"There's no one who's more romantic than a cynic," said the late, great, writer-moviemaker Nora Ephron.
When a novel titled "What Nora Knew" uses this quote to open a new so-titled novel, I confess I bridled a little bit.
(I guess I was foolishly possessive about "my friend Nora," so I was startled when I first saw this title from Gallery Books.)
And to make matters more confusing, the author was not "my" friend, who I frequently write about in this column, moviemaker Linda Yellen. The author of "What Nora Knew" is someone called Linda Yellin. Was this Linda just trying to "cash in" on "my" late Nora? Was she misusing the name of the better-known woman, famous for working with film stars like Vanessa Redgrave and Jackie Bisset? But more of this stupid reaction of mine anon.
Meanwhile, three Yellen/Yellins in the news all at once was daunting and amazing. Could three big Y's make such an impact all at once? I had been enjoying the fact that Janet Yellen, who, of course, I don't know, had risen to be the most important female VIP in the nation. President Obama had made this paragon of high intellect and power, the new chair of the Federal Reserve -- the first woman ever to hold this important position.
I had been cutting headlines out of newspapers -- "Vice Chair Wins Highest Post" and sending them to my movie-director-writer friend Linda Yellen saying, "I always knew you were the head of vice!" Pathetic, don't you know!
By the time I had told "my" Linda Yellen that there was a Linda Yellin out to steal her ID, I had made up my mind not to like the interloper with an "I," who was also evoking "my" famous Nora.
But the moviemaking Yellen, who is smarter than I am, said only: "I want to meet this Linda Yellin. Can you arrange it? And what's her book like?"
Well, that fixed my wagon. I realized I had penalized someone I didn't even know and was judging her work without knowing anything about it. (Our juvenile possessive attitudes are, of course, always so ridiculous.) So, I started reading "What Nora Knew" and boy, oh boy, was I delightfully surprised!
This New York writer has produced a charming, stylish story of a young, divorced woman striving to live a modern life combining love, romance, work, friends, boyfriends, all from living by the rules Nora Ephron made famous in her writing and especially from her movies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." She yearns to be defined in Wikipedia.
This novel is so originally delightful and I do think our famous Nora would approve of someone making her into a super guru.
After all, one of Nora Ephron's last works was itself about a beleaguered young "wannabe," who decided to make Julia Child's life her own -- the movie version of "Julie and Julia."
You'll choke up occasionally at the heartfelt feelings of Linda Yellin's heroine, recalling Nora as an expert at love and romance. But you'll laugh more, and understand why the fictional Molly Hallberg doesn't want to go back to her family's upholstery business in Long Island.
If you think you'd like someone who dares to learn to dance with the Rockettes for an online magazine assignment, you'll love the adventure in all this.
Stunningly "with it" and living by Nora's best remarks and advice, you'll fall in love with this ambitious, smart, brave someone who evokes Nora Ephron only in the best way. The critics like "What Nora Knew" and how it leads the reader to some acute writing and opinion resembling our pressured times. Highly recommended.
And now I shall try to arrange that meeting between the talented moviemaker Miss Yellen (She is about to film "Blush" about Garbo and Dietrich) and with Miss Yellin, who might love a new mentor.
You can hear the author Linda Yellin often on Sirius Radio. She has written for major magazines and is sometimes seen visiting the top of the Empire State Building, in spite of what she calls her cynical nature.
"THEY'RE NOT as talented as I am. I am extremely talented. There's nothing I can do about it -- I'm just scared to death of my own talent!"
That was -- surprise -- the great performer Elaine Stritch talking to Out magazine's Adam Feldman. Miss Stritch was joking. Sort of.
I came across the Stritch profile by lucky accident. Mr. Feldman offers up one of the most brilliant essays I've ever read about my longtime (since 1953) friend. It's just one page, but one page is all you need if you've got talent and Elaine Stritch as a subject.
Feldman writes: "More than any other actor alive today, Elaine Stritch embodies raw nerve -- in both senses of the term ... perhaps Stritch has simply aged into the persona she projected all along. Her caustic, booze-soaked voice and curmudgeonly demeanor -- she delivers one-liners as if she's just bitten into a sour apple -- have always made Stritch appear older."
There's a new documentary coming on Elaine, titled "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," directed by Chiemi Karasawa. Author Feldman describes Elaine "parading down the sidewalks of New York ... looking like a cross between an eccentric royal and a crumpled newspaper, she is a triumph of the indomitable spirit." Stritch insists she has "retired" to Birmingham, Mich., but the idea of Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women" tempts her.
The Out article is also illustrated with wonderful photos -- Elaine today, winking into the camera, holding an award. Elaine in 1960 posing for the TV version of "My Sister Eileen. And Elaine backstage at the Savoy Theater in 1973 during the London run of "Company." In this latter photo she is so impossibly, impishly sexy, in her white shirt and black tights, it is to die for!
RAN INTO Gayle King, of Oprah, radio and TV fame. She thanked me for my praise of Oprah's performance in "The Butler," and said, laughing: "She is not upset at all about not being nominated for a Golden Globe or Oscar. I'm the one who has to try and let it go!"
"MISS Taylor's misreading of every line approaches sublimity!" That's what Pauline Kael wrote about Joseph Losey's 1968 psychological tale "Secret Ceremony" about a nutty hooker and a nutty heiress. The hooker was played by Elizabeth Taylor, the heiress -- living alone in a magnificent old mansion -- by Mia Farrow. A friend of mine lent me the movie, after I laughed at Kael's quote. "Prepare yourself," my friend said. "It's beyond reason." I'll say!
"Secret Ceremony" makes no sense, all the characters, including a libidinous Robert Mitchum, are adrift in a loony script. Elizabeth, though zaftig, looks quite beautiful and even manages to convey some poignancy, in between her wacky, snarly, line-readings. (She also has the good-natured zest to allow other characters to insult her weight!) Miss Farrow is especially ill-served. The cinematography is moody and evocative.
The film was a big success in Europe -- as was Losey's other Taylor film, "Boom!" Pauline Kael also noted, "Sometimes the nuttier a thing is, the more people will love it." Why did Elizabeth make it? To stay in Europe, for tax purposes and -- mainly -- to keep an eye on Richard Burton.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Elaine Stritch is too talented, even (especially) if she says so
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