March 23, 2011

Even though she flirted with illness and death countless times over the last 50 years, it still came as a shock to hear the morning news of Elizabeth Taylor‘s passing.  Unless you are a movie buff or over 40 years old, you can’t understand what a glamorous, elegant movie star she was.  She truly was the last of Hollywood’s Golden Era.

She burst onto the scene as a 12-year-old in 1944’s National Velvet, but with the current release of Jane Eyre hitting theatres, it should be noted that she had a small, yet eye-opening role as a dying girl in the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  For the next 68 years, Elizabeth Taylor never stopped opening eyes!

 Don’t make the mistake of thinking her popularity and notoriety came only from her beauty.  She was an immensely talented actress who received 5 Oscar nominations and won the award twice.  At the age of 18, she seduced (onscreen) Montgomery Clift into killing his girlfriend (Shelley Winters) in A Place in the Sun.  Movie watchers totally understood why he did it.  Those unique violet eyes set off by rare double eye-lashes (a genetic mutation), made her a stunning beauty to go along with her captivating spirit.

 She sizzled onscreen in back-to-back Tennessee Williams scripts: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959).  In 1963, her life changed dramatically.  When approached to play the title role in Cleopatra, she laughed off the producers and told them “only for a million dollars”, which was an unheard of salary for an actress in the day.  When they agreed, she became the first million dollar actress, and more importantly, met and fell in love with Richard Burton during filming.  “Liz and Dick” became worldwide phenomenons as stars and celebrities.  Living the “high life” was a normal day for these two.

 1966 brought about what I call the first Reality Show … Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?  With an explosive performance by Liz,  many assumed their characters mirrored the couple in real life.  The film received a dazzling 13 nominations, including a win for Ms. Taylor.  There were many additional performances after this, but by 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew, she had a 20 year career that was multi-dimensional and astounding.

Speaking of astounding, the only thing more amazing than her career was Elizabeth Taylor’s personal life.  She grew up in the public eye and never left.  EIGHT marriages, including two to Mr. Burton.  When husband Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash, she fell into the arms of his best friend, Eddie Fisher.  Unfortunately, Mr. Fisher was married at the time to American icon Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) and they had a daughter, Carrie Fisher (the future Princess Leia of Star Wars).  Of course, Mr. Fisher ended up on the short end after Liz met Burton … but you start to get the idea.

After she divorced Burton the second time, she married U.S. Senator John Warner and became a true politician’s wife.  Her final starring role was in 1981, but she became renowned for her charity work … best known for her tireless fundraising for AIDS research – stemming from the loss of her friend, Rock Hudson.  They remained close after filming Giant (James Dean‘s last role).  Later, she became a friend and trusted advisor to the enigmatic Michael Jackson.  She was probably one of the few who could relate to his level of fame and the baggage it brought.

 While there will be no shortage of obituaries and tributes to Ms. Taylor, this may be one of the few that ends with a SPORTS story.  In 1989, Jerry Jones invited Elizabeth Taylor to perform the official coin toss at a Dallas Cowboys – Washington Redskins football game.  Ms. Taylor flubbed the moment when she actually called “heads” after flipping the coin … thereby requiring a re-toss.  Even at mid-field, she was a star!