Monroe has same body issues as Simpson

“GOODE FRIENDS, for friendship’s sake forbeare to utter what is gossipt here. In social chat lest unaware thy tongue offend thy fellow players.”

This is the inscription, imitating Shakespeare, that is borne out in metal script over the main fireplace at the Players Club off Washington Square, New York. I have been in the Players many times, but never noticed this before. I had to laugh. I had just embraced actor Ben Gazzara on the stairs and he’d said, “You look even better than when I sat on the beach with you in Ostia back in 1957.” I was thinking what a great gossip era that had been. Young actor Gazzara was madly in love with my friend Elaine Stritch. She was in Rome, making “A Farewell to Arms” and I was her secretary. Ben had rushed over to see Elaine. The Catholic schoolgirl turned performer, felt she could not marry Ben because he was divorced. She had started then dating Rock Hudson in Rome and I, as Elaine’s Girl Friday, was listening to Ben’s tale of heartbreak and woe while thinking what a good-looker he was. Well, I didn’t write anything about any of that because I wasn’t then a columnist. My, my, how times have changed. We were in the Players Club for a reading by Elaine and five other fabulous actors — including the bombshell actress Gina Gershon — of a new play by Ginna Carter. (Dixie’s daughter). In our audience this one star-studded night — Barbara Walters, Tommy Tune, Nathan Lane, Michael Feinstein, Dixie and Hal Holbrook, publisher Arthur Carter and scouts from every major Broadway producing house as well as the Times’ Ben Brantley. He came at my invitation, just for the hell of it. (I had invited the Post’s own theater expert, Michael Riedel, but I don’t think he made it.) Well, anyway, I have to “watch it” if I go back to the Players, now that I know they ask us not to gossip.

STARTING this very night you can see a rare American musical as the second “Encores!” series presents Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Music in the Air.” (You’re right. I don’t think I ever heard of it either.) This will star the delightful brat Kristin Chenoweth, the gorgeous Douglas Sills, as well as Tony winner Dick Latessa (the husband in “Hairspray”) plus Tom Alan Robbins and Sierra Boggess. Let’s add the unique Marni Nixon who was the voice of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” and also sang for Deborah Kerr in “The King and I,” as well as Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.” The Rodgers & Hammerstein organization has restored this musical which hasn’t been seen since 1932. You may remember a few of the famous songs, however — “I’ve Told Every Little Star” and “The Song Is You.”

THE FAMOUS charms are in evidence, not a little on the fleshy side — diet anyone?”…”This movie cements the fact that the actress is in need of a good girdle”… “She has been slimmer and trimmer previously”… The above quotes are a random sampling of critical reviews of Marilyn Monroe’s later films. Her zaftig shape sparked a lot of negative comment. She (and her brunette counterpart Elizabeth Taylor) were not “allowed” to be plump, because size standards were different. This is a myth. Both were savaged for their over-abundant curves. Monroe whittled herself back down to her calendar girl shape in the year before her death — she’d had enough criticism. Taylor continued the battle, often losing.

I REFER to these classic waistlines to remind you all that times have not changed. A few extra pounds were a crime in the 1950s and seem to be a crime today. Look at what is happening to poor Jessica Simpson! The singer has a shape that looks no different — and quite a bit better, really — than the average American woman. She’s put on a few, but is hardly ready for a carnival act. Not that you’d know it from the headlines: “The Fat Lady Sings!” Geez! Jessica might consider a stylist, to present her new landscape more discreetly, but how she dresses is as much her business as how much she weighs. Both Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers are said to be eyeing Jessica’s figure with interest. Still, Jessica’s burgeoning bod doesn’t seem to bother Disney. They are still hot to develop a series for the blond beauty. The latest idea is an updated version of “Barefoot in the Park,” a play, which was made into a hit movie starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Jessica would be the kooky, adventurous wife married to a stuffy lawyer. (This was, more or less, the premise of “Dharma and Greg,” which ran for a few seasons. Are there any new ideas? Not really.) Whatever develops — in her career or in her jeans — just leave the girl alone with her perfectly normal, still attractive, body.

NOW THE service for the Shubert’s Gerald Schoenfeld, happening Monday 1 p.m. at the Majestic will have a limited number of seats available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

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