How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor
"YOU SEE, she didn't care about being a star. She cared about living a certain way. It was what she was used to. And she lived that grand life with Burton and thought they'd have it forever. That's what was most important to her: to have a great companion in her great life ... it was all about being with him. That's all that really mattered."
So chimes in photographer
THIS IS an entertaining work, revealing much of the machinery behind star-building and star-maintaining back in the day. (The trajectory of gossip queen
But the book is also (mostly) a testament to Taylor's iron willfulness and how she bent the rules to suit herself, while keeping her career boiling for quite a long time. So long, in fact, that once her box office collapsed, in the late '60s, she carried on just as before, and carried media and world attention with her. She was a movie star who didn't need to make movies. Her hold has lessened in recent years, but not for lack of true interest. Steadily declining health has cast a shadow on the star; she is less visible and when she does appear, poignantly fragile.
I don't think Mr. Mann breaks any new ground -- his take on Elizabeth's unique position has been written up before. And a lot of it by this columnist, who knew Elizabeth and Richard well during the halcyon days of their international travels and movie-world domination. (The best thing I ever wrote on the Burtons was following the pair as they ate, drank, mock-argued and shopped. Elizabeth never actually answered one question I'd been sent to ask her!)
But there is a nice, juicy quality to this book, the author is an admirer and he is pretty accurate. There are no shocks. We all know by now that Elizabeth didn't marry every man she slept with. (This was her old defense, taken as gospel by many.) In that case she'd have had more than eight marches down the aisle. We know some of her marriages --
THE WORLDWIDE effect of La Liz's serial husband-snatching might seem impossible to believe now -- after all, it was only a little adultery! But think of the biggest star in the world today. Then magnify that star 1,000 times. You still wouldn't be close to what
Mr. Mann does an excellent job capturing the media/public frenzy of her greatest years. (When the Vatican denounced her for her affair with Burton, her first response was an angry, "Can I sue the Pope?")
Later, she would do it all over again with Burton. Only bigger and better. Yes, she was mad for him, but also much attracted to his mind. He would be the education she missed out on at MGM. Yes, he was mad for her. But her fame seduced him as much as her wild ways in bed, or her beauty. (She would elevate Burton to a position of taking care of her as she wished to be taken care of. He would come to feel he'd made a Faustian bargain, and grew weary of life a la Liz. Elizabeth? She worried constantly that she "bored" him!)
The book doesn't dwell obsessively on Elizabeth's drinking or pharmaceutical peccadilloes, acknowledging these habits as long term, and part of her particular package -- a package that she and her handlers spun and spun again, as her image changed from pristine child star to lovely ingenue, tragic widow and then to a woman so scarlet she was "almost purple" as Taylor herself put it. The author also ignores the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. But perhaps to Mann that drama wasn't significant in forming her as a movie star? I believe much of her later behavior stems from that abuse -- her father drank, too -- but that's for another book to analyze.
TAYLOR WAS the potent super-image of the overindulged, predatory movie queen -- all kohl-rimmed eyes; the tundra of her cleavage on constant display. Even her weight problem seemed an extension of her arrogance -- she flaunted her sloppiness and often displayed execrable taste in clothes. (In Europe, years ago, I was with Elizabeth at a gala event. She wore a crazy array of feathers in her hair. I said, "Elizabeth you look like a fabulous chicken." She said, "Liz, I look like a chicken's a--!")
Yet, with her high voice and a bag full of tricks, she somehow retained under the paint and diamonds, a little bit of the child star she had been -- that smidge of vital vulnerability. And, she was actually a very nice woman, once you broke through her facade and her entourage -- which like any entourage was full of drama queens all jockeying for position. Elizabeth was spoiled, but that's the way she'd grown up, it was as natural as the unusual color of her eyes. All her men loved to spoil her.
She wasn't mean, however. This story, told by director
"How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood"
ends with Elizabeth's great 1981 comeback on
This is no how-to book, despite the title. There will never be another
And she always did. Elizabeth was many things -- not always wonderful things -- but never, ever a victim. She had beauty. She had talent. But above all, she had audacity, the courage to live openly and to say "s---- you."
And she still does. Only now, she tweets it!
Available at Amazon.com:
Elizabeth Taylor, the true Star of Stars was apparently ready to die. Congestive heart failure claimed her. Although the news is not quite a shock She was only 79, but had lived a million years, having fired up and exhausted endless fantasies for herself and the millions who watched her, dumbstruck, as she commanded the Fates to do her bidding
Film Legend Elizabeth Taylor Dead at 79
Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011)
Elizabeth Taylor, the true Star of Stars passed away today at the age of 79. Congestive heart failure claimed her.
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