I became more aware of the actor Kevin Spacey when he received an Academy Award for best actor. It was in the mid-life-crisis-themed drama, “American Beauty” in 1999. But in 2011 when Spacey was cast as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards,” he became the actor I love to hate. Much of Underwood’s dialog throughout the series is presented, interestingly enough, in a direct address to the audience, a narrative technique known as “breaking the fourth wall.” His asides to the viewer serves as an indication of his rue feelings and his intentions – typically when he is feigning politeness and courtesy to people whom he despises. At the start of “House of Cards” Underwood is a Democratic Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. The viciousness of his manipulations escalate as he makes it to the very top conniving, ruining careers, and even murder. “House of Cards” now into its fourth season has become Washington, D.C.’s favorite glamorously sinister dramatization of a story people there tell themselves about its amoral inner life and what it takes to make it to the top. Frank and Claire Underwood are increasingly restless co-conspirators. While he is Machiavellian, Claire encourages her husband to do whatever is necessary to seize power. “House of Cards” is mostly about back-stabbing in the back room. “Politics is the world’s oldest profession. It has no rules at all.” Lawd help us.
Years ago, when on vacation from Ohio University, I would use that time to see many Broadway shows. The only one I mostly remember vividly is “The Music Man.” The fine actress who played Marian, the Librarian, was Barbara Cook. Even that far back I recall being amazed at her vocal agility, wide range, warm sound, and emotive interpretation. I guess I wasn’t the only one so hugely impressed since it won her a Tony Award. Surprisingly, these days her voice has taken on a darker quality and eerily sounds as rich and clear as ever. Happily Barbara Cook is widely recognized as one of the premier interpreters of musical theater songs and standards. The lady’s subtle and sensitive way with American popular songs continues to earn high praise and rightly so. At the Kennedy Center Honors five years ago she was named an honoree. This coming June Ms. Cook’s memoir will be published. It begins with what she calls “a difficult childhood” and follows her career and experience with alcoholism and depression. She is quoted as saying that “a lot of tears went into this book” but she thought that reading about her life and “seeing that you can go through that and come out the other end might help someone.” Writing about her life’s darker moments, she says, “You can sit quietly and write about it but it sounds kinda icky on stage.” But the happy news is that on April 13 “Barbara Cook: Then and Now” begins performance. The show shares its title with her memoirs. She will be onstage six nights a week and shrugs off the physical demands of that schedule. “I’ve been doing eight shows a week all my life.” Oh, did I mention that the lady is 89 years old? Go, Girl, go – or should I say “Sing, Girl, sing!”
Those of you who follow this column will understand easily what I am going to admit, or should I say confess, about myself. Some ten years ago I became aware of an architect whose work I hadn’t seen but oh!, I did know his name! Here’s my confession: I loved that name – Renzo Piano!. After learning his name I discovered the great work he did at the Morgan Library and Museum. The talented architect designed an expansion adding 75,000 sq. ft. to the Morgan’s existing campus. In the past, I easily remember the entrance that had been small, kinda old-fashioned. Under Renzo Piano’s direction a new, modern steel and glass entrance on Madison Avenue took its place. The most recent addition to the library became known as the Morgan Library and Museum (before it was known simply as the Morgan Library). Now, with its modernist entrance building the expansion above and below street level has doubled the exhibition space. Piano’s four story atrium links the library building. There’s so much to see and enjoy. The Morgan contains many music manuscripts even those of Gilbert and Sullivan. The richly decorated interior leads to three public rooms. They were originally Morgan’s private study which made me feel like a Peeping Tom as I enjoyed looking at it. Morgan’s study has been called “one of the greatest achievements of American interior decoration.” The Morgan Library and Museum is located at 225 Madison Avenue at East 36th Street in Manhattan. Originally J. P. Morgan in 1906 founded it to include only manuscripts and printed books. It is so much more now. Lucky for us, J. P. Morgan’s son made it a public institution in 1924. It’s a New York City landmark and I find pleasure in just stepping into the museum and looking around. I should mention that I was able to view scraps of paper on which Bob Dylan jotted down “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Well, here’s a non sequitur: if I can’t fall asleep at night I play Dylan’s latest, “Shadows in the Night.” By the time he gets to singing “Some Enchanted Evening” I’m sound asleep.
You probably receive many advertising catalogs in the mail. I get so many that I often discard them without a second look. So it came as a surprise to me when a male friend said if you’re interested in women who have made a difference in the world at large read the recent Lands’ End catalog. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two women featured. It turned out that the CEO of Lands’ End has introduced a “Legend Series” honoring such individuals who have paved the way for others. One is a Lands’ End model, Marian Moneymaker (could that be her real name?). When interviewed she told how she got through a period of incredible stress and hardship in her life by practicing yoga. Here are quotes I personally related to: “I wake up every morning and I am so grateful that I can walk.” “The lady doesn’t get in her car if it’s possible to walk.” “Walking keeps us in touch with our bodies.” (I solve all problems during a half-hour walk in the morning.) We can all do it. Park further away. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Okay, no lecture. The other person in the Lands’ End catalog didn’t really surprise me: Gloria Steinem. Yes, I’m referring to the writer, lecturer, editor, and activist. In her new book, “My Life on the Road,” she writes, “If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them.” She’s not seduced by any passing fashion but has found her own authentic style. Ms. Steinem has wisdom to offer support to others. There she was, looking fine – in Lands’ End garments, of course. “Fashion is what someone else tells you to wear, but style is about personal expression and freedom.” Hers has been a truly meaningful life. I’m so glad I looked into the Spring issue of Lands’ End. This is not a paid commercial but I’m thinking about ordering the white no-iron shirt I spotted in the catalog. My mother always told me that I look better in white than black. If she said it, it must be true.
You can email June Sturz at email@example.com