La Dolce Musto

At the restaurant, Ekberg announced, 'I want to sit with my back to the wall. Who'll take the coats? I want proper water, if nothing else!'

 May 11, 1999

The upcoming Belgian movie The Red Dwarf—in which a height-challenged divorce-law worker (Jean-Yves Thual) has a hot fling with a craggy countess (legendary beauty Anita Ekberg), only to dress up in drag as her and go psycho— is not at all surreal. Not compared to the evening I just had with Ekberg and Thual, which was like something out of Fellini's Intervista via Sunset Boulevard, with huge doses of glamour, insecurity, and barbarism thrown into the poisonous popcorn.

The mood was set when the film's wry writer-director Yvan Le Moine told the premiere crowd, "I hope the person sitting next to you smells OK. Very often films are a punishment, but this one promises to be a torture." People tittered nervously, then a Christian Science Monitor critic was bizarrely brought out to introduce the two stars— Thual and Arno Chevrier— and also "Anita Ekberg, who needs no introduction." Wrong! The film goddess looked fit to eat a dwarf. "First of all, where the hell is the light?" she bellowed in the semidarkness. "Maybe we look better this way! And 'the two stars'— he left me out! Then he says, 'She doesn't need an introduction,' so I'll introduce myself. I am Anita Ekberg!" She took in the applause like a giant Swedish sponge. And then, after wildly overpraising her costars, Ekberg returned to barking, "Where is the light? Before we go away, you can at least see what we look like!" They finally flashed the spot on her and, in a sublimely Kenneth Anger ­ready moment, you could see that she's a somewhat blowsier version of her former self, but still gorgeously magnetic, with a catlike blond mane, emphatic makeup, and an all-forgiving black shroud. The girl's still standing— and still stellar.

And still a nightmare. Ekberg started to leave, signing autographs and saying, "Quickly, quickly, and then we go where there's air conditioning! It's hot here!" They dragged her into a limo to go to a heat- controlled restaurant a block away, and— though I begged to walk— I was whooshed into the car by a publicist who introduced me to Ekberg as a journalist and old friend. "I thought my work was over tonight!" Ekberg screeched. "And don't say a journalist is a friend. They're not to be trusted! Where's my fan?" Don't look at me, bitch. Arno Chevrier opened a whiskey bottle and Ekberg promptly snarled, "I hate whiskey!" As she made a face not usually seen in nature, I started to think of her as Anita Yecch-berg, but valiantly tried to understand the toll age has taken on her confidence, as well as the conflict she clearly faces between wanting to turn her back on the (decreasing) hoopla and yet desperately needing to be noticed. Besides, I hate whiskey too.

Alas, things got even more tense when we arrived at Primola. Miss Thing instantly announced, "I want to sit with my back to the wall. Who'll take the coats? I want proper water, if nothing else!" Charmed, I'm sure. Ekberg smilingly turned to her director and said, "I hated you to begin with." I asked the poor guy what he thinks of her, and he said, "She's generous, with extremes— a real personality. I had to convince her to do the movie. She said, 'The only thing is, no dwarf!' I said, 'But the name of the film is The Red Dwarf!' You have to love her. She has balls." "Yeah, three," I said, but actually, make that four; she was now roaring to the dwarf, "Why didn't they put the spotlight on us? It's crazy!"

I brilliantly noticed that Ekberg lit up like Rome at night whenever people stroked her ego, so I thought I'd try that approach. I showed her a very flattering cartoon I'd brought of her jumping into the Trevi fountain in La Dolce Musto— I mean La Dolce Vita— and asked if she'd like to keep it. "No, I'd rather not," she said, as if I'd offered her a dead rat on top of a Dunkin' Donut. "Can I have a napkin?" she suddenly whimpered to a waiter. "Mine has fallen down three times. It's cleaning the floor!"

Averting my eyes from this new play for attention, I realized how hot the dwarf was, especially after someone pointed out that he has big feet and a cute little ass. But now all I could hear was Ekberg yelling, "Why do they keep letting Sophia Loren into the country? She was in jail for a month for tax evasion!" Between courses, other arresting pronouncements came fast and furiously: "Frank Sinatra was not a good lover!"; "If there's one thing I hate, it's people chewing gum. It's like cows out to pasture!"; and "Not being able to smoke in restaurants is against the Constitution!" I never got to argue any of these topics— or even get a word in— but I was certainly never bored.

As I finished up my intimidating- looking crustacean— the one on my plate— two more people joined the table and our diva threw her final fit. "I'm not making any more interviews!" Ekberg insisted. "I thought I saw cameras!" But there weren't any for miles. Oh, well— ciao, bella. I'm now triple-locked in my home, gazing appreciatively at that cartoon of you looking so carefree and adorable. I'll remember her, not la dolce Evita.

Other divas have been acting up in dangerous ways, too. My spies tell me that during an interview for Paper magazine, Kevin Spacey kept pointedly talking about the gorgeous girlfriend he was calling on his cell phone. So that's what makes the Iceman cometh? Right?

Over at the Roxy, Sean P. Hayes, the funny (but not out) actor who plays the queeny one on Will & Grace, turned up with a female escort, no doubt to research the gay lifestyle. I bet he learned a thing or two.

But let's step out of this musty, dank closet— it's against the Constitution— and catch up with Roxy party promoter John Blair, who's been branching out with more merch than Winnie the Pooh. Blair has a new CD of dance music (he doesn't sing it, he presents it) and also a new Chelsea restaurant called JB, where you can stop on the way to getting a BJ. The night I dropped by, the decor, menu, and service were delightful— I got proper water and clean napkins— though the crowd was so uniformly muscley I was afraid there might be steroids in the food.

I should have taken some fortification before seeing The Lonesome West, which is pretty much the male version of the same author's The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Both works have a pair of sadistic relations torturing each other, a crucial letter that's read aloud before being destroyed, and items thrown into an oven, after which one of the sadistic relations— who turns out to be completely cuckoo— tries to kill the other. Before this bloke writes another one, throw me in the oven.

Off-Broadway, one of my more beloved playwrights, John Guare, has come up with Lake Hollywood, an ambitious but failed snoozathon that doesn't have an oven (or a dwarf), but does feature a credenza, a carriage ride to a hospital, and a lake to oblivion. It doesn't quite add up— and I didn't quite stay up.

And I couldn't quite get it up for It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, a bare-bones revue with virtually no book, staging, or set. (It's the fourth recent show I've seen that relies on slides, one of which announces "The Blues," in case you forget where you are.) A lot of the singing sizzles, but the all-purpose feeling, instructional tone, and severe lack of movement make this one better suited to high school auditoriums than Broadway. I'd tell you more, but I thought my work was over tonight! I am Anita Ekberg!

Michael Musto can be e-mailed at musto@villagevoice.com.

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