Elizabeth Taylor photographed by Herb Ritts in 1997 at her home in Bel Air soon after her surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. This podcast was recorded at her Bel Air home the next month.
“I love trusting. I get hurt very easily. I am tough when I have to be. I can will myself to back away from an oncoming train. I can spin on a dime. I have led a very strange life.” Not just one sold to us in celluloid? “Honey, you can see through celluloid and it is brittle. Neither of those things would for a moment describe me.” Thus speaks Elizabeth Taylor in this final installment of her raucous and moving appearance in sessumsMagazine.com’s DIGITALIZED DIALOGUES series. Click below to hear her reminisce for this special MOVIE STAR EDITION about her reign in Hollywood: sharing a “twinkle” with James Dean on the set of Giant and all that meant, helping her dear friend Montgomery Clift cope with his being a homosexual (“And I was 16 when I we started filming A Place in the Sun … I turned 17 on that set …” ), advising another buddy Tennessee Williams about his finances, defending her close friendship with Michael Jackson, and recalling the time her mother (“a loopy bird”) explained to the Beverly Hills dry cleaner why there was such a problem getting a stain out of her child’s party dress because it was lion’s drool. Yes, lion’s drool. Listen to how Elizabeth ended up with that lion cub she was begging her mother and father to keep as a house pet. This woman – a movie star her whole damn life – really did grow up in the rarified roar of Hollywood.
TO THE EDGE
Glenn Close is Giving the
Performance of her Career
I will go on the record. Glenn Close's performance in "The Wife" will finally win her the Oscar. It is a stunning artistic achievement. Nuanced in its heightened naturalism. Until, that is, it erupts. Rises up before us on the screen as all great screen performances do until it flickers there as a gigantic, splendid dare: Do not look away from this. It is a summoning of all her talents. It will serve to summon all the acting awards as well at the end of the year because of such a summoning. Not resting on the raves for this performance however, she will be - God bless her - on a stage this fall at The Public Theater downtown in New York playing Joan of Arc's mother in Jane Anderson's play, "Mother of the Maid," directed by Matthew Penn. Read my own rave of "The Mother" and my appreciation of Glenn's career.
(In fact, I was in a Broadway play with her, "The Crucifer of Blood," back in 1978. She even saved my life during a performance. What? Yes: saved my life. Click below to read how that happened. )
Photograph by Herb Ritts
Deneuve photographed by Willy Rizzo in 1965
CATHERINE THE GREAT
In 1987, I met Catherine Deneuve in her hotel room at the Plaza Athenee on New York's Upper East Side to talk to her for Interview magazine. She had just that morning been on a flea market meander and was so proud of the rather large and lovely antique clock she had purchased. "Now how to wind it ...." she wondered as she stood staring at the thing, her face rather indignant and defiant as she faced the face of time itself. Listen to Part One of this archival tape of our conversation that day and her famous husky purr. It is quite a performance as the clock sat unwound, seduced into a stilted stillness which is an apt description of Catherine Deneuve's screen artistry.
Photo by Matt Edge
Photo by Matt Edge
THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT: THE MGM PORTRAITURE OF RUTH HARRIET LOUISE, HOLLYWOOD’S FIRST FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHER
From 1925 – 1930, Ruth Harriet Louise ran the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s portrait studio. She was only twenty-two years old – the studio itself was only a year old – when Louis B. Mayer hired her. She took over 100,000 photos during her five-year tenure there. Click on the title above to see a curated selection of those she took of three of her favorite subjects, left to right: Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton, and Joan Crawford. And a self-portrait as well that proves she was as gorgeous as any of the movie stars she photographed and fashioned into icons.
THE HOLLYWOOD PORTRAITURE OF ARTIST DON BACHARDY
In Part Two of our podcast, Don Bachardy opens up about the death of his lifelong lover, writer Christopher Isherwood, and how he drew his dead body for hours after he died in the Santa Monica home they shared for decades and where Don has lived since they moved into it in 1956. He tells me about his gay older brother Ted having slept with Isherwood first before introducing his younger brother to him. And he remembers hanging out with Marilyn Monroe. Don loves movie stars. Click below to see an array of them. From Fred Astaire to Michael York to Angela Lansbury to Jane Russell to Tilda Swinton to Warren Beatty to Paul Newman. And listen to our conversation.
Portrait of me by Don Bachardy. Photographed in his Santa Monica studio on my iPhone.
WELCOME TO SESSUMSMAGAZINE. COM. THE MOVIE STAR ISSUE.
A year ago this month, I launched this online magazine. It was a rocky launch – and then an almost immediate relaunch – for lots of personal reasons that had to do with learning curves, the care and keenness of my editorial and curatorial eye, and, honestly, misplaced trust. Let’s leave that last bit at that, for more important than any of those earlier growth experiences is my deep gratitude to all of you subscribers who have stuck with me the last year. I thank all of you who have continued to be a part this site’s community after that rocky start and the relaunch it required. I am now asking that you re-subscribe for another year as I pledge to you to re-focus my efforts on this now entirely monthly site. There was a spate of time recently with my move to Hudson, New York, from San Francisco, California, and my need for other income streams that necessitated my turning my attention away from the site, but I have know rededicated my focus on it. In that regard, I have installed a new email system for subscribers to remind you that a new month’s issue is up and ready for your perusal so that you can be a part of this refocussing on the site along with me.
Much of my income is tied-up in this magazine but after this one-year anniversary of its existence, I had to make a decision whether to let it go or double-down and make it even better. I am a one-man band wearing all the editorial and managerial and marketing hats. I do almost all the writing myself. All the art direction is mine. It is a lot of work but I decided to double-down because I do believe in this. And I actually enjoy the rolling-up-my-sleeves aspect and getting down into the innards of the site technically now that I have mostly mastered it.
In doing all this, I am creating a slightly new model for sessumsMagazine.com going forward that is this entirely monthly one regarding content. I want to bring you the best version of sessumsMagazine.com I am capable of providing and that means turning it entirely into a monthly endeavor. I know that the look of the site is quite stunning and I will always also be grateful to my sister Karole Sessums and her company The Lola Agency at happgolola.com for its design template. I read and look at lots of online sites and I think sessumsMagazine.com is truly one of the most beautiful ones out here in this online magazine world. Its launch wasn’t a mom-and-pop operation, but rather a brother-and-sister one. So I wanted to stop and tip all those hats I wear to my sister Karole for her hard work on the launch last year and for being such a loving and inspirational presence in my life.
The initial experience of misplacing my trust during this site’s launch was, yes, troubling – but it did not kill my instinct to trust others. I am grateful for that as well in this last year: the sustaining unbowed instinct to trust. I’ve always been a rather trusting type. I think that has been one of the secrets of my success as a someone who made a name for myself interviewing movie stars, the inherent trust I am able to engender when sitting down with them – that, and my being unintimidated by fame. I never understood writing hatchet jobs on movie stars. “They are movie stars, not Nazi scientists,” I’d say when anyone criticized me for not being tough enough on my subjects. I did, however, carve out a kind of signature tone for my profiles: the impertinent puff piece.
Another reason I think I have always been good at “celebrity journalism,” to use that oxymoron, is that I am also able to participate in the odd performative aspect of the heightened movie-star lives of celebrities by creating a space for the instant intimacy needed to present a heart-to-heart conversation as a bit of performance art. Indeed, my recognition that movie stars actually have hidden human hearts and not just the public faces that hover gigantically on screens before us might also be a reason I’m good at the job of talking to such creatures on whom we project our fantasies just as light itself projects itself so magically on the planes of their faces. You can listen to Catherine Deneuve this month expound on this aspect of what it is that makes a movie star and how it just might come down to one’s beauty not being distorted when one speaks. Emotion does not mock a movie star’s beauty; it instead ameliorates it.
Tina Brown, who was my first boss at Vanity Fair when she was its Editor in Chief, once told me exactly what our jobs there were. “We are the stevedores of glamour,” she informed me, sighing and summing it all up for me. I am just such a stevedore in the presence of movie stars’ acute cases of absurd fame and fortune and the kind of glamour that gloms onto them when those two things accrue. Combine it all with indecipherable talent and the durational ability to display such talent in take after take after take for very long hours in front of a prying camera lens while instinctively staying in their light and hitting their marks and you have the makings of a true movie star. Focus is the final ingredient needed in such manufactured grace, an incongruous magic conjured by crusty teamsters and other crew members silently off to the side making sure the star is unglamorously served. Stevedores, all.
I am as crusty in my service to maintaining the magic of movie stardom as any teamster. I have been for decades now a studious little stevedore in that service. I have a very working-class attitude about what I did for a living for a very long time, and still do on selected occasions. I think of interviewing movie stars as my truck-driving job. I get behind the wheel and haul my glamorous cargo in order to dump it out at deadline. Then I load the truck up again and haul it to another deadline. Then another. It’s glamorous cargo, but cargo nonetheless. I am a long-haul trucker.
I think this latest cargo I have hauled to deadline is quite glamorous but it has been a lot of hard work behind this newest wheel in my life. This is some of the cargo this month: Elizabeth Taylor reminiscing about baby lions and Jimmy Dean, Julia Roberts talking about that acute business of stardom, and Tom Cruise tearing up about his father. I also have a new travel piece by Robert Hofler, to my mind the best travel writer in the business who brings to travel writing the same, yes, acuity he brings to his theatre criticism. I write my own theater column about some of the best performances I’ve witnessed the last few months in New York and London. I also have begun a new exclusive novel here at sessumsMagazine.com told in 12 chapters this next year. It is set in New Orleans’ French Quarter and it gives my southern voice an outlet to let loose. And Penelope Schmart pays lovely tribute to one of the unsung stevedores of glamour in Hollywood’s heyday, Sidney Guilaroff, hair stylist to the biggest MGM stars.
Again, welcome back. And please subscribe. Thank you for being a part of this community we continue to build together.
Nina Mae McKinney, AKA The Black Greta Garbo
STARS IN BLACK TURTLENECKS
Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan
IN THE COMING WEEKS ...
Willem Dafoe. Laura Linney. Judith Light. Ellen Barkin. Jane Fonda. Kevin Spacey. Parker Posey. Style icon and photographer Lisa Eisner. Writers Armistead Maupin, Julia Reed, George Hodgman, Jesse Kornbluth, Joyce Maynard, Sheila Weller, Mark Childress, Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, Jennifer Raiser, Benoit Denizet-Lewis and William Norwich. And a new fictional serial, "Porterhouse," set in New Orleans.
Actor Steve McQueen
Director Steve McQueen
SIX PERFORMANCES I LOVED IN LONDON AND NEW YORK
Ellen Barkin, Rory Kinnear, Alex Newell, Gabriel Ebert, Cecilia Noble & Harriett D. Foy
“I’m here for you to save my life. Is that too political?” Ned in Act One of Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me.
Sydney Guilaroff and Marlene Dietrich
Guilaroff and Marilyn Monroe
PORTERHOUSE: A SERIAL
In this new year-long monthly serial – a novel told in 12 chapters – meet a cast of characters in New Orleans’ French Quarter. A young man who has been renamed Porter after shirking the name Zacchaeus with which he was christened back in Africa where his white missionary father met his Ethiopian mother. Porter’s Aunt Buster, a big-boned albino lesbian who billed herself as “The Palomino Princess” when she sang at the Grand Ole Opry before giving up on her dreams. Kay Sera Sera, a local drag queen and gay bar owner. And Maurice Richelieu, a disgraced professor from Vanderbilt, who gave up on his own dreams in Nashville and opened a used book shop on Royal Street.
My monthly thoughts regarding the passing political scene. Indeed, let us hope it passes along with the indecency that Trump has ushered in with his own disordered indecency. The restoration of decency is what I write about this month and, with it, the return of the “we of me,” to use Carson McCuller’s term from The Member of the Wedding – or, indeed, the we of us all.
Forty-three years ago on August 19, 1975, I drove through the Holland Tunnel as a nineteen-year-old boy from Mississippi in a rented Ryder truck to attend The Juilliard School’s Drama Division and begin my life in New York City. In many ways, I measure my life by this date even more than I do my birthday for it was on this day that my life really began.
World traveler, TheWrap.com’s theatre critic Robert Hofler takes us with him first to Colombia, where he sets off on his latest journey in North Toward Nicaragua, stopping off also in Panama and Costa Rica. As always, it is both informative and riveting.
"I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!"
That is what Bette Midler once told me after reading my cover story about her in Vanity Fair. I take off the blindfold - that's Bette in Robert Risko's brilliant illustration of her keeping me captive in her crystal ball - and gaze into my own. But instead of looking at my future, I look at my past hanging out with so many movie stars during my career. Here are some of the best stories I never wrote about Cher and Bette and Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz and Barbra Streisand and Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger. Now, I do. Enjoy.
Groundbreakers- A Conversation with Jonathan Groff Part I
Groundbreakers- A Conversat...
Groundbreakers In Conversat...