LIZ SMITH: Classic Dish From Classic Stars!

“He’s a man, isn’t he?” “No, charm won’t work, he’s too smart for that (sigh).”

 by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Classic Dish From Classic Stars!

“WHAT DO the tabloids say? That I’m a drunk? Well, I did drink. A lot. Loved it. But now I’m in AA. And it’s very boring, I can tell you!”

That’s Jane Russell, the great bawdy sex-symbol of the late 1940s and early 1950s, talking to celebrity interviewer James Bawden.

Click to order “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era.”

That is one of hundreds of juicy quotes to come out of Bawden and Ron Miller’s new book, “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era.” This is a follow-to the authors’ first collection, two years ago, “Conversations with Classic Film Stars.”

This is as entertaining as the first book. I mean, in the introduction alone, the authors tell of things like going to interview Burt Lancaster on the set of 1980’s “Atlantic City.” The first words out of his mouth were: “I know you were just interviewing Kirk Douglas. What did he say about me?”

So here are few snippets from the greats, about the greats. We’ll go back to Jane Russell, who had this to say about her “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” co-star:

“I got to know Marilyn in the recording studio. First, I was surprised that she spoke naturally, and not that silly baby talk she used in movies. I just adored her from the start; so sweet, silly and drop dead gorgeous without any makeup and her hair uncombed.” (Jane also saw MM just before her death. Says she looked great, and was returning to the film she’d been fired from. Russell does not believe Monroe was a suicide. ) Jane’s positive view of Marilyn at that time is countered by most others; they found her a depressed mess.

Victor Mature on Cecil B. DeMille: “He was a wild mother. He loved those orgies in those old movies of his … he was quite a character for that kind of stuff.”

Yvonne De Carlo on DeMille: “His secretary told me to wear sandals and every time I wiggled my big toe he would smile. He had a foot fetish, it turns out. He wanted florid acting. He was always shouting at me ‘More! More!’”

“Want the job? Wear sandals, Yvonne.”

Bette Davis on Crawford: “Despite what you may have read, we never feuded on the set of ‘Baby Jane.’ There was simply no time. I give full marks to Joan for loving the art of being a movie star … Joan always wanted to be Joan.” (In the matter of Crawford’s departure from “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” Davis insists she believes Crawford was really ill. “Why ever would she be scared of lil old me?”)

Robert Young on Shirley Temple: “Later on, she had a grand new career as a U.S. ambassador under Nixon and George Bush. She sat out the Reagan years, telling me he was the only one of her co-stars she truly loathed.” (Young also said when he worked with Shirley as a teenager, she was desperately anxious to escape her career, and mourned the childhood she’d lost.)

Walter Pidgeon on Judy Garland: “She had the most talent but was always prone to hysteria.”

Robert Young on Katharine Hepburn: “At first I was beguiled. Then exasperated. Who wasn’t? She was so completely unbending … she believed she knew everything about filmmaking. In ‘Spitfire,’ she was playing a mountain girl with a Bryn Mawr accent. Every attempt director John Cromwell made to help her was rebuffed.”

Maureen O’ Sullivan on Groucho Marx: “He’d come every morning to my dressing room and try out his jokes. I was very fond of Groucho and I thought him sexy. He was very considerate of others, including Margaret Dumont, who he insulted and tormented onscreen. Off-screen, he was very nice to her.”

Anthony Perkins on Alfred Hitchcock: “He was one of the most collaborative and collaboration-prone directors I’ve ever worked with.” (Tony’s remark is significant as Hitch is usually criticized for simply telling his stars where to stand, and never giving guidance or confidence. Famously, he drove sweet-natured Doris Day to hysteria with this attitude.)

Ron Miller also has an amusing little essay, “My Seven Minutes Alone with Elizabeth Taylor.” He was part of the press assigned to interview La Liz while she filmed her cameo in the 1985 miniseries “North and South.”

Most of his time was spent observing the star, and being kept at a distance — even on a private plane. Although he stresses Taylor herself was very nice and cooperative when they spoke, briefly.

The piece rings true in the element of fear, tip-toeing and genuflecting that always accompanied Elizabeth. She simply terrified everybody, although she was usually an earthy, funny, doll once you broke through. (Miller also says he was stunned by the massive press attention she received in South Carolina. He thought of her as a “faded” star.) Only one thing seems questionable. He says ET was lovely, with “mesmerizing” eyes, but claims she was “slightly overweight.” I’d just seen Taylor in New York, prior to this, and if anything, found her too thin. And the movie itself shows her as remarkably svelte — not a double chin in sight. In her antebellum gown ET’s waist was in Scarlett O’ Hara territory!

Ah, well, one man’s plump …

Anyway, “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet” contains more, more, more — a feast for movie mavens! From University Press of Kentucky.

“Plump, sir? Down here in the South men fight duels over that sort of thing. And I know plenty of men.”


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