Sounds Off With Sydney Skolsky
FROM A STOOL AT SCHWAB’S:
Now I don’t have the answers to this one. But I sure have a lot of questions.
It seems a few weeks ago, give or take a century, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher were rushed to Moscow by our government to be our good-will ambassadors at their Film Festival. And my first question is: Did this really happen? It’s weird. It still doesn’t seem real.
It started because Liz and Eddie attended a performance of the Russian dancing troupe, the famous Moiseyev Ballet, at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. They were thrilled—and who wasn’t? What I mean is, those people can dance.
So Liz and Eddie, to show their appreciation, decided to give them a party. It didn’t have anything to do with politics, just people. They felt that the Russian dancers should see a slice of America, or at least a slice of Hollywoodiana (which is slightly different, to say the least). It would be a slice often denied to these extraordinary dancers, because hosts in other cities gave their parties in the local Romanoff’s or Chasen’s. Liz and Eddie gave their party at P.J.’s.
P.J.’s is where the celebrities—and those working hard to be celebrities—meet. It’s where the swingers swing. This is the place Liz and Eddie thought would be different for the Russian dancers. So Liz and Eddie took over P.J.’s from eleven at night to five in the morning for one thousand dollars. And here’s the kicker: admittance by invitation only. The regulars, who had made P.J.’s popular and a sightseeing spot, couldn’t get in.
You must have read about it because it made the local front pages. Lawrence (“Dillinger”) Tierney discovered himself in P.J.’s long after Liz and Eddie’s party had started. The theory is that Tierney must have fallen asleep in some remote corner or room in P.J.’s. He didn’t know from Liz and Eddie and the Russian dancers. Hearing the sound of music, talk, laughter, glasses, he approached the party, glass in hand for a refill. He was told it was a private party, by invitation only. Tierney smiled, and peacefully left P.J.’s, escorted by security guards. Outside, probably refreshed by the nippy air, Tierney changed his mind. He must have believed he was playing Dillinger again. In character and not liking the sight of uniforms, he started swinging. Laurence Tierney, alias John Dillinger, was disturbed for disturbing the peace. It’s from this hunk of strange behavior that the men in Washington, D.C. read about Liz and Eddie’s party for the Russian dancers.
So our government sent Liz and Eddie on a good-will mission to Moscow without any particular instructions; perhaps with the casual bon voyage—Be yourself and set a good example.
And so our hero and heroine find themselves in Moscow with no one to direct them, not even a director.
Liz, asked by the press if she hoped to see Khrushchev, ad libbed: “What for?”
Eddie, being told about the Lenin-Stalin tomb in Red Square, inquired, “Where’s Trotsky?”
On returning, Liz was asked if she thought the trip accomplished anything. Liz answered that any kind of communication is good.
And now my second question is: “Liz, are you sure about that? Any kind?”
A new version of the old propaganda game—sometimes they call it communication—is being used by the Russians. Liz Taylor had it worked on her, but wasn’t aware of it. Neither are many of our men in Washington who deal in propaganda.
Russia sent over the Soviet Moiseyev Ballet troupe. This consisted of the best dancers in all Russia. They exhibited their finest in an art form which expressed their country. There was no talk onstage, so no problem in understanding.
Our audiences understood these dancers, admired them, and were influenced by them. They made the American audiences feel closer to the Russian people. Everyone, regardless of his politics, had to admire the country capable of producing such talent. The dancers have done a tremendous job of communication for Russia.
I don’t mean we have to follow Russia’s example to the toe, and send dancers to Russia, South America and behind the iron curtain countries.
What I do mean is giving autographs is not enough. And neither is displaying beauty and bosoms. I’ll tell you why: almost every country in the world thinks of the United States as the land of movie stars, luxuries and fashions. I hate to use this Madison Avenue word, but that’s the image they have of us. The government doesn’t have to send you, Liz, to prove it.
But the government can use you, Liz, and other movie stars, to sell another image with values desperately needed in this year of desperation.
Our country touched on it in the Edward R. Murrow documentary with Danny Kaye; felt the taste of it with the touring company of “Porgy and Bess,” and in the travels of Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong; and wherever Marion Anderson sang.
All this was accomplished without organization and united determination. I’d like to see Hollywood and its various talents used properly and with direction. I believe President Kennedy’s Peace Corps plan could supply that direction. After all, why couldn’t some of the talented people in Hollywood—actors, directors, set designers—volunteer under the Peace Corps to help other countries set up theaters and movie companies of their own? Why couldn’t some of the stars who spend all their time overseas to dodge the income tax—and this doesn’t mean you, Liz and Eddie—do something for the country that made them rich enough to have an income tax problem in the first place? Why couldn’t they get together to put on shows that would show something of America’s greatness?
Anyway, Liz and Eddie, am I getting through to you? Is this the right kind of communication?
—BY SIDNEY SKOLSKY
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1961