More infamous than Angelina in her day, Elizabeth Taylor was not consumed by Fame. It did not chew her up and spit her out. She prevailed over the love and hate. More than that, she did not even seem to care about the inconsequential idiots who judged her. She owned her bad behaviors—and they were numerous—and she was modest about her accomplishments and incredible generosities—and they were numerous too. If you are not old enough to remember, she was the first celebrity who stood up for those infected with HIV-AIDS and the first to raise money for a cure. In the name of her good friend the actor Rock Hudson who died of AIDS, she lent her star power to that cause when doing so was likely to end the average star’s viability as a marketable commodity. That takes guts. Shockingly, she still sold a lot of her own perfume, especially to middle-aged women who stood on line for her appearances at the cosmetics counters in upscale mall department stores.
When I was a little girl growing up in the 50s and 60s, I loved paper doll books; and the Elizabeth Taylor paper dolls were my favorite, not merely because of her hourglass figure and the clothes patterned after movie studio designs. She had something that I was sure Doris Day did not have. As a small child, I somehow intuited from the little knowledge I had—bits of conversations between my mother and my grown sisters, articles in the magazines I only glimpsed at the “beauty parlor”, what hairdressers’ shops were called before Warren Beatty’s star turn in the movie “Shampoo”—that Elizabeth Taylor was not like the other movie stars. She was truly sexy, a word my mother did not know I knew, a word I couldn’t define though I knew Elizabeth had it.
My niece Elizabeth born when I was five, shared the famous name (also my grandmother’s name), which we reduced to “Liz” or “Lizzie”; and like La Taylor, she didn’t like that much either. Finally, our girl insisted on Beth. She was not the “Beth” of Little Women. Nor did she grow up to be the suburban Beth of soccer Moms. Again like Taylor, she married eight times. Now it is clear to me that we should have by-passed the “Elizabeth” altogether and called her E. Jane, “Jane” being her middle name; that would have suited her. (She died way too soon, at 49, of heart disease; and one of the last things she did before she collapsed was email me, lovingly describing the flowers I'd sent for her birthday.) One memorable Thanksgiving dinner, at which Beth announced yet another forthcoming marriage, I scandalized the family by saying, “Beth, you don’t have to marry every man you fuck.” The silence was so profound, I could hear the sodden over-cooked vegetables give up their last feeble crunch.
In later years, Elizabeth Taylor said ruefully that she blamed her eight marriages on her Puritanical parents who taught her that sex belongs in marriage.
She was one of us—and yet she lived in a special celebrity world, more rarified than the one inhabited today by Brangenlina, the closest thing we have to a “Liz and Eddie”, followed by a “Liz and Dick” scandal in modern times. Taylor stole Debbie Reynolds’ husband Eddie Fisher and famously dumped him for Richard Burton. (Aren’t we all waiting for the Big Dump that will leave Brad punching Jen’s numbers into his cell phone?) If you haven’t read the story of the Taylor-Burton love life, you really should. See my review of Furious Love, "Women In Love: They Live In Passion". Their story is bold and big and glamorous in a way that such stories cannot be in the age of 24/7 media and over-exposure. We have heard too many earnest comments about the importance of family combined with tips for keeping the “hot” in their monogamy to believe that Brad and Angelina are really all that glamorous and tempestuous. Celebrities are not that different from everyone else; and the tabloids have their cellulite photos to prove it.They just look better and have more money.
Elizabeth Taylor has been called “the last of the Hollywood stars.” She was a legend. What I love best about her: She did not give a damn for the opinions of the small-minded idiots who presumed to judge her.
She must have laughed at the internet trolls. So do I. I shall continue to do so in her honor. Elizabeth Taylor knew the secret of life: People you don't care about can't hurt you.
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