LIZ SMITH: Diana Ross, Still Supreme
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara
“Yes, I have my standards” (pause) “just as you do, Barbara.”
“JUST BECAUSE I have my standards, they think I’m a bitch,” said Diana Ross back in the day.
Miss Ross also used the word “standards” in an interview with Barbara Walters, saying “Yes, I have my standards” (pause) “just as you do, Barbara.”
Diana Ross & the Supremes.
A lot of diva behavior has flowed under the bridge since Diana used to be regularly raked over the gossip column coals for … whatever it was she asked for. Or by people who still couldn’t get over the breakup of the The Supremes or the unfortunate fate of one of the three original girls, Florence Ballard. (That tale — ambitious and charismatic lead singer abandons group — was the genesis of the movie “Sparkle” and the Broadway and big-screen musical, “Dreamgirls.” In a delicious twist, the movie version of “Dreamgirls” starred none other than ambitious and charismatic Beyonce, former lead singer of Destiny’s Child.)
I’ve always believed that if producer Berry Gordy had decided to fixate on Flo or Mary Wilson, neither of them would have given a backward glance to being pushed up front or engaging in a solo career. As Roxie Hart noted, “That’s show biz, kid.” To think otherwise is to be naïve in the extreme.
You don’t hear those kinds of tales about Diana anymore. The sounds you do hear right now are raves from Las Vegas where she is in residence for a month with “The Essential Diana Ross: Some Memories Never Fade.” Interesting that Ross, 72, and Cher, 70 (also in Las Vegas currently), are not only still packing ‘em in, they are delivering shows that totally satisfy fans, shows that would even impress someone not familiar with them. (Someone from Mars, perhaps?)
I last saw Diana in concert a few years back, here New York. It was like a revival meeting. She was electric, energetic and uplifting. In her warmth and evident desire to please, this woman was something to see. Apparently, if her Vegas critiques are any indication, she’s lost nothing in the art of presentation. One thing I noticed at the time — and a Nevada reviewer mentioned it — is that Ross has had so many hits, over so many years and genres, that even with extremely clever use of medleys, her audiences are always left screaming for more numbers. Critic Michael Shulman noted that if Ross acceded to every request, her show would be “the ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ of concert performances!”
Diana Ross in NYC in 2015.
Shulman also compared Ross to Cher and Elton John citing all of them as “the entertainment equivalent of a champion thoroughbred; bejeweled, bedazzled and happiest when giving fans their money’s worth.”
The sidebar I generally add to anything of significance I report about Diana is that the woman she is, is exemplified in the five beautiful children she has raised, including Golden Globe-winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross. No issues, no runaways, no tell-alls, no backbiting.
Diana and Elton John backstage at The Venetian Las Vegas a few days ago.
Perhaps, as a young woman, Diana looked out for herself, and simply hoped others were doing the same — show biz is brutal and the music industry, especially during the 1960’s rise of The Supremes, was particularly lethal. Life bit back at times, and Diana, unlike the sentiment of Edith Piaf’s anthem, surely has some regrets. But Ross, like Cher, is a survivor par excellence. No, more than survivors; they thrive. And right now, they are making the desert bloom.
P.S. Speaking of Cher, my friend Howard Green wrote in to say he’d attended Cher’s opening night, which he admired in every way, but noted in particular: “That body — WOW! A body that any 25-year-old would envy!”
Howard also took in Judith Light and Al Pacino performing a work-in-progress at the Pasadena Playhouse, Dotson Rader’s “God Looked Away.” This concerns the last days of Tennessee Williams. Miss Light was, well, Miss Light — glorious. And Mr. Pacino, according to Howard, is doing great work, too.
Judith Light and Al Pacino in “God Looked Away.” Jim Cox Photography
THIS N’ THAT:
… FAITH, love and hope had a big night at the Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air, California last Friday — an “Inter Faith” unity service led by Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of the Faithful Central Bible Church. Cantor Nate Lam provided musical direction. It was reportedly a spectacular raise-the-roof-join-hands-and-unite kind of evening. (The gospel choir got funky, the Stephen Wise band and singers provided rousing Hebrew musicality. Even doubters had to shout “Hallelujah!”) Among the united, though not performing, were Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., Florence LaRue, actress Gloria Hendry and Freda Payne.
Speaking of Ms. Payne, if you know her mainly for her mammoth 1970’s hits, “Band of Gold” and “Bring The Boys Home,” you’d do well to check out her 2014 album, “Come Back To Me Love.” Payne’s voice is still splendid — she’s like Ella Fitzgerald with an edge, a great jazz singer. On this Capitol Records CD she is backed by a forty-piece orchestra, and the whole thing is just sensational. It’s a revelation for those who recall only that all she was left with was a band of gold.
… ON Saturday, the 25th, at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom (431 West 16th Street) Alice Tan Ridley and Ayanna Irish team up for “I Will Always Love You — A Whitney Houston Tribute.” The pop goddess passed away five years ago this month. For ticket info go to www.highlineballroom.com.
… I KNOW you know today is National Margarita Day. No? Well, it is. It’s my first Margarita Day in decades when I have not been in proximity of tequila, via the El Rio Grande restaurant, downstairs from the old Liz Smith office at the Murray Hill Mews on East 38th Street. Back then, an occasional margarita at lunch or after work was a nice indulgence, a well-earned bit of relaxation. Now that “things are different” i.e. the election of the 45th president of the United States, I’d probably have a tequila IV drip running from the El Rio bar straight into the office, if we were still working out of 38th Street.
I don’t think my liver could have survived the past 32 days.