Not many actresses, says Helen Shaver, have even heard of Switzerland's Bronze Leopard Award--let alone been given it. But one came winging its way from the Locarno Film Festival for her performance in the just-opened movie, "Desert Hearts." It may not be as helpful as a good review, she says, but it looks better on the mantelpiece.

"It's much better looking than the Genie (the Canadian Oscar) I got for 'In Praise of Older Women,' " Shaver said this week. "That's rather bizarre looking. I've never known where to put it."

In "Desert Hearts," based on Jane Rule's 1964 novel, Canadian-born Shaver plays a Columbia University professor who goes to Reno to file for divorce--and falls in love with another woman.

"There's been a lot of talk about the love scene in the movie being explicit," said Shaver (it takes place in a motel room). "That's the wrong word. What it is, is profoundly intimate."

When the movie was shown at the Toronto Film Festival, Shaver warned her 72-year-old French Canadian mother what to expect.

"I told her she could shut her eyes during the love scene if she wanted to," said Shaver, "but she didn't. And afterward she hugged me and said she thought it was wonderful."

Producer-director Donna Deitch raised the $1.2 million to make "Desert Hearts" by traveling around the country selling $15,000 shares in the picture. She then persuaded the artists to work for scale.

"We're all so proud of the picture," said Shaver. "When I was in Chicago making 'The Color of Money' with Paul Newman (a sequel to his 1961 movie 'The Hustler'), our director, Martin Scorsese, had a print sent up and ran it one Saturday morning. He was highly complimentary."

She got the Newman picture because she worked with Scorsese last year on one of Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories." Scorsese was much impressed with her.

Others, too, are on the telephone these days. She saw Herb Ross this week and next week talks to John Schlesinger about future projects.

Meanwhile, she has other things awaiting release. Apart from the Newman picture, she has a movie with George Segal called "Many Happy Returns," a cameo role in the upcoming "The Men's Club," a Canadian film called "Lost"--a true story about three people adrift in the Pacific for 74 days--and an episode in HBO's "Phillip Marlowe" series starring Powers Boothe.

But she is most proud of "Desert Hearts."

"After being in a lot of pictures (among them: 'The Osterman Weekend' and 'Best Defense'), I finally get to carry a movie," she said. "I can't tell you how satisfying that is."

NO LETUP: "This is the first time I've worked in Los Angeles in 61 years," said Erte, the spry, 93-year-old artist who has designed the sets and costumes for Arthur Schnitzler's "Anatol," which opens tonight at the Matrix Theatre.

It is also--surprisingly--the first time this celebrated Russian has ever designed a straight play in the United States.

"The director, Isobel Estorick (the daughter of his managers, Eric and Salome Estorick), called me and asked me to do it, so I said yes," Erte said. "I thought it would be fun to work here again. It's been a long time."

That it has. The last time he got a paycheck here was for designing costumes for MGM's stars in 1925.

"It was a village in those days," he said.

Born in Leningrad, Erte (real name Romain de Tirtoff) still works every day in his Paris apartment on his jewelry, clothes and sculptures and spends part of the year in Majorca and Barbados--and claims that retirement would kill him.

He walks six kilometers a day, works out for 20 minutes, refuses to take a siesta, and never goes to bed until 2 in the morning.

He has not returned to Russia since he left in 1912.

"I don't want to go back," he said. "There's nothing there for me now. Anyway, I don't live on memories. I can't help what happened in the past; what I'm interested in is the future."

NEW LINE: "F/X," the taut thriller directed by Robert Mandel and starring Bryan Brown, was expected by almost everyone to prove a runaway smash. That didn't happen, though so far it has fared quite respectably at the box office.

But now, judging that the title was a put-off--many thought it must be a science-fiction story--Orion Pictures will add a new line to the title--"Murder by Illusion"--when the movie opens in Europe this summer.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World