Sunday, March 27, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor - A Profound Loss

When the regular TV programming was interrupted with the news bulletin that Elizabeth Taylor had died, I was weirdly overcome with sadness and to tears. I didn't know her of course, yet I grew up with her in my life. She was a sparkling star and remained so. My sister called and said "it doesn't seem right that Elizabeth Taylor is not in the world." She is right. I felt a profound sense of loss.
Blog and Facebook posts went up with pictures and clips, messages of thanks and gratitude for her charitable work and for her courage and caring filled the social networking media. There seemed to be a collective feeling of profound loss.

Like her friend Michael Jackson, I suspect Elizabeth Taylor will have a whole new generation of fans who will now become aware of her legendary importance, talent and movies. I got email from a young friend who marveled after watching some movie clips from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, "I knew about her because of Michael and about the perfume and that she had those unusual eyes but, I didn't know she could act..was that good. I'm gonna check out her movies." That's funny and wonderful too. I told him he had a treat in store and gave him some titles.

Elizabeth was a Hollywood legend, and has been called the most beautiful woman in the world. But she was not just a glamorous movie star who always got her man, and married him, she was so much more. She was not afraid to reach out to a friend in need. Her caring and support for friends like troubled actor Montgomery Clift is well known. She was said to have a great sense of humor. For me that says a lot about a person. She had an incredible laugh.

In the mid 1980's, an AIDS diagnosis was nearly always fatal and yet public figures including the president, did not want to be associated with even the word AIDS. Elizabeth Taylor said:

"I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything. And then I realized that I was just like them. I wasn't doing anything to help."

So, Elizabeth fearlessly stepped forward. And when I say fearlessly, I mean in yo face fearless. She debunked the fears of being close to people with AIDS by doing just that. Elizabeth knew she was high profile and she used it to fill the vacuum with attention for her immediate concern, ensuring the dignity and care of people living with and dying with AIDS. Elizabeth Taylor then took it to the public, the arts and fashion industries, the medical community, and lawmakers. In 1984 she organized and hosted the first AIDS fundraiser to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles. She could care less about the religious community uproar, the controversy and personal risks or the silence of others. In 1985, with a small group of physicians, she founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

In 1991
the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation (ETAF) was created with a focus on direct services for people living with AIDS. ETAF provides funding to AIDS service organizations throughout the world to assist those living with HIV and AIDS. Liz became a worldwide activist visiting hospitals and raising funds the world over.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, through her foundation, Taylor commissioned a $500,000 37-foot "Care Van" equipped with examination tables and other medical equipment and dispatched it to New Orleans to care for HIV/AIDS patients of the city. She also donated $40,000 to the New Orleans Aids Task Force.

Through the years, Elizabeth organized, hosted, or appeared at countless fundraisers for HIV/AIDS charities in spite of facing numerous health issues including chronic back pain.
With unbelievable commitment and generosity Elizabeth also personally underwrote all expenses for fundraising and administering her foundation funds.

In 1997 Elizabeth had surgery to remove a brain tumor. She allowed herself to be photographed bald (front and back) to support women who had such surgeries or had lost their hair due to illness. The most beautiful woman in the world did not let vanity stop her from being a champion. Or maybe it was vanity. I'm not mad at her. Her beauty was deep. Perhaps it was her understanding of beauty, her lack of shame that drove her empathy for others in a world where shame is so often used as a weapon. Elizabeth was not only an actor and activist, she was a teacher.

Now, a few Elizabeth Taylor movies. She was not just good to look at, she was an artist.

First film in 1943 with MGM was Lassie Come Home with her lifelong friend Roddy McDowall and Donald Crisp. Absolutely worth watching. Get those hankies ready.

National Velvet in 1944 with Mickey Rooney. Story of young Velvet and her passion for horses and racing. A triumphant underdog story that will warm your heart.
This is the film that made Elizabeth Taylor a star.

Life with Father 1947 a teen (15) Elizabeth in a warm and very funny family flick with William Powell as the tyrannical father, Irene Dunne and Zasu Pitts. I Love this one too.

Elephant Walk,1954 One of my favorites growing up. Beautiful color and beautiful Elizabeth faces rampaging elephants.

Giant 1956 with James Dean and Rock Hudson,and Sal Mineo. Epic film about Texas cattle rancher.

Raintree County 1957 with Montgomery Clift. Liz got her first Oscar nomination but lost to Joanne Woodward for Three Faces of Eve.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958. IMHO One of the best movies ever made. Burl Ives, Paul Newman, Jack Carson and Elizabeth as Maggie the Cat, are SUPERB in the Tennessee Williams masterpiece. Gotta love Liz in her hatred for those no neck monsters. Second Oscar nomination but lost to Susan Hayward for I Want to Live.

Big Daddy and Maggie.

Brick and Maggie the Cat.

Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959. Katherine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift in the strange disturbing Tennessee Williams story where Elizabeth's character Catherine, witnesses a death so horrid she goes insane. Third Oscar nom but this time lost to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top.

In 1960 Butterfield 8 with Laurence Harvey, Eddie Fisher and Dina Merrill finally got Liz, who plays a call girl, the Academy Award for Best Actress.

1963 Cleopatra, with Richard Burton. Elizabeth was the first actress to earn $1,000,000 for a film. More drama going on off screen than on with this epic picture. Liz and Dick sizzle on and off screen.
The media, already crazed after the Elizabeth/Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher spectacle, practically went insane over Taylor/Burton. This is said to be the beginning of the crazy stalking paparazzi.

1966, Elizabeth, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal in Edward Albee's masterpiece, Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf. Excellent ensemble cast. College professor George and wife Martha (Liz and Dick) invite a new young prof and his wife over for drinks after a college function and it turns into a night of verbal war games fueled by alcohol and the need to hurt each other and a strange dependence. The young couple are not exempt as they are probed and prodded and emotionally laid bare. Bawdy, loud, sexual, passionate, and beautiful Martha, and George who pokes at everyones wounds with a pointy stick and then rips off scabs for fun are two of the greatest character ever written. Sandy Dennis is remarkable as the daft vulnerable young wife of her handsome trapped hubby. Fasten your seat belt. I give it Five strong Stars *****

Taming of the Shrew, 1967. I love Burton and Taylor in this Shakespeare romp with emphasis on romp. Burton is master of the Bard of course and Elizabeth has you howling with her bawdy braying strong performance. Talking about food fight. OMG!

Elizabeth was also famous for owning some of the world's most magnificent jewelry, including the the 33-carat "Krupp Diamond", the Duchess of Windsor diamond brooch, the Grand Duchess of Russia emeralds, the "LaPeregrina Pearl" (which was a Valentine present from her from Richard Burton), and the famous pear-shaped 69-carat "Burton-Cartier Diamond" Burton gave her in 1969 (subsequently renamed the "Burton-Taylor Diamond."
Liz wearing the 500 year old LaPeregrina.

When Elizabeth presented her perfumes to the public it was no surprise that they are mostly named for precious gems. The first in 1987 and was fittingly named Passion, followed by White Diamonds (1991), Diamonds and Rubies, Diamonds and Emeralds, Diamonds and Sapphires and Black Pearls (1995).

Elizabeth Taylor, the most beautiful woman in the world, was laid to rest at Forest Lawn near her friend Michael, and Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and other Hollywood legends. By her directions she arrived 15 minutes late, for her own funeral. She
had left instruction to have the last laugh.
Her legacy will live on in film and the media will talk of her marriages and her diamonds and her violet eyes, and her two Academy Awards. That is her legacy. But, she stepped out front and center with no Oscar in sight and her only reward was winning the dignity and care for people sick and voiceless. Before the red ribbons she was there and after the ribbons she was still there pushing and charming and winning for those she helped to give a voice and helped to live. I have profound gratitude to Elizabeth Taylor for damn near singlehandely prodding a nation away from ignorance and fear and jump starting a movement for life.

Rock and Elizabeth R.I.P.

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