I didn’t grow up in the Mad Men era of Elizabeth Taylor. I remember her mostly as a celebrity, a philanthropist, and a friend of Michael Jackson. But, even as a little boy, I was keenly aware of the black-n-white images of Taylor, especially from the movies Butterfield 8 and Giant, and I was enthralled. She was stunning, strong, interesting. Even as a pre-pubescent I knew there was something special about her. Oh sure, she was beautiful. But it was more than that. She was real.
Elizabeth Taylor was my mother’s favorite. Or, wait, was that Audrey Hepburn? Or Eva Gardner? Well, Taylor was certainly ONE of her favorites. My mother, when she was a young woman, looked a bit like Taylor. Not to take away anything from my mother, but there were a lot of women in those grainy black-n-white photos from the late 50s and early 60s that looked like actresses. Everyone was always dressed up, hair perfect, smiling in that ‘ingenue’ sort of way. Elizabeth Taylor was part of the reason.
If you only know Taylor as an older woman, heftier than her movie days, sitting in the audience at an awards ceremony, or showing up on a goofy talk show, or making tabloid news with ailments and strange marriages to construction workers, then you have missed out on the story of one of Hollywood’s most endearing, candid, talented stars from an era when “star” really meant something.
Over the next few days, maybe over the weekend, rent an Elizabeth Taylor movie – a good one – A Place in the Sun, Giant, Butterfield 8, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (forget Cleopatra) – and marvel how she takes over the screen, but yet seems so accessible. If you’re younger than 50, it’s likely you know only half of her marvelous story. Take some time to read about, take in, watch the early and middle years of her time before the camera and discover an American original.
David W. Berner