Remembering Elizabeth Taylor, On Page and Onscreen

Dedicated wOw community member Joan Larsen offers a literary and cinematic window into the recently departed star

The last of our great movie stars, Elizabeth Taylor was celebrity personified — and so the media coverage of her passing has been some of the most expansive ever seen. But as the sound and the fury of the past week lessens, I believe that those of you who love reading may find that this small selection of my own favorite books and films will enable you to know the great actress in a way you haven’t before.

In 2006, she called Richard Burton “her soulmate,” saying that “Richard enriched my life in different ways, internal journeys into feelings and thoughts. He taught me poetry and literature, and introduced me to worlds of beauty. He made me laugh. He made me cry. He explored areas in me that I knew existed but which had never been touched. There was never a dull moment. I loved Richard through two marriages, and until the day he died”.

Those words should set you up so well to read Sam Kashner’s Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. If we are to believe the author — and it seems plausible — the couple never really fell out of love with each other until Burton died. I admit to being a romantic, but the letters in the book attest to this undying love. Elizabeth kept her last letter from Burton at her bedside table until the day she died. A part of it read: “We are such doomed fools. Unfortunately, we know it. So I have decided that, for a second or two, the precious potential of you in the next room is the only thing in the world worth living for.  After your death, there shall only be one other, and that will be mine. Or, I possibly think, vice versa.”

When How To Be A Movie Star in Hollywood came out in 2009, author William Mann’s book was written up by Publishers Weekly (which is something of a bible to me), saying: “The book depicts Taylor’s larger-than-life appetites — whether for men, jewels, or food — and marvels at her ability to arouse and sidestep scandal, as well as to demonstrate continually a singular devotion to her acting craft.” There is no doubt that people like Britney, Miley, and their ilk have taken a page from Taylor’s book as they have tried to manage their own image. Here, author Mann has examined the actress’s life and successes from a singular angle that make this one worth reading.

I’ll let other wOw readers write in about their own favorite titles.  But we all know this is also a perfect time to look back on Taylor’s life in film. My own favorite — hard to beat — is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ” But I have many others on tap that have proved themselves over the test of time. Remember “A Place in the Sun”?  I saw it several times back then … and I am wondering if I am missing other good choices to replay in the near future as a part of “remembering Elizabeth.” I’ll be interested in what movies you, too, can’t get out of your heads.



11 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jeannot Kensinger says:

    Thanks for the article, Joan.
    I loved everything she did. She just had to be on the screen and I was in awe of her beauty. My favorite was the film with Burton in Big Sur, I believe it was “The Sandpiper”.
    Of course, there was the other favorite “Who’s afraid”. Come to think of it there are quite a few others …..she will be missed but I will not forget her.

  2. avatar D C says:

    We watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof again last week, the night she died.  My husband reported that the next day he and a male co-worker were talking about what an outstanding acting job Paul Newman did — acting like he was sickened at the thought of having sex with Elizabeth Taylor.  I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but it’s true.  We have Virginia Woolf recorded and will watching it soon, but right now Basketball rules the TV at my house. 

  3. avatar Rho says:

    I also loved everything she was in,  A Place in the Sun, was fantastic.  Of course Elizabeth, Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters could not do anything I did not enjoy.  They don’t make stars like them anymore.

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Rho — the world of movies that we remember so fondly was another world, another time — and there were REAL movie stars and glamor — we do remember “glamor” don’t we? — and they brought us into another world with themselves — not the trick shots, the gimmicks that we know are gimmicks, — and the stories so often were so compelling (and how little of “compelling” do we hear of now?)

      And you are right — what can go wrong when you have Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters as co-stars???  I don’t know about you but I can often remember just who I went to a certain movie with — and what the billboard looked like. 

      Those were the days – and I miss them.

      • avatar Rho says:

        Joan, those were the days, I also miss them.  As a young girl I was president of the Montgomery Clift Fan Club, the New York Chapter.  Met him many times.  His friend Kevin McCarthy would call and tell me where to meet them.  Shelley Winters went to my high school in Brooklyn, but at night,

        Elizabeth was the ultimate STAR!!!  I put that in CAPS, because there will never be another.

        • avatar Joan Larsen says:

          You and I would get along together well I am sure.  I didn’t do the fan club thing but living in a big city automatically would bring the big stars right to me.  One claim to fame was sharing a cab with Shelley Winters when she was doing a play — I remember every minute.
          Getting calls to meet Clift — what memories those have to be.  I am the only one I know — which doesn’t say too much — who has actually MET infomally CLARK GABLE — but frankly, he wasn’t my type as a pre-teen girl.  But Elizabeth WAS the ultimate in STARS — there was an aura even that my “other favorites” did not have. 

          What a dream life you have had!

          • avatar Rho says:

            I agree, we would get along.  Clift was so wonderful to know.  Wish I had met Clark Gable, but Clift was more my type.
            Steve Lawrence I know very well, we went to the same high school.  In my yearbook he wrote something nice, then signed it Sidney Leibowitz, and in brackets he wrote Steve Lawrence,  Steve and Lawrence are his nephews.
            I know many more celebs.  Will post them if there is a thread.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Many of the fans became friends through the fan clubs which just reflects the simpler times we used to live in. Back in the day.

            Interesting that the first of the love letters to hit the auction block are the love letters she sent to Bill Pawley who she planned to marry until her mother realized that the Hollywood career was not going to be part of the wedding vows and so she married Nicky Hilton instead.  She apparently loved Bill Pawley. But her molther loved Nicky Hilton who apparently didn’t object to the Hollywood career although the Hollywood career is what doomed the marriage from the moment everyone started throwing the rice.  I suspect had she married Bill Pawley he would have relented about the career. And she would have gone on to do Cleopatra and the rest still would have been history. Her mother liked the paychecks.  Elizabreth loved the attention. Despite proclaiming she was giving up her career every time she married, she never did.  Says more than anything she proclaimed! 

            She and Burton were just fated as they say. A great love affair. No one denies it. But beneath it all, well, there is Celigny. Burton apparently is buried there to avoid the taxman in Britain. And so if he were returned to Wales, well, the taxman would still want his taxes. And that also might affect her estate. They were many things. Including quite a few corporations. Which were dissolved while both were British citizens living in Switzerland.  And she disliked taxes as much as he did. Many were actually amazed when she renounced her British citizenship after she married Warner because it put her in a “higher tax bracket” which if nothing else reflected the commitment she made to him and to the marriage. Although some would say it was the same commitment she made to each of the “hims” and the marriages.

            She was a part of our culture for 60 years and in many ways defined our culture as she defined herself and her own life through those 60 years.  She was perhaps a reflection of our changing mores more than anyone else. She proved that in Virginia. Jewish, married too many times, husband stealer, the list of “transgressions” endless.  And everyone in Virginia loved her. But then everyone
            everywhere loved her. Beneath the diamonds and decollatage of the Hollywood Star she was the Earth Mother. How could you not love her?

            And those love letters. All of them. To all the beaus and lovers and husbands. We tend to envy others. Part of the schadenfreude.  She was to be envied the passion that enveloped her in love. Consuming, giving, complete love.

            Quite a few of them coming soon no doubt to an auction house near you!

          • avatar Joan Larsen says:

            Snooks —

            I too saw the love letters up for auction.  . so when you think you have read it all, there is more, and wow! another surprise.  Anyone who loved the aura of Elizabeth will not want to miss Monday’s Washington Social Diary as Carol Joynt puts her own spin and photos on One More Lap with Liz there — READ IT as it will round out the world of Elizabeth Taylor nicely 🙂

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Quite a few memories no doubt will be shared by quite a few who knew her or ecountered her or merely admired her in the weeks and possibly the months to come. I must say my heart stopped reading Carol Joynt’s memories one of which was not only poignant but perhaps prescient. 

            The vision of the worlds’ most famous movie star standing on the lawn of the Whire House by herself without really knowing why she was there is jarring to say the least. One assumes this was either just before or just after the marriage to John Warner. I assume just after.  There would be many moments to come when she was standing somewhere alone. And it must have been absolutely jarring to her.  And to those who remember the Washington years. She wanted to be Elizabeth Warner. Everyone really wanted Elizabeth Taylor. And she couldn’t be both, I suppose, and ended up as absolutely no one. I don’t think anyone realized how lonely she was. 

  4. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Snooks — perhaps you get the NTSD every day as I do — you should if you don’t — but just so you don’t miss today’s as you will want to read about Debbie Reynolds, do pull this up.  Joan

    Click here: 4.1.11: Big Birthdays | New York Social Diary