By Liz Smith, Tribune Content Agency
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
"WHAT'S the best book you've read so far this year?" asked The New York Times of James McBride. (He is the author of 'The Color of Water' and "The Good Lord Bird.")
His answer had more people talking than I've heard in lit circles in ages. His answer was: "'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' by William Shirer. All 1,100 pages, and I wish there were more. Just finished it. I should've read it years ago."
Mr. Shirer wrote his book back in 1959. It's a real historical masterpiece.
THE TALK of movie circles is where everybody who hasn't seen "Blue Jasmine" yet, says, "Oh yes, I want to see this Woody Allen movie. I hear it's great." It is.
And the other thing they're talking up is Lee Daniels' upcoming "The Butler" with Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Oprah Winfrey, James Marsden, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Robin Williams, Minka Kelly, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey and others too important to remember.
Director Lee Daniels is a creative winner! This talented guy more or less "discovered" Halle Berry and helped coax her to an Oscar in "Monster's Ball." He also directed "Precious."
A few inside souls will be getting a preview in the Hamptons any minute.
Does this mean the reign of the apocalyptic vampire car crash machines-fighting-machines movies will bite the dust? You can read all the philosophy of new movie-making in the new September issue of Vanity Fair.
MY readers write me: Here is Jean-Claude Bailet: "Locarno is on Italy's border with Switzerland. France has nothing to do with it." Next? Geography lessons for Liz. ... John Newman says in response to remarks -- "Who doesn't adore Rebecca De Mornay? She is marvelous ... more beautiful now than in her earlier years. ... I am a fan of 'An Inconvenient Woman' and she was wonderful; as was your dear friend Elaine Stritch as Rose Cliveden." ... Tish Willis says she just watched Rebecca in the TV remake of "The Shining" and was struck by how much she resembled Hillary Clinton. "She'd be great in a biopic." ... Raleigh's Aimee Self reminds that the Ava Gardner Museum "is about 30 minutes south of us, in Smithfield." And, yes, I know and have contributed to this museum. ... Mike Green says he has enjoyed our coverage of the new Ava book and thinks Jane Fonda is "classy" and her work in "The Newsroom" has been "excellent." ... John Jayne reminds us of Susan Hayward's "I Want to Live" and recommends the new miniseries "Orphan Black." It's Canadian and stars Tatiana Maslany. Amazon and Netflix carry it. ... Mike Green writes: "My wife and I were both English majors at the U of Georgia. Loved your essay on good and evil in the world." ... Joanne Cincotta vows if Elaine Stritch doesn't win the Emmy, she'll never watch "30 Rock" again. (Well, it is finished anyway, I suppose.) Lots of readers loved the piece on backup singers. Dolores Ozdimer, John Hays and somebody known only as jjnygirl, raved about our appreciation of these great women. They named Melissa Manchester as a Harlette, Stevie Nicks' wonderful backups, Merry Clayton on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter," Arlene Smith and the Chantels, Shirley Owens and the Shirelles, Mary Wells and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. And I see everybody thinks it's classy the way Bette Midler treated her backups as stars.
MY anecdote here about Gloria Swanson thinking she was poisoned by a lemon led to this story from Anita Anderson. "Laughed out loud at your story where Gloria says she's been poisoned but went ahead eating the lemon-drenched fish, Liz. She was my husband's maternal grandmother. When we were newlyweds in 1978, I gave a dinner party for her while she was visiting L.A. My husband said we couldn't serve anything with sugar! She didn't eat sugar. But the buffet included several desserts, one called 'Alligator,' from Vienna, had caramel, pecans and lots of sugar. Ms. Swanson was gracious and charming and pulled me aside, as she left, asking for the recipe for the "Alligator."
THIS reminded me, Liz, of a story printed in "Natural Blonde" (for the benefit of those of you asking me to write a book). I told how Ms. Swanson had beguiled one of the heirs to the Schirmer music fortune. But when Joe Kennedy came to call on her, she would push poor Mr. Schirmer into her closet and make him stay on pain of death, among her gowns and feathers and evening dresses. He couldn't be liberated until her movie producer departed.
If you want to read "Natural Blonde," my 2000 memoir, which I am told Amazon no longer has, you could send me an email and I'll tell you how to get a copy for a mere song and mailing cost. I have 30 boxes of these lovely best sellers and I am eager to get rid of them. This book made a lot of money in its day, I am delighted to note.
HEY, you'll want to read the aforementioned Vanity Fair for several other reasons: Graydon Carter's take on how nobody, except ordinary people, has yet paid in full for the criminal Depression era fomented at the end of the Bush years' flop, the story of character actor Andre Leon Talley of Vogue (he is written about as a fashion plate who had an almost puritanical upbringing) and the fabulous collection of fantastic Princess Diana photos along with a good story on this amazing creature and her real true love -- not Dodi Fayed!
You can also take a look at their best-dressed people you mostly never heard of and get a glimpse of Ronan Farrow, the genius child of Mia, forever lost to Woody, and is this kid handsome, or not? And, just who does he resemble?
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)