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Liz Smith Liz Smith
'Gang'-way for Oscar

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'Gang'-way for Oscar
Jan 13, 2003

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January 13, 2003

'Housework can kill you if done right," said Erma Bombeck.

SOME OF US observers have always said that Sherry Lansing is the smartest woman in show business. As studio head of Paramount, she is in a class by herself for general popularity and good word of mouth. (Oh, sure, she has her detractors; everybody big has them.)

Five years ago, Sherry managed to make a "small" investment of $60 million in a movie called "Titantic." Everyone said it would fail. But her dough came back tenfold. (Her partner, 20th Century Fox, wound up footing the big bills, and this made Sherry look like a genius.)

Now bigfoot Harvey Weinstein has done almost the same sort of thing. He found a partner in IEG's Graham King for the edgy and violent "Gangs of New York." At the end of last weekend, Harvey had almost cleared up his own $60-million investment in this movie, with King taking the dough to come in from overseas. (It's like those radio ads about buying a mansion with "nothing down.")

Harvey has one more thing to try. That is, to get director Martin Scorsese his first-ever Oscar or first-ever Golden Globe. You ask, is it possible that the director of such classics as "Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver," "GoodFellas," and "The Age of Innocence" still doesn't have either of these awards on his shelf? Yes. Scorsese has plenty of praise and heaps of admirers, but not these statues.

So Daniel Day-Lewis looks like a lock to be nominated for best actor and, in spite of his competition in the form of Jack Nicholson, he might win for his spectacular Bill the Butcher. But what Harvey really wants out of "Gangs" is for Scorsese to have his turn at holding Oscar at last.

"Gangs" became Scorsese's second-highest-grossing movie last weekend, right behind his chilling remake of "Cape Fear." I said early on I didn't believe academy voters would embrace "Gangs," but maybe I'm wrong, and it will be Scorsese that they announce when all is said and done. He is a great director, no question about it.

THERE WAS a mind-boggling story in USA Today last week that the film "Chicago" was going great guns and packing theaters with moviegoers over 40. Young people, too, are mad for the movie. The longer I watched "Chicago" on the big screen, the more I liked it. When it ended with that smashing duet by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger, I was paralyzed with delight. (And if Queen Latifah fails to win a best supporting actress Oscar, I'll lay blame at the door of whoever cut her show-stopping number, "Class." But that might have jerked the storyline off of its momentum. As far as I'm concerned, Her Highness the Queen should have taken an Oscar several years ago for her role as a nightclub singer opposite Holly Hunter in "Living Out Loud.")

Now there's word that there'll be a rash of movies made from musicals. One such might be "Sunset Boulevard." Couldn't Meryl Streep work magic as nutty, over-the-top Norma Desmond? Meryl can sing, too. I saw her do it on Broadway in "Barnum," and she was also great on film, yodeling in "Postcards From the Edge."

A more immediate result of "Chicago" is the fresh interest in real-life women killers. There is a new book out by Trina Robbins, "Tender Murderers: Famous Women Who Kill," examining the murky motivation of Lizzie Borden, Ruth Snyder, Bonnie Parker, Amy Fisher, Valerie Solanas (although the latter two only wounded their victims, Mary Jo Buttafucco and Andy Warhol, respectively) and others. This book also includes a chapter on Beulah May Annan and Belva Gaertner, two gin-guzzling molls who finally brought to paper "Chicago's" Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. (And, hey, if you want a treat after "Chicago," find the black- and-white Ginger Rogers film "Roxie Hart." Made in 1942; it's still a winner, and Ginger is terrific.)

BEFORE I GET OFF of the hit that is "Chicago," applause again to producer Marty Richards, who, against all odds, over years of effort, made this film happen!

And there are two other guys somebody ought to mention. Last week, I watched Richard Gere talk to Regis Philbin. Gere reveled learning to tap dance, had nice things to say about his co-stars and his director, and then told how much he loved the number "Razzle Dazzle." But never once did he mention John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the songs. Watching "Chicago," I was just overcome with admiration for the Kander and Ebb score all over again. I guess because the material has been around for years, everyone thinks it self-generated.

I rang up Ebb to see if I could get him to complain. He laughed: "I am so grateful the movie is doing so well. But it does seem to me it doesn't occur to anybody being interviewed, particularly the performers, to mention us. Oh, well!"

APOLOGIES TO the National Review, which I called the New Republic the other day. Really bad. Sorry.

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.


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