Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Roz!


So here it is ... tomorrow will be a month before my book comes out. Book Debut, by the way, is a euphemism for insanity.

I plan to work my madness out publicly in various forums, so if you're the scientific observer type, just stay tuned. ;)

Before I launch into the actual theme of this week's post, let me interrupt for station identification and tell you about some floor wax (remember that stuff?) ... seriously, good news last week for me: Nox Dormienda is in this month's issue of Writer's Digest as a Notable Debut (pg. 23, so my mother tells me). Last week was also my birthday, and this was a wonderful present.

Also, I'll be announcing soon some guest-blogging spots I'll be doing leading up to the July 18th release. Come by and leave me messages so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself. Writers have too many voices in their heads as it is.

So today, let's talk about Rosalind Russell.

Huh?

You heard right. Once in a while, I like to deviate from my normal noirishness to discuss different genres and performers from the classic Hollywood era. I dabble in Westerns, flirt with Dramas, dance with Comedy, and duet with Musicals. And Sunday, if you missed it, Patti Lupone won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Now, Gypsy happens to be my favorite American musical. Sure, I love Sweeney Todd, a noir if there ever was one, but Gypsy is on the noir end of things, too, and much easier on the viscera. Besides, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote The G-String Murders (some say it was ghost-written), which in turn was made into a film called Lady of Burlesque starring noir queen Barbara Stanwyck. So there you go -- not even six degrees of Double Indemnity.

So what does Rosalind Russell have to do with this? Well, for me, Roz was the ultimate Mama Rose. If you don't know the plot of Gypsy, it's simple: stage mother Rose Hovik mercilessly pushes child sensation Baby June toward stardom, sacrificing everything and everyone to success on a failing vaudeville circuit. Said Baby June (the real life June Havoc, best role Gentleman's Agreement) up and left Mama, and Mama coaxes her plainer sister Louise into taking it off at a strip club. Voila! Gypsy Rose Lee is born.

Of course, it's the music (Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim), dancing (Jerome Robbins) and book (Arthur Laurents) that make the musical. Plus, the acting chops of a good actress portraying a truly complex and challenging character. And it so happens that everyone who has played Mama Rose on Broadway has, indeed, won a Tony.

Ethel Merman (the orginator)? Check. Angela Lansbury? Check. Tyne Daly? Check. Bette Midler won an Emmy for her terrific interpretation (made for TV). Bernadette Peters? Check. And now, Patti.

Not to take anything away from Diva Lupone, but from what I've seen of her performance (and most of the other stage productions), I still prefer the woman who couldn't sing but was a hell of an actress: Rosalind Russell (in the film Gypsy, 1961).

(A digression: I saw Patti in a Sondheim produced production of Sweeney Todd in San Francisco (she played Mrs. Lovett), from the second row. The woman has amazing lung power. And George Hearn is not only brilliant, but a humble and wonderful man. Back to the blog.)

My problem with Patti is that she is charismatic but cold. And Rosalind Russell, in the first few seconds of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" can make me get teary-eyed.

So here's to Rosalind, born June 2, 1907, consummate actress and under appreciated talent. She won five Golden Globes (one for Gypsy) was nominated for an Oscar four times (and should have won) and is best-remembered today for embodying Auntie Mame, both in the film and on Broadway. But make no mistake: this lady played everything.

Hildy Johhson, His Girl Friday (1940), going toe-to-toe with Cary Grant in probably the best comedy ever made. The unglamorous nag Sylvia Fowler in the classic The Women (1939). Mourning Becomes Electra. Night Must Fall. Sister Kenny. Picnic. The Trouble with Angels. And, in one of her last roles, the sleuth Mrs. Pollifax. And countless other films, big and little, all of which were enlivened by her intelligence, her talent and her presence.

So if you get a chance, check out what a great actress can do without a great voice. You'll be left applauding Rose--and Ros--at the end of the film.

As Auntie Mame proclaimed, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Rosalind Russell, in her charity work, her humanity, her legacy and her talent ... fed us all.

Happy Birthday, Ros.

1 comment:

Laura said...

So many great films--but His Girl Friday has to be my favorite. That Howard Hawks was a genius! xo