June 29, 07
V 35 Issue 26

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Tuesday, Jun 02, 2020



Bits & Bytes
Liliane Montevecchi stars in Teatro ZinZanni
French legend dines at legendary Crepe de Paris, tells SGN: 'All of my best friends are Gay men' by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Sometimes the stars are in alignment, and the weekly Bits&Bytes seems to simply write itself. As Seattle settled in for an extended Gay Pride celebration, the legendary French star Liliane Montevecchi, currently heading the Emerald City cast of the long-running Teatro ZinZanni, met with SGN's Bits&Bytes for an exclusive interview.

The glamorous Tony Award-winner and this scribe settled in for a lengthy luncheon at the downtown Crepe de Paris-a visiting French legend and the legendary French restaurant were a match made in heaven. Montevecchi, approaching 60 years as an international headliner, and Crepe de Paris, nearing its 40th anniversary, were perfect for each other.

While most of her sequences in Teatro ZinZanni's L'Affaire d'Amour, continuing through Aug. 5 in TZ's downtown/Belltown location, showcase Montevecchi in Ziegfeld-like glitz and glamour outfits, one always wonders what a living legend will wear "on the street" for a mid-day outing. Well, the French star lived up to her international star status.

Dressed "down" for lunch, the incredibly thin and trim star wore a dark, dark blue pinstripe pants suit, topped with an oversized red straw hat with a huge red silk rose to one side. A flowing red silk blouse, with a gigantic bow tied at the throat, and open-toed red leather pumps completed the outfit. What Becomes A Legend Most?" was the catch phrase for a famous advertising campaign years ago. Montevecchi clearly believes in living up to her legendary star status on stage and off.

(Researching the multi-talented international star, this scribe came across a first hand account of her New York life. A Gay friend was having brunch with a group of friends in New York's Chelsea area (the Gay center of New York for the past two decades) when Montevecchi was the toast of Broadway in Nine and Grand Hotel. A stunning woman swept in surrounded with "a group of fawning young Gay men."

"My God," he exclaimed to his friends, "who does she think she is, Liliane Montevecchi?" One friend explained, "She is Liliane Montevecchi!" "All she was missing," another friend noted, "was a pair of Russian wolfhounds.")

Montevecchi, who turns 75 "later this year," was determined early on to be a dancer, studying with and joining the Roland Petit Ballets as a teenage ballerina. While the young ballerina was dancing in Paris, ("surrounded," she notes, "by beautiful Gay men in the company") her "Gay following" developed. "I've always adored Gay men," she smiled. "They are the most talented and sweet people I know."

On tour to New York, she was offered a screen test by MGM in the mid-1950s and spent seven years under contract, appearing opposite Marlon Brando in The Young Lions, Elvis Presley in King Creole, Fred Astaire in Daddy Longlegs. All in all, she made 15 Hollywood movies, often on loan out, during her seven years at MGM. She readily agrees with Elizabeth Taylor's oft quoted comment: "Without Gay men there would be no Hollywood."

"I signed the second-to-last seven year contract at MGM in 1954," the glamorous diva laughed. "They really didn't know what to do with me-musicals were falling out of favor." Speaking little English when she went to Hollywood, intensive English lessons occupied most of her first months at the famous "Studio Of The Stars." "It was so hard to learn English," she confided, "but I had to, so I did."

Among her many memories of Tinsel Town, "sneaking out to the beach" with Elvis is one of her favorite tales. "We were both kids-almost the same age," she smiled, obviously relishing the memory. "He couldn't go anywhere, of course, so I would drive my white Jaguar and he would slump down in the seat when we left the studio for an afternoon of swimming at the beach." The hundreds of teenage girls who watched Elvis' every move "never caught on."

Among her 15 Hollywood films, Jerry Lewis' The Sad Sack was not a memorable experience. One website dismisses the film but praises the young and radiant Montevecchi: "The only memorable things about this bland, tacky, cheap-looking comedy is Liliane Montevecchi&a beautiful, spectacularly entertaining creature&."

While in Hollywood, "I was adopted by Norma Shearer," she revealed. The Hollywood star, the widow of Irving Thalberg, "adored me." Once the Queen Of MGM, "she left me all of her fabulous wardrobe-I still wear some of her 1930's designer dresses."

After her seven years in Hollywood, she joined the Broadway cast of La Plume de Ma Tante at the end of its hugely successful Broadway run. The unlikely New York hit brought in a "new cast" for its last weeks in New York so that the touring edition could be billed as "direct from Broadway."

"David Merrick (the famous Broadway producer once dubbed "The Abominable Showman") was notoriously cheap," Montevecchi confided. Asked to host a VIP lunch at Sardi's, she was astonished to find the waiter presenting her with the check. "I simply signed it "Send To Mr. Merrick,' and gave it to the manager. David and I were good friends after that!"

The quicksilver revue--most famous for its madcap bell ringing sequence that appeared on the old Ed Sullivan Show many times--toured extensively. Bits&Bytes first encountered the talented diva in its San Francisco stay in 1961-an event long forgotten until the Crepe de Paris luncheon.

Returning to France, the "spectacularly entertaining creature" headlined at the fabled Folies Bergere. A tour with the celebrated revue brought her back to New York where she caught the attention of Tommy Tune. The now openly-Gay multi-talented actor, director, choreographer cast her as the sex-pot in Nine where she won Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Later he cast her in his musical version of Grand Hotel, where she played the aging ballerina, the role created by Greta Garbo in the famous Hollywood film. "I love Tommy and he loves me,: she gushed.

She toured with Grand Hotel, a tour that first brought her to Seattle. "I've always loved Seattle-it's so green, so beautiful," the diva noted. "I've always wanted to come back."

Heading the long running Las Vegas edition of Folies Bergere gave her another U.S. success. Later, she returned to Europe for a series of leading roles in American musicals.

"Since Nine I've had a home in New York-26 years ago!". She also keeps a house in France-"but I'm lucky to get any time there." After Teatro ZinZanni ends in Seattle, she returns to Europe for a tour with her own one-woman show and a headlining stay with a long-running German show, Tiger Palace, a European revue she often stars in, "sort of Teatro ZinZanni without the dinner," the diva laughed.

Montevecchi has starred as Madame ZinZanni in three editions of the San Francisco company. "Seattle wants me to return&but time will tell."

Montevecchi has been involved in AIDS benefits "since the beginning." Appearances with the New York Gay Men's Chorus, AIDS benefits in New York, including a famous Carnegie Hall fund raiser, have been emotional highs for the legendary diva.

"All of my best friends are Gay," she noted, suggesting, perhaps, that her "best friends" number several hundred. "They all started dying in the early 1980s when AIDS first appeared. "Dozens of beautiful young boys&I had to do something."

She has won international awards for her AIDS activism and fund raising. "It had to be done," she explained simply. One year, she and Liza Minnelli were both knighted by the Knights Of Malta, an international group that supports humanitarian work. (She was not aware of the Gay-oriented Knights Of Malta, named after the same historic group that knighted Montevecchi&"but good for them!")

The younger-than-she-looks international star has "spent the last 23 years with an Italian 'boy' who is 20 years younger than I am&imagine!" As "her boy" approaches 55 and she turns 75, "what does age matter?" she slyly asks. "We are both busy-we see each other when we see each other."

He will join her for two weeks in her French home and then stay with her for most of the European tours.

During her last weeks in Seattle, Montevecchi will spend at least one of her Monday-Tuesday "weekends off" in Las Vegas where "my best friend" is starring in Phantom Of The Opera. "He's Gay, of course!" she laughed. "My other best friend (also Gay!) is starring in The Producers-it will be a hectic visit&.I may have to go twice."

Her "really best friend," Kaye Ballard, is also on the "weekend" visit schedule. "She loves me so much she named her dog after me&imagine!"

Annie Agostini, the founder and owner of Crepe de Paris, is readying the 40th anniversary of the famous Seattle restaurants, "one of the first" (if not the first) French restaurants in the downtown area. It certainly is one of the longest surviving establishments in the Seattle culinary scene.

Montevecchi and Agostini spent a lengthy time after lunch chatting away in French-"such a relief to speak naturally," Montevecchi revealed. Agostini is celebrated as an early, successful Seattle businesswoman an "early feminist" in the unofficial Emerald City Hall Of Feminist Fame. Starting with a simple dessert and entrée crepe café in the old Music Hall Theatre nearly 40 years ago, she opened a second establishment in Madison Park and then Crepe de Paris' current home in the Rainier Tower, one of the first occupants. For a long time, she had two establishments running at the same time.

Montevecchi, who "never eats lunch," raved about the French Onion Soup. "Manifique!" she exclaimed to Agostini and this happy luncheon companion. "It is like returning to Paris&."

As hoped for, the meeting of the visiting legend-an international star-and the local business and feminist "legend" was a total success.

Teatro ZinZanni's L'Affaire d'Amour, with Liliane Montevecchi as the glamorous Madame ZinZanni, continues with Wednesday-Sunday performances through Aug. 5. The historic touring cabaret tent will then move to the Seattle Center and reopen with an all-new show in November. Ticket information and reservations are available at 802-0015.

Crepe de Paris hosts three cabaret shows in its Cabaret At The Crepe series this summer. The first--Movieola!-runs July 5-8 and 11-15, a two week run with almost nightly performances. Angie Louise, billed as the "chanteuse" (and one of Bits&Bytes' favorite Seattle performers), and Marcus Wolland, the "comedic crooner," team together for this Hollywood musical salute-"From Disney To DePalma." Information, reservations at 623-4111. Watch SGN and Bits&Bytes for details about TZ and Crepe cabaret shows.

(GLBT visitors to Crepe de Paris will find it a welcoming establishment. While waiting for the luncheon interview with Montevecchi, this writer was browsing through France Guide 2007, a handsome-and free-publication stacked on the restaurant's welcoming entry table. The first article, by David Sedaris, "author and humorist," opened with this first sentence: "My boyfriend has a house in Normandy&." For a "straight" publication, this had to be a first. Later in the magazine is a listing for a free French Guide For The Gay Traveler-call (514) 288-1904 and just ask. Montevecchi howled with laughter at this "good omen" for our SGN interview and clutched a copy with her as she left, "to share with all my Gay best friends.")


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