I once saw Elizabeth Taylor in the flesh. She was standing about ten or twelve feet away in a dense crowd of guys at an after-party at the Roxy, the popular Manhattan roller disco on West 18th, sometime in ’79 or ’80. I managed a glimpse or two of her eyes, and was slightly surprised to discover that they really were as beautiful as I’d been told. I was mesmerized. I think I actually said out loud, “Wow.”
Elizabeth Taylor in either a Cat On a Hot Tin Roof or Butterfield 8 publicity still.
I’d been looking at Taylor in film after film all my life, of course, but those real-life peepers had an extra-glistening, pools-of-passion, send-your-hormones-to-the-moon quality that I’d never quite gotten from a live female before. And they actually did seem to be violet colored, as legend had it.
And now she’s gone at age 79. Everyone and everything fades and recedes and moves on to the next dimension and/or state of being — no exceptions. The once-legendary Taylor, who hit her career and erotic hottitude peak between ’51 (A Place in The Sun) and ’60 (Butterfield 8), has left the earth. Death will happen one day to Chloe Moretz, to Angelina Jolie, to Johnny Depp, to Justin Timberlake, to myself, to Tom O’Neil, to Scott Feinberg, to my two cats….it’s as natural as breathing. But no one likes to think about that, and when somebody like La Liz passes away, it’s like everyone is collectively taking a big solemn gulp and saying, “Uhhm…oh, wow, yeah…of course.”
And the natural urge is to celebrate the highlights. But I can never quite bring myself to do that. Not 100%, I mean.
I’d heard early on that Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t the brightest bulb on the planet. I’d heard a story about her being at a pool party and asking someone what the calendar date was, and that person suggesting that she check the newspaper lying on a table nearby, and Liz doing so and saying the paper was no help because it was from the day before…or words to that effect.
But I heard and read a lot more about her as time went on, and I became persuaded that she was tough and real and super-loyal to her friends…although I never understood why she befriended the freak known as Michael Jackson. I had read once that she saved Montgomery Clift‘s life just after his 5.12.56 car crash by extracting a dislodged tooth that had been stuck in his wind pipe. By all accounts she was a good person to know and share time on the planet with, and also that she was feisty and steady and reliable and no fool. And she liked to drink and have fun and laugh through it all….hah!
I think, in short, that she might have been a somewhat better person than she was an actress. I’m not dismissing her very good ’50s performances in A Place In The Sun, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Butterfield 8. But she was really quite atrocious — certainly miscast — in the miserable Cleopatra, and with the exception of her brilliant, possibly all-time best performance in Mike Nichols‘ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, she stopped getting the good roles after that and just wasn’t a very interesting presence in the ’60s and ’70s. She was pretty much out of the game by the early 80s.
Her golden time was the 1950s, period, and she was at her hottest back then also. She started to put on weight after Butterfield 8 (i.e., after she hit her early 30s), and the hard truth is that she looked vaguely plump in Cleopatra, and that roundish, slightly boozy and besotted look never went away after that. I’m sorry but that’s how it pretty much was. But those eyes of hers were givers of rapture and splendor.
Taylor lived a hell of a life, and stories will be told and re-told about her over the next two or three days that will refresh feelings of affection and respect and nostalgia, etc. She knew and jousted and clinked glasses with all the best people of her time, and sometimes loved and/or went to bed with men of great style and accomplishment and character and pizazz. (Except for Larry Fortensky.) It’s become more-or-less accepted doctrine that Richard Burton was the love of her life.
Does GenX or GenY know or care about Taylor? Probably not very much.
Honestly? I was looking around this morning for that SNL clip from ’78 or ’79 when John Belushi dressed up as Fat Liz eating fried chicken (and being interviewed by Bill Murray), and then pretending to choke on a chicken bone — that was hilarious.
My only other first-hand connection with La Liz has been my numerous sleepovers at the Nicky Hilton-Elizabeth Taylor house on Route 102 in Georgetown, Connecticut, as the guest of cartoonist Chance Browne. It’s a small cottage where Hilton and Taylor stayed for a period in 1950 during their brief rocky marrriage before she sued for divorce (she complained of spousal abuse) — local legend says Hilton threw Taylor out a window during one of their drunken fights.
In 2.12.11 posting called “Miss Tits”, I wrote that “what life’s natural process does to all of us in the end, even the luckiest and most beautiful and most magnificently endowed, is fairly horrific. I presume it’s understood that it was the great love of Elizabeth Taylor‘s life, Richard Burton, who came up with the above nickname during the shooting of Cleopatra.”