Jerry Lewis Won’t Bang Ladies in Chicago!


Liza Minnelli, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra–related events all in the same week? Clearly I’ve turned into a one-eyed black man singing “Candy Man”—and I adore it, man!

First off, Liza put on a cozy little show at the Rose Bar, coincidentally happening the very same night as the premiere event elsewhere for Logo’s The A-List: New York. This was the gayest night since Stonewall—and Liza won, jazz-hands-down. Promoting her new CD of intimate ballads, she emerged onstage in a solid-black pantsuit and gushed, “This is so swell!” with all her expected sibilance and anxious energy. In between singing some wry classics and telling only the most heartwarming stories from her childhood, she held up her CD and observed, “Have you ever seen so much retouching? I can fool myself into thinking I really look like that. . . . But I do feel like that,” she added, going for the happy ending.

Alas, I ended up feeling less swell than swollen. The second Liza left the stage, I ran out of the room to avoid the mass exodus, and in the process I almost got knocked over by a petite lady in black. It was Liza! “Always be a moving target,” she buzzed to her escort as she raced toward her vehicle, followed by a twink shrieking, “Miss Minnelli! Miss Minnelli!”

“Hey, lady!” was the cri de coeur two nights later, when Jerry Lewis accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Friars Club, turning the assembled throng into the world’s oldest version of Jerry’s kids. Jerry is the guy that a new comedy book, Another Fine Mess, describes as someone 1950s critics found “a further sign of the apocalypse: a grinning, destructive man-child, mostly incapable of speech, charming undiscerning audiences into helpless laughter.” And those are all the reasons I’m a fan—and I’m not even French or undiscerning, thank you.

At the Friars event, the grinning man-child said he loves it when people tell him, “I grew up with you.” As he explained, “People want to make contact with someone that they remember advanced their childhood through humor.” He said that inspires him to keep doing it, while also making him want to be a responsible adult (“I try not to bang ladies in Chicago”). In fact, Jerry Lewis is living so cleanly, he’s planning to beat George Burns’s record of living to 100.

While he was very much breathing, I cornered Jerry at his table—where he sat next to Quentin Tarantino, and I am not making that up—and asked who’ll star in the Broadway version of Jerry’s schizophrenia-comedy classic The Nutty Professor. “I’ve got Michael Andrew,” he replied. “He’s great.” And how did he find him, pray tell? “He found me,” Jerry said, “but that’s another story. Can I get another drink?” While he was busy with the waiter, I went home and looked up Michael Andrew singing a smiley medley of casino-ready love tunes on Jerry’s telethon. He can definitely play the slippery lounge-singer character.

The ultimate crooner, Frank Sinatra, filled Patsy’s for the Sinatra Family Estates wine dinner last week—there was a waiting list of 100—though it helped that Nancy Sinatra hosted, exuding her usual charisma as she cutely assured me, “My father liked wine.”

So did everyone at the dinner, including various well-oiled vineyard reps, a feather-haired woman from The Sopranos, and the guy who played Al in Showgirls. At my table, Jerry Stiller was such a doll that, after regaling me with countless showbiz stories, he gave me the names of his hernia surgeon at NYU and wife, Anne Meara‘s open-heart doctor in Massachusetts, just in case I ever need them! I’ll tell Jerry Lewis!

And, naturally, we talked about son Ben Stiller, who’ll do The House of Blue Leaves, which mama Meara was in the 1971 version of, Ben himself playing the guy who wants to kill the Pope in the 1986 revival. “Coming to Broadway, you’re taking your life in your hands,” admitted Papa, “but Ben’s a real actor.” And by the way, Ben didn’t get much favoritism as a kid. As Jerry told me, “We didn’t want him to be an actor!”

Going to clubs—always be a moving target—I noticed that even nocturnal entertainment has taken on an old-style tinge lately, if on a dastardly budget. Vauxhall, Monday nights at Vlada, is billed as a Weimar revue, so I expected chorus girls in garter belts and top hats, all playing marches on cellos. But there’s just a chair, a piano, and a mic—and fortunately, Raven O, who last week was amazing on Nina Simone’s “Four Women” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale. (“Next time you see a hooker on the street,” quoth the Raven, mid-song, “don’t judge. That could be you in a couple of hours.”) Raven promised that in the coming weeks, “Liza will be here!” A beat later, he added, “I mean my friend, Liza Rodriguez.” I’ll be there, yelling, “Miss Rodriguez! Miss Rodriguez!”

Elizabethan art is jazzed up in Julie Taymor‘s visceral adaptation of The Tempest, which I saw at a New York Film Festival screening populated with Shakespeare nerds. Helen Mirren takes on the normally male role of the vengeful magician, bringing her customary fierceness to seething lines like, “Thou liest, malignant thing.” After the screening, Taymor said it was important to Mirren and herself that her casting not be just a gimmick, so they did a reading and a lot of other homework before filming. As for Caliban—played by Djimon Hounsou—”It is a non-white role. His father’s Algerian, and his mother’s a blue-eyed hag. He was ‘the other.’ The movie’s theme is nature versus nurture, and in this version, he’s made of the earth.” And if there’s no scenery left on the volcanic landscape by the end of the film, it’s because he and Russell Brand take turns chewing it!

The Moroccan terrain beckoned when that country’s tourist office had a gala “Red Night” dinner to promote touristry in Marrakesh. Each table had a Lazy Susan topped with native dishes—I spun it around like a kid with a dangerous toy—and for dessert, Anjelica Huston took the stage to gush, “It’s the most romantic city! Book your flights!” And suddenly I realized why Marrakesh needs the p.r. right now: Sex and the City II was filmed there!

The U.K. might need some help now that The Pitmen Painters turns out to be a disappointingly formulaic tale about real-life Brit miners who learned to mine their creative skills. Act One is too cute, with the miners emitting one-liners like Friars comics. And Act Two turns them into preachy bores, spouting fiery ideals about art and identity. Some sledgehammer acting and lines like, “Art isn’t enough. You have to go out into the world and change things!” make this craftily made entertainment for the masses a headache for those above ground.

More appealingly, Cherry Jones does British in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, raging in fancy hats against daughter Sally Hawkins in defense of her fabulous whoring. To me, tough-talking Cherry seems to be doing Barbara Stanwyck in The Big Valley, occasionally channeling the inflections of Ruth Gordon, who played the part in the ’70s, while tiny Sally gets to break free of chirpiness and play a combative upstart who prefers nurture to nature. The heated result falls short of electrifying, but Cherry has a great monologue, and all the peppy backtalk about the pros and cons of love for sale certainly helps drown out the “Miss Minnelli” twink.