When I was fourteen, I was what you might call a twerp (or, in the words of my mother, a “pretentious little shit”). Why? I’m not sure. But certainly, sending me to prep-school in the Connecticut woods only served to further cultivate this condition. It was around this time (thanks, in part, to a school store that allowed us to charge everything from text books to tennis racquets home to our parents) that I became a voracious reader of upscale fashion, music, and lifestyle publications, such as Harper’s Bazaar, Movieline, Rolling Stone, Town & Country, Women’s Wear Daily (and its monthly version, W), and Premiere.
And what, pray tell, would drive a fourteen year old boy to possibly pour over the pages of such hifalutin mind-numbingly affected rags? Well, in the case of Premiere, it was mostly to absorb the writings of the funniest critic (including yours truly) to ever grace the pages of any glossy publication: A woman who introduced herself, thusly “Hi. I'm Libby Gelman-Waxner, and I'm an assistant buyer in juniors' activewear. While I find my work both rewarding and creative, especially with the new knits coming in, I want more. And so I decided to become a film critic...”
Her “If You Ask Me” column transported me – not to a far-away land, but to the Upper East Side, and the life of a woman whose life revolved around her family (orthodontist husband, Josh, and her children Jennifer and Mitchell Sean), as well as an utterly self-centered relationship with the cult of celebrity. What’s more, she made me laugh. For instance, when speaking about Diane Keaton, Libby wrote “She's a pioneer; she takes that thing that hangs in the back of your closet, the thing that was too marked-down to pass up. Diane takes that thing and she doesn't call Goodwill; she wraps it around her head a few times, pins on a Smurf brooch, and wins an Oscar..."
Now, Libby – the reviewer who wrote that James Cameron’s need to create fictional characters to make the Titanic story more interesting “seems a tiny bit like giving Anne Frank a wacky best friend, to perk-up that attic” – is back, and in prime(time) form; taking on all aspects of popular culture, having rebooted her signature column on the pages of Entertainment Weekly, and (in January) on EW.com.
Sharp (and irreverent) as she ever was, in her introductory column, she writes of J. Edgar, that it’s “an amazing movie where the hairpieces and the prosthetic aging makeup are so extreme that everyone, even the female characters, seems to be played by Gene Hackman."
What I had no way of knowing, all those years ago, was that Libby was really the nom de plume for openly-Jewish gay playwright and novelist, Paul Rudnick. Much like my other favorite columnist of the past couple decades, Countess Louise J. Esterhazy (the pseudonym under which John Fairchild coyly wrote about the decline of polite society) whose essays ran on the back page of W, until swept-away by that magazine’s new editor, Stefano Tonchi, last year.
But where the Countess reminds me of my grandmother (about whom my mother cleverly quipped "She lives in her own little world, but she's very popular, there."), Libby speaks to the Jewess inside us all, and that is what makes her writings so entirely delicious; if you ask me.
“If You Ask Me” by Libby Gelman-Waxner
Entertainment Weekly and EW.com
Get into it!