Thursday, March 24, 2011

Liz

It never mattered how much time passed since Elizabeth Taylor made a film that resonated, and it wasn't since 1966, really. It didn't matter that her work over the past 30 years mostly filled the small screen and was more perfunctory than rich.

Taylor, who passed away Wednesday at age 79 from congestive heart failure, was in that rarified air of movie stars who were living icons, no matter how little they worked.

Marlon Brando. Warren Beatty. Paul Newman. Robert Redford. Heck, Doris Day.

These actors could go years between films and it didn't matter. Their legacies were secured.

Taylor was among them. She hadn't done anything compelling on celluloid since she knocked it out of the park in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966, for which she won her second of two Oscars.

But it didn't matter, because Taylor had been in our consciousness since she was an adolescent star, and her many marriages often provided more drama and intrigue than any role she ever read for.

In "Woolf," for example, it was almost impossible to watch her share mesmerizing screen time with real-life husband Richard Burton and not imagine how close that story was to her actual marriage.

Taylor was an activist, particularly with her work involving AIDS. She was one of the first stars to be vocal about the disease, before it became hip and before folks started wearing those trendy ribbons.

Then, of course, there was her oddly fascinating relationship with Michael Jackson, which at times defied description---just like Jackson himself.

Taylor had been trying to die on us for decades. Stories of her close calls and medical drama have been going on since she made "Cleopatra" in 1963. Yet she almost made it to age 80.

The marriages, though, remain the biggest and most talked about part of her legacy. In a way, that's sad, but none of it was made up.

She had eight of them, including two with Burton. Tragedy ended her promising joint venture with producer Mike Todd, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1958.

Taylor's acting career was front-loaded; all the good stuff happened 40 years ago and longer. But when it was good, it was some of the best ever.

"Giant."

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

"Suddenly Last Summer."

"BUtterfield 8."

"Cleopatra."

And, of course, "Woolf," in which Taylor played Martha, half of a bitter aging couple, who uses alcohol, along with a young couple, to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other.


1932-2011


Taylor was only 34 when she made "Woolf," which is amazing, because she seemed so much older, as the script called for. And it wasn't just makeup that made her appear that way. It was, simply, her acting.

To give further indication of Taylor's acting skills and range, those considered for the part of Martha included Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Rosalind Russell and Patricia Neal, all considerably older than Liz.

Taylor's name really was Elizabeth Taylor. She was born in London, her mother an actress.

There was an elegance about Elizabeth Taylor. She was about as close to royalty as you'll get in a country that has no monarch.

She hadn't done anything all that special in front of a camera in about 45 years, but that didn't matter. But she did the AIDS thing and she lent her name and likeness to perfume. She was a giving, philanthropic person. She cared about people.

Taylor had her time and the fact that its impression left such a lasting mark is testament enough to her place in American culture, isn't it?

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