March 24, 2011

RIP Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor, the actress who dazzled generations of moviegoers with her stunning beauty and whose name was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.

In a world of flickering images, Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star. First appearing on screen at age 10, she grew up there, never passing through an awkward age. It was one quick leap from “National Velvet” to “A Place in the Sun” and from there to “Cleopatra,” as she was indelibly transformed from a vulnerable child actress into a voluptuous film queen.

In a career of some 70 years and more than 50 films, she won two Academy Awards as best actress, for her performances as a call girl in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) and as the acid-tongued Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966). Mike Nichols, who directed her in “Virginia Woolf,” said he considered her “one of the greatest cinema actresses.” (Click Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011
A Lustrous Pinnacle of Hollywood Glamour, NYT
for the rest.)

(Interestingly enough, the writer of the above obituary of Taylor has already been dead for the past six years, according to the L.A. Times.)

The first Elizabeth Taylor movie I ever watched was Cleopatra, which co-starred her great love Richard Burton. It was one of those old flicks shown on Ch. 9 during the Martial Law years. She was such a great beauty, so lovely and powerful she fit the role of the Egyptian pharoess to a T, while Burton was oh-so-ruggedly handsome. Any discussion or writeup of either two wouldn't be complete without mentioning their love affair that got them condemned by the Vatican, and their twice-over marriage (and divorce).

But their love was just "too big too last", according to a story in Vanity Fair, and one of my favorite pieces ever written on their relationship.

In fact, you might say there were two marriages: the ballyhooed union of Liz and Dick and the private marriage of Elizabeth and Richard. More often than not, Liz and Dick overwhelmed the private marriage, holding it hostage and ultimately helping to derail it. Many who knew of Burton's meteoric rise through the ranks of London's West End felt that the Welsh actor had entered into his affair with Elizabeth Taylor with impure motives—a chance to seize greater fame through his liaison with the most famous actress in the world. If so, he quickly found himself utterly bewitched. In scores of letters and notes he wrote to Elizabeth over the course of their marriage, Richard poured out his infatuation, love, and need for her, how he had discovered in her the embodiment of all the women in Wales he had loved or lusted after, from his sainted sister, who had raised him, to the dark-haired “tarts” he knew as a randy youth in the Welsh towns of Pontrhydyfen and Port Talbot. “My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you,” he would write to Elizabeth well into their marriage. “You don't realize of course E. B. how fantastically beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness. Your breasts jutting out from that half-asleep languid lingering body, the remote eyes, the parted lips.” (Read VF for the rest. There are a lot of other great Taylor-Burton stories in the mag, now available online, such as When Liz met Dick. Also check out The Queen And I, which is about the late author Dominick Dunne's friendship with Taylor.)

Sometimes her ethereal beauty just seemed to overpower the screen, making the audience forget how great an actress she really was. And those mesmerizing violet! she was just so lovely to look at. Check out VF's slideshow here.

But she was indeed one of the best actresses in Hollywood - even Paul Newman, her co-star in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (one of my favorite Taylor movies!) thought so. He pays tribute to her in a Turner Classic Movie bit in 2007, just a year before he passed away.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth Taylor. We will always remember you with great joy and much affection.

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