Published September 24, 2008
One of Hollywood's greats, Robert Wagner, is out promoting his new autobiography. Among Wagner's revelations: that as a 22-year-old man he began an affair with movie legend Barbara Stanwyck when she was 46. But we had it first: here's my original interview with Wagner from 2002, which ran in this column:
Natalie Wood was not the first love of Robert Wagner's life. Stop the presses, because Wagner, currently starring in the third "Austin Powers" film as Dr. Evil's trusted sidekick "Number Two," got around a lot before he married Wood in 1957.
It's a story reminiscent of the current movie "Tadpole," in which a young man is seduced by his stepmother's friend. Miramax has been trying to promote the idea of "tadpoling" as this summer's trend.
But back in 1953, Wagner was way ahead of the game. He met the four-time Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck on the set of "Titanic" (1953). He played the young idealist later portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Stanwyck was the mother of the society girl his character fell in love with, whom Kate Winslet would play in the 1997 movie. He was 23 (editor's note: he now says he was 22) and Stanwyck was 46. Wagner told me the affair lasted five years, but the two remained close until her death in 1990.
"I was her love. I wasn't her 'Tadpole.' She was a wonderful woman, wonderful lady. It was a great time in my life, to be a young actor in the motion picture business. She was very influential."
How did they manage to keep it out of the papers, away from famous gossip columnists like Winchell, Hopper and Parsons? "It was all handled. We were very discreet. And I think they might have, I think it came out a little bit. But we had a few beards."
Jennifer Hudson: She lost "American Idol" to Fantasia a few seasons ago. Then she got the part of Effie in "Dreamgirls," which led to the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007.
A year and a half after that Oscar ceremony, Hudson’s releasing her first full length album next Tuesday. And guess what? Among other gems, the self-titled CD includes a snappy, sassy duet with Fantasia called "I’m His Only Woman." Fantasia, who’s had a lot of trouble with her recording career, once again shows what a star she should be.
But it’s Hudson’s song, and it’s her CD. And frankly, Jennifer — who’s also starring in "The Secret Life of Bees" this fall on the big screen — comes into her own on this CD quite unexpectedly. For everyone who thought she was just capable of belting "And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going," Hudson has a big surprise: she might be Aretha Franklin in waiting.
The album has already launched a single called "Spotlight" that drifts between monotony and melody depending on the listener’s mood. It suffers from a bass-pounding arrangement that sounds a little like Alicia Keys’ "No One." In any case, "Spotlight" has been a loss leader.
The big hit on Hudson’s debut should be track 2, called "If This Isn’t Love." Written by Brian Seals, Terry Thomas and Theron Thomas, the swooping, insanely catchy song has "hit" written all over it. It’s infectious in the way that all singles should be. You won’t be able to get it out of your head.
There’s a lot else to like here, too. Robin Thicke has contributed writing and producing on "Giving Myself Over to You," and there are a bunch of nice R&B ballads that allow Jennifer to growl and soar, and show off her remarkable range. My favorite in this group is "Can’t Stop the Rain," a kind of old-fashioned story song that would suit Gladys Knight just as well. It should get a lot of radio play.
The CD also contains "And I’m Telling You," which seems superfluous at this point. There are also unnecessary hip-hop tracks featuring Ludacris and T-Pain. The former is particularly annoying when Ludacris has to add his lascivious observations. It adds nothing but subtracts a lot from Hudson’s classily constructed demeanor. Note to the producers: Jennifer Hudson is not Mary J. Blige.
But she can sing, just about better than anyone out there right now. The proof is in the final track, a traditional gospel song called "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There." One listen and you know that Hudson is better than all this stuff.
She’s a power hitter, and in church music she has a dramatic friend. Timbaland, Ne-Yo, Stargate — these are the brand names imposed on her. Let Jennifer Hudson sing the authentic music she was meant to, and the rest is just puffery. In the meantime, she’s telling us, she’s not going anywhere. Jennifer Hudson is here to stay.
You know the old line, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings?” That’s all about opera divas who used to look like two tons of fun.
But that was all over Monday night as Renee Fleming, opera’s hot blonde, took over the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. Rather than stage a full-scale single show, the Met opted to feature Fleming in three single acts of different operas before the regular season kicks off.
Let’s just say: opera divas never looked this way before, or sounded so good. Fleming was a total knockout, and could single-handedly bring opera into the 21st century with new fans.
It didn’t hurt that the Met opener (not to be confused with a Mets opener) was followed by one of the year’s most elegant, star-studded dinners. Thanks to the Opera inviting PR maven Peggy Siegal to goose their austere, moneyed guest list, there was just enough celebrity to go around.
Seated at a long center table parallel to the opera’s special guests, Siegal rolled out designer (and Mrs. Harvey Weinstein) Georgina Chapman, Regis and Joy Philbin, Christie Brinkley with son Jack, Frederic Fekkai, Broadway’s Joel Grey, Julianna Margulies, John Turturro with wife Katherine Borowski, Christine Baranski with her swellegant daughter Isabel Cowles (who’s been blogging for The Huffington Post), designer Zac Posen, singer Rufus Wainwright, Parker Posey, model Helena Christensen and the great John Lithgow.
Jane Fonda, looking smart in what she called an old white blouse and a long black satin skirt, dropped by with Janie Buffet (wife of Jimmy) and another pal whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. Their plan? “We’re just coming for a few minutes. Then we’re going back to Janie’s to gab. We haven’t seen each other in a while,” Jane told me.
Fonda had just the night before been to see the opening of the musical version of her 1982 hit comedy “9 to 5” in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre with Allison Janney. “Here’s a little gossip for you,” she said. “I sat between Lily (Tomlin) and Dolly (Parton). Dolly wrote all the songs, and they’re wonderful. And you have to see the actress who’s playing Dolly, Megan Hilty. She steals the show.”
Indeed, the reviews of “9 to 5” confirm Jane’s enthusiasm: it’s a hit. The Joe Mantello-directed production opens on Broadway on April 23, just in time to snag a bunch of Tony nominations.
Also in the audience and at dinner: James Taylor and wife Caroline, who worked eons ago with Met general manager Peter Gelb at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
James and I talked at length about his (and Carly Simon’s son) Ben, who showcased his new songs at Joe’s Pub this past Saturday night. James had his own show on Saturday, but Carly was there (with lyricist Jake Brackman) singing background vocals from her seat and giving occasional directions to the sound mixer.
“I think he’s really got it now,” James said. “I’ve really been enjoying his new songs.”
This column is no fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, from its finances to its annual selection of new inductees. Last year they reached the nadir with Madonna. Now the new nominees list is out, and it seems for once the Hall nominators have gotten it right.
Maybe it’s because no one would have trekked out to Cleveland next March otherwise. This year’s crop: Little Anthony and the Imperials, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Wanda Jackson, War, Run DMC, Metallica, Chic, Jeff Beck.
Yes, many names are still missing, like Billy Preston, Chicago and Todd Rundgren, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and so on, but this gang isn’t bad. Let ‘em all in, I say. The big surprise? No Bon Jovi. ...
Motown’s legendary writer-producer Norman Whitfield passed away last week at age 65. He’s not in the Rock Hall, but the Songwriters Hall of Fame gave him a huge celebration a couple of years ago.
What a great, great guy. He was the composer, believe it or not, of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and dozens more hits. He also wrote and produced Rose Royce, especially their masterpiece, “Wishing on a Star.”
As these composers leave us, it’s the end of an era. Very few contemporary artists are writing actual songs of distinction anymore, with the exception of Alicia Keys, Rob Thomas, John Legend and Linda Perry. ...
"Knots Landing” and Broadway star Michele Lee had the good fortune to appear in musicals written by legends like Frank Loesser (“How to Succeed) and Cy Coleman (“Seesaw”) early in her career. So her one-woman cabaret show at Birdland Monday night, to raise money for the Actors Fund, was dotted with their work as well as that of Tony-winner David Zippel.
Lee’s beautifully husky Broadway belting voice, combined with her hilarious reminiscences of “Knots” and emotion-tinged ones of Hollywood (her dad was Clint Eastwood’s makeup artist), made for a great evening. Michele Lee has got to get back on Broadway, that’s for sure. …