Tom Hanks production screens for stars

“WELL, IT’S what I think!” This line, delivered with a cool, detached, laconic air by actor Stephen Dillane as the creative genius Thomas Jefferson, won a big laugh at the HBO screening of “John Adams” this week at MOMA. The scene in question showed Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams dickering over and editing Jefferson’s version of the Declaration of Independence. Dillane’s patrician response to the two mens’ suggestions was a great character indication and right on the money. But from episodes one and two, which I’ve seen, there is nothing that isn’t right on the money about this spectacular effort made from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of that literary giant David McCullough. There’s the intense Paul Giamatti as John Adams, who went on to become the second president of the U.S…. there is the sublime Laura Linney as his fierce, devoted and sometimes rifle-toting Abigail… And Tom Wilkinson really scores as Ben Franklin. In fact, his character keeps part two, where there’s lots of speechifying and arguing at the Continental Congress, alive and lively. It is staggering how many bon mots were and are in this movie, uttered by old Ben. As in Shakespeare, we don’t realize how much of Franklin’s wisdom and wit permeates our everyday life until we hear his words dropping from Wilkinson’s lips. The audience loved it.

I don’t know why HBO decided to screen part two of this nine part mini-series the other night, instead of starting at the beginning. Well, part two shows graphically the beginning of the Revolution, the wounded, plus a smallpox epidemic. Maybe HBO thought it had more “action” to satisfy those seated at MOMA. But action aside, the history lesson being given us here is big on ideas, ideals, conflict, the birth of a nation and it serves well. “John Adams” premieres on HBO March 16, running Sundays through April 20.

America’s nicest, most human, genuine actor, Tom Hanks, was at the glittery screening.(Along with such as Mike Nichols, Joan Didion, Carl Bernstein, Jackie Leo, Ashleigh Banfield, Cathie Black, Morley Safer, Bob Balaban and other patriots.) Hanks is the executive producer and the film was made by his company Playtone. I spoke with Tom; more on that in another column.

I met Valerie Bertinelli about eight years ago. She was promoting a TV film, one of the dozens she has made since her debut back in the ’70s as the luscious younger daughter of Bonnie Franklin in the series, “One Day at a Time.” Bertinelli wore no makeup, sweats, and looked like a teenager, though she was then well into her 30s. We talked a lot about theater, and books and I came away impressed by her normalcy. She was the least actressy of actresses. Last week I met Valerie again, under very different circumstances. Her marriage to Eddie Van Halen had ended, her weight — a constant struggle — had ballooned. She joined the Jenny Craig team, became a spokeswoman, and wrote a book. When she stepped out of the elevator in the Trump Hotel, I was stunned. She looked exactly the same as when we first met. Except — because this was a day of press junkets — she was beautifully dressed and made-up. The figure of her teenage pin-up years has returned. When I complimented her freshness and unchanged appearance, she said with a very bawdy laugh, “Four inches of make-up. That’s the secret. Oh, I can’t wait to get this crap off my face!”

By now the press has picked up on what they consider the hot parts of Valerie’s memoir, “Losing It — And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time.” Truthfully, none of that stuff came as much of a surprise to me. Yes, she’d been a sort of America’s Sweetheart, a sort of hot sweetheart, but wholesome. But is it so shocking to learn she had sex as a teenager? Or that during the course of her long and troubled marriage to Eddie Van Halen, she had strayed? (His extra-marital adventures went beyond mere straying) Are we truly astounded to read that Bertinelli used drugs, especially during the heady first years of her wedlock, before their son Wolfie came along? As she explains it, “Partying with Ed was my way of trying to fit into his world… he was almost totally nocturnal. If I hadn’t stayed up drinking and doing coke with him… we wouldn’t have seen each other.” (She is even-handed about Ed’s struggles, his creative frustrations, his good and endearing qualities. And that they were just too young and “in-lust” to consider the realities of married life.) So these bites are what make the news. But the heart and soul of her book is a long painful tale of body obsession, insecurity, a life spent judging the good and bad times by what her scales and her mirror told her.

“I don’t regret my life. It’s been fabulous in a lot of ways and I have my wonderful son. I wish it hadn’t taken me 47 years to figure myself out,” Valerie told me. Then she paused. “Of course, I haven’t. That’s the point of the book. I still don’t know why we do what we do. Why are we so hard on ourselves.? Women especially. I’m such an average woman, my problems are so not unusual. But I didn’t realize that for a long time. I wrote the book for other women, and not even as some, ‘see how I triumphed’ manifesto, because, who can see the future? But I wanted to share my experience. It’s such a cliché — maybe it’ll help one girl, one woman.”

Sitting in on our brief chat was her guy, Tom Vitale. They are great together; he has seen her through thick and thin, literally. Valerie says she went through a lot of her life with blinders on. They’re gone now, and she’s got a man who won’t ever let her wear them again.

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