Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for "Butterfield 8."
I love Elizabeth Taylor.  I love her in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?   She won the Oscar for Best Actress for these two movies, but should also have won for Giant and A Place in the Sun.  Maybe for others, too.  A great movie star, but much more.  A great actress.

Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in "Giant"
It started with National Velvet.  My mother took us to a matinee re-release of  National Velvet.   We saw Lassie Come Home (on TV?), Little Women, and Life with Father.  We weren't allowed to see her Oscar-winning movies until much later.

Although her movies weren't shown at the university cinema--the "star" system was frowned upon and we saw exclusively Fellini, Jean Renoir, and Martin Scorsese--we watched the DVDs of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and her comparable great movies.  

Then there was her AIDS work.  

When she died, I was sad.  So my husband got me C. David Heymann's Liz:  An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor

It's a very fast read, very absorbing.

The first chapter is almost shockingly frank.  It begins with her rehab in 1983 at the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.   She was forced to share a room and share the cleaning of the unit.  In her journal she wrote, 

"Nobody here wants anything from anybody else except to share and help.  It's probably the first time since I was nine that nobody has wanted to exploit me.  Now the bad news.  I feel like hell.  I'm going through my body. I can almost see it, rushing like red water over the boulders in my pain-filled neck and shoulders, then through my ears and into my pounding head.  My eyelids flutter.  Oh God, I am so, so tired."
Peter Lawford, the actor, a friend of Liz, entered the Betty Ford Clinic at the same time.  He ran away into the desert, looking for a liquor store.  He contacted a drug dealer who leased a helicopter and landed near the center.  A comedy of rehab. 

Everybody who has been in rehab, or visited someone in rehab, will recognize these scenes. Somebody is cured, but somebody else is kicked out for smuggling in cocaine. These places are far from pristine, so I'm not surprised about Peter Lawford. Plenty of good people have a drug or alcohol problem.  (Not I:  I'm a "non-addictive personality," apparently meaning I don't drink or take drugs.)

The photographs in this book are gorgeous.  Liz is glamorous, but somehow human.  Doesn't she look charming on her Acapulco honeymoon with Mike Todd in 1953?  Yet she isn't perfect.  It's not an air-brushed picture.

She died on March 23 of heart failure.  Still lovely after all those years.


Ellen said...

I am admirer of her acting and find in her life's work much to admire too. My favorite "part" that she played well is in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She seems (well duh) much misrepresented by the media. They make her seems to take on the looks and icon-paraphernalia of each era so if you trace her photos from decade to decade it seems a progression of how women were pictured, controlled, dismissed in each limited role. The actual Elizabeth Taylor lived apart from these icons.

Frisbee said...

I'm enjoying the biography. It's a lot of quotations, like a magazine article, but it was probably done pretty quickly. It's a very good read.