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Wednesday, January 26, 2000


David Hyde Pierce Gets Laughs From 'Isn't She Great'

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 26, 2000 -- It takes a lot to impress David Hyde Pierce.

By Ellen A. Kim

Consider his background in Broadway theater, where the actor starred in the critically acclaimed "The Heidi Chronicles." Then think of his NBC Must-See sitcom "Frasier," considered one of the best-written shows on television. And let's not forget the three Emmys he picked up for the character of Niles Crane, the stuffy psychiatrist with whom his name has become synonymous.

So it's understandable that getting Pierce into film is a daunting task, since his career has been flooded with good writing and good parts. But the makers of "Isn't She Great," the new film based on the life of writer Jacqueline Susann, must have done something right; they wangled the 40-year-old actor into a small part as Susann's book editor.

"Because I'm on a TV show that has some of the best writing around, it's hard sometimes to find writing as good in movies as we have on the show," Pierce said. "Beyond just good writing though, [it's] working with great people, if the cast is already known, and that was certainly the case here."

Bette Midler stars as Susann, a jingle actress whose goal in life was to be famous. Her dreams get a kick-start upon meeting publicist Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane), who convinces her to write a book on something no one has written about: the steamy, drug-addled lives of Hollywood movie stars. The result, "Valley of the Dolls," is considered taboo by many publishers, until one, Henry Marcus (John Cleese) decides to risk it. Susann, despite a diagnosis of breast cancer, promotes her novel on the road, and "Valley of the Dolls" becomes one of the best-selling novels of all time.

The Jacqueline Susann story came to life when writer Michael Korda published an article in the New Yorker in 1995 titled "Wasn't She Great," taken after the phrase Irving constantly used when he looked at his wife -- never phrased as a question -- "Isn't she great!" Pierce's character, the uptight Michael Hastings, is thought to be based on Korda, but Pierce says it isn't so.

"My character is completely fictional. He's not Michael Korda at all," Pierce says. "Michael Korda came into the picture much late. What I am is, I think, a composite stand-in for the entire publishing industry at that time. And what they felt about what a book should be, what a quality book should be and how a book should be promoted, which was not at all. That a really book you just go and buy, and you don't have to lower yourself to actually advertising it.

"To which this extremely colorful, outspoken woman walks in and says, 'That's fine, but I want to be famous, so you'll have to excuse me' and she proceeds to go advertise the hell out of it and really change the way book publishing is done."

Though he prefers theater to TV and film, Pierce was happy to join "Isn't She Great" for the sheer experience of working with Cleese, Lane and Midler. He spent much of his free time driving around Montreal, where the movie was shot, with Cleese, and kidding around with Lane. "[Montreal] is where Nathan Lane introduced me to the cosmopolitan. It's not a dance, it's a drink," Pierce says. "I don't know if there were late nights or early mornings, but there were a lot of them. that year Nathan also hosted the Montreal Comedy Festival dressed as a Teletubby."

And let's not forget the antics of the Divine Miss M, who had to sing off-key in one scene. "There were a lot of extras sitting around, and at one point because of patriotic fervor, she started singing 'O Canada' to be a good guest for Canadians," Pierce muses. "We all joined in and about half of the extras joined in. We then found out that 'O Canada' is the Anglo Canadian anthem, because after that suddenly this whole French anthem launches from most of the crew and the other half of the extras, and it was like that scene in 'Casablanca' where they're singing 'La Marseillaise.' It threatened to turn ugly, but everyone was good-natured about it."

"Isn't She Great" opened Jan. 29.

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Posted 2/26/00