A Class Act

SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2011

ELIZABETH TAYLOR.  Actress, star, beauty, humanitarian, broad.  The compliments were, are and forever will be given to her.  She was all that, and a bag of chips.  A great lady that did more for this world than I think she even knew.  I’ve hesitated writing anything here with regards to her death, not because so much is already being written, rather it is simply a case of mourning.  I truly feel as though I have lost someone close to me.  Only now can I sit down and write about her.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR.  That name up on a marquee at one time used to indicate big box-office receipts; lines of people waiting to get into a theater to see her latest film.  Every magazine editor from every famous weekly, be it Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, People, Vogue all have said the same thing: when Elizabeth Taylor was on the cover, that particular magazine issue always sold out.

One great reporter/writer who was following Taylor over the course of several months to do a story on her had this to say: “She is like this little boat that just is cruising along not even aware of the huge wake that she is leaving behind her.”  She was myopic with regards to her celebrity, she had to be.  She became aware of her power as an actress and one who could negotiate like a “man” while married to the short and tough and sexy Mike Todd.  He informed her that, “audacity makes the star.”  Other actresses of her day went seeking her advice when it came time to negotiate lucrative film contracts for themselves.  In the ’50’s and ’60’s every Elizabeth Taylor movie earned what in today’s dollars would be the equivalent of around $250 million, at the box office alone.  There were no DVD sales, or other money making outlets at the time.  She also negotiated for 10% of all box office gross receipts up front.  For those who don’t know accounting jargon, that means that for every dollar that came in at the box office she received 10 cents right off the bat.  In 1967 the National Review Magazine called her, “the only true, gilt-edged investment” and referred to her as every man’s dream wife: “beautiful, talented and working…. and since she makes a minimum of $1 million per picture, she is the kind of wife that every man can afford.”

ELIZABETH TAYLOR personified what most people think of when they think of a movie star: unparalleled beauty, talent, drama, tragedy, husbands, villas, minks, diamonds, yachts, private planes, an entourage, at the top of all invite lists for all A-list parties.  Truman Capote had the “Burtons” on  his list when he was constructing his famous Black and White Ball at the Plaza in New York in 1966.  When Elizabeth arrived at the “Ball of the Century” party in Venice in 1967 she completely eclipsed guest of honor, Princess Grace of Monaco when she arrived wearing an elaborate head-dress that Alexander of Paris had made for her film “Boom.”  At the Lido opening in Paris in 1964 the invitation called for “pants only.”  When Elizabeth arrived, emerging from her green Rolls Royce as her chauffeur Gaston opened the door, she was wearing a gold lame ball gown with gold lame ribbons falling from her hair, and a million dollars worth of rare yellow diamonds on her fingers, wrists and ears.  The paparazzi went nuts, and of course, they still let her into the party, where she was immediately sat next to Aristotle Onassis.  Explaining her attire she simply said: “I wear pants to work.”  She could have just as easily said nothing but, “I’m Elizabeth Taylor.”

But this woman, this star was something much more to me.  Any of you who have followed my blog know that I come from a quite dysfunctional Italian-American family.  This woman was in a strange way a savior for me.  I’m sure that there are many other gay men who have a similar feeling or experience when it comes to this great lady.  I think I really became aware of her in the Spring of 1962, at the start of what would become known as “la scandale.”  She was in all her Cleopatra glory, make-up, sensationalism when her Life Magazine covers arrived.  Who was she, I thought?  Why were my parents and others talking about her in such vehement tones?  Grabbing a copy of Life and retreating to my bedroom, I read about her and was intrigued.  She was so fascinating, and beautiful, and doing whatever she wanted to do, and doing it all on such a grand scale.  Her life, her pictures took me away from all the screaming that was going on outside that bedroom door.  My little gay boy soul could be whisked away to a place of glamour, and other-worldliness.  Whatever torment I had to face outside of my bedroom simply melted away when I could just sit and read about Elizabeth Taylor.

To this day, if I am feeling blue, or things just are not going right, or I need some escapism, I can put in an Elizabeth Taylor DVD, and for those two hours or so I am pleasantly comforted and everything is ok.  I always wanted to meet her to tell her that she helped yet another gay boy/man cope.  I will always treasure the autographed picture she sent to me, accompanied by a private note, on stationary the color of her eyes, saying “thanks for thinking of me.”  I have the picture and note framed and they sit on the wall right above my computer.  I look at them every day.

So, goodbye Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor.  My gay brothers and I will always consider you a Saint.  You Dame Elizabeth personified the true definition of a Saint.  I am glad that your physical suffering is over, but you will forever be missed.  There is a pain in my heart over your passing.

I could not agree more with the words of her son, Michael Wilding, Jr., who said at his mother’s funeral, “the world is a better place for having had Elizabeth Taylor in it.”  Amen.  -JAB


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