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A Woman's Place Is On Stage

June 10, 1985|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

Even without the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, who was to have been the star honoree, the ninth annual Crystal Awards celebration turned out to be quite an occasion.

Marlo Thomas, who was not an award recipient, delivered what proved to be the keynote address at Women in Film's bash in the grand ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel on Friday, tracing the journey women have taken in the industry--and in life. "Our generation was the first in this industry to say 'No Thank You' in a big way. . . .

"We said 'No' to the idea that women couldn't direct movies, and Lina Wertmuller paved the way," Thomas said, commenting on the luncheon's pride of winners. "We said 'No' to the idea that a woman's physical features might lock her into stereotype forever--and no one has buried that idiotic notion as beautifully as Elizabeth Taylor. . . . We wondered why male comedians so often made fun of sex and female comedians made fun of themselves. Bette Midler solved our problem by making fun of everything."

Midler, the comic of so many faces, and somewhat of a surprise in a dress-for-success plain navy dress, made fun. "God, I love a lunch," she began, looking out at the sold-out house of more than 1,800 women and men.

Meta Carpenter Wilde, 77 and looking closer to 57, provided inspiration. With a career spanning 54 years and encompassing any number of behind-the-scenes, "below the line" roles from secretary to script "girl" to script supervisor, as well as being a union organizer, Wilde is still working, having just completed "Prizzi's Honor" under director John Huston with whom she had worked on "The Maltese Falcon" 44 years ago.

"Dreams can come true even for women," Wilde (also the author of "A Loving Gentleman," about her 30-year romance with William Faulkner) said in a soft Southern accent. "I never believed a script girl--or a script boy--could become script supervisor. . . ."

Jean Stapleton gave advice. Receiving the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award "for her untiring efforts advancing the cause of woman's rights . . . and her ability to use her artistry to benefit humanity," the actress who made Edith Bunker a household name talked about career beginnings. Forget about luck, said Stapleton, whose portrayals have also included Eleanor Roosevelt and Irene Wallin, leader of the so-called Minnesota Eight bank employees who struck their hometown bank in a fight for equal pay.

"The best thing I can say is, it (a career) starts with your right desire, your drive, your impulse to fulfill the voice within. And you can trust that, if you have the patience. I believe that one's career is the externalization of that desire.

"I'm therefore putting luck out of the picture," Stapleton added while her audience burst into applause. "It's not reliable and not to be trusted."

Besides Italian director Lina Wertmuller ("The Seduction of Mimi," "Swept Away," "Seven Beauties"), Midler (the Jack Oakie Comedy Award), Stapleton, Wilde and Taylor, other 1985 Crystal Award recipients were WIF founder Tichi Wilkerson, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Hollywood Reporter, and rock star--and feminist--Cyndi Lauper, who uses words like herstory where others might say history .

Taylor, in effect, called in sick last week after her publicist issued a statement by her physician stating that the actress had suffered back injuries two months ago during shooting of the Civil War miniseries "North and South," in which she wore a 50-pound plantation-style dress. The physician, Dr. William Skinner, said Taylor had been hospitalized for a week, and now requires intensive physiotherapy.

Although the other award winners offered best wishes for the illness-prone actress' speedy recovery, Women in Film officials were privately fuming. "I've been stood up, and that hasn't happened to me since I was 14," Johnna Levine, president of the 1,200-member organization, said. And Crystal Awards spokeswoman Jo-Ann Geffen noted that contrary to statements by Taylor's publicist Chen Sam that they were "forewarned" two weeks ago that Taylor would probably not attend, the organization was instead told Taylor probably would be there.

No matter. The event itself dominated. At a press conference Lauper--wearing streaks of purple, red, orange and yellow hair as well as a Gypsy's bagful of baubles, bangles and bright, shining beads--glanced down the table that included Wilde, Stapleton, Wilkerson and Thomas, and pronounced in vintage Queens, N.Y.: "There's too many of us (women) now to stop us anymore."

Thomas, who announced the establishment of a new Luminas award to be given to film makers and producers beginning next year who present a "positive and inspiring image of women," added: "We are telling you that now because we want you to be forewarned. Women are watching. And they want to see themselves."

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