"LET me explain this. I take a step on the terrace. Where I was just a memory. I take another step -- a memory. Look! A shooting star. It's gone. Shot! It's a memory!"
"You seem very wrought up, dear."
So it went between Elizabeth Taylor and Noel Coward in Joseph Losey's unintentional comedy, "Boom!" This was based on Tennessee Williams' play, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." (Coward's wry, dry response to Taylor's strenuous emoting brought hoots of laughter and applause when the movie was released in 1968. It seems even funnier today.)
ELIZABETH Taylor died in March of 2011. Since then there have been a few unimaginative photo books, but nothing unusual, splendid, truly revealing or new about the star of stars.
Elizabeth herself would have been the first to agree that at age 79 and bedeviled by ill-health, she had outlived her "legend." She was not to be an iconic James Dean/Marilyn kind of star.
Her refusal to "do a Dietrich" (withdraw from the eyes of the press and public), also worked against her being feted, post-death. She did herself up, she put on her bling, and got out there -- often in a wheelchair, usually to continue the AIDS battle. She told us by her very presence to "get over it" -- everybody grows old, nobody is beautiful forever.
Elizabeth worked onstage, in movies and TV until 2001. Her public life as an activist, businesswoman and general phenomenon never ended. (I remember attending a massive AIDS fundraiser/birthday party for the star in 1997. Elizabeth was accompanied by Michael Jackson and every member of her large family. The very next day she entered the hospital for an operation to remove a brain tumor. Later, recuperating, she allowed Harry Benson to photograph her, with shaven head and no make-up. What a woman!)
Why is nobody -- to my knowledge -- working on a major biography on the star of stars? The amount of work and the various interactions Elizabeth had between 1976 and her death would be enough to fill a three-volume biography! You don't have to dig back to MGM's golden age, or the peak of Elizabeth big-screen career, to put together a fascinating book.
I AM going to give a partial list of names -- still active and vital -- who either worked with Elizabeth or had significant contact with her at various events. In no particular order -- Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, John Goodman, Lesley-Anne Down, Diana Rigg, C. Thomas Howell, Julie Andrews, Joseph Bottoms, Chad Lowe, Robert Wagner, Jane Alexander, George Hamilton, Tom Skerritt, Austin Pendleton, Dennis Christopher, Carrie Fisher, Valentino, Mia Fonssagrives, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Brian Hutton, Sally Hay, Nicole Kidman, Shirley Bassey, Dr. Mathilde Krim, Debbie Reynolds, Donny Osmond, Barbara Walters, Joan Collins, James Earl Jones, Sally Morrison, Sophia Loren, Tony Geary, Kim Novak, Mark Harmon, Valerie Perrine, Franco Zeffirelli, Angela Lansbury, Beau Bridges, Carol Burnett, Len Cariou, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Ursula Andress, Magic Johnson, kd lang, Cindy Crawford, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Cicely Tyson, George Segal, Sharon Osborne, Henry Kissinger, Harrison Ford, Bill Clinton, Shirley MacLaine, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Baryshnikov, James Brolin, Barbra Streisand, Denis Ferrara and Liz Smith.
Get it? And so many more. Along with all the surviving casts and crews of her two stage plays and many TV movies -- the directors, cameramen, costume designers, etc.
And let's not forget all the people she met during her strenuous campaigning in Virginia for John Warner, winning him his Senate seat. Elizabeth's spring and summer of 1976, juggling three suitors and making almost daily grand appearances in Manhattan or Washington, D.C., is a book in itself! (In the midst of this frenzy of activity she was still very much carrying the torch for Richard Burton.)
There are a million people with a million ET tales to tell if somebody gets on board right now to record them.
Elizabeth died holding most of her secrets. She told only a little, and judiciously. When I interviewed her during the filming of "The Bluebird" in 1975, she took her fist and thumped it on her fabled bosom and declared, "I have so much to say, but I won't. It's all in here!"
And I will brag on myself that I suggested to Barbara Walters that she ask Elizabeth exactly what she meant when the star made a hurried remark to Oprah Winfrey that she and Michael Jackson shared "abusive" childhoods. (Oprah didn't follow-up!) Barbara asked, and Elizabeth told her that her father used to beat her! She forgave him, she said.
So, it's up to others to try to connect the dots. Elizabeth was more complex than she wanted to appear. She didn't beg for sympathy or wish to be seen as neurotic or needy. She was both -- eight marriages attest to that. But she was not a brooder. Taylor shook off depression by living big. (And if that big living happened to include other women's husbands? Well, it does take two to tango.)
Hers was the great movie star life! She began a childhood beauty, became Hollywood royalty, and never really faded from public consciousness, though the last years were kind of a long death watch.
Elizabeth deserves due attention. Not all of it will be sympathetic. That's life. And she'd be the first to say so.
How about biographer Brian Kellow for the job?
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
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