"I'd like to rip her throat out!"
This is what the great Meryl Streep supposedly said -- all in good actorish fun -- when Madonna's tireless campaign to play the lead in the movie "Evita" came to pass in 1997.
But that might be the only role Miss Streep lost! Now, everything seems automatically offered to Meryl. She has portrayed Margaret Thatcher ("The Iron Lady") and Julia Child "Julie and Julia"), as well as Nora Ephron ("Heartburn") and Karen Silkwood ("Silkwood").
One might add that in a manner of speaking, Meryl also portrayed Carrie Fisher in "Postcards from the Edge," which also offered Shirley MacLaine up as Debbie Reynolds. And Meryl sang quite convincingly in that movie.
I CALLED Mike Nichols who will direct Meryl as Maria Callas in HBO's film version of Terrence McNally's play "Master Class." This is about the opera star in her teaching mode late in life, after she had lost her lover, Aristotle Onassis, to Jacqueline Kennedy. Was the Page Six item accurate?
Mr. Nichols responded in his usual manner: "How could you doubt the Post? Every word is true. I've never known them to be inaccurate; well, at least not since this morning. They seem to have actually talked to Leslee." (He meant Ms. Dart, Meryl's press agent.)
THIS movie is something to really look forward to and I want to add a few words about playwright Terrence McNally. He has been much in the news lately with the star Tyne Daly in his play "Mothers and Sons." It just closed this past weekend.
Terrence is a wonder. Born a Floridian, he spent part of his childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas. Meeting the first woman ever to be a Broadway backstage manager -- one Elaine Steinbeck -- he became a tutor to the Steinbeck children when she wed the exalted writer John Steinbeck.
Terrence has written 34 plays, nine musicals, three operas, four movies, and three television shows. Prolific and concerned with true issues -- Terrence knows absolutely everything about opera there is to know. He will reach new heights and recognition with this filming of "Master Class."
I think I have seen most of the well-known actors who have played his version of Maria Callas. The original, Zoe Caldwell, then Patti LuPone, then Dixie Carter, then Tyne Daly, and he has also had, in one production, the six-time-Tony-winning actress Audra McDonald, as a Callas student.
Terrence McNally hasn't quite reached the peak of the ubiquitous Stephen Sondheim, but he's getting there! He is just a very great good guy and while "Master Class" is one of his best dramas.
I can hardly wait for his version of Meryl Streep as Maria Callas -- with the genius Mike Nichols directing!
Thinking into the fall (rushing the seasons) I notice that in November we'll be doing the New York Landmarks Conservancy's "Living Landmarks" salute at the Plaza Hotel once again. (This great organization exists to try to save New York City from itself! It's against the destruction of everything of distinction for taller and taller glass buildings where nobody "normal" can afford to live.)
I remember when we first approached Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis to be Living Landmarks. The great actor himself was ill and put us off. He and his divine Mrs. were known as "the African-American Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne of the modern theater. But Ossie left us before we could arrange the honors.
And now Ruby Dee is gone. My pal William O'Shaughnessy, the WVOX and WVIP radio king, has written a goodbye to Ossie and Ruby and I'm going to steal a little bit here.
Let me introduce Bill O'S, of New Rochelle, N.Y., and environs, although I don't really know if he broadcasts from there because I always see him in Le Cirque in Manhattan.
"The American theater has lost one of its most gifted and talented actors. And WVOX has lost a neighbor. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee -- you have to take them together, were a beloved presence in our home heath.
"When people think of New Rochelle, they think of Dick Van Dyke. But that was make-believe. Ossie and Ruby were for real. They were very real.
"Over the years she would walk Pinebrook Blvd., taking her daily constitution in every season and she would cause whiplash for many a passing motorist: 'Isn't that Ruby Dee!' And for many of her 91 years, it was.
"They did some of their best work out on the streets as citizen-activists. ... A young Malcolm X used to sit in the living room of their big, sprawling house on Cortland Avenue and rage into the night about injustice and inequality. And a former police commissioner of this very city actually kept quite an active 'subversive' file dedicated entirely to the most suspicious left-leaning 'activist exploits' of the former Ruby Wallace and her equally dangerous husband. They could have lived in any upscale, tony venue: Greenwich, Waccabuc, Manhasset, Bronxville, Scarsdale, Bedford or Rye. But they lived all their days in New Rochelle, just a few blocks from our local community broadcasting station, which they supported all their days in every season.
"My mind drifts back many years to a political fundraiser we had at Le Cirque for Gov. Mario Cuomo. A thousand dollars a ticket. When it was winding down, a car pulled up and delivered an exhausted looking Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. They had just come from Kennedy Airport, after a long bumpy transcontinental flight from Europe.
"Ruby reached in her pocketbook and presented two checks for the Cuomo campaign. When I suggested they could just as easily have mailed them, she said: 'Not for him. Not for you. We wanted to deliver them in person.'
"There was another night at Le Cirque. When the main course arrived, I had my fork poised in hand and ready to dig in. Ruby said, 'Not yet ... a prayer first,' and she had us clasp hands all round while she whispered a prayer for world peace. You do that at home ... but she did it anywhere she damned pleased.
"Mario Cuomo used to say he prays for 'sureness.' I'm not sure about a lot of things, but of this, I'm sure. Ossie Davis was a saint. And now she's gone to meet him. You have to give them equal billing."
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
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