Elizabeth Taylor passed away today. I can't say it was a surprise. For example, while going through public domain picture (Library of Congress and I forget what else) in April 2009, Elaine, Ava and C.I. set that one aside. I know because I called Dona and asked if she thought Third (meaning Jim) would mind if I blogged about Elizabeth? She told me not to worry and then said she'd upload the disc of photos from April which is what she did and how I have the photo.
Elizabeth Taylor was always in poor health.
At any point during her lifetime, her death would not have been surprising. What was surprising was that she lived so long and so fully.
Growing up, Elizabeth Taylor was the movie star. My grandparents and my parents often had heated discussions (we're an Irish Catholic family) but one thing they could all agree on was Elizabeth Taylor. I can remember my father and my grandfather having a huge, yelling argument about how to edge whatever (the backyard, the hedges? I never edged) and they were furious. One slammed the door on his way into the house, the other cursed a loud streak in the backyard. 15 minutes later, my grandfather said to my dad, "National Velvet's coming on, why don't we watch?" So off they went with most of us (I am one of my parents' eight children) trailing behind and watching National Velvet. That was a film she made very early on in her career and the one that really made her a star.
Of that time period, very few child stars were able to become adult stars. Judy Garland was the only big star before Taylor. From Taylor's peer group, only she and Natalie Wood would go from child stars to adult stars.
She made many classic films. She made many bad films, especially while transitioning to adult roles, in which she looked gorgeous but had nothing to do. A Place In The Sun was the film that did for her what Rebel Without A Cause did for Natalie Wood. She co-starred with Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun and to watch it today is to marvel at how good she is. The performance isn't dated, isn't stuffy, it still comes across and seems remarkably modern.
She would go on to be nominated for many Oscars and win two for Best Actress. Her list of film classics would include Giant (with Rock Hudson and James Dean), Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (with Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis), Cleopatra (the film in which she fell in love with Burton -- off screen -- and left Eddie Fisher for him), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (with Paul Newman) and many more.
I was lucky enough to meet Elizabeth Taylor three times. I've written about the first time several times before but I do love telling the story so bear with me.
It's 2008, January, I'm with C.I. We're speaking somewhere against the war. We end getting ready to go home else and C.I. mentions that she needs to see a friend. Do I want to head on home (Bay Area) or fly to Los Angeles. I say LA. And we're on the flight there and talking about a hundred things, we land. We're riding to a house. And I finally think to ask, "Is this anyone I know?" C.I. knows everyone. Some famous, some not. She says, "Oh, I'm sorry, it's Elizabeth Taylor. That's okay, isn't it?"
She thought I was choking. I was so surprised. And I never would have thought I would be star struck by any film performer. I'm huge into music and I've made an idiot out of myself around many rock and roll performers. But films? I'm kind of blase.
But, like I said, Elizabeth Taylor was the mark of stardom in my family growing up. My grandmother had every tabloid with anything on her. (Elizabeth was a tabloid staple the way Michael Jackson and Cher would later be.)
So I was sweating and trying to breathe and so nervous.
So I'm introduced to her and I'm sure just grinning like an idiot. Which she thought was funny and she had this laugh that started out so little (like the way a small dog has a little bark) and then became this huge, deep laugh.
So I bored her with everything at once. And she was so sweet and so nice and so charming and said, "Kat, call me Elizabeth." Because I had been "Miss Taylor" this and "Miss Taylor" that.
She was so sweet and so warm. And she was supporting Hillary. I did not know that. She brought that up by asking if I'd decided who I was going to vote for (this was before our primary in California). I told her Hillary. And expected to hear why I was wrong (most of C.I.'s celebrity friends -- though not all -- supported Barack). Instead she reached over and grabbed my hand and said, "Isn't she great?"
She was always wonderful and full of life even when her back was bothering her very badly on one visit. That was either the second or third time I was around her. And she told me then what I am sure will not make any obituary today or tomorrow: She supported war resisters. She supported them during Vietnam. She and Richard Burton made a point to employ them when they could including one young man who was their children's nanny. And did they ever have any problems? She laughed and said something like back then, for the two of them, all doors opened. They were whisked through customs in every country. It was never an issue.
I can't claim I was her friend or that we spoke on the phone. But I did get to meet her three times and, as soon as I was around my parents after, all three times, I had to give an extensive debriefing.
She was a great actress and I am among the many millions who will miss her.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"