LIZ SMITH: Birthday Bonanzas, Grammy Highlights

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

A Birthday Bonanza … Grammy Highlights … The Blazing, Brilliant Return of John Olivier.

“WHEN I turned fifty, my children said, ‘Half a century, mother, half a century.’ Sixty? Well — that wasn’t too bad. Seventy was awesome. Eighty? Well, as I say, if God decides to pick up my option.”

That was the incredible Bette Davis, backstage at an Academy Awards ceremony, shortly before her 80th birthday. She had already suffered several strokes, was battling cancer and had been betrayed by her beloved daughter, with a scathing tell-all book.


Bette Davis accepting the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1977.

She died a little over a year later, in Paris, France, age 81, right after accepting a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

Although physically frail she was dynamic, vital — and as far as I am concerned, heroic — to the very end. Bette knew what to do when the inevitabilities of a long life punched — she punched back!


I WANT TO thank the many who sent me birthday greeting recently — emails, phones calls, skywriting. (Okay, nobody did any skywriting. But keep it in mind for next year!) I couldn’t possibly reply to each and every one of these good wishes. But I was overwhelmed by the affection and attention.

“10-4 birthday girl!”

One of the loveliest calls I received, as I turned from 93 to 94 was from the great and darling Angie Dickinson. We are longtime admirers of this woman. She is so sweet, gentle, thoughtful as a human being. Her wonderful screen presence aside — sexy and vulnerable — Angie is a marvelous woman. (And a discreet one. She famously returned the advance of her memoir, not willing to “kiss and tell” on some of her famous amours. Those memories, she says, she will take to the great beyond.)

After we got through talking about my great age and my health (pretty good, for my great age!) I asked Angie if she was going to come out of retirement and act again?

The star of “Rio Bravo,” Dressed to Kill” “The Chase,” “Point Blank,” “Big Bad Mama” “Wild Palms,” and of course, “Police Woman,” laughed and said “No, I want to be remembered as the demure but sexy girl I was!” Then she paused a moment. “But look, if Steven Spielberg called, I might be tempted!”

Mr. Spielberg, the ball is in your court.

Angie also sent her love to my longtime colleague and cohort Denis Ferrara, who adores her. “Give him a hug and a kiss, I truly love Denis.”

Angie Dickinson, we love you, too.


I ALSO heard from my college chum Bob Benton who was an aspiring artist when I first met and adored him at the University of Texas in Austin.

Benton went on to become a cartoonist-writer-editor in New York. Later, he wrote screenplays (“Bonnie and Clyde” “What’s Up Doc?” “Superman”) and directed films such as “Kramer Vs. Kramer” (Meryl Streep’s first Oscar, and two for Benton) and “Places In The Heart” (Sally Fields’ second Academy Award, and a third for him!)

Bob with Dustin Hoffman on the set of “Kramer Vs. Kramer.”

I thought Bob was kidding, during our chat when he said he’s put me in his will. This undeserved reward would be “pieces of utterly worthless land” in his home town of Waxahachie, Texas.

Gloria and me “a few years back” taken by the great Ron Galella.

Well, there is no “worthless land” near the booming Dallas, so maybe I will have the last laugh. But Benton is still young, so this is a vain thought.

P.S. Bob was also the person who first introduced me, back in the 1950s to a very intelligent woman named Gloria Steinem. She was also great-looking but given her famous feminism, I thought it best to mention her smarts, first. We are, all three, still friends after all these years.

I was also happily stunned to get a birthday greetings from the one and only Barbara Walters. (She broke the mold for women on TV; she enabled and encouraged my own career!)

Then came a greeting from those long-marrieds who want only to help New Yorkers become more relaxed and happy — Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. (After making the glorious, elevated High Line the place to visit and enjoy, they will build another park for all of us on the Hudson River.)

I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.


I DIDN’T watch all three or four hours of the Grammys because I was also busy tuning in to “Victoria” on PBS and also “Homeland.” Claire Danes is still distractingly emotional as Carrie Mathison, former spy, and I can’t say I’m thrilled with what they’ve done to the wonderful Rupert Friend as Quinn — his poison gas ordeal has left him permanently afflicted. He’s acting up a storm conveying all his physical/emotional issues, but I’d rather they’d have gone for something unrealistic like a total recovery. It’s just a TV show, after all — right?

BUT given the fact we are not to try to pretend we’re up on all the current music, missing some of the Grammys doesn’t seem too remiss. And, as usual, I popped in always just in time to catch the “big” numbers — or at least the big ones I understand, more or less.

Beyonce is impressive and gorgeous but she seems to take herself and her messages so seriously — yes, they are serious messages, but there’s something rather ponderous (and confusing — to me!) about her presentations, eye-popping as they are.

I adored Adele, starting over after a glitch in her tribute to George Michael, and her humble and heartfelt thanks when she later won, saying over and over that it should have been Beyonce.

(Look, something like that is better than a win. It reminded me a lot of when Barbara Stanwyck won an Emmy in 1983 for “The Thorn Birds.” She made her thanks and then made a point to praise fellow nominee Ann-Margret for her performance in “Who Will Love My Children.” It was a great moment. A-M burst into tears.)

The near highlight, for me? The marvelous Morris Day and The Time followed by Bruno Mars, in a tribute to Prince. Mr. Mars is a sensational performer, but channeling Prince seemed to take him to some other, almost supernatural level. He also looked, I think, better than he ever has.

The total highlight? (That I caught) was Alicia Keys and Maren Morris, on a duet of something titled “Once.” Two great voices and a comparatively simple setting (okay — huge chandeliers and candelabras; but they didn’t explode, fall down or get knocked over.) The real deal.


ENDQUOTE: “The dumbest thing I was ever taught was that ‘The Canterbury Tales” were funny, and I would argue that they were not even funny at the time they were written, and certainly less so now. Even if they were funny then, they’ve dated very badly, unless you find the idea of people shoving their naked backsides out of windows entertaining. It has a certain visceral charm, I suppose.”

That’s John Oliver, talking to Entertainment Weekly. John is, (thank heavens!) back on HBO with his “Last Week Tonight” show of political commentary, satire and outrage. He was brilliant in his return, this past Sunday. Oliver is, right now, the best of those expressing themselves on what’s happening politically.

Although I must applaud the bit that Conan O’Brien does with imagined “phone calls” between Barack Obama, and the person who now has his former job. Really hilarious stuff; deliciously on-target. (And perhaps the Conan skits are a bit too subtle for the current president to understand and object to.)

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