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Liza’s Test of Friendship

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Michele’s mob; January-December love; fashion alerts

The glitz factor positively exploded at an auction gallery viewing on November 17, at Christie’s Bob Mackie event. Nearly half a century of this designer’s work—from Judy Garland through Cher to Teri Hatcher—was pulled from his archives, and, before the viewing, he was interviewed by Barney’s design director Simon Doonan.

Mackie, who shares that eternal boy-next-door California blonde thing with Tab Hunter was a lot more forthcoming. Of today’s stars, he commented, “I can’t tell one of these young blondes from another. They all look the same and, when they go on the red carpet, it’s like one big commercial. They have to let you know who did the gown, the shoes, etc. What happened to mystery?”

Doonan amusingly accused Mackie of being responsible for all the trashy recent looks, which he claimed the designer started with his navel, butt-baring work for Cher. “Please don’t say that!” he said. “Cher had this perfect body you could just do anything with. But now, when I drive through Los Angeles and see these girls with their stomachs and butts hanging out, climbing into their SUVs, I just think, ‘What happened to ladylike and looking pretty?’ If I had to design a hooker costume now, I don’t know what I’d put an actress in to set her apart.”

Mackie designed Liza Minnelli’s gown for her wedding to David Gest: “Her dressing room before the ceremony was wild. There was Liz Taylor, drunk in the corner, Michael Jackson in his little Chanel jacket, in his own world, and Diana Ross, with her son, who was moon walking around the room. Liza had said to me, ‘You always know who your friends are by the way they kiss you, if they leave a mark or not.’ Diana came in and planted this big kiss, leaving these huge lipstick marks on Liza, who, she must have realized, was trying to make herself up. Liza just gave me a look, ‘See what I mean?’”

November 14 was a fashionista’s delight with the opening of the first Permanent Exhibition at Fashion Institute of Technology. Gallery director Dr. Valerie Steele has culled what amounts to an eye-popping crash course in the history of style, from the 18th century to the present. “This is, of course, just the tip of our iceberg,” Steele said, decked out in some serious Comme des Garcons. FIT’s holdings include some 50,000 garments and accessories, not to mention textiles and print material. A bevy of young designers lamped the rags—Yeohlee, Doo-Ri Chung , Alice Roi, Roland Nivelais, and Zac Posen, whose incredible raffia ballgown was displayed.

Earlier, I attended Doyle Gallery’s viewing of “The West Looks East,” a special fashion collection they auctioned off to benefit the Mosiac’s Tele-Medicine Initiative, linking Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) to health initiatives in North Africa. Twenty-nine Arab-inspired gowns were donated by Chanel, Dior, Christian Lacroix, Elie Saab, Jean Paul Gaultier, and others, giving the gallery a seraglio feel to it.

“What are you doing at a fashion event?” someone asked Martha Stewart, who bemusedly replied, “I was supposed to meet someone here.”

I admired the ostrich-trimmed Ralph Rucci dress worn by Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey and asked Stewart, “How would you clean that?” “You don’t,” she replied, and, when a specially designed Coach bag was offered as a raffle prize, campily told me, “You should buy it. It matches your top!”

“What a shonda sitting you in the back like that!” Michele Lee exclaimed to Jill Eikenberry, with husband Michael Tucker, about their less-than-star treatment from the house at the opening of her show at Feinstein’s at the Regency on November 15. Lee’s infectiously delightful act pulled a glitzy crowd that was a table-hopper’s delight and I gleaned some juicy show bytes.

Tommy Tune, who’s known Lee since she played Gittel Mosca in their “Seesaw” on Broadway, told me he’s off to Houston to direct and star in the national tour of “Dr. Doolittle,” based on the 1968 Rex Harrison movie. We sang a snatch of my childhood favorite song from the film, Leslie Bricusse’s “At the Crossroads,” and I mentioned another Bricusse favorite, the woefully underrated 1969 musical film, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Tune agreed that this would also make a wonderful Broadway show—“Leslie was always better when he collaborated with someone, like Terence Rattigan on that script, or Anthony Newley.” All of us are rooting for the success of “Doolittle,” and hope it finally brings Tune back to Broadway in a deservedly big way.

Maurice Hines, sitting with Stanley Kay, the fabulous, veteran manager he’s shared with Lee, said, “Michele and I were signed to the same record company. I’m now directing a musical version of ‘The Red Shoes,’ called ‘Hot Feet,’ with the music of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White. Wait ‘til the children see this one, they will go nuts. When you hear songs like ‘Serpentine Fire’ and ‘That’s the Way of the World’ in this new book context, you really realize Maurice’s genius! We got a killer girl for the lead and open in D.C. in March and plan to be on Broadway come Spring.”

It was surprising to see Sandra Bernhard with girlfriend, Sara, in this cabaret setting, but she told me, “We’re good friends with Michele, but I’d be here, even if we weren’t. I’m working on a new one woman show.” When I asked her if reality shows had any appeal for her, she frowned, “Not at all. Honey, my own reality is so beyond anything they can do!”

I sat next to an exuberant Lucie Arnaz with hubby Laurence Luckinbill, the immortal strait-laced Hank from the original cast of “Boys in the Band.” Arnaz, who did the National Tour of “Seesaw,” said—“All the Gittel Moscas, except, sadly, Anne Bancroft [who did the original Broadway straight play version, called “Two for the Seesaw”] and Shirley Maclaine [who did the 1962 film version] are here tonight. This is just a testament to Michele—such a survivor, with class, talent, energy and the nicest person in the world!”

Also spotted was Joan Collins with fifth hubby Percy Gibson, who I was told is 32 years younger than she and “very litigious,” so that’s all I’ll say about that, except that they could well have popped into my mind the night before, when, at the opening of “The Ark,” I ran into Celeste Holm and her “boy toy” of a spouse. His name is Frank Basile, a 41-year-old opera singer, whom the actress married on her 85th birthday in 2004. Basile said, “We met at a benefit where I was performing with Richard Tucker and Jerome Hines. Richard was supposed to take Celeste home but had to leave early, so I drove her all the way to her farm in New Jersey. We’re working on a bunch of things: a duo act, a DVD of her life, a book.”

Holm passed up the exotic tapas, offered by Camino Sur restaurant, in favor of a good ole box of Crackerjacks, and was characteristically succinct when I asked her about working with my favorite forgotten Hollywood director, Edmund Goulding. This bisexual genius—one of the great women’s directors—made the charming “Everybody Does It” (1949) with her, but all Holm said was, “He stayed out of my way. Now, Joe Mankiewicz. He was the genius!”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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