Stella Adler, With Affection

Stella Adler, With Affection|Stella Adler, With Affection|Stella Adler, With Affection|Stella Adler, With Affection

Beatty kissing Betty; remembering Brando; too much frou-frou

“Your talent lies in your choice,” was the mantra my late acting teacher, Stella Adler, would exhort in her never-to-be-forgotten classes, so what else could I do but attend the annual gala in her memory, “Stella By Starlight,” at the Pierre Hotel?

I lived in terror of this acting guru when I was at NYU, lurked at the back of the classroom, but had one memorable encounter with her. On one occasion, her assignment was for everyone to bring in a favorite song to perform. I was too nervous to sing anything, but, after too many bad renditions of “The Impossible Dream” and “Hello, I Must Be Going,” decided to steel myself and do Gershwin’s “‘Swonderful” for her.

Adler actually approved, and even made me sing it again, but this time with her playing the part of my sweetheart. Although well into her 70s at the time, the years melted away as she batted her enormous false eyelashes at me and dimpled demurely, and I can truly attest, as so many already have, that she really was one sexy lady.

The event, held November 8, as always, was a wonderful mix of Hollywood star power as well as New York theatre family coziness, with awards going to Tony Kushner (presented by Mike Nichols), Arthur Miller, and, posthumously, Marlon Brando (presented by Warren Beatty), for consummate artistic achievement.

An army of paparazzi practically killed each other over a photo op of Beatty kissing Lauren Bacall, and he worked the press line with Old Hollywood Studio-trained aplomb, flirting with the female reporters while fending off inane questions like “What was Marilyn Monroe’s legacy?” and “Tell us your beauty regime.” In the lobby, I locked eyes with Jessica Lange, arriving with Mikhail Baryshnikov, and had a wonderfully warm encounter with her, all too brief, as her escort hastily yanked her away. Indeed, one couldn’t help but feel that, this night, Baryshnikov rather resembled the arrogant, humorless character he played on “Sex and the City.”

When Lange realized she would have to face photographers, she ducked into the powder room to freshen up and, with the door ajar, we were all able to witness one of the world’s great beauties, un-self-consciously fluffing herself before the full-length mirror while the ladies present swooned around her. She emerged, looking like the proverbial million bucks, only to have Baryshnikov drag her quickly behind the backs of the paparazzi, thereby nixing any chance for a single shot of them together. While we were waiting for her, I tried to engage this danseur noble in conversation, congratulating him on his recent $100,000 Jerome Robbins Award and asking after his daughter by Lange, Alexandra (named after the great prima ballerina, Danilova). The iciness with which these overtures were met could only be described as Siberian.

Apart from this, the occasion was truly one of overwhelming warmth, from the informal musical tribute to the late Fred Ebb by Melissa Errico, Brent Barrett and Marin Mazzie, to the witty speeches by Nichols, Beatty, producer Mike Medavoy and Whoopi Goldberg (who was, surprisingly, a close friend of Brando’s). Mazzie sang “Ring Them Bells,” and hilariously made sure to shake her generously unfettered breasts with every mention of those three words. She and Erricoe dueted on “The Grass is Always Greener,” as Bacall, who introduced it in “Woman of the Year” watched approvingly, especially at the lines “Eating at the White House/That’s wonderful/What’s so wonderful?/Four more years-auugh!”

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