LIZ SMITH: Diana Ross, Life Achievements
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara
Another “Life Achievement” for Miss Diana Ross. Also — John Wayne Loved Doris Day … The Many Loves of Judy Garland … and The real Joan Rivers — the Woman Behind the Image.
ALL day long I hear my telephone ring
Friends calling giving their advice
From the boy I love I should break away
‘Cause heartaches he’ll bring one day
I lost him once through friends’ advice
But it’s not gonna happen twice
‘Cause all advice ever gotten me
Was many long and sleepless nights
But now, he’s back in my arms again
Right by my side
I got him back in my arms again
ATTEMPTING to choose a favorite Diana Ross song — from either her years as the supreme Supreme, or her equally successful reign as a solo pop goddess — is an impossible task. But “Back in My Arms Again,” circa 1965, is as good as any to showcase Diana at her best — that high, strong, clear urgent voice — the perfect pop instrument.
As good as the two other original Supremes were — Mary Wilson (“How can Mary tell me what to do/when she lost he love so true.) and Florence Ballard (“Flo, she don’t know, ‘cause the boy she loves is a romeo!”) Diana was the engine. She had the look and the sound.
That she had also the affection, protection and promotion of Motown’s Berry Gordy was not insignificant, but Ross would have made her way out of Detroit’s projects no matter what. Like Streisand and Madonna, Ross knew she was going to “conquer the world” long before anybody else did. (Frankly, just as the Jackson Five was really the Jackson One — Michael. His brothers might have had their talents, but it was Michael who had the star quality — to say the least! It could have been any four guys behind him.)
On November 19th, during the live ABC-TV telecast of “The American Music Awards” Miss Diana Ross will be honored with a Life Achievement award. This came as truly startling news to me. The AMA, created by the late Dick Clark, has been around since 1973. She was already a legendary figure then! That it’s taken until the second decade of the new millennium to honor her life achievements is somewhat shocking, but better late-ish than never.
I love Diana. As a recording artist, and as one of the great concert attractions (Like Cher, she gives her audiences what they want. Her concerts are incredibly joyous experiences.) And I like her as a person, never a bad experience. Maybe she might have done this or that differently over the course of her life — but who cannot say the same? And, unless we’ve traveled a mile in her sequined gown …
She’s raised her children beautifully, all of them a credit to the person I believe she truly is.
My one regret for Diana is that her movie career, which began so spectacularly with “Lady Sings the Blues” faltered swiftly with “Mahogany” (so bad it’s good!) and “The Wiz” (just kind of bad, expect for Lena Horne’s brief appearance.) But I lay that failure at the interference of Mr. Gordy. However, it’s never too late to carve out more acting. Especially these days, with the proliferation of cable and Netflix and Amazon, etc.
Whatever, Diana Ross doesn’t have to prove anything. She (and the Supremes) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she has been honored by the Kennedy Center and Grammy has recognized her life’s work. Musically, she’s conquered every genre. Still, at a vibrant 73, I believe there’s still a surprise and a dance in this diva yet!
Oh, and as for a later favorite song, we tip our hat to Miss Ross’s 1984 offering, “Swept Away” and its incredible video!
MAIL: Our pal Howard Green shared this exchange between John Wayne and Rod Taylor sometime back in the 1960s. (Mr. Green was moved to share after we mentioned how much we enjoyed Wayne — and Capucine — in “North to Alaska.”)
Chatting, Wayne asked Rod what he was up to. “Oh,” said the hunky Taylor, “I’m doing another picture with Doris Day.” Wayne, slapped his hand on his leg and exclaimed “Geez! (Okay, that’s been cleaned up) “I would crawl over the mountains of Beverly Hills on my hands and knees if I could do a movie with Doris Day!”
It is interesting that Wayne and Day, two of the genuine giants of the box-office never got together on-screen (Day did her share of westerns.) And Wayne had been an independent entity for many years at that point. He made his own decisions about his movies. It would have been fun. And yet another example of how well-regarded Day was, by her peers. Oh, in passing — Doris Day has not won an Oscar!!
Also popping up in the inbox, this, from a well-informed Hollywood insider, whom I won’t identify. This person was interested in our item here regarding the coming movie about Judy Garland, to star Renee Zellweger: “You mentioned that Judy tended always to blame her mother, Louis B. Mayer, her husbands, lovers, agents and strangers on the street for most of her problems, but — what about all the girlfriends?”
Miss Garland was a woman of many moods and many selves. I’d forgotten that one. (Although I think the “all” is a bit exaggerated. As a woman eternally looking for love, somewhere over that cruelly ironic rainbow, she dabbled in every possibility, satisfied in the end only that she had been let down. Ah, well, this agony brilliantly informed her art. As she herself said to daughter Liza Minnelli: “Listen, who wants a happy Judy Garland?”)
ENDQUOTE: From writer and man-about-town Gregory Speck. He attended the big book party at Maxwell’s Chophouse, celebrating a new coffee table book on the late Joan Rivers, “Joan Rivers Confidential: The Unseen Scrapbooks, Joke Cards, Personal Files and Photos of a Very Funny Woman Who Kept Everything” put together by Joan’s daughter Melissa and Scott Currie. Everybody who is still anybody in Manhattan was there, from the Post’s Cindy Adams to Martha Stewart to Peggy Siegal to Roger Friedman, and on and on.
Of course, the room was awash in funny and sentimental tales of Joan, still so deeply missed.
Mr. Speck, who is in possession of several Faberge eggs which Joan gifted to friends at a Christmas gathering some years ago, remarked: “The truly odd — and I guess brilliant — thing about Joan is that in person she was so kind and sweet and sincere, the total opposite of the brash, vulgar personality she created for herself. I was amazed to find her to be demure, sensitive and charming. Nothing at all like the obnoxious, to some, image she adopted for her long life in show business.”
This is essentially correct, although Joan was no pallid water lily. A few years ago we found ourselves sitting behind Joan at a big Broadway opening. She had already been seated, with a pal, when we settled into our seats and realized we were staring at the back of her smooth blonde coif. In tones that carried, at least back an aisle, she had her say on this and that one, entering, sitting or standing in the theater. Very funny, not always sympathetic. Tempting as it was to allow this to continue, we tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she said, “How long have you been here?” “Long enough, honey,” we replied.
At curtain time her farewells were hasty. No, nothing we overheard appeared in the column. The next time we met, she embraced us. With, we felt, some relief and appreciation.
Photographs by Patrick McMullan (Rivers)