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Beneath the Paint: 'Star Shiner' Reveals It -- Warts and All

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"STARS CAN ask the strangest things of artists and then make the job impossible to do. It is a great relief when an artist has a few like that in their career. Unfortunately, mine was littered with neurotics."

So writes make-up man Evan Richardson, who flourished in the good-old, bad-old days of the 1970/80s when anything went.

•EVAN has written a memoir, The Star-Shiner which concerns his career and his personal life -- mother, lover, the AIDS years, finding God. The career aspects of his life are fascinating. His personal tale less so -- at least, the average reader looking for gossip, might think so.

The problem with this often funny and fascinating work is crystallized in the quote above. Evan, talented, handsome and smart, was also quite "entitled." He was prickly, easily offended and apparently unaware that he was operating in a business in which not only were the stars "neurotics," but so were (and are) their "service people" -- hairdressers, make-up artists, stylists, gofers, assistants, etc. It doesn't seem to occur to him that he might have brought some "attitude" along with his paints and powders.

•THE AUTHOR starts his life of celebrity-dom with a bang, getting to know the likes of Tallulah Bankhead and Lucille Ball. (The Bankhead tales are classic -- but then everybody who crossed Tallu, even for a minute, came away with a great story; she was inexhaustibly delightful or offensive, but never boring!)

He moves on, working at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. His life and career zoom into high gear during the licentious, cocaine-laced disco era of the 70s and 80s. His vignettes about the likes of Bette Midler, David Bowie, Shirley MacLaine, Madonna, Gloria Vanderbilt, Barbara Walters, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, supermodels galore and Elizabeth Taylor are colorfully written and seem pretty much on the money. (Certainly from his point of view.) But there's the rub. Evans' point of view seems both naïve and challenging.

Did he really expect every one of these stars to "behave" according to his standard of politeness? Yes he did. And when they didn't, which seems quite often in his life, he never forgot or forgave. Nor did he seem to understand that asking, say, of David Bowie, "Do you have a mother?" might result in Bowie bolting from the make-up chair.

But I've rarely read as good a wrap-up of the Studio 54 days -- its rise and fall -- as Evan Richardson chronicles. It's so incisive I tore out those pages and sent them to a friend who is writing a history of those times.

• THE celebrity piece de resistance of Star Shiner is the entire chapter he devotes to Elizabeth Taylor. Evan worked with Taylor in 1980, while she was still married to John Warner, and 1982 after her Broadway triumph in "The Little Foxes" and the Warner divorce. (He attended to her during her campy General Hospital stint.) Neither were good times for La Liz, and he presents her as rude, inebriated, inconsiderate, late and fiercely protective of her image in terms of her appearance. (There was a battle of wills over how much eyeliner she should wear. Guess who won?)

Evan wasn't even terribly interested in Elizabeth Taylor, but the incidents so "scarred" him, he refers back to her constantly, as his idea of a bad person, a thoughtless star.

I believe it, from his point of view, anyway. One wonders, however, how he came across to her?

Elizabeth did not suffer fools or egos that needed massage. But Evan already knew, from the likes of fellow make-up artist Way Bandy and photographer Francesco Scavullo that Taylor was never on time, did not apologize for her lateness and expected to be treated like, well -- Elizabeth Taylor. I know for a fact that Elizabeth was extremely generous and nice. My partner in writing, Denis Ferrara and I had worked with, and around and in concert with La Liz almost the whole of her amazing career!

But she was spoiled. This had been a part of her DNA since the age of nine. (Mike Todd said: "Of course she's spoiled. I spoil her. Who wouldn't want to spoil a girl like her?")

Most who worked with ET loved her, because they accepted her eccentricities. Evan expected her to accept his. Or at the very least, accept his advice on her make-up. Silly! She'd been putting it on with a trowel since her twenties, despite pleas from friends that she looked much better with less. She certainly wasn't going to listen to good sense at the age of 50.

Evan does, at least, give Taylor credit in the end for rehabilitating herself and working tirelessly, for the rest of her life, to combat AIDS.

•SO, THERE'S a lot of stellar juice in Star Shiner and maybe some will find his personal story compelling.

Richardson does a bang-up job on the mise en scene of an era and people. On that level, his is a fascinating historical document.


P.S. Two little tales of Elizabeth and hairdressers come to mind. Back in 1975, she was staying at New York's Lombardy Hotel just before her second break with Richard Burton.

My Denis told me he had chatted with the hairdresser at the Lombardy salon who told him he (the stylist) was being summoned upstairs to do Taylor's hair. He told Denis: "Oh, she is just lovely. Beautiful. But very, very sad. She cries a lot. The bad thing is, she has such wonderful hair, but all she wants is tease, tease, tease. I do as she wants, of course!"

A year later, Taylor had the hairdresser Årthur Bruckel in her entourage. One afternoon, the omnipresent Denis stopped him outside the town house where Elizabeth was staying, saying, "Can't you do something with her hair? Pull it back!"

Bruckel, a terrific guy, laughed saying ,"I have no control. Wanna bet she's up there right now, ratting that hair."

But evidently he had some control. That very night Elizabeth emerged in a simple black velvet gown, her hair slicked into a sleek chignon. She looked sensational. She was on her way to a Liza Minnelli concert. Just before Bruckel got in the car with Taylor, he winked at my guy, "Are you happy now?"

He was.