Eggheads in XXX

The New Yorker, January 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

Eggheads in XXX


As far as Stanley Donen is concerned, elegance died in 1959. That was the year he directed Cary Grant in "The Grass Is Greener." "Cary played a titled Englishman, and he was wearing what an earl would wear at night in his country house--a dark-green velvet smoking jacket," Donen said the other day. "Halfway through making the picture, he got terrified. 'I don't want to be in a smoking jacket!' he said. He was afraid that by playing that kind of man he would lose people's interest. A certain sort of polish in films--the way people moved and spoke, the decor--vanished then. And it never came back."

For a time, Donen epitomized Hollywood style. He directed Grant and Audrey Hepburn in "Charade" and Hepburn and Fred Astaire in "Funny Face," and co-directed, with Gene Kelly, the classic musicals "On the Town" and "Singin' in the Rain." He made the world of champagne fountains and pillbox hats look enchanting, which is much harder than it sounds. When Donen accepted an Academy Award for lifetime achievement, in 1998, he charmed the audience by cradling the statuette and singing "Cheek to Cheek," then breaking into a tap dance. He had spent hours working out every beat of this seeming flight of fancy, down to fastening tiny microphones to his shoes and rehearsing the pas de deux with an Oscar belonging to his friend Marshall Brickman.

Today, at the age of seventy-eight, Donen is directing an Off Broadway play about porn. Married and divorced five times, jilted by the studios after his ill-starred 1984 comedy "Blame It On Rio," he has an apartment on the twenty-fifth floor of a high-rise near Central Park, where he is surrounded by framed Avedon photographs of long forgotten models. Donen has unruly black eyebrows and a bushy black beard that give his head--which is mounted on a slim, dancer's body--a Rumpelstiltskinish air. The other day, in his apartment, he was dressed in black from head to toe and had a large silver dog tag hanging from his neck. It read, "Stanley Donen. If found, please return to Elaine May."

This was May's Christmas gift to Donen last year. Her gift to him this year was to write "Adult Entertainment," the play that has restored him to the director's chair. It's about what happens when porn actors on a Public Access cable sex show ask their cameraman, Gerry--a Yale graduate with arty notions--to write an X-rated movie script for them. …

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