Which celebrity would you guess was voted “Most talkative” in her high school election and “Most dramatic” in her senior year (class of 1963). Another hint – she majored in drama at the University of Hawaii. After their first meeting she married Martin Von Haselberg and — surprise — she’s still married to him! Okay, enough — she’s known as “The Divine Miss M.” I guess it’s not too easy to describe Bette Midler. Her mother was a seamstress and housewife. and her father worked at a navy base in Hawaii as a painter. Surprisingly both parents were born in New Jersey. In a career spanning almost half a century their multi-talented daughter has won Grammy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmys, and Tony Awards. Midler made her first motion picture in 1979 starring in the 1960s era rock-and-roll tragedy, “The Rose,” as a drug-addicted rock star modeled after Janis Joplin. Her performance earned her a nomination for Best Actress and the film-acclaimed soundtrack album sold over 2 million copies in the United States. She performed in a stream of successful films. My favorite was “The First Wives Club.” She co-starred with Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton. Thanks to TCM I’ve watched and enjoyed it three times. That film helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. Bette Midler called that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime-triumph” as Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello Dolly.”That role ended last month and it was an historic stage success. In an announcement that personifies “elegance” Bette Midler’s final performance benefitted The Actors Fund. Right on, girl!
Does the name Ron Chernow mean anything to you? Here’s a hint: he’s a writer, journalist, historian, and biographer. The gentleman won a Pulitzer Prize for an historical biography many are now aware of because that biography remains on the New York Times Best Seller list. It was adapted into the Tony Award musical “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show opened on Broadway to smash reviews in August 2015 and is still packing them in. Chernow serves as historical consultant to the production. “Hamilton” the book is a kind of synthetic narrative history and biography done to a high standard. In one review it was described as “a popular biography that should also delight scholars.” As of 2012 Chernow still serves as a member of the executive board of the Society of American Historians. Ron Chernow admits that he is a slow reader. “It’s a shameful thing to admit for someone who writes such long books. I always sympathize with people about the length of my books and dedicate them to my loyal readers who have soldiered on through my sagas.” Chernow admits that he is “still a print dinosaur who likes the tactile sensation of turning over pages.” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play helped sell more than a trillion copies of his book making Chernow the rare historian of a 900 page footnote-saturated tome who can claim that “teenagers all over the country want to take selfies with me.” The author is grateful to his loyal readers.
If you are a regular reader of this column (an aside: this March it will be thirty-four years of my writing “In Tune with June!”) you might recall that I frequently quote two of my literary favorites, William Shakespeare and Robert Frost. Here’s a gem from the American poet: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Chuckle! Obviously Robert Frost had a fine sense of humor among his multiple talents. All of the above brings Cynthia Nixon to mind. She may not be a poet but she is indeed a most admirable talent. The actress is mostly known for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series “Sex and the City” for which she won an Emmy. Her film credits are many but one role stands out in my mind. She played Emily Dickinson, an endlessly fascinating subject, in “A Quiet Passion.” Where did this poet come from? Who was she when she was at home? If anything she is the opposite of Nixon’s character in “Sex and the City.” It’s the life of Amherst’s most famous recluse. She’s all about chastity and the countryside. Nixon’s Emily is no Miranda. She is smart, silly, sociable, principled and, above all, engaged with everything and everyone. As Emily, Nixon’s voice and body vibrate at a higher frequency. It is a plausible and powerful depiction. As a child Nixon had a recording of Dickinson’s poetry. She played it incessantly in the Manhattan apartment that she shared with her mother. Her parents separated when Nixon was six years old. Her mother supported her theatrical aspirations, but didn’t push her to be a starlet. “She didn’t want me to have too much acne, and she didn’t want me to be overweight. But other than that there was very little focus or conversation about how I looked or how I should look.” Also Nixon chronicled FDR’s quest for a miracle cure for his polio with a turn as Eleanor Roosevelt for HBO’s “Warm Springs.” I even caught her in “Law and Order.” It was like seeing a familiar friend only in a different place. Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards were hers in a variety of performances. After being diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammography Cynthia Nixon became a breast cancer activist. Right on, girl!
I don’t know why John Lithgow pleased me when I learned that the celebrated actor kept the name he was born with. Please don’t ask me why. I guess he obviously felt that it suited him. The multi-talented man has been active as an actor, musician, poet, author, comedian, and singer. Whew! He’s received every award given. He certainly deserved to be inducted into The American Theater Hall of Fame. His mother was a retired actress and his father a theatrical producer and director. John Lithgow moved around a lot when he was growing up. “I was always the new kid in class, but I was good at making friends.” I would have been so happy to be one of his. It amazed me to learn that activist Coretta King babysat him. With a fine education from Harvard behind him, his bright college days at the famed university won him a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. It made me think of my son, James Adlai, when I learned that John Lithgow has three children and two grandchildren. “I’m probably a better granddad than dad because your role as a grandfather is to be fun, and I’m fun.” So is my son Jimmy with his three very grand ones and one more on the way. When the veteran actor was chosen to play Winston Churchill for Netflix in “The Crown” he was quoted as saying, “I never would have chosen myself.” It was Winston Churchill’s arguably the most familiar face and voice in the whole twentieth century. But he brought a fresh take to a figure who has been dramatized numerous times, and Lithgow’s deft portrayal of the prime minister earned him more awards. Personally, and on self-reflection, Lithgow feels that with added years he is calmer and less aggressively ambitious. “At 73 years old and after having been active for fifty-six of them, I feel like a survivor.” My literary friends might be interested to know that Lithgow, among all his many accomplishments, even co-authored a NY Times daily crossword puzzle. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
You can e-mail June Sturz at email@example.com.