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Culture Watch

In this issue:

Author Cathleen Rountree has previously written about women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. With On Women Turning 70: Honoring the Voices of Wisdom, she turns her attention to the seventh decade and its lode of riches.

A Dutch-born gamine with a boyish figure is still influencing the way we dress and the way we look. Audrey Hepburn's distinctive beauty and elegance, as the Pamela Clarke Keogh's fashion biography, AudreyStyle illustrates, had as much to do with her kind and generous spirit as her flawless appearance. 

Barbara Cook polished her craft on Broadway stages and Abbey Lincoln perfected her music in jazz clubs, and both have new CDs; an exhibit of 69 works by Georgia O'Keeffe runs through July in Washington, D.C. and there's one sexy reason to see the movie Entrapment.


A Great Age to Be

On Women Turning 70: Honoring the Voices of Wisdom
By Cathleen Rountree (Jossey-Bass; $25) 

   Wrinkles. Yes, we will all have them some day, and that's a guarantee. They will come to us, later if not sooner, and if that's too depressing to think about, keep in mind that the creases and crow's feet are accompanied by wonderful wisdom. 
    The sixteen women featured in Cathleen Rountree's On Women Turning 70 come from differing backgrounds. Some have had a conventional marriage;  some have lived and loved as lesbians.  Some, like the writers Doris Lessing and Madeleine L'Engle are famous, others are known only within their close circle of family and friends. Some have had blissfully health for years; a few have struggled with serious illnesses. A few have recently been surprised to fall heels over head in love again. Whatever the circumstances,  they have this in common: through their three score and ten years, they have gained strength and have been made wise. 
   With this book, Rountree adds a fourth  in her exemplary series on the decades in women's lives, having previously written on women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. The unabashed admiration in Rountree's brief profiles introducing each of the 16 women is nicely offset by their refreshing candor and observations about all things great and small, including wrinkles. At 74, --yes, she admits it--gossip columnist Liz Smith marvels about how lucky she's been in her career and blithely owns up to having a facelift  30 years ago. She'd do it again, she says,  if she weren't so busy. The strikingly handsome Austrian-born photographer Inge Morath, who is married to the playwright Arthur Miller, is another woman who believes in facelifts. "But not for myself" she writes. "I mean, then what do you do about your elbows? Your hands?"
    There's no doubt that at 70 these passionate and committed women have come into their own. Age, they affirm, is what you make of it., and seven-oh has its distinct rewards. First of all, it is liberating. "You don't have to prove anything to anybody, do you? And you've fulfilled whatever roles are prescribed for you," argues Betty Friedan. "So the rest of your life is just where you want to take it." One of Rountree's subjects, a St. Louis woman named Leah Friedman, has taken it far indeed. For most of her adult life, she was a wife and mother--'just a housewife,' she might have been labeled in an earlier, benighted era. After her daughters  finished college and were out of the nest, Friedman fashioned an entirely new life for herself, taking classes, experimenting with photography and exploring Jungian psychology. "I've lived an entire life since I was 50," she exults. Now in her 70s, she has been working toward a Ph.D. in psychology at California's Pacifica Graduate Institute.. 
   Women in their 70s may feel free at last, but in today's society  they frequently complain of being invisible. Not that they aren't around, they most certainly are, but  the young often simply don't really see them. This is not necessarily bad, points out. Betye Saar, a California artist and a grandmother of five. "There is a sort of a release to being invisible. Who cares what I do? Who cares what I say? Who cares how I look?" In fact, Saar looks great, sitting for the camera wearing running shoes and hugging her knees like a teen-ager, or better yet, like a woman in her 70s. 


The Fairest Lady

AudreyStyle by Pamela Clarke Keogh (HarperCollins; $40)

   She was too thin and was self-conscious about her big feet.  Her nose was large, and her teeth weren't straight. None of that mattered. The camera adored her, and the flaws only made her endearingly real. She was Audrey Hepburn and to the people fortunate enough to have known her--and to millions who knew her only through her films--she was perfection.  Hollywood had never seen anyone like her, but with her 1952 portrayal of a princess out on the town in Roman Holiday, it was an instant romance. Hepburn's cool European elegance and elfin charm won over an industry--and a world--infatuated by Jane Russell's curves and Ava Gardner's smoldering seductiveness. Men went weak. "I liked her a lot," said her first leading man, Gregory Peck. "In fact, I loved Audrey. It was easy to love her." It was and women everywhere wanted to look just like her. They copied her as best they could, loosing weight and standing straight, wielding mascara and dark eyeliner, cutting bangs to brush across the forehead, and investing in slim sleeveless dresses, straight-legged Capri pants and meticulously tailored suits. 
   Divinely beautiful though she was, there was was more to Hepburn than a carefully created appearance. Anecdotes and reminiscences by her friends and family in AudreyStyle make it clear that Hepburn always had an innate sense of style. Having survived in Nazi-occupied Holland, where she was born to a Dutch baroness and an Irish-Anglo father who abandoned the family, the future star was earning her keep as a chorus girl in London in 1948. Then in her early 20s, the doe-eyed dancer is remembered by a colleague as possessing "one skirt, one blouse, one pair of shoes, and a beret, but she had fourteen scarves."  Even with that scant wardrobe, Hepburn dressed with flair and individuality, getting the maximum effect from the scarves and the little beret. Later she would dressed by couture luminaries Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Hubert de Givenchy, a longtime friend who wrote the book's introduction, yet always followed a prime fashion dictum: wear the clothes, don't let them wear you. Over time, she changed the way she dressed, evolving while remaining faithful to her vision of classic simplicity and restraint. She wore black long before it was a trend, and kept jewelry to a minimum. Her fashion signatures--a smart kerchief, tiny pearl earrings--accentuated a wardrobe that was basically subdued and relied more on cut and  fabric than on frou-frou or flamboyance. 
     So much of what has been written about Hepburn as  trend-setter and fashion idol has focused  on the outer "Audrey Look." . Thankfully, Pamela Clarke Keogh presents us with the true Hepburn style: good manners, compassion for others and deep, pure kindness. Strength of character and generosity of spirit marked are the true hallmarks of the Hepburn style  Her two sons Sean and Luca, her home in Switzerland, the kind man who was her soulmate in later years, and her dogs were what she loved best, and she had little nostalgia for either the films or the fashions from her past.  Her five years of tireless and selfless work for the United Nations Children's Fund came from her abiding feelings against injustice and cruelty to the helpless, and they fulfilled her in a way that acting never had. "I've been auditioning my whole  life for this role, and I finally got it," she once said. Reading this book makes us remember why, like Gregory Peck, we loved Audrey Hepburn. 

And Consider This

Music: "Wholly Earth"  (Polydor/Polygram)

Abbey Lincoln composed seven of the ten numbers on her
new arrangements. When this multitalented musician takes off with a lyric about the bitter and the sweet of life and her husky voice curl around the words like smoke,  it's easy to know why she's been pre-eminent in jazz for more than 30 years. 

Music: "All I Ask of You" (DRG)

The Great White Way got much of its incandescence from Barbara Cook, who starred in Plain and Fancy, Candide and The Music Man.  Now the actress and singer is a cabaret favorite, bringing  intelligence and crystalline diction to tunes from Broadway shows. A Bock and Harnick number from the musical She Loves Me has Cook wondering, Will He Like Me?  He will, and so do we. 

Art:  Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things

At a time when women studying art were expected to be teachers, Georgia O'Keeffe was taking paining classes intent on being an artist. From photography, she learned about cropping,  and in nature she found  images for works that have made her the foremost American woman painter of this century. O'Keeffe's mastery of color and space is on view in 69 of her works at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. through July 18 .

Film: "Entrapment" Directed by Jon Amiel

As a general rule, Culture Watcher takes no pleasure in  movies featuring steamy encounters between older men and much, much younger women.  There is an exception, however, and it's not because this is an engaging escapist caper about international art thieves. The attraction can be summed up in two words: Sean Connery. 

Video: Audrey Hepburn on Film

Sabrina, a modern-day Cinderella story about a chauffeur's daughter, Audrey Hepburn defined Parisian chic and captivated William Holden and Humphrey Bogart.  Made five years later, The Nun's Story showcased Hepburn's sensitivity and growing power as a dramatic actress.   Hepburn charmed Cary Grant in Charade, and the combination of romance and foreign intrigue is unsurpassable.


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