Lunching with “The Book of Mormon” Boys

Matt Stone, left, and Trey Parker

And more from our Gossip Girl: Cocktails celebrate Jerry Weintraub … would Elizabeth Taylor have lived her life differently, if she’d had the chance?

“THE GOD I believe in is a god of second chances,” said Bill Clinton.

* * *

SHORTLY BEFORE Elizabeth Taylor’s 79th birthday, the Daily Mail in London contacted me to write a tribute to the great star, who was by then hospitalized with the congestive heart failure that ultimately took her life. I was glad to do it, naturally. And although the Mail hinted they were seeing it as an obit, I preferred not to dwell much on that.

However, at the end of the piece, I did speculate that if Elizabeth was to be given a “second chance” by Him — a life of sensible decisions and moderate passions, this is how it would go:

“You mean I can’t drink?”

“Well, not so much, Elizabeth.”

“And I always have to watch my weight?”

“Again, it’s a matter of balance, dear.”


“Oh, Elizabeth, all those marriages, all that unhappiness?”

“And in return I get…?”

“You’ll never be sick a day in your life.”

(Pause.)  “Sorry, buster,” our girl would say, clinking her cocktail, eating her bangers and mash, eyeing her next conquest, “That’s not living to me!”

And it wouldn’t have been. Elizabeth soaked up life passionately, and enjoyed all the pleasures that could be had. And then, she gave back, just as passionately.

Elizabeth’s family is said to be “devastated.” Her life force was so strong they did not believe it could fade. At least not yet. (Dying as she did on the 53rd anniversary of Mike Todd’s death does give her passing an eerie significance. Her marriage to Todd, had he lived, was the one she could insist “would have lasted forever.” That possibility offered her comfort and a terrible poignant regret.)
* * *

THE LEGITIMATE theater world is a small one, but its cultural fallout is large. Recently, the producer Scott Rudin, who is a larger-than-life size guy in every aspect, laid on a lunch at the Four Seasons Pool Room — and if a bomb had dropped, I don’t think Ben Brantley of the Times would have had anything more to write about.

Mr. Rudin had everybody’s favorite, Mike Nichols, as a co-host for this fabulous lunch for “The Book of Mormon” writers, creators and producers. These are the men who made such a splash with television’s “South Park” outrages. No wonder people find them irresistibly funny.

I haven’t had time to see this musical yet, and so I won’t offer any critical comments here. But my table was great and so was the food. I sat with the New York Post’s outrageous reporter Michael Riedel who I know, in olden times, would have outdone Walter Winchell. He, however, confines himself to deathless delving into the pros and cons of theater production and he is feared, fearsome and fearless. He is the one who is the hound of heaven about the quaking production of “Spiderman” and he has made himself a neat little reputation in New York circles though he claims his influence is minimal. (Michael is also very cute and his nature belies his results.)

I also had the veteran Manny Eisenberg on the other side of me. He is a legit theater veteran who knows every joke, quip and anecdote about the stars of yesterday. Manny produced the plays of the great Neil Simon and says he has about given up on a future in drama. Or comedy. I know Manny is just kidding and if someone brings him a new project, he’ll jump. (But he had a lot to say about the real estate business — which, to his way of thinking, vitiates the lure of real theater business.)

Well, when you rub shoulders with the likes of Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Angela Lansbury, Nora Ephron, Lawrence O’Donnell, you know you are experiencing something special. I had a delightful chat also with the adorable reporter Jacob Bernstein of The Daily Beast.

The “Book of Mormon” creators all seemed young, fresh, outrageous, willing, eager, able to join the New York theater ensemble. I guess they were wearing their Mormon underwear because they seemed very authentic, even if they did just get here from California. And something led me to think that these guys aren’t really religious. We’ll see.

Not to be cavalier about their names: they are Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Casey Nicholaw and Robert Lopez.

* * *

THE BACKERS of the film “His Way,” a portrait of Hollywood legend Jerry Weintraub, are going their merry way for the March 30th cocktails, reception at Time Warner and the dinner at Porter House New York to follow.

These VIPs are “very important” indeed being none other than Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair … the agents Kevin Huvane and Bryan Lourd … plus HBO’s titans  Michael Lombardo and Richard Plepler.

Now you may not think you know who the honoree, Mr. Weintraub, is, but this Brooklyn born/Bronx-raised guy is truly famous in show biz. He produced the “Oceans” films which were such big hits, and those are only some of his more recent accomplishments. (He was a big deal promoting and producing concerts back in the day for the likes of Elvis, Sinatra and Led Zeppelin.) Jerry was/is a best friend to former President Bush the Elder. His autobiography was a smash. He is an icon in Hollywood.

“His Way” will air on HBO come April 4th, at 9th p.m. Put it in your calendar. How can you get invited to this private insider March 30th party? The heck if I know.

28 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    THat is exactly how it would go with La Liz and God.  She might have had regrets, but not enough to ever have done it differently. 

    • avatar rick gould says:

      I always admired how ET refused to bleed for the public. I remember Larry King trying to go all Barbara Walters on her once, asking in various ways why she drank and if she regretted it. Finally, Elizabeth bluntly said that she had a lot of fun during her drinking days but that she crossed a line and became a drunk. Period. No tears. No excuses. No gory details. No blame.
      Lindsay Lohan, are you paying attention?

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        “I just…liked to drink!” 

        My kind of gal. (But yeah, she crossed the line—and many years before Washington D.C.)

        • avatar rick gould says:

          Mr. wOw–
          In a perfect, revisionist world, ET should have quit drinking when she and Burton first split. It could only have helped their subsequent reconciliation. Esp. since Burton pretty much admitted that his last two wives “took care of an old man.”
          But alas, ET didn’t think SHE had a drinking problem then. And to me, the Warner years was her reaching bottom, as they say in AA.
          Better late than never. Sobriety plus her AIDS advocacy were two of her latter day accomplishments…

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Rick…in  a perfect revisionist world she would have stopped drinking on the set of their second film, “The VIP’s”   Only then could they have assessed the future with some clarity.  Perhaps they would not have married.

            But, what the hell—she didn’t stop and he didn’t stop and they had an incredible ride.

            I wonder when the old David Frost interview will surface, with both of them bombed out of their minds–the interview from Budapest, around the time of her 40th birthday.  After Burton had lost the Oscar for “Anne of The Thousand Days.”

          • avatar rick gould says:

            Mr W–
            I would LOVE to see the Frost interview where ET was brought out impromptu. That’s the one where Elizabeth stops in the middle of an anecdote, turns to Burton, asks him if he’s making faces. He affirms. And she takes a drag off his cigarette and asks if he’s still “on”… hilarious!

            60 Minutes Overtime has put up their interview with the Burtons, done about the same time. They discuss fighting, hippies, pot and Jesus Christ, of which Burton says Jesus was “undeniably Welsh” to shrieks from ET.

            I think there was some fun amidst the fighting 😉

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Even the most toxic relationships have an element of love and sometimes too much love which blinds both to the toxicity.  No one could have survived being The Burtons. Even the Burtons.  Love sometimes isn’t enough. And sometimes love at a distance is the only way the love survives. Which I suspect Burton realized during the run of “Private Lives” and  decided to “pass” Act III of “The Burtons.”  Or perhaps Round III would be more apt.
            And just as love sometimes isn’t enough, sometimes the fun times, the “good times” aren’t enough either. But they do keep the love intact when looking back. Which both obviously did in the end.

          • avatar rick gould says:

            I have often thought the same thing about Frank and Ava, and Lucy and Desi, as well as Taylor and Burton.
            Everyone that knew all these couples knew the flame was never extinguished, but there were too many fireworks when together!

    • avatar Jay Gentile says:

      In the end, Elizabeth did it her way. By following Jewish orthodoxy, she was buried within 24 ours of her passing. She outfoxed all those paparazzi who hoped to get photos of her flower draped casket and her weeping children. She was also, by her own design, 15 minutes late for her own funeral. Only a woman as magnificent as Taylor could go out with such style and humor.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        It was Burton who said, “She’ll be late for her own bloody funeral!”   Clearly, he was always on her mind.  I hope she will not linger long at Forest Lawn.  She wanted to be buried near Burton, in Wales.  He is in Switzerland now, where he died.  But his remaining family has already said they would move his body to Wales and allow Elizabeth to be buried by his side.  IF the widow Burton, Sally Hay, would agree.

        Better that than an eternity near Mr. Jackson.

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          I doubt Sally Burton will agree.  And I suspect Elizabeth Taylor accepted that and made “other arrangements.”  At Forest Lawn. I was told final arrangements would be announced Thursday. Apparently those were simply the announcement that she would be interred at Forest Lawn that afternoon.  It may be that Sally Burton intends to be buried in Celigny. I don’t recall whether Celigny was his choice or hers. In any case, she was the wife. And the widow.  Enough unpleasantness.

          I would point out that the family has clearly stated that it was her request, not theirs or anyone else’s, that rememberances be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Not the charity of your choice. Or anyone else’s choice.

          Some apparently have decided not to respect her request which is appalling.

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I don’t know that she had regrets so much as simply a realization that some of her decisions hurt others. The affairs one thing. The marriages? Well, in the end, the reality is you can’t really break up a marriage. The husband, or the wife, has already broken it up themselves  left so to speak. Sometimes both have.  Debbie knew it. And so did Sybil. 

    Our mores were different then.  Today it wouldn’t have been the major scandal it was then.

    And who’s to say what might have happened had she been Elizabeth Todd instead of Elizabeth Fisher when she collided with Burton?   Keep in mind at the time she was torn between her love for Eddie Fisher, later denying it, and her passion for Burton. 

    She didn’t blieve in psychiatrists you know. Good thing.  Freud himself would never have been able to figure her out. Just taken delight in someone who always managed to have a passion for life and all it offers. The ups and the downs. She lived life to its fullest.  Sadly most of us are afraid to. Scared of what others might think if we did.

    I stll could have done without the “Widow Burton” saga but then she couldn’t have cared less what I or anyone else thought.  Which is why she was so special I suppose.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    “THE GOD I believe in is a god of second chances,” said Bill Clinton.

    Mae West must have been thinking of Bill Clinton when she uttered one of my favorite maxims. “Every man deserves a second chance. With someone else.”

  4. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    In the 1996 Barbara Walters interview, Elizabeth stated that the life she was living with Burton was unsustainable because everything surpassed the definition of: “too much”. When she was younger, it may have been quite an adventure. Burton loved to drink, so did she…and not just because of him. Her fall in November 1956, resulting in a five hour spinal operation, caused an opiate addiction. In the Fisher days, she was treated by Dr Feelgood (Max Jacobson) as early as 1959 with injections of amphetamines mixed with vitamin B12. Well, the amphetamines gave way to the barbiturates, and tranquilizers…and then the opiate based drugs for pain, so she was well seasoned by the time that Burton came along. Burton drank. But she drank and was dependent on prescription drugs. Much more of a deadly combo. On an amphetamine, one can drink unusually large amounts of alcohol without the slightest sign of being seen as drunk. Believe me, I know. Throughout their years together, if their addictions got out of control…they would spend a few days at a resort. They were all over the country (think of James Mason in ‘A Star is Born’), and now…with a strong cognitive/ behavioral aspect, they have been christened “Rehabs” but they’ve been with us all along. Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason were infamous for their ‘resort’ visits. Years of being in bed, inactive (the 2000’s) and in pain, Elizabeth believed that she had done everything that she was here to do. Of course, she continued with her vices throughout the years…but at 78, they didn’t sit too well with her anymore. Sitting in a bed, glued to the television set (especially after such a roller coaster life), wasn’t living anymore. Carole Bayer Sager was one of her last visitors and she has publicly stated that Elizabeth knew it was the end. And she was OK with that. Her strong life force did hold on as much as possible, until she finally let go.

    • avatar Paul Smith says:

      Richard, read in the NYT’s that Ms. Taylor visited weekly or monthly a Hollywood Pub and joined in the the regular Tequila shots and other local bar mixes  I assumed that was a part of her past. and seemed very much her present.

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        Yes, “The Abbey” in West Hollywood was said to be one of her favorite’s places. It was a gay establishment and she was treated exactly how she wanted to be treated. She let her hair down and had fun. But, at the end…even those visits became too much, with the press (TMZ) constantly chasing her every move. Once she drank too much, and when mixed with her medication, proved serious enough to take her to the hospital. It was front page news! She just couldn’t enjoy these social times any longer. “The Abbey” was before my time in Hollywood but she was loved there…and to a degree, protected. As her life imploded around her, so did the rational that the quality of life that she had was vaporizing too. Still treated like Her Highness, she couldn’t physically give back. I believe that her mind was still as sharp as a knife when she passed away. I think that she left us exactly how she knew that she would. No remorse. No regrets and a sense of inner peace.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Lucille Ball once said that you get tired of living.  Not of life but of living.  The same old, same old I suppose is what she was referring to.  So perhaps Elizabeth Taylor simply got tired of the same old, same old. And decided it was time to move on. Which she did so well throughout her life. She somehow always managed to move on when it was time to move on.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      I’ve known enough older folks who have passed and when you can’t do what you loved doing anymore… life doesn’t seem worth living, is what I have seen.
      With Lucy it was work. With Liz it was living life to the fullest.
      Sitting home playing Backgammon like Lucy or watching Law and Order re-runs like Liz just doesn’t cut it. Not after the heights they scaled.

      Elizabeth stayed in the game of life a lot longer and with more game than most people thought possible. Whatever comes next, I hope Elizabeth Taylor is free of pain and suffering and full of the dickens!

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I tried to find the quote.  It was something Lucille Ball said not long before she died.  There was still a sense of purpose. It just, well, perhaps got boring.  The same old, same old. 
        It must have been difficult the first time she ventured out in the wheelchair.  She probably looked in the mirror and thought, well, everyone has loved me through everything else so why not take a chance they still will?  And so off she went. And everyone indeed still loved her.   And then age set in.  Elizabeth Taylor.  Old and no longer so vibrant.  And yet, well, she was still vibrant. She would smile, the eyes would twinkle. The magic was still there. 

        I think the death of Michael Jackson, particularly all the unpleasantness that followed, was too much for her. I wondered if perhaps it would be as it all began to unfold. Or unravel. 

        • avatar Richard Bassett says:

          Lucille Ball thought that she would be relevant again with 1986’s “Life with Lucy”. She believed that the public wanted to see the old Lucy again. In her own genre, she was the best. Even in her 70’s, it was noted that she did all of her own stunts…as her previous shows were very physical for her. She knew what made people laugh. But, by 1986 she had been off the air for a dozen years, and became even more ‘hardened’ than before. The format of TV comedies had changed People just didn’t think that an older lady falling down the stairs (and risking serious injury) was funny anymore. They didn’t think that her brand of comedy was funny anymore. “Life with Lucy” ended after 13 episodes. She took this cancellation as a sign of failure and believed that she had nothing else to offer. I’m not saying that Lucy (like Elizabeth) killed themselves but the magic light that came from their souls diminished. Yes, they each still had family…but for those ladies who worked all of their life, the sense of apathy was too much and they left us (both around 80). My own mother thought along those same lines and we were just thankful that she was no longer in pain, physically and emotionally.


          • avatar rick gould says:

            Richard, that was what I was thinking.
            And for Elizabeth, who used to be able to make incredible appearances and speeches about the AIDS issue, must have felt frustrated by her body.

            My question now is: Who is going to pick up the cause?

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            Now, in 2011, AIDS is a juggernaut unto itself here in the USA. The cause has intertwined itself into the political fabric of our country. Discrimination is now the exception to the rule. This may not be easily seen or felt, but those who do live with HIV/AIDS are quite certain that it is not the death sentence that it once was. Many, many programs are in place that address this population of people. In some major cities there is such duplicity in agencies, that funding is being cut. Of course, no one wants this. But the statistics speak for themselves. Research, awareness and education will always be funded. Several people from city to federal agencies will be assigned to insuring these tasks carry on. Medical institutions are funded by many public and private sources. There will never be a spearhead like Elizabeth Taylor, who took on this cause when discrimination and ignorance ran rampant. She created (as well as others) the dialog that we have with the funders today. But one thing is clear, though we may still die after a long, long life and from natural causes, a cure and/or vaccine must be developed. This will be done behind closed doors. Our populations still need social protection and that is occurring (thanks to people like Elizabeth Taylor). Third world countries need the most rudimentary care now…especially having access to anti-viral medication. She opened a door for many providers to rush through and she made certain that there was money to be had once through that stigmatized door…and for that, done with love, empathy and kindness, will forever memorialize her in our hearts and minds.


          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            There is great concern over the future of Ryan White as well as the future of the drug assistance and housing programs and while amfAR and other organizations maintain lobbying offices in Washington I suspect the lobbying at this point will fall on deaf ears.  The states depend on federal funding to maintain the drug assistance and housing programs and without the federal funding many states are considering cutting the programs.

            I am not sure anyone has the voice that Elizabeth Taylor had which was consistently heard all these years in Washington even if it was not heard publicly.  A voice that praised but also shamed when only shaming people into doing the right thing would work.  I’m not sure even she could shame our current Congress into doing the right thing.  It seems intent on cutting off those in our society who are the most vulnerable simply to “balance the budget” in order to pay for the wars for oil.  The millions of lives for billions of barrels program. Whcih Obama has continued.  No one cared about the millions of lives elsewhere. They may not care about the millions of lives here. That the most shameful act by a shameful country. 

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            As those with HIV/AIDS sought disability (1980-2000’s), no one knew the prognoses of HIV, AIDS, and/or long term medication side effects. So Social Security came easily to those who applied. These people did not have to work and their entire lives had become subsidized. It was a lifestyle that millions got accustomed to. Now, those applying for disability (due to HIV/AIDS and mental health issues) are being denied. The federal government is saying that having AIDS, being a manageable disease, can continue with their lifestyles by working and, if their T-Cell, Viral Load numbers remain promising, those infected simply are not getting sick. As usual, I take everything on a case by case basis. No ‘one’ scenario fits all. Now, the government has allowed millions of those with HIV to receive disability and twenty years later, they have gotten accustomed with that lifestyle. There is no incentive for those to try to go back to work, as they are now in their 40’s through 60’s and really do not have the tightened skills needed in the workforce today. Some are weary that if they give up disability, it would be impossible to return to if a 40 hour work week is too much. And without their subsidized lives, everything returns to market value. A 300 dollar studio apartment is now 900 dollars a month and people do not have the skills to be hired for high salaried experiential positions…so there is no motivation to move upward. At 55, I wouldn’t expect to be a bagger at a super market and afford even an even modest lifestyle today. So, this is the war that is happening today. Being denied disability at age 21 still gives one time to pursue a career. Those on disability at 55 would be crushed if their benefits be taken away. There will be budgets cuts, no doubt, but there will also be a change in terms of putting people out to pasture. Only time will tell if it will work. Now, in 2011, most people receiving benefits will continue to do so. Younger infected folks with be urged not to get on that ride. The goal is to reduce the number on disability but giving them a solid career. Those on disability will soon be in their 60’s and 70’s…general retirement age.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Baby…I don’t think after all the deaths she suffered, Michael Jackson’s passing undid her.  I found that friendship odd, to say the least and insincere–exaggerated, anyway, by both of them. 

          As for the wheelchair, that specter had been in her life for many years.  I recall she was whisked through Kennedy airport in 1976 in a wheelchair, suffering from some particularly bad back pain.  And the hips were giving her trouble, too, even then. 

          I think because there was so much illness, so many wheelchair bound hospital exists, etc., that she took to her final infirmities  with better grace than most people.  She was never the same after the first hip replacement in 1993.  After that it was a slow degradation of her mobility.  Every time it looked like some recovery was around the corner, she’d be hit with another fall, another fracture, another pneumonia, a brain tumor for heaven’s sake! 

          I doubt she ever wondered, “will they love me in a wheelchair?”  If they loved her as a scarlet woman, or fat, or in rehab, or fighting for AIDS  she knew she was secure.  The quality of her life–especially the last four years–was not pleasant.  But she still wanted to go out, to see people, to have a drink at The Abbey, to swim with sharks, to attempt to stay current with Twitter.  Nor did she or anybody close to her think her final hospitalization was…final  Having survived her first critical night, it was assumed she’d rally as much as possible and go home.

  6. avatar rick gould says:

    So disheartening, Baby and Richard.
    And then when they’ve cut all things human from their “budget” and STILL can’t balance it, then what?
    In these last few years, I feel the US has turned a corner, and what lies ahead ain’t gonna be pretty…

  7. avatar SHORESLADY says:

    I wager I’ll never see another extended conversation on the unlikely topic of Liz Taylor and Lucille Ball.  Their vastly different talents brought each to the pinnacle of her work though the tumbledown came differently.  Despite her showgirl experience the only smouldering sensuality on “I Love Lucy” came from Desi. There was almost an asexual force field around later Lucy, even more pronounced in vehicless like “Yours, Mine, and Ours” with Henry Fonda.  Their middle-aged romance couldn’t heat toast. Worse of all is Lucy with Bob Hope whose trademark priapism seems wildly misplaced in a bedoom with Lucy.  I venture many more women than men mourned Lucy’s passing; Liz’s seems to affect us all.  God speed, lady.

  8. avatar Briana Baran says:

    I remember Elizabeth Taylor chiefly from the spectacle “Cleopatra”, and from the constant comparisons to her I received via her role in “National Velvet” and my interest in horses (hunters and jumpers). I looked nothing like her, trust me, and the comparisons were neither favorable nor charitable. My mother both admired and loather Ms. Taylor…both were beauties, both were alcoholics, but my mother never received the adulation she felt she so richly deserved. She is the same age as Ms. Taylor was at the time of her death, though she has not physically deteriorated nearly so profoundly. I have not asked her what she thought of Elizabeth’s passing…she rarely had anything pleasant to say as both of them aged.

    Elizabeth Taylor was not someone I ever met, or knew personally…nor was she ever someone I hoped to encounter in my life. I greatly admire her charitable works…particularly regarding HIV/AIDs. I have watched a select few of her more dramatic roles…and I always felt that she played herself well. I can’t really comment much on her personal life…certainly she did very much as she pleased, and left a great deal of wreckage in her wake…but then, who ever really had the intestinal fortitude to call her on her sometimes unconscionable behavior? Perhaps it might have changed things profoundly if just one furious, scorned, emotionally bereft person had done so. The world of the rich, shameless, and blameless is not mine…and they often seem to be guided by an entirely alien set of rules…like the laws of some disturbingly amoral, utterly foreign and inaccessible universe.

    But, in the end, she died. “Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust…” — from “Cymbelline”, William Shakespeare. No one is ageless, and as of yet, no one defies death. In 2009, Koko Taylor, a legendary blues singer, died at the age of eighty. I saw her perform magnificently at the age of 63, and without a microphone, on an outdoor stage, she brought the crowd to its feet, and put the boys with their amps and electric blues to shame. We have lost so many: Frank Frazetta, the awe-inspiring fantasy artist, gone at 82 in 2010; J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye”, dead in 2010 at 91; and yet no one on WoW thought to mention the passing of these truly amazing human beings.

    Ah, well, “Liz” and her infamous scandals, and her outstanding charitable work. “Liz” and her association with the train-wreck and schadenfreude that was Michael Jackson and her fierce devotion to her children and grandchildren. Elizabeth and her sordid “private” life…and her Great Love that moved so many (I guess it simply bemuses me) were, and are, much more scintillating, and transfixing than any of the others I mentioned. I hope that the public can gently lay her to rest soon…there is nothing mysterious or questionable about her death, or, truly, her life, or her burial…she was in hideous health, and she was 79…hardly old for some, but for others, on death’s door. No need to become saccharine with the accolades, or wormwood with the innuendo and revelations…she did her time to the fullest extent any human could…now let her be.

    And in doing so, please try to remember the others who made such enormous contributions, and whose lives, and endings, have never even been acknowledged on this and far too many other sites. Maybe their lights did not blind…but they certainly did shine.