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Backstage at the Oscars: “Raging Bull” and Raging Bull

Backstage at the Oscars: ‘Raging Bull’ and Raging Bull 
April 8, 1981

Early spring, they descend upon Hollywood like snow in Tibet: producers with horror films to hustle to the studios, emaciated writers with screenplays to peddle to the pro­ducers, press agents, foreign press, unemployed actors, fans from all over the globe who want to wallow in the glamour of it all, and the Oscar nominees. The lucky ones stay at the Chateau Marmont, which is as close to civilization as you can get in a town where nothing’s close to civilization. From a Chateau window, you can see the Yoga Center on Sunset Boulevard, the Liquor Locker, Schwab’s Drug Store of Lana Turner fame, and a mammoth billboard advertising The Final Conflict.

John Hurt of The Elephant Man is registered at the Chateau, as is the Raging Bull contingent. Robert De Niro is a recluse in the penthouse, Joe Pesci occupies a fifth-floor suite, and Martin Scorsese has rented a bungalow near the pool as an office where he auditions actors for The King of Comedy (De Niro and Jerry Lewis will star).

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Tradition has it that at 5 p.m., on Oscar night, while the sun is still shining on the Freeway, the lucky ones descend the Marmont’s carpeted staircase in thousand­-dollar tuxes and evening gowns. They lean against rococo balustrades in the lobby making light conversation while chewing their fingernails to the cuticles. An uniden­tified idiot bangs out “Hooray for Holly­wood” on the Baldwin. Limousines arrive. And in a puff, the nominees are off to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where their fates are revealed on national television.

“After they leave, we have the quietest night of the year,” says Marmont manager Sam Heigman. “But when they return at midnight, the switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree:”


It is three days before the ceremony. Joe Pesci, a short, fluffy-haired New York actor who’s been nominated for supporting De Niro in Raging Bull, is quietly chewing his nails while seated on a piece of Moorish sectional in his Chateau suite. Although Pesci’s onscreen performance is full of sound and fury, offscreen he’s shy and reticent. He says he was signed for Bull after he had given up acting. He was working in a restaurant when old pal Rob­ert De Niro told him he thought he was the right guy to play his brother in the movie.

Pesci’s not sure about the mechanics behind his nomination. “No one said any­thing directly, but I think it started when Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times had some good things to say about my performance. After that, United Ar­tists took out ads every few days in the Hollywood Reporter.”

How did he find out he was nominated? “I just heard it on the radio while I was driving my car,” he says. “Then a couple of days later, I got a telegram from Marty Scorsese wishing me congratulations.”

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Supporting Oscar nominations can be death to actors. It’s known as the Mercedes McCambridge syndrome; instead of being a step up, it’s a step to nowhere. Pesci received a few offers after his nomination but most were for roles in television films. He wasn’t interested. Before Raging Bull, he would have taken commercials, but tel­evision, he feels, is 10 steps backwards. He’d rather wait until another good film part comes along.

Three weeks ago, Pesci came to Califor­nia to see a friend, get some sun, play golf, and just hang out. Then United Artists moved him into the Chateau Marmont. They’re paying his rent for a week, but he’s reluctant to talk up the picture. He especially doesn’t like the idea of hyping Rag­ing Bull on TV.

“I’m not an excitable person,” he says between short telephone conversations with Scorsese and De Niro. “I can’t be doing flips for six months because I’m nominated. I grew up with the Oscars and I’m proud to be honored, but I still can’t help feeling that they made a big mistake.”

Was Pesci preparing himself for the emotional trauma of Oscar night? Yes. By not thinking about it. Should he win, he says, “I’ll not make a speech. If I did, I’d have to think of a lot of nice things to say to a lot of nice people. What I’ll probably do is talk to the actors who never receive recognition and say something inspirational to them. I’d like to say it without being dramatic.”

Joe Pesci lost to Timothy Hutton, who won for Ordinary People. He didn’t have a chance not to be dramatic.

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No one is busier, glitzier, sillier, stodgier, or more sincere than Miss Rona. She is the Ed Koch of tinseltown, the populist, the moralist, the kid to kid. She is phony. She is real. She is Hollywood.

“Now, Carol,” asked Miss Rena on TV the morning after Carol Burnett won her libel suit against the National Enquirer. “Was there ever any time when the suit affected your relationship with your hus­band?”

“No, Rona,” answered Miss Carol, even ­more sincerely. “Joe has always been very supportive.”

Burnett’s victory has divided Hollywood. Drugstore cowboys at Schwab’s feel the jurors were predisposed to hate the ­Enquirer, If you live in Hollywood, you’ve got to be. Perhaps the Enquirer was punished far too severely, but to quote director Arthur Hiller (he’s making Making Love at Fox), “They’ve unfairly maligned so many celebrities, I’m glad Burnett responded and got her million-six.”

Yet one can’t help wondering if there is a correlation between Burnett’s suit during this Reagan conservative period and the innumerable lawsuits instituted against Confidential magazine during the McCarthy era. Ten celebrity suits are pending against the Enquirer. The L.A. Times reports “there may be an even more determined effort by the tabloid to defend itself against them.”

Burnett’s victory knocked Oscar out of the news, the weekend before the telecast. It was the talk of Hollywood.

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So much tension, so much excitement, so much activity during Oscar week. Visiting here is like spending a day at the Club Baths. United Artists invites the press to meet its “new star in town,” Mrs. Frisby, the animated rat heroine of a feature-length fantasy now in production. MGM opens its Culver City gates to journalists and and sneaks scenes from Pennies from Heaven (Christopher Walken doing a bump-and-grind strip, Bernadette Peters shaking her ninotchkas in Steve Martin’s  face, Steve Martin dancing incredibly well for a comedian), followed by a luncheon on a sound stage (lox, shrimp, strawberries, cheesecake, and columnist Aaron Gold), followed by a set visit (Herbert Ross directing Steve and Bernadette in a replica of Fred and Ginger’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance number)”.

Filmex is about to open with Atlantic City, the American Film Market at the Westwood Marquis Hotel has been run­ning for a week, and the Publicists Guild gives a luncheon at the Beverly Hilton (chicken fried in canned pineapple, broc­coli spears, publicist Renee Furst) at which Mary Crosby, Ron Howard, John House­man, Natalie Wood, and Linda Purl present “showmanship” awards. Goldie Hawn gets one as “the motion picture showman of the year,” a sexist title to numb Goldie’s feminist consciousness. Accumulating pre-Oscar awards has an effect on Academy voters, but no one expects Goldie to win for Private Benjamin. And she doesn’t.

Academy voters are desensitized and lobotomized by trade paper ads: Oscar winners are judged less by the the amount of money a studio will spend to plug what it’s pushing. Warner Bros. can take out approximately 20 Hollywood Reporter ads between Christmas and Oscar night lauding Goldie for Private Benjamin (the ads undoubtedly helped her get a nomination), but Universal will top them with 30 hailing Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter (an entirely new Oscar ad campaign was mounted). Major consideration is a studio’s investment in future projects for the nominee. Sissy is currently looping Raggedy Man for Uni­versal, which the studio feels could be as big as Coal Miner’s Daughter.

If an actor doesn’t play ball with the studio, he’s forgotten at Oscar time. Barry Miller got the best reviews for Fame and should have been pushed for a supporting nomination. He bad-mouthed the film. MGM didn’t hype Miller in any of Fame‘s innumerable trade paper ads; Two years ago, Paramount took out a paltry three Hollywood Reporter ads promoting Susan Sarandon in King of the Gypsies. Susan felt she was shafted: this was her finest moment. However Paramount was pushing co-star Eric Roberts as their Trav­olta of the future. Susan bought a couple of ads with her own money. Neither she nor Roberts was nominated, and Roberts’s movie career came to a standstill. (Ironically, his first film since King of the Gypsies is Raggedy Man, and the word is that he’s excellent.)

At the Publicists Guild luncheon, a Universal executive explains that “it’s all up to the gods. We can only push a little.” He thinks the Academy voters might choose Eva Le Gallienne for Resurrection because she’s old and she’s got lines like “If we could only love each other the way we say we do.” If, by some fluke, Ellen Burstyn wins for Resurrection (she doesn’t) her Oscar would bring the crowds in. Moviegoers adore Resurrection, he says, but the problem all along has been getting them to see it.

“Whatever it’s worth, whatever the cynicism, Oscar symbolizes the mystique and glamour of Hollywood,” proclaims Camille Lane, Universal’s advertising di­rector. “For those of us in the business, it is our one reaffirming moment of glory.”

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Oscar means different things to dif­ferent people. To the owner of the Blue Parrot in West Hollywood, it’s renting a six-foot screen and listening to customers wonder if Angie had a face lift and why Sissy doesn’t get a good hairdresser. To the display designer at Ah Men on Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s a window with a Raging Bull poster and a mannequin in red boxer shorts. To Swifty Lazar, it’s hosting yet another star-studded bash up­stairs at the Bistro. To William Morris super agent Joan Hyler, “Oscar night is not just another business evening, but a rit­ual.”

This is Hyler’s second Oscar night. In 1975, she sat next to a nominee “who was drunker than anybody I’ve ever seen. I spent the entire evening worrying whether he’d throw up on my new Halston.”

Hyler’s date this year is client Peter O’Toole, nominated for The Stunt Man. She believes that a nomination separates  an actor from his peers. It’s prestigious, of course, but you can also up a performer’s price: With some actors, like De Niro and Robert DuVall, a nomination will Solidify what they’re already earning. Mary Steen­burgen’s worth should be affected because she’s new and young and on the brink of becoming a major movie star.

“For Peter O’Toole, the nomination makes Hollywood happy to have him back again. Peter’s been gone too long: he has an enormous talent. Unfortunately, you’ve got to keep reminding them. Hollywood’s a town with a very short memory,” says Hyler, whose clients include Patti Davis. The president’s daughter has done a very effective reading for a part in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, and is supposed to be in the audience at the Oscar show.

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Monday morning, March 30, the day the Oscars are scheduled. The Tuxedo Center on Sunset Boulevard resembles Mamie Stover’s whorehouse in Guam during World War IL Male customers line up outside. They all look anxious. Inside, they’re measured. They fork out $50 for a day’s tuxedo rental. The price includes studs.

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the bleachers are filled. The broadcast is still eight hours away. Fans are young. Many have brought sleeping bags, blankets, food, and portable television sets. Greg Aiken., 21, from Del Mar, arrived 36 hours ago and has been sleeping on a bench and using bathroom facilities at a nearby service sta­tion. Seven women from San Diego arrived the afternoon before and waited outside the stage door to see the stars come in to rehearse. Sissy Spacek was real nice. Donald Sutherland wore red shoes. Peter O’Toole looked tired and worn. Lily Tomlin signed autographs. Diana Ross was rude, Angie Dickinson asked, “Are you from the Enquirer?”, Robert Redford rushed in with his head down. “You can bet we won’t ski at his lodge,” says the den mother of the San Diego group, “and we’ll remember his behavior when we see his movies.”

It’s an innocent, good-spirited, picnic­ — more Woodstock than Day of the Locust. Several fans carry posters: “We love you Jane Fonda.” “Hooray for Sissy.” “Why isn’t Madeline Kahn nominated?” whines a bobby-soxer. “Because she doesn’t de­serve to be,” snaps a teeny-bopper.

Everyone has an opinion.

Back at Schwab’s the visiting reporter asks Barbara the cashier if the drugstore’s gone Oscar crazy today.

“No, it’s gone Ronald Reagan crazy.” Has he decided to appear in person instead of on film? “No. He was shot in Washington an hour ago.”

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Televisions blare from every room in the Chateau Marmont. Reagan’s in surgery. Jim Brady’s near death. Maureen Reagan is furious. Michael Reagan is sad­dened. Dan Rather’s in tears. The coun­try’s gone crazy. The world’s about to col­lapse. Again.

The telephone rings: Joan Hyler’s sec­retary to say they’ve just gotten word from the Academy that the Oscars have been postponed until tomorrow. Marilyn Beck goes on ABC News to explain that the Oscar ball scheduled for the Beverly Hilton will now conflict with the closing night banquet of the American Film Mar­ket on Tuesday — caterers and florists are facing a major dilemma, and beauticians in Beverly Hills are going crazy. Later, a press agent, who’s scheduled a private par­ty for 50, phones complaining that he can’t fit all that quiche into his freezer so he’s giving a Reagan-watch party instead. A publicist from United Artists calls explain­ing that he’s having a terrible time rescheduling limousines: At the Chateau’s front desk, the manager cries, “I’m in trou­ble. I won’t have rooms for tomorrow.” An actor in the lobby (not nominated) won­ders if the assassination attempt is con­sidered an Act of God and if Tuxedo Cen­ter will charge him another day’s rental.

Oscar nominee Mary Steenburgen calls, too. She’s feeling “real disturbed.” Mary and her husband, Malcolm McDowell, have decided to watch television and eat in. “I’m glad they cancelled the show,” she says. ”It’s inappropriate that performers receive awards tonight. Right now, I feel a great deal of rage about the lack of gun control in this country. Like everybody else, I’m feeling real sad.”

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Tuesday. The themes of politics, assassination, celebrity, and movies have never been more dramatically visible than backstage on Oscar night. A block away from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a bomb squad truck blares its way toward the arena. Security has been stepped up. Usually 200 guards are on duty. This year, 350 policemen, sheriff’s deputies, and private plainclothesmen patrol inside and outside the hall. Many actors bring along their own bodyguards. Richard Pryor is always within thumb’s reach of his Man Mountain Dean.

An hour before the show, word filters to the press about John Hinckley’s letters to Jodie Foster, including the final one, not mailed, confessing his unrequited love and stating, “There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan.” The immediate reaction is life imitates art: Taxi Driver with Hinckley playing De Niro, minus Marty Scorsese’s direction. Especially in Hollywood, this sort of news upstages the Oscars.

Each year, before the Oscar show, Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd greets celebrity arrivals and pulls them up to a makeshift stage below the bleachers. He exchanges small talk with heavy-duty nominees as well as stars of yesterday like Cesar Romero and Gale Sondergaard. They wave at the fans (Angie Dickinson: “Thank you for being so patient”) and the fans, in turn, wave back and scream their approval. Hawn, Burstyn, Spacek, Moore, Duvall, Redford, but no De Niro or Scorsese. Would they attend? As it turned out, they either arrived hours early, or sneaked in a side door.

From the sidelines, one gathers that Oscar is an affair for those giving and getting awards, their families, Los Angeles society matrons, and studio executives. It is not an all-out industry celebration. Stars in disfavor this year, such as Barbra Streisand, Raquel Welch, and Al Pacino, stay away. Actors in TV series appear by the limousine-load. Bleacher babies know their faces and their TV names, but don’t know their real names

At 7 p.m., the press is allowed to enter the backstage area. We hear Reagan’s vid­eotape welcoming speech, while 200 of us wait patiently for a lone elevator that holds 10. The press room is Kafka interpreted by Bobby Short: men in tails and women in silken gowns beat out copy on 50-year-old Remingtons in uninterrupted rows of For­mica tables. Four 19-inch TV sets telecast the show, and a public relations woman keeps track of winners on a huge scoreboard, the way Nathan Detroit did in Guys and Dolls. In the TV media room, Miss Rona occupies a front row space (to Jack Lemmon: “Do you have any advice to give Timothy Hutton?” “Make Rona hap­py,” says Mary Tyler Moore to Lemmon. “Give Tim some advice”). In the photogra­pher’s room, Ron Gallela leads a brigade of accredited paparazzi (free-lancers are treated like dirt and kept the same dis­tance as the fans) all bringing their own unique vision to the very same photo­graphs.

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Had God given each journalist four eyes and ears, we’d watch the Oscars on the monitor screens at the same time we photograph or interview an entirely dif­ferent set of celebrities. Instead, we have to be selective. Nastassia Kinski and Sigourney Weaver in person gorgeously win out over the best short subject presen­tation on the tube.

Only award winners and presenters make the backstage rounds. Losers are spared the embarrassment. Sissy Spacek is the only star to make two backstage ap­pearances, having doled out an award for art direction, then winning one herself for best actress. Sissy says she’s relieved the awards are over: she isn’t in a celebratory mood.

Because there is so much glamour and power to select from, lesser award winners are ignored completely while their pres­enters are lauded and interviewed to death. Lily Tomlin appears in the press room with the winner of Special Optical Effects, but he might as well have been the incredible shrinking woman in the kitchen sink. Lily wonders why the Academy hadn’t junked the Reagan tape. “They should have made a new one from his hospital bed. That would have been an unqualified up for the people.”

Some reporters hog the stars. Radie Harris of the Hollywood Reporter hugs Tomlin. Peter O’Toole kisses Radie. Shirley Eder of the Detroit Free Press asks Lesley-Anne Down if she can check out the label on the inside of her dress — and does. Will Tusher of Variety yells, “It isn’t fair for others if the stars only talk to their friends in the media,” which prompts an­other journalist to yell, “They should only talk to their friends.” (Tusher is the most persistent interviewer, and asks the most inane questions. Radie and Shirley want to kill him.)

How each celebrity is treated depends on how he is perceived by the press. Mary Steenburgen, overjoyed with her support­ing award for Melvin and Howard, is met with affection. Diana Ross with goggle­-eyed awe. Lillian Gish with respect.

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Best screenplay winner Bo (Melvin and Howard) Goldman is chatting with the press when suddenly someone says, “Hold it.” Twenty newsmen turn their backs on Goldman to watch Robert Redford deliver his acceptance speech for best director (Ordinary People). They never get back to Goldman.

Redford generates a feeling of being either above it or below it all and is not a favorite in the press room. He exudes in­telligence, but his answers to questions are vague. He insists he’d never act in and direct the same film. He derides Holly­wood for “the current trend toward pyrotechnics,” and says he wants to make more intimate films which deal with emo­tions and social conditions.

There’s something about Redford — the blondness, the coolness, the good looks, everything that’s been written about before — that must be as awkward for him as it is for the person dealing with him. He makes you feel a little grubby. No one asks him to speak out about the assassination attempt or comment on Johnny Carson’s crack about Fort Apache, Charlie Chan, and Cruising (“It was a bad year if you were a gay Chinese from the Bronx”), or about Carson’s comments on Reagan’s cuts in arts funding or about the Burnett National Enquirer decision. So you talk direction and Ordinary People.

On the other hand, Robert De Niro is painfully shy. He rarely gives interviews. The press — at least, in New York — respects him and leaves him alone. Redford directed Ordinary People but De Niro is ordinary people, and what should have been one of the most gratifying evenings of his life turns into a nightmare.

When he accepts his Oscar for Raging Bull, De Niro concludes his speech by ac­knowledging “the terrible things that hap­pened in the world.” Then he takes a deep breath, clutches his trophy, and makes the backstage rounds. In the photo room, Ron Gallela asks him to hold a photograph of himself as Jake La Motta close to his face. This is not De Niro’s style, but he com­plies, with embarrassment. He enters the print media room as Sissy Spacek is being interviewed, and, as inconspicuously as possible listens to ebullient Sissy dispense quotes like “I’ve had the longest adolescence known to man or beast.”

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Then he faces the firing squad. Because of his distance with newsmen, there is no “hi, Bob, kiss, kiss, congratulations, kid­do.” Formalities are dispensed with in­stantly. The topic is assassination.

Somebody asks him to comment on the reports that Hinckley had used De Niro’s part in Taxi Driver as a model for his one­way relationship with Jodie Foster.

“That’s a whole different thing that happened,” he mutters. “It’s a loaded question.” De Niro’s eyes dart around the room, avoiding the eyes of journalists. The faint smile he had offered on arrival has disappeared. So has any semblance of joy. He looks terrified.

“It’s a question I don’t want to be asked. It’s hard to answer something like that. It’s an assumption. It’s not what it is.”

But isn’t it’true that … but didn’t CBS report that … but didn’t Hinckley say that …

Piranha time.

De Niro mumbles “I said what I had to say when I accepted the award. You’re really all very nice, but I have to go.”

And De Niro goes. He bypasses the TV room. He is spared the obligatory emo­tional content questions by Miss Rona. He skips the Beverly Hilton ball and heads straight back to his penthouse at the Chateau Marmont.

At midnight, the Chateau’s switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree. De Niro isn’t taking calls.

Oscar night is over. ■


Little orphan Annie has all the luck in the world. Yeah, so, her parents were killed in a fire, leaving her alone during the worst economy in history, while having to spend her days in a decrepit orphanage run by a drunken, bitter old hag . . . big deal. On the bright side, here’s a talented girl who can sing for miles, beat up the toughest boys on the block, rock a red fro like no one else, independently stroll the streets of New York City, have an awesome dog, and land the deal of a lifetime with Daddy Warbucks. The balding billionaire buys her a killer wardrobe, takes her on trips to D.C. to meet the president, rents out Radio City Music Hall to screen a movie, and throws her a lavish party with an elephant and everything. Really, who doesn’t want to be Annie? Tonight, join the scrappy orphan on Pier 46 when the 1982 musical, starring Albert Finney and Carol Burnett, screens at dusk.

Fri., Aug. 20, 8:30 p.m., 2010


Carol Burnett Is a Nice Person

The TV legend has always been known for her friendly spirit and undying sense of loyalty.

So when Don Crichton, a dancer from her old variety show, set out to direct an alleged comedy called Viagra Falls — currently stinking up the Little Shubert — Carol obliged with a quote for the ads:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this show’s a 12!”

That’s so nice of Carol. So enthusiastic and helpful.


But it might not be so nice to audiences who might dutifully buy tickets on Carol’s recommendation, then find the show is on par with Springtime for Hitler, minus the laughs.

It’s not a 12 at all. It’s more like a negative 10 million with a minus sign made of hemorrhoids.

As the play — about two geezers, a whore, and a bottle of penis hardeners — creaks on into the night, you have to feel sorry for Carol, and also for the show’s costumer Bob Mackie, who’s obviously a nice, loyal friend himself.

But, mostly, you feel sorry for yourself.

Hey, in brighter geriatric news, Elaine Stritch has reportedly nailed her part in Broadway’s A Little Night Music revival.

Says a Broadway board regular: “A Stritch in time learns lines.”


Soggy Post Grad Misses More than One Mark

Post Grad tries to do three things at once—and half-hits the mark on only one. Part of it is wacky Little Miss Sunshine family time, with Carol Burnett in the Alan Arkin part and Michael Keaton as the clueless paterfamilias. Part is sketch comedy, which—given Keaton’s frequently under-used talents, plus Jane Lynch as his wife and a supporting cast stacked so deep that J.K. Simmons can be thrown away on two scenes—is not half-bad. But most of Post Grad is a soggy, Devil Wears Prada–aspiring romance, with Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) as a just-graduated girl whose deep lust for literature (she has read Catcher in the Rye!) is exceeded only by her flawless navigation in heels. When a job in publishing isn’t forthcoming until the second act, Ryden leaves the big city and heads back to the homestead to choose between the older Brazilian hottie next-door (Rodrigo Santoro) and her devoted, absolutely spineless BFF, Adam (Zach Gilford). Then comes that second act, which features Ryden actually getting a magazine job in this economic climate, only to quit it for true love. Yes, she quit a publishing job. In 2009. Vicky Jenson’s live-action debut is as cartoonish as her work on Shrek, and that’s OK for the comic bits. The rest seems like a remarkably cynical cross-breed—for all demographics, but, ultimately, for none.


Mario Lopez’s Underwear Dis

My favorite li’l honoree at the Songwriters Hall of Fame last week was Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, who trailblazed country music while singing hard-hitting female-p.o.v. songs with lots of parentheses, like “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind).” Lynn chit-chatted with me by phone before the event, adding some all-new parenthetical thoughts while proving to be as utterly down-home and charming as a quince-pie tin in a quilted cozy.

“I’m so pleased about being in the Songwriters Hall of Fame,” she gushed (admitting she hadn’t quite heard of the other inductees). “I’d rather write than sing. It’s kind of an escape. I don’t know what else it could be!”

But performing, Lynn said, can be something she wants to escape from. “When I first started out, they had to push me onstage,” she admitted. “I was so bashful. I’m not really over that. But when you get over that completely, you need to quit!”

Not only hasn’t the woman done that—at 73, she’s still butcher-hollering up a storm—but she’s recently worked with newfangled producers Jack White (“a great kid”) and now John Carter Cash, whom Johnny and June used to let her babysit when they were busy walking the line. But it’s her songs, Lynn told me, that she considers to be like her children. “I remember writing each one of them,” she said, “and I know what state of mind I was in when I wrote them. My husband [‘Doolittle’ Lynn] was one of my greatest inspirations. I’d come off the road and he’d done something else, so I’d write about it.” Wait, had the man done something good or bad? “Something bad!” she squawked. “What do you think ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’ is about?” God, men are such state-fair-variety prize pigs. With parentheses.

“Every song I’ve ever written has something in the back of it that I know but nobody else does,” the new Hall of Famer went on. “Sometimes I get lost in the remembering.” Lynn especially loves singing “Dear Uncle Sam,” her anti–Vietnam War tune that is sizzling hot again because of the situation in Iraq. “It’s not old,” she told me. “It’s still fresh today—I hate war!”

But don’t think my new best friend Loretta Lynn is always mad at the menfolk; the country legend assured me that she can do happy songs, too. “One’s on the way!” she informed me, laughing. By natural childbirth!

A Television Hall of Fame legend, Carol Burnett started her Q&A show the other night at Caesars Palace’s Circus Maximus in Atlantic City by praising a man: her recently transitioned co-star Harvey Korman, who she said through tears “made my game better.” She needed to be in top shape to field questions from this audience of kooks and fanatics, including a young lady who stood up, put on a graduation cap, and announced: “Guess what school I just graduated from? Carol Burnett University! Everything I learned in life I learned from you!” Rather than yell “Security!”, Burnett was gracious as always and even thanked the girl for the elaborate truffle cake she’d sent backstage (which another audience nut was angling for a piece of). The star was also charming about the microphone battery pack that she said was lodged in her butt and had been wrapped in a condom in case of perspiration. “We call it safe sound!” said Carol Burnett, laughing. I bet it can prevent what Paula Deen so delightfully calls “a butt biscuit.”

Wearing a battery pack with no protection whatsoever, I went to a party for John Leguizamo‘s Hamptons magazine cover story and asked the co-star of The Happening how he managed to act as if the foliage were Charles Manson. “You’ve had bad weed,” he replied, smirking. “It’s terrifying!” So true—but even scarier, what was M. Night Rama-lama-dingdong like to work with? A complete pill? “Shyama-lama-dingdong,” Leguizamo corrected. “The other one is a holiday. If we were in Denmark, we’d be in trouble!” Pause. “But I enjoyed him. He’s got this wonderful laugh, and then he gets deep and philosophical. At the end of the shooting, you know what he gave crew members? A trip to Europe! It was like Oprah’s Big Give.” And what did Leguizamo get, pray tell? “A great part with a great monologue!” he said, beaming. Better than a potted plant.

Speaking of kooky pharmaceuticals, that old drug den—I mean literary salon—Mr. Black finally came back on the site of the old Gypsy Tea, which is a downstairs rec room just like the old club, but it’s bigger and a tiny bit glossier, with extra nooks and crannies (like a VIP cage for higher-class mammals) and bathrooms that not only work, but come with sinks and soap! The restroom area even has a gigantic sign stating that drug use is absolutely forbidden on the premises—so that should stop that, right? For the preview last Tuesday, they drew a totally mixed crowd, meaning 1,000 East Village gay guys and one fat black chick. But will Black’s attempt to shake up the too-polite nightlife scene stay in the black? I don’t know, but a good sign was that as one clubbie greeted me hello, he darted his hand in my pocket to try and nab some quick cash. Alas, there was none—I’d stuck it all in G-strings.

Next up came a retrospective event looking back at 15 years of crotch-hugging 2(x)ist undies—sort of a Whitney Biennial for scrotal sacs. I can’t believe these things are already older than Abigail Breslin! And what an homage. They served champagne in the elevator and underweared men once you got there, plus creative director Jason Scarlatti was on hand to tell me why he chose Nick Adams over Mario Lopez for their new poster boy, as Page Six reported: “I’m all about new faces!” (Oh! So it’s the face that’s selling the underwear? Whatever the case, Adams swears to me that he and Lopez are not feuding at all. Neither are me and Lopez.) In another corner, a guest with clothes on (and probably a deeply lodged battery pack) told me, “I taught my niece how to be a modern radical last night. We used the same glassware twice!” I’m green with envy—get it?

Nick Adams turned up half-naked in Broadway Bares 18: Wonderland, the annual high-toned gonadal revue for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and so did Tony winner Julie White—in green! She was the mock turtle, wearing a mock turtleneck as she bitched about the caterpillar: “They say brevity is the soul of wit. Well, his cock is a motherfucking riot!” Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin also dropped by as Mr. and Mrs. Cheshire Cat in a skit that outed both John Travolta and Clay Aiken and ragged on some others, too. (When Lane’s character entered, Alice in Wonderland cooed: “It’s a huge, monstrous smile without a face. Is it Carol Channing?”) The show had a couple of dull spots (Joan Crawford should be retired as a camp icon), but it was ebulliently trippy and dirty, and rarely did I want to musically yell at the stage: “You Ain’t Man Enough (To Wear That Little).”