Libby Gelman-Waxner is Paul Rudnick and Paul Rudnick is a very funny man.
I first became aware of Mr. Rudnick in the Fall of 1993 when, on a trip to NYC, I went to the West Village to see his play Jeffrey. The play sticks in my memory for a number of reasons. It is funny. I think it was my first experience with ‘Off-Broadway’ theater. It was my first time in the Minetta Lane Theatre which is a wonderful venue. Diver Greg Louganis had recently joined the cast of the show. Most significantly, even more so in hindsight, the play was billed as an AIDS comedy and it was a time when I, like too many people, really needed one. A few years later, when I started doing community theater, I was in two different productions of Jeffrey and have fond (and funny!) memories of those experiences.
I stage-managed a production of his play I Hate Hamlet. I’ve seen films based on his work as a screenwriter; Adams Family Values , In & Out. The Stepford Wives. I just learned he was also did uncredited rewrites on The First Wives Club.
Recently I saw a reference to a book called If You Ask Me. It is a collection of columns he wrote under the pseudonym “Libby Gelman-Waxner” that originally appeared in Premier Magazine. It is not a new book. It was published in 1994. On a recent trip I found a copy in Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto. I bought it thinking it might be a fun vacation read. It was.
The cover describes Libby as “America’s Most Beloved and Irresponsible Film Critic”. The conceit is Libby, a NYC Jewish matron who has a successful career as an assistant buyer in Juniors Activewear, has taken on the task writing film critique. The reviews become stream-of-consciousness riffs on whatever enters her mind; rarely having anything at all to do with the films.
Along the way we learn far too much about her husband; “noted Lexington Avenue orthodontist and dental bonding visionary” as well as her mother, her therapist, her children, her friends, and her views about contemporary life. In short, anything and everything except the movies she’s seen. She ends every column with; “if you ask me”.
In describing The Last of the Mohicans she says; “Daniel [Day-Lewis] plays Hawkeye, a Caucasian raised by Mohicans and taught to be a legendary woodsman who can listen very intently and hear danger miles away, just as my aunt Sylvia in Miami can sense trouble in Liz Taylor’s marriages by concentrating on Mary Hart’s necklines on Entertainment Tonight.”
Regarding “Fatal Attraction” she observes; “Anyway, if Glenn Close” [why not ‘Gwen’ like a normal person?] “hadn’t lived in a loft she’d be alive today. Nice people have walls, and doors and children- my daughter Jennifer is far more attractve than the little girl in “Fatal Attraction, who was adorable, but believe me, Jennifer is the real movie star.”
In his article in the New York Times, Frank Bruini quotes Mr. Rudnick citing a reading he did of the book in a San Francisco bookstore. ”A very irate lesbian came up to me and said that I should not be writing this column because I was taking a job away from a real woman,” Mr. Rudnick recalled. ”It was a moment of breathtaking incoherence. A salesperson at the store said I should be very understanding about this woman, because her girlfriend was in Australia. I said, ‘If I was her girlfriend, I’d be in Australia, too.’ ”
Not exactly breaking news given the age of the book but it is an absolutely hysterical read; if you ask me.