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Remembering Elizabeth Taylor

03/23/2011

As readers know from previous posts, I am a longtime fan of Elizabeth Taylor’s. I don’t usually feel emotional when a celebrity passes, since they aren’t typically people I know. But in this case, it feels like a giant chunk of my life has come to an end. Taylor symbolized a lifelong obsession with movies, and, specifically, with her movies.
The Starlet
I’ve spent more time studying Elizabeth Taylor and watching her films than those of any other actor or director, and even though her recent hospitalization caused concern, I really thought she would pull through. The term “survivor” has become a talk-show cliché, but if anyone deserved to claim that moniker, it was Taylor, after the numerous back injuries, pneumonia, the famous tracheotomy, alcohol and painkiller problems, and, if that weren’t enough, a brain tumor. I can’t be the only person who thought Elizabeth Taylor was invincible.

She once said, “I’ve come through things that would have felled an ox. That fills me with optimism, not just for myself but for our particular species.”

The Internet is full of lengthy biographical obituaries today, so I won’t recap her full life here. For reference, the E!Online story is good, and this fashion site has a wealth of uncommon and gorgeous photographs. My favorite shown there is the black-and white one by Richard Avedon.
Richard Avedon photo

Elizabeth Taylor
I think my favorite all-time photo, though, is this early one. I like it because she’s wearing a casual jersey, rather than satin and furs. It’s atypical clothing for a glamor shot, but just as gorgeous. And she gets away with wearing orange lipstick, too.

Earlier today, I posted a list of Elizabeth Taylor’s best films on the Clerkdogs blog. Most people, including Taylor herself, cite Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the finest performance of her career, and I agree completely. In it, she is both dangerous and fragile, bitter and heartbroken. She won an Academy Award for her efforts, and she deserved it. Check out the post for movie recommendations and photos.
Great headshot of Elizabeth Taylor
If you were following this blog last summer, you’ll remember Taylor Watch 2010 and my sampling of some lesser-known Taylor films (including The V.I.P.s and Elephant Walk), as well as a trip to the Castro Theater to see Boom!, which is not available on DVD. Even as bad as some of those movies were, I can’t help but write about them with some affection. Some part of me enjoys anything she’s in, even if the material is awful. Whether it’s the fact of her larger-than-life persona or her tireless efforts on behalf of AIDS awareness and research, Elizabeth Taylor was a force to be reckoned with, an unapologetic, what-you-see-is-what-you-get star.
The star
Much attention was paid during Taylor’s life to her many marriages, but I think that sensationalized aspect of her life will dissipate, in favor of a legacy of glamor and generosity. The ’50s and ’60s were a particularly ripe period in her life for the tabloids, but no one ever seems to note that the string of husbands during that time (Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, and Richard Burton) was precipitated by Todd’s untimely death. I believe that if he’d remained alive, she would have been with him for years, perhaps as long as she eventually spent with Burton. But that’s not how fate dealt her hand. Instead, she found tumultuous passion with the other great love of her life.
Taylor in later years
She was sometimes criticized for being hedonistic and materialistic (all those diamonds and furs!), but at the same time, her love of life and excessiveness fascinated the public. Her occasional offenses (the affair with Fisher being her worst transgression) couldn’t beat her charisma, star-power, and—in later years—her integrity as a compassionate humanitarian.

Today, US Weekly reposted their interview with Taylor in a series of features titled 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me. I did happen to know a lot of them, especially the fact that she hated to be called “Liz,” but there were a few surprises. My personal favorite? It’s a toss-up between her love of Law & Order and the fact that she sometimes cut her own hair—both things I can relate to. It’s so hard to imagine someone as wealthy and styled as Taylor picking up scissors herself.

I think the thing I liked most about Elizabeth Taylor was her gutsiness. Both bawdy and self-deprecating, she enjoyed life and did exactly what she wanted. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and a champion to her charitable causes. She continued to put her stamp on the world long after her movie career had ended. Today’s reports keep calling her the last of the classic movie stars, although other Golden Age actressess such as Kim Novak are still alive. But Elizabeth Taylor was a worldwide icon who not only lived through a century of Hollywood cinema, she epitomized it like no other.
Taylor's Oscar for Butterfield 8

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