Esquire's profile of Sharon Stone shows an actress playing her part

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the recently published third edition of his "Biographical Dictionary of Film," David Thomson does a wicked thing. He chooses to combine the entry for Frances Farmer with that for Sharon Stone: together again for the very first time, Hollywood's most famous victim (then) and most famous vixen (now). We are reminded that the difference between them isn't necessarily all that great, a dream factory being a factory first and foremost.

Jessica Lange got the title role in "Frances," the 1982 Farmer biopic. The title role in "Sharon" would have to go to Ms. Stone, for as Bill Zehme's profile in the March Esquire demonstrates, no one else has a cannier sense of the part Sharon Stone plays in the flesh as well as on the screen. It is, after all, a persona of her own making: Madonna with irony, the sexpot who arches an eyebrow even as she arches her back. Who else could get away with being on Esquire's cover in a strategically unbuttoned union suit (that's right, union suit) while managing to let you in on the joke as well as the come-on?

Unfortunately, Mr. Zehme tries to keep up with Ms. Stone on the having-it-both-ways front. He has a drop-dead faux-lewd lede -- "When nude, Sharon Stone usually wears nothing" -- but it's all uphill from there. Mr. Zehme's coyness quotient refuses to calm down; and once he's made the joke he spends the next 5,000 words making sure we get it. Alas, repetition -- especially of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety -- is the sincerest form of overkill, which may be why Ms. Stone herself has yet to escape her "Basic Instinct" past.

The picture of success

The New York Review of Books (March 2) contains two cherishable items. In the course of a Q. and A., Henri Cartier-Bresson lets drop his opinion that photography is neither art nor craft. Now this is the same Mr. Cartier-Bresson who is one of the century's half-dozen or so greatest photographers, which means his interviewer wastes little time in inquiring as to what it might in fact actually be.

One can almost hear the lazy Gallic sigh as Mr. Cartier-Bresson replies, "a pastime."

So sublimely blase a statement is tantamount to Bill Gates calling software "a diversion" or Ted Williams describing hitting a baseball as "my idea of nothing to do": preposterousness of pyrotechnic proportions.

Ted Williams brings us to cherishable item No. 2, which has to do with Stephen Jay Gould's roundup of baseball titles. Said roundup makes for agreeable reading, even if in the course of it Mr. Gould fails to appreciate how well Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" (the "Huck Finn" of baseball books) has held up. The cherishable item is David Levine's accompanying drawing of Ty Cobb, in which the meanest man in baseball history holds a spike-encrusted Louisville Slugger that can't decide whether it's mace or a bat. Object announces everything necessary to know about bearer. Caricature this good does the work of definition.

Politics of Blount

Roy Blount Jr. is about as funny as a man can get and still stay operational. Or ambulatory -- and he certainly does pop up in the darndest places. Among other things, Mr. Blount regularly columnizes for Men's Journal, and in the March issue he tries to justify his being "a largely liberal Democrat":

"It's not that I have admired Democrats, particularly; but my feeling has been that Democratic politicians are bad enough. To embrace Republicans, it has seemed to me, would be like changing one's breakfast diet from Pop-Tarts (which at least contain, I believe, some vestige of fruit) to Hostess Twinkies."

Employing the most innocuous of phrases -- "vestige of fruit"? -- Mr. Blount contrives to spin out crazed webs of comedy; he is the drunken spider of American humor. Who else would note the homonymous relationship between two men dedicated to winning one for the Gipper: Newt Gingrich and Knute Rockne? For that matter, Mr. Blount suggests the current House speaker be renamed "Isaac Newton Gingrich" -- that way, "he could be

called Ike."

Sigourney's sequel

Mr. Gingrich, too, manages to pop up in the most unexpected periodical places. Ryan Murphy, doing a Q. and A. with Sigourney Weaver in Us (March), reminds her that the little girl the actress saves in "Aliens" bears the name "Newt." This inspires Ms. Weaver to consider the sequel possibilities. "I would love to do a scene where the alien and I corner him and scream: 'No cuts for arts funding! No cuts for arts funding!' "

@4 In space, no one can reject your grant proposal.

The swimsuit edition

Mothers, lock up your sons: It's Sports Illustrated (Feb. 20) swimsuit-issue time.

This year's installment is notable for demonstrating that mitosis applies to magazines, too (there are two photo spreads, not one); and that, if you're Cheryl Tiegs, you can go home again.

The first swimsuit-issue superstar, Tiegs was SI's favorite bathing beauty back in the '70s, and so begat Christie Brinkley, who begat Elle Macpherson, who . . . you get the idea.

Nostalgia aside, Ms. Tiegs' appearance is gratifying for political reasons.

There's no getting around the fact that the swimsuit issue is a sexist enterprise through and through.

But now, besides objectifying women, SI also strikes a blow against ageism: Tiegs is 47.

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