Liz Smith: A Memoir, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Megyn Kelly
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara
Ariel Leve’s wrenching, unrelenting memoir … “Upstairs Downstairs” The Musical? … Trouble For Gaga’s “A Star is Born?” … New Reinvention for Madonna? … Megyn Kelly — The Big Morning Chill.
“SHE DREW people in with her mesmeric appeal, then drove them away with magnificent need. For me, the message was clear. Instability was a natural state of being. An artist was allowed to bend the rules. It was a mandate. And she was surrounded by others who, like her, nested in the turbulence of living. Masters of emotional jujitsu.”
That is a passage from Ariel Leve’s 2016 memoir, “An Abbreviated Life.” She is writing about her mother, the poet Sandra Hochman — although Leve never identifies her mother by name in the book.
As someone who has immersed their life in the silly business of celebrity, I found Leve’s description of her mother in the above quote one that could be applied many charismatic, tormented figures — from Monroe to Brando, Judy to Joplin, Billie to Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston. Of course, Ms. Hochman is still alive.
“An Abbreviated Life” is without a doubt a catharsis for Leve, who page after page after page describes life with a horror movie version of Auntie Mame, a Mommie Dearest without the wire hangers (others beat her, at Mommie’s bidding, she says.) There was a loving but geographically distant father, companions who were true, compromised, or died in her presence — literally. Leve is now in her mid forties, more or less happily estranged from her mother and living abroad, with a pragmatic man of few words and his two children. She embraces hope openly but with understandable caution.
Leve, an award-winning journalist, sure can write, but at 269 pages “An Abbreviated Life” seems considerably longer. Perhaps because it is so unrelenting — her experiences, as she recalls them, are not hard to believe, but so repetitively chronicled, exhaustion sets in halfway.
The reader wants Leve to escape her situation far sooner than she did — although the memoir makes clear this was easier said than done. But it is also clear early on, that Leve’s mother, as presented, is not merely emotionally abusive and staggeringly narcissistic, but unbalanced. And that unbalance recounted endlessly, is a terrible thing, not only for daughter, but parent as well.
There is perhaps a miscalculation in telling too much, and in that telling, tipping the scale of sympathy toward the abuser, more than the victim, who has not been so disabled by her childhood that she is not capable of writing an often riveting account of her life.
This book has been devoured and praised by those who value fine writing and/or have had less than happy childhoods. In the end, “An Abbreviated Life” is the white-knuckle story of the victim of a victim, and I don’t know if Leve — still suffering — quite understands that.
THIS ‘N THAT:
… WAIT for it, and everything becomes a musical. I should have been surprised to find out that the classic British series “Upstairs Downstairs” will be recreated as a stage musical. I was not. Adam Matalon is writing the book, Stephen Endelman and Matt Goss for music and lyrics (Endelman is the one who nabbed the rights to the 1970’s precursor of “Downton Abbey.”) Regan Silber will produce. So, at some point, the big and little dramas of Hudson, Rose, Richard Bellamy, Mrs. Bridges, Edward, Lady Marjorie, etc, will be put to song and dance.
… PERHAPS some of you saw Madonna hawking her new skin care line with Jimmy Fallon the other night. Amusing. (Her glittering skull-shaped evening bag was actually of more interest than whatever potions and lotions she’s selling. I think it’s a Judith Leiber and can be yours for a mere $5,495.)
There was no personal talk. The star mentioned en passant that she lives in Lisbon now. Unhappily for fans, no music talk, either. However, for those who have good skin and don’t need Madonna’s help in that area, there was a promising quote from The Big M in Entertainment Weekly.
Asked by EW if she would ever do an acoustic tour, she responded: “I’ve pushed the whole big-production arena tour to the max and done it the best that I could for such a long time. It’s time for me to take a different approach.” Interesting! But before Madonna even contemplates a tour, fans hope she can settle in with one good producer and create a great and cohesive album. (There actually was a great album within the hot mess that was “Rebel Heart.” But circumstances beyond her control — the illegal hacking and release of the album well before it was ready — and her own perverseness in the “Rebel” part of the disc, caused it to stumble.)
IMO, she’s still got another “Like a Prayer,” “True Blue,” “Erotica,” “Ray of Light,” “Music” or “Confessions on a Dance Floor” in her. As for her skin care line, good luck, but I think I’ll stick to Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Crème.
… I was hardly aware that Lady Gaga had completed filming on the latest remake of “A Star is Born” — directed by and co-starring Bradley Cooper — that word comes it will be released in May of next year, rather than in the traditional awards season of September, as originally announced. “They” say this means the movie has perhaps not turned out as well as expected. I say, May is a lovely time of year, and the machinations of studios and publicity are never easy to read. It’s a bit early to go all Henry Higgins on it — “Doomed, before they even take the vow!” It’s Gaga, it’s Bradley, it’s a classic Hollywood tale that eternally begs for reinvention. Or at least new stars in the old roles. As long as they are not planning to dump it out in January of 2019, let’s not over-think it.
ENDQUOTE: “Yes, I tried re-wiring her, tried re-firing her, I think her engine is permanently stalled/She’s so cold, she’s so cold She’s so cold, cold, cold, like a tombstone.”
For some reason, the 1980 Rolling Stones song, “She So Cold” kept running through my mind as I watched Megyn Kelly’s daytime debut, “Megyn Kelly Today.” To be fair, we should probably wait a full week to fully critique Kelly, one of the most successful, highly publicized and highly paid TV personalities of the past two or three years. Life isn’t fair.
Way back during her reign on Fox News, the words that always came to mind while watching Kelly was “steely-eyed.” One had the feeling that merely touching the screen would result in screaming, as Mick did, “my hand just froze!” While it is entirely possible Kelly will unbend, get out of her own forced way, and convincingly concoct a warm persona, she is and has always been, the last sort of person you want to spend time with in the morning. Judging by her debut, what Megyn Kelly does best is what she did so successfully over at Fox. Her hectoring, occasional faux “understanding” of the less conservative side, and her startling chilly blonde beauty, were perfectly presented. She was the go-to girl to assure children that “Santa Claus is white.” (I never believed in her “feud” with the current president. It seemed more career calculation than solidarity with women or an abhorrence of misogyny.)
Kelly told her first a.m. audience that she was “through” with politics. That’s too bad. Not that I need to hear her views on politics, but she is made of stern stuff, and is an early evening star; you get to her after a hard day of being inevitably pounded by information. She was, on Fox, a peroxided exclamation point for an exhausted but hyped up audience.
In the morning, on NBC, she is simply a woman who broke eggs to make tasty omelets, turned the lemons of Trumpian disapproval into sparkling lemonade, and has only the results of her ambition and career cleverness to display.
To paraphrase Margo Channing in “All About Eve” — “I wouldn’t worry about your heart, Kelly. You can always put that TV show where your heart ought to be.”