Raising the Barr

ROSEANNE? She calls herself Roseanne Barr again and well she should. This is a woman who has chosen to represent the middle class, the working class, the down-trodden. She can call herself anything she likes for my money because she’s a real life-giver — a woman who speaks up and speaks out, using humor for change. If your negative memory of Roseanne is of the time she clutched at her crotch on the baseball diamond and mis-sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” then you missed the true satiric essence of Roseanne’s demonstration against male crudity — a phenomenon that seems to be so applauded when it comes to sports. Through her tempestuous beginnings, Roseanne was a revolutionary, often vulgar and offensive and she ran the gamut experimenting with her private life in public. But along the way she became a real all-American hero. She understood most of us better than we understood ourselves. I never miss Roseanne’s long-running TV series whenever it reappears on television, for surely it was a gold mine of philosophy about kids, marriage, sex, motherhood. It was, in fact, one of the best shows ever seen on the tube and we probably won’t ever see its like again.

MAYBE YOU caught Roseanne last week with Bill Maher where she went to town on politics, voting, the Bush administration and anything else that took her fancy. She was looking good. As you read this, Roseanne is starring at New York, New York Casino in Las Vegas, bringing back the standup comedy that first made her famous. But when we talked about this outing, which will play in Vegas until May 1, Roseanne wanted to give most of the credit to her new opening act. “She’s a drag superstar named Jackie Beat and the funniest comic I’ve seen in my life. We have been touring around and I love working with her. The audience just goes berserk when they see her; they can’t believe how great she is. She gets them up for me so that I don’t have to work so hard.” Roseanne told me she had a facelift at 39 which is “the age where it’s supposed to last the longest for you … I also had a nose job and now my nose runs all the time, but everything costs something. I am kind of blonde now going to brunette, but I can’t wait to be really grey. After all, I have three grandsons now and I also have a smart nice new boyfriend. But, no more marriage, no more pregnancies.” (She has five children.) I asked, “So what are you up to, darling?” Roseanne quipped, “Oh, about 180 pounds.” “No, seriously Roseanne, how are you after all you’ve lived through?” Roseanne pauses: “Well, I survived through my troubles. If you stick around and live through them, they go away. You’ve just got to be brave. I am a lot smarter, now, calmer and I began meditating. I try to live in the moment.

“If you want to make me happy, mention my blog site roseanneworld.com. I tell everything there. I give opinions. I work to get the minimum wage raised because the disparity between the classes is growing and working people seem to be in a race to the bottom while the rich get richer. We all need to vote for what we really believe in and not just for the candidate we hate the least. Stay brave, I say. You know, to be a stand-up comic and a mother are two of the bravest things anyone can do.” Roseanne has moved away from Brentwood and Hollywood. She now has a home outside of Los Angeles. And she’ll be introducing “America’s Funniest Moms” when it premieres on Nickelodeon come April 10. So we’ll all have another chance to see this dynamo do her stuff.

THE TEAM of Tina Brown and Harry Evans have what passes for Manhattan’s most interesting literary and entertainment salon. The other eve they drew a stellar crowd. Nobody said no when invited to meet the brand new Oscar winner, Helen Mirren, and her director husband Taylor Hackford. Writer Dominick Dunne, painter Peter Rogers and I had a dinner date with our longtime friend Happy Rockefeller, but instead of going out, we all went happily to Tina and Harry, eager to see Helen, the toast of at least two continents. She is the actress who, in a single year, portrayed two of England’s queens, both named Elizabeth. Helen was her usual super chic self, standing around on fabulous high platform shoes with ankle wrapping. On her wrist was a recent gift — one of those ivory bracelets on which sentiments may be inscribed. And Helen’s says in beautiful script “Ladies and Gentlemen. I give you the Queen.” ( This was her final sentence as she accepted the Academy Award.) During the buffet dinner, Tina asked a few questions of Helen and had both the star and her tablemate, Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York, comment. Both women expressed admiration for Britain’s monarch. They were charming. The Queen, should she bother, would have been proud of the remarks made by Helen who played her onscreen and also those of Sarah, once her daughter-in-law. Helen opined that in boning up for her role, she looked at many films of the Queen, especially those taken during Elizabeth’s youth or when she first ascended the throne. Helen said she’d found the memoir of the late nanny to the Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, to be the most helpful in trying to understand the Queen’s character. (Once she finished playing Elizabeth I, Helen had only two weeks before she was plunged into playing her modern-day successor.)

On this fascinating night, I saw my friend Ron Silver. The former head of Actor’s Equity is also remembered for his portrayal of the president’s tough and uncompromising legal council in “The West Wing.” Ron and I were once in a movie together — he as the lead in “Garbo Talks” and me as a cocktail party extra. But we did have a scene together where he passed by and looked over my shoulder. Ron is a tough dedicated natural leader. So I asked my politically active “co-star” why he doesn’t buckle down and run for president himself? Ron said if I’d mention the question in my column, he’d definitely consider it. I think this guy is a Republican. So can there be another Ronald Reagan in our future?

BY THE by — director Taylor Hackford has been walking eight steps behind his queen for sometime now, backing her up in her year of triumph and calling himself “a professional escort.” But he’ll soon be making big news soon himself with a new movie in the planning. He also has a Broadway musical which has been in development for a year. This is based on the Steve Martin movie “Leap of Faith,” which starred Debra Winger. Alan Menken has done the music and lyrics. And the brilliantly gifted Kelli O’Hara did the honors at the NYC read-through last Friday. (She was the one everybody noted in “Light in the Piazza,” “The Pajama Game” and the recent “My Fair Lady” concert performance.) Taylor is also producing-directing the big tribute to the late Atlantic Records tycoon Ahmet Ertegun at Lincoln Center in mid-April. That will have an all-star cast. “The Queen” will soon be walking a few paces behind her consort, Taylor Hackford. Turn about’s fair play.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, the little girl with the great big voice, is attached to all things vintage. She loves that retro 1940s/’50s bombshell look. Her passion for the glam past is evident once again in her new video, “Candyman.” Christina co-directed this with Matthew Rolston, an old hand at video-making. This was her first step behind the cameras. (The song, “Candyman,” has a nostalgic Andrew Sisters rhythm, with a hot pop twist.) “Candyman” bumped Hilary Duff’s video out of the top spot — that too was directed by Rolston. And how was it working collaboratively with Christina, a no-nonsense young lady who gets what she wants? Matthew says, and it sounds sincere, “It went really well.”

SO THE movie “300,” about ancient Sparta’s fighting men and the famous Battle of Thermopylae is a gigantic hit. How depressing. The feature is really nothing more than a bigscreen videogame, luring testosterone-pumped young guys with its graphic, stylized blood and guts. (There’s some sex, but what’s that compared to disembowelments and beheading?) As for political content, I found more in “Troy,” which was a genuine anti-war movie, despite its gore and historical inaccuracies. The computer-generated effects of “300” are so overwhelming one feels totally detached from the human element. Nobody looks human. Still, like it or not, CGI is vital to modern epic moviemaking. Why build a set, hire a cast of thousands, shoot on location when you can digitalize the) mise en scene? Cecil B. DeMille must be spinning in his grave. (DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” employed the special effects technology of its time, but the film was otherwise the real deal, with actual sets and people.) There was considerable publicity about how vigorously the “300” cast worked out, the better to impress in their barely there costumes. Maybe, but given what can be done with computers, many could have appeared on set in any sloppy shape, and allowed the special-effects wizards to sculpt their bodies. Is “faking” it the way of the future? Should real-life actors and others worry? Perhaps. But Warner Bros. stockholders are cheering.

SPEAKING OF ancient days … whenever I talk to somebody at HBO I say: “What about ‘Rome?’ I can’t believe it’s ending after only two seasons.” I implore the publicists as if they, personally, can save the show. I am told, patiently, that the BBC contracted only for a two-year series; it is simply too expensive to continue. I say get more money somehow. “Rome” stands alongside “I, Claudius” as the most brilliantly performed and compelling TV presentation of high and low times along the Tiber before and slightly after the birth of Christ. All performances are exceptional. I love the opulent Polly Walker as Atia, mother to Emperor Octavian. She is a nasty piece of work, but still appealingly vulnerable — a product of her times and class. Lindsay Duncan, as Servilia, (mother of the infamous Brutus), is also great. When Servilia puts a deathbed curse on you, she’s not kidding. Indira Varma was killed off at the end of season one, but she was dazzling as Niobe, who thought her warrior husband long-dead, then paid the price for such an assumption. And the young actor who has played Octavian this season is chilling, an emotionless glassy-eyed prude, who nevertheless warns his bride, “I will beat you occasionally … with my hands and a light whip.” But what stands out most as “Rome” heads to its conclusion is the interplay between Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson as centurions gone astray, best friends in good times and bad. These two macho men express a love for each other that is remarkable in its sincerity, conveyed through their eyes and fleeting facial expressions. Their work is beyond impressive. Only two episodes of “Rome” remain to be aired. At least we’ll get to see James Purefoy (as the sexy, swinish Mark Antony) hook up with Cleopatra. And then, although gods and mere mortals protest, it’s over.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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