Thursday, June 30, 2011



What a cutie!


National Velvet


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


BUtterfield 8



Richard & Elizabeth

Taming of the Shrew

The Flintstones

With Michael

My dear sister Cheryl asked me to write this post, or actually wondered why I hadn't written a remembrance for Elizabeth Taylor who passed away last March 23rd, not more than twenty miles from where I'm sitting and composing this (Cidars-Sinai Medical Center, where I donate blood sometimes). Besides from not writing anything for a while (due to an unfortunate incident involving a rabid mongoose, a hairbrush, and some sour Whip & Chill), and that "Liz" was undoubtedly one of our most talented and famous actresses and personalities, she was a bit before my time, basically fading off of the scene while I was still a teenager. Perhaps, unknown to me, Cheryl and Elizabeth knew each other, hence Cheryl's interest. And I have to admit I am largely unfamiliar with the majority of her work (I know I've seen her in a lot of films, such as "Cleopatra," and "BUtterfield 8," but I watched those as a teenager and don't remember them all that well, and have no great desire to review them now), and documenting the life and career of such an accomplished woman is quite a daunting task. But my dear sister is right. Her life deserves to be celebrated and remembered notwithstanding the body of her film work. There are literally thousands of other memorials out there that will do a much better job of it than I.
However I'll give it a shot.
The future Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in a suburb of London, England on February 27, 1932 (at 2:15 AM, GMT). The youngest of two children of Francis Taylor (Dad, an owner of a art gallery) and Sara Viola Warmbrodt (Mom, a former actress. Elizabeth was of German/Scots/Irish decent), who were Americans, thus providing Elizabeth with a duel British/American Citizenship (At the age of 33 she reportedly attempted to renounce her American citizenship altogether for financial reasons (taxes), however officials denied her request when she refused to complete the renunciation oath, refusing to say that she renounced "all allegiance to the United States of America.")
"My mother says I didn't open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked." She was referring to her lifelong obsession with jewelery, cosmetics, and fashion. At points in her life she owned some of the largest diamonds in the world.
The interesting thing about her quote is that she didn't open her eyes for eight days, and what eyes they were... a startling violet/blue, one of the rarest of eye colors ("While there is some disagreement to the actual order of which eye colors are the rarest, the following five are considered the finalists on nearly every list compiled on the subject.
Weighing in at number five are green eyes being possessed by only about 2% of the world population.
Violet eyes make their appearance at number three on the list (The five on the list are Green at #5, Amber at #4, Violet, Black, and the most rare... Red, which is odd because that is the color of my eyes after a good Saturday night). Violet eyes are the mixing of red eyes with a blue reflection. In their truest form they are found in albinos, although they are possible as a mutation to those who are not albino." -Lynette Alice of
Elizabeth was blessed with (or suffered from) another mutation, a form of distichia resulting in double eyelashes which of course enhanced those remarkable violet eyes, which "stunned those who met her in person."
I added the stipulation above that she may have suffered from that mutation as Elizabeth endured ill health all of her life. The distichia may have contributed to her history of heart problems, of which she would eventually die at the age of 79. According to Wikipedia, "At 5'4", Taylor constantly gained and lost significant amounts of weight, reaching both 119 pounds and 180 pounds in the 1980s. She smoked cigarettes into her mid-fifties, and feared she had lung cancer in October 1975 after an X-ray showed spots on her lungs, but was later found not to have the disease. Taylor broke her back five times, had both her hips replaced, had a hysterectomy, suffered from dysentery and phlebitis, punctured her esophagus, survived a benign brain tumor operation in 1997 and skin cancer, and faced life-threatening bouts with pneumonia twice, one in 1961 requiring an emergency tracheotomy. In 1983 she admitted to having been addicted to sleeping pills and painkillers for 35 years.Taylor was treated for alcoholism and prescription drug addiction at the Betty Ford Clinic for seven weeks from December 1983 to January 1984, and again from the autumn of 1988 until early 1989."
Another ballerina, she began taking lessons when she was three. At the age of seven, in 1939, her family decided to return to the United States, quite wisely, as the winds of World War II were beginning to blow throughout Europe. They settled right here in L.A. where Francis opened another gallery featuring the magnificent collection he had gathered in England. That gallery attracted many from the nearby entertainment industry, and some were instantly taken with the beautiful young Elizabeth, and pleaded for her parents to allow her to audition for the movies.
The famous Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper introduced the Taylors to the fiance of the chairman of Universal Pictures, who subsequently introduced them to the chairman. MGM also became interested in Elizabeth, and a bidding war ensued, with Universal eventually winning out by signing her to a seven year contract.
She made one picture for Universal, and at nine years old she appeared in her first film, "There's One Born Every Minute," for $200 a week (worth a little over $2,500 today adjusted for inflation... not bad money after the Great Depression). After a year Universal fired her, presumably because they were dissatisfied with her performances and looks, and Elizabeth herself felt unwelcome and uncomfortable there.
Francis served as an air raid warden with a producer from MGM, which renewed their interest in Elizabeth, and offered her a role in the first Lassie film, signing her on to another long term contract. She seemed to be at ease at MGM and much happier.
In 1943 "Lassie Come Home," was released, her co-star the budding young actor Roddy McDowall, whom with she would become life long friends. "Who has double eyelashes except a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?" he would later say.
Elizabeth actively sought and won the role of Velvet Brown in "National Velvet," the story of a girl who trains her horse to win the Grand National, presumably a race of some kind, I don't know for sure as I've never seen the movie. Here, let me look it up for you dear readers, just a minute please... why it is! A steeplechase in fact! The movie grossed over $4 million 1944 dollars ($49 million today). The success of the film made Elizabeth a star at the age of twelve. Audiences "fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor when they saw her in it."
She was signed onto a new long term contract and she was cast into another animal film, "Courage of Lassie."
"Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses."
She continued to make films for MGM (who loaned her out to other studios as well), and Liz suffered from her early success, not meeting many kids her own age, her education lacking as well. She told her parents that she wanted to stop making films and resume a "normal" adolescence. Her mother talked her out of it though, stating she had a responsibility to her fans to continue making pictures. What a bunch of crap. Anyway, she continued making pictures, transitioning into more adult roles, which came easily to her as she had the talent to do it, and her figure had matured (at that time her waist measured 19 inches. For the majority of her film career her measurements averaged 36C-21-36).
In 1949, at the age of seventeen, she was cast with Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun," the story of a spoiled rich girl who seduces Clift away from his pregnant girlfriend (the first time the lovely Shelly Winters got the shaft in films as far as I know, the second being Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita"). Hedda Hopper was allowed on the set and was amazed to see the star from "National Velvet" so easily seduce the character Clift was playing. She asked after filming ended, "Elizabeth, where on earth did you ever learn how to make love like that?"
Teenage girls can be very precocious. I know that for a fact.
In 1950 she was making a cool $2000 per week (almost $18,000 today), and that year she made the first of two films with my favorite American actor ever, Spencer Tracy, in "Father of the Bride" (no, Steve Martin wasn't the first to make that film, although he was very good in his version too). Two days before the premier Elizabeth had married Conrad Hilton Jr, son of the founder of the Hilton hotel chain, Conrad Nicholson Hilton, and great uncle of Paris. Apparently Conrad had a bit of a drinking problem, and domestic violence problem, and the couple divorced after nine months (Elizabeth had gotten pregnant during the marriage, but she miscarried, probably due to Hilton abusive behavior. Hilton died at the age of forty two, probably due to his freaking drinking).
In 1951 "A Place in the Sun," premiered. Critics loved it proclaiming it a classic. "Elizabeth's delineation of the rich and beauteous Angela is the top effort of her career," wrote the New York Times, and many stated she deserved an Academy Award (she was not nominated however. Clift and Winters were, for Best Actor and Actress, but neither won).
One year after divorcing Hilton, Elizabeth married for the second time to Michael Wilding, an English actor, twenty years her senior (he appeared with William Holden and Nancy Kwan in "The World of Suzie Wong").
Liz made a series of forgettable films for the next 3 years. In 1953, now 22 years old, she had her first child, Michael Howard, then 2 years later, her second, Christopher Edward.
Due to her pregnancy with Michael, Liz was forced to turn down a role in the film "Elephant Walk," which was filming in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka). However, after Michael's birth, Vivien Leigh of "Gone with the Wind," and "A Streetcar Named Desire" fame, whom had been given the role, suffered a breakdown due to a bipolar disorder, and Liz was called in to reclaim her role.
That year was her busiest in the business, making four films ("Elephant Walk," "Beau Brummel," "Rhapsody," and "The Last Time I Saw Paris"). Then in 1956 things began to take off.
She made the George Stevens epic "Giant," with Rock Hudson and James Dean. This was the third and last film for Dean before he quit the business and began a successful career making breakfast sausage.
For the next four years Elizabeth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. "Raintree County," in 1957, with her old friend Montgomery Clift, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," in 1958, with Paul Newman, "Suddenly Last Summer," in 1959, with Clift again, and Katherine Hepburn, and finally winning the award for "BUtterfield 8," in 1960.
In 1957 she divorced Michael Welding and one week later married Michael Todd, an American film producer best known for his production of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days." Perhaps they knew each other before the divorce.
They had one daughter together, Elizabeth Frances.
Todd was the only one of her seven husbands she did not divorce, due to the fact that he died in a tragic plane crash in New Mexico after just a little over a year of marriage.
One of Elizabeth's co-stars in "BUtterfield 8" was one of the most famous singers of the time... Eddie Fisher, who was married to the popular and famous actress, Debbie Reynolds (both being the mother and father of Princess Leia of "Star Wars"), who I'm happy to report is still with us (so is Princess Leia).
Eddie was also Michael Todd's best friend, and of course he consoled Elizabeth after Todd's death... perhaps a little too much, for soon they began an affair, and eventually Fisher divorced Reynolds and married Liz.
Hey, then guess what happened? Sir Richard Burton came along and stole Liz from Eddie.
"Suddenly Last Summer," made Elizabeth one of the best earners in Hollywood, which she would remain for the next decade. She became the first actress to get paid $1,000,000 up front for signing on to the film "Cleopatra," (she got 10% of the gross as well, so eventually made approximately 7 million on the deal. "If someone is dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down," Liz would later say). Her co-stars were Rex Harrison (of "My Fair Lady" fame, and father of Noel Harrison, Olympic athlete, and Stefanie Powers partner in "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.") and the great Welsh actor, Richard Burton. Here's the trailer:
Boy they sure knew how to market movies in those days, didn't they? You have to appreciate the fact that the epic films made during that period didn't have any digital computer effects.
Anyway, boy meets girl on location, they start an affair, girl divorces husband (who goes on to marry the lovely actress Connie Stevens), then boy and girl get married and make 11 movies together (and an episode of "Here's Lucy"
"Cleopatra," was made in 1963, when Liz was 31. Three years later Burton and Liz made one of my favorite films, not only due to their magnificent performances, no two were better suited for their roles, but also because the film was based on one of my favorite plays, Edward Albee's masterpiece, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
Elizabeth played Martha, Richard played George. The film was directed by veteran stage director Mike Nichols (his first movie... what a debut!). The film's other two actors were a young George Segal, and new comer Sandy Dennis (her second film for which she would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress).
The character of Martha is described thusly: "A large, boisterous woman, 52, looking somewhat younger. Ample, but not fleshy." At the age of 34 Elizabeth certainly pulled off that description. As a matter of fact when I first saw the movie I thought she was in her fifties. Maybe that's one of the reasons she won her second Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
There is no youtube piece that displays my favorite scene in the film, so if you don't mind dear readers, I would like to transpose from the play.
It takes place during the last act... The Exorcism. George has just told Martha that he has received notice their non-existent son has died that day:

MARTHA: You cannot. You may not decide these things.
NICK: (Leaning over her, tenderly). He hasn't decided anything, lady. It's not his doing. He doesn't have the power. . . .
GEORGE: That's right, Martha; I'm not a god. I don't have the power over life and death, do I?
HONEY: Lady . . . please . . .
GEORGE: There was a telegram, Martha.
MARTHA: (Up; facing him). Show it to me! Show me the telegram!
GEORGE: (Long pause; then, with a straight face) I ate it.
MARTHA: (A pause; then with the greatest disbelief possible, tinged with hysteria) What did you just say to me?
GEORGE: (Barely able to stop exploding with laughter) I . . . . ate . . . it.
(MARTHA stares at him for a long moment, then spits in his face)
GEORGE: (with a smile) Good for you, Martha.

Liz and Richard would make six films together during the sixties, earning more than $200 million at the box office. They would divorce in 1974, only to remarry the next year, only to divorce again in July of 1976. Burton would die 8 years later of a stroke at the age of 58. He remains one of my very favorite actors (except for "The Exorcist, Part 2").
A few months after their divorce Elizabeth would marry John Warner, the freaking Republican Senator from Virginia. She grew tired of life in D.C. though, became depressed and left town to enter the Betty Ford Clinic here in California. John and Liz divorced in 1982.
During another stay at the same clinic Liz met a construction worker, Larry Fortensky. Of course they got married... at the Neverland Ranch of Michael Jackson. That marriage lasted five years before he got the old boot too. He was the last of her husbands, because as far as we know she never married Jackson.
They were good friends though. Look at the picture above!
Wikipedia tells us that she was screwing around like a Jack Rabbit on Ritalin outside of her marriages. Hey, it passes the time.
I'm getting giddy.
Elizabeth continued to make films and television appearances, health permitting. She appeared on 3 episodes of the daytime soap opera, "General Hospital," for instance. The mini series "North and South." She even appeared on the "The Simpsons," twice, once as herself, and once as Maggie, uttering her first word, "Daddy."
Liz probably didn't care, or realize that her last theatrical film after such an amazing and distinguished career would be as Fred Flintstone's mother in law in a live action version of "The Flintstone's," (which also featured future Best Actress Halle Berry playing Sharon Stone. Go figure).
Liz's devotion to the cause to find a cure for H.I.V./A.I.D.S. is well known. She also championed Jewish causes (the religion she had converted to when 27), as well as many other concerns. "If not to make the world better, what is money for?"
Along with her two Oscars, she also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1992 for her work with A.I.D.S., a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and due to her duel British/American citizenship, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.
There have been many quotes I've cited of Elizabeth's in this post, but my favorite is: "One problem with people who have no vices is that they're pretty sure to have some annoying virtues."
Going through the different videos of Liz for this piece I was stricken by her resemblance to my very own dear mother, both in face and form. I'm not kidding! Ask my sister!
My mom's eyes weren't violet though.
Or were they?
As far as contemporary actresses that match her for beauty and talent... well there's a reason why Jennifer Connelly is my favorite, several really, especially before she became anorexic.
Congratulations by the way on Jennifer and Paul Bettany's brand new baby girl born May 31st, Agnes Lark, their second together (Agnes... really?)
Well I suppose I should bring this to a close now. It took almost a full hour to put together.
Oh yes, the title of this piece is Kitten, which was one of Elizabeth's nicknames.
I don't know why.

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