuff of Redneck Trailer Trash [my MIL lives in a trailer, mind you, and is not trash, I am using the vernacular) scorn. When it comes down to the brass tacks, she is horrible conventional and boring. And none of these people are especially intellectually stimulating.

    But then, I do understand your point: people are intrigued by money, “fame”, money, scandal (or the rumors, hints and allegations of it), did I mention money (?), decadence or the appearance of debauchery and those who they perceive as beyond the fringe. If they’re on every other magazine cover and website, you’re rather obliged to talk about them for the good people of WoW.

    Unfortunately, it was this very kind of coverage that caused me to cease watching the news, going to most news sources on the internet, or taking the paper. I have a sweet husband who sends me stories he knows I’ll be interested in, and I go about web-surfing from there. I still read your column, though not every one, because I thoroughly enjoy much of your content. It was intriguing reading about Liz Taylor in a more earthly sense, and the less starry-eyed comments on the older generation of stars. They seem much more substantial, differentiated, eclectic and unique unto themselves than today’s bevy of boors and bores.

    I’m no worshiper of earthbound celestial objects. I am also a genuinely peculiar person. As my 14 year old son said recently, “Mom, I’m so glad that you really DON’T care what anybody thinks. You just do what you want”. Society, conformity, norms, expectations and what-everybody-else-is-doing are unimportant to me as far as my personal life is concerned. I am interested in the unique, the different and those who don’t give a damn.

    Madonna clearly gives a damn what people think. Sigh.

    But I adore you, Liz Smith. You’re no common creature at all.