Thursday, March 24, 2011

So. Farewell Then, Elizabeth Taylor

The late Elizabeth Taylor was the inspiration for what is, to An Spailpín’s mind, one of the great gallant comments about any woman. Richard Burton, the man with whom she would be associated more than any other, wrote in his diary that the first time he saw Taylor he wanted to laugh out loud. It seemed the only correct reaction to her staggering beauty. Wasn’t it a lovely thing to say?

Millions and millions of women wanted to be Liz Taylor. Maybe you should be careful what you wish for. Eight marriages, seven husbands, countless addictions, and all for what? Was Liz Taylor ever happy?

Liz Taylor was a child star. How many child stars have led happy and adjusted adult lives, if such things exist? Shirley Temple, maybe. Deanna Durbin. But both of those shunned the limelight once they grew up. For others, like Taylor, who lived their entire lives in its glare, it’s hard to know if it was every worth their while. Or if they even knew who they were when the light went out. Maybe the limelight itself was Taylor’s worst addiction.

Liz Taylor’s first marriage was to Nicky Hilton, when she was eighteen years old. The marriage lasted a year. Hilton was a drunk who used to beat his child bride. A woman so beautiful that Burton wanted to laugh out loud at the joy of her.

After Hilton, Taylor married a British actor called Michael Wilding, and then Mike Todd, who died in a plane clash. Eddie Fisher left his wife, Debbie Reynolds, to catch the grieving Taylor on the rebound only to get the elbow himself when Taylor hooked up with Richard Burton while they filmed Cleopatra.

Burton and Taylor were second only to John and Yoko as the iconic sixties couple. Mervyn Davies, the former Number 8 for London Welsh, Swansea, Wales and the British Lions remarked in his autobiography how odd it was to return to the London Welsh dressing room and see the most beautiful woman in the world going whiskey for whiskey at the bar with her husband.

Burton loved rugby, and Taylor too, in his way. They divorced, and remarried, and divorced again. Taylor didn’t attend Burton’s funeral in 1984. It would have been unfair on Sally Hay, Burton’s wife. Whom would the world identify as the widow?

Taylor married twice again, for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Or else painfully easy – the most beautiful woman in the world was lonely. Who wants to be Liz Taylor, really?

Her celebrity was greater than her career, although as an actress she had a considerably greater range than her only rival for the most beautiful woman in the world, Marilyn. She wasn’t funny, as Marilyn was, but Taylor could burn up the screen in an instant. Whatever it is, she had it.

Most of her pictures are dated now. She and Burton were directed by Franco Zefferilli in The Taming of the Shrew; twenty years later, the trailer to the film was used in English courses as an example as the crippling weight of the patriarchy. Neither director nor stars nor Shakespeare himself could get past the politburo in those days.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won Taylor her second Oscar but, while it’s by no means fashionable to say so, it’s a two hour episode of Eastenders, really.

An Spailpín’s dollar for Liz Taylor’s greatest performance must be as Maggie the Cat, the role she was born to play, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She was opposite Paul Newman, in one of his great roles. After all, it took an actor of stunning ability not to laugh out loud when Liz Taylor came into a room.