"I AM NOT twenty-ish. I am not thirty-ish. Three months ago I was 40 years old. Forty. 4-0. That slipped out. I hadn't quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I've taken all my clothes off."
So said Bette Davis in 1950's "All About Eve."
Of course, as soon as the war ended, real women were fired from the factories where they had happily, independently toiled to replace the man shortage, and onscreen women were turned into giddy sex symbols, or comforting, nonthreatening wives and girlfriends.
But the decades have rolled on, and through various ups and downs, strong women are dominant again. I speak of such powerhouse actors as Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Melissa McCarthy, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, Jennifer Aniston, Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Viola Davis and Nicole Kidman. Not one of them will ever see 39 again. And some will never see 60 again! (Miss Jolie is 38, to be fair and correct.)
But these women still have clout. They can command top salaries. The Hollywood Reporter recently told us that one reason so many mature actresses are enduring is that Hollywood is failing to groom new stars. (Maybe all the young, sexy, talented unknowns are drifting toward television, with its reality programming, as an easy road to recognition?)
The supermarket tabloids and the weekly glossies and the gossip websites tell us we should really care about the Kardashians or the casts of various "Real Housewives," or the innumerable starlets and pop singers who clutter up Twitter with their pointless ramblings.
But come on, wouldn't you really rather see what daring new project Nicole Kidman has taken on, or how hot Helen Mirren will look in "Red 2," mowing down bad guys?
I ONLY MET the great James Gandolfini once, backstage at the theater where he was doing "Carnage" and trying his best to get out the stage door with no fuss.
Frankly, I was terrified to meet him. I'd never known or written anything about him and I knew from his female costars of "The Sopranos" that he didn't suffer fools from the press gladly. (I do mean the talented Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco -- two sweethearts!)
But Gandolfini stopped and shook hands. He was as cordial as could be while I congratulated him on his stage appearance as a quarrelsome suburban husband. I'll never forget him; it is impossible to turn away from the TV screen when he is on as Tony Soprano!
I was shocked, as is the world, when word came of his death. I hadn't realized he was so young! His burly physique and rough-hewn, "ordinary guy" features belied his youth. We've lost an actor who, likely, would have gone on for decades, refining his image and talents. I saw him as the heir, kind of, to Ernest Borgnine, another loveable big guy who didn't fit the standard Hollywood leading man role. But Borgnine worked steadily until he was 90.
You will be missed in so many ways, Mr. Gandolfini.
AND THE sad news just keeps on coming. One of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn -- who created the great character of Mitch Rapp in a series of thrillers -- has died at age 47. I knew Flynn was very ill, but one always hopes for a happy ending.
"STRANGE BUT TRUE: 'Gypsy,' 'Follies' and even 'West Side Story' didn't win the Tony Award for Best Musical. Others can understand that 'Gypsy' would lose in 1959-1960 to 'The Sound of Music.' But how did 'Fiorello!' wind up in a tie with the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit -- leaving 'Gypsy' to finish third at best? And don't get anyone started in how the landmark musical 'Follies' lost to the far less distinguished 'The Gentlemen of Verona' in 1971-1972. You'll never hear the end of it."
These quotes appear on the first page of the Newark Star-Ledger's formidable theater critic Peter Filichia in his brand-new book, which is fittingly all about the vagaries of the Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards. Since the Tonys happened only weeks ago, many have pondered its ways and means and mysterious wins and losses.
Filichia's book is fittingly titled "Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did not Win the Tony Award." It's a must read for theater experts and everybody who cares about Broadway. Out now from St. Martin's Press.
Inside, the critic, who is still doing his stuff, tells of the brilliance of some of our nearest and dearest, most loved, most hated, stupidest and most brilliant creators of the recent past. Like, for instance, how Arthur Laurents, despised by many, worked to make "Gypsy" an enduring hit, hit, hit over many years.
This thing is just crammed with fabulous anecdotes and sets many a record straight or straightens out many a crooked story. Filichia tells, for instance of the vehemence of one Tony super voter who, considering the brilliance of Nathan Lane in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," says: "We should deny Nathan even a nomination" -- in a mean-spirited outburst that defies understanding.
Filichia ends his book considering the genius of Voltaire's "Candide" by writing "Who would have thought that the first person to lose two successive Best Musical Tony races would be Leonard Bernstein?" I haven't read all of the middle of this book yet, but I loved its end: "So who knows how many other Best Musical Tony losers will someday get new eyes to look at flaws and know how to fix them. (So that their works may be revived as hits!) Filichia goes on to tell how "A Funny Thing, " was dying in Washington tryouts.
Jerry Robbins told Stephen Sondheim he needed a new opening number to tell the audience it was about to see a "Comedy Tonight." This hit number changed the show from flop to Tony winner.
And another closing tale says: "Too bad that Bob Fosse didn't live to see the Best Revival Tony for 1996-97. What a shame that neither lead producer Robert Fryer nor star Gwen Verdon lived to see "Chicago" win the Tony for Best Musical Revival and the Oscar for best picture."
This book is dynamite and Broadway history in the making!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)