Liz Smith: Family and Friends Remember the “Real” Elizabeth Taylor

 And more from our Gossip Girl: Hollywood memorial brings out Colin Farrell, Elton John and loads of children!

“SHE DID not expect perfection in others because she knew she herself was not perfect.”

So recalled Elton John of his friend Elizabeth Taylor at the intimate memorial held for the late actress and AIDS crusader in the Stephen Ross Theater at Warner Bros. Studio last Sunday afternoon.

And so it has really happened. Elizabeth died, was buried and eulogized months ago, but having a memorial service somehow made Elizabeth’s passing “official” — at once terribly sad, but in the manner of memorials, invigorated and enlivened by the memory of her. It began with her grandson Rhys Tivey appearing onstage, thanking his grandmother for always encouraging his interest in music, and then launching into a trumpet solo of “Amazing Grace.” Believe me, the tears were already flowing.

The happening was more representative of the “real” Elizabeth Taylor, rather than the one she enjoyed often playing: the haughty movie queen. In his touching remarks, Elton also said: “She could ‘play’ the star but she never behaved like one.” This sentiment was repeated by those others who took the stage.

The fairly brief program, which included film clips, was hosted gracefully and eloquently by Colin Farrell. The young actor and the star of stars became unlikely friends in the last two years of her life. Farrell, who was clearly moved throughout the tribute, said that his relationship with Elizabeth was the “most interesting, unusual, inquisitive friendship of his life.” Despite the ravages of her illness, Farrell described himself as “seduced” by Elizabeth’s humor, intelligence and tenderness. He said he never felt that he was “young” and she was “old.” She remained girlish and flirtatious to the end, but it was her keen interest in everything going on that appealed to and surprised Colin. He said, laughing, “I did have some thoughts of becoming number nine! Maybe you think that sounds creepy, but it really isn’t. And if you knew her, you’d know it wasn’t.”

* * *

KATE BURTON, Elizabeth’s stepdaughter spoke: “I met her for the first time in the dark bar of the Regency Hotel. I mean, I literally met Elizabeth Taylor for the first time in a dark bar!” Kate also recalled her last conversation with her famous stepmother shortly before her death. Elizabeth expressed again her deep love for Richard Burton, and how very much she still missed him. Kate then read William Shakespeare‘s exquisite lines from “Antony and Cleopatra” which begin — “Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have immortal longings in me.”

Michael Caine remembered “crapping his pants” in fearful anticipation of meeting Elizabeth on the set of “X, Y and Zee.” Of course, she was nothing at all what he expected — the terrible diva. She was … Elizabeth.

Magazine publisher Martha Nelson spelled out why she was always a “hot story” no matter her scandals, rehabs, reinventions, marriages, weight, age or illness. “People sensed she was real, and living her life honestly.”

Her close friend, hairdresser Jose Eber, stressed her qualities of “unconditional love” and her welcoming bounty of friendship to the families, partners, and friends of those she loved. He wept in memory of her devotion.

Kathy Ireland — who wore something skintight, hot pink, and lowcut — spoke of Elizabeth’s spirituality.

But the high point had to be the appearance of two more Taylor grandchildren, Quinn Tivey and Tarquin Wilding. Both were quite emotional, but still funny. One of the boys recalled watching movies with Elizabeth — “One night we watched about ten minutes of ‘Twilight’ and Elizabeth said, “Oh, come on, let’s turn on ‘True Blood’ for some real sex and violence!’” The boys also thanked her for being “a true matriarch in our family, and keeping us all very close.”

Director Mike Nichols sent a filmed tribute, recalling her on the set of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” — how after a sleeping, loudly snoring crew member had ruined her perfect take of a big scene she had worried over, her instant first reaction was to Nichols: “Please don’t fire him!”

There was very little talk of the movie star Elizabeth Taylor, or even of her fabled beauty. Elizabeth’s fame and her physical assets were the least of her, really, and everyone wanted to present a palpable sense of her humor, wisdom and generosity. And her love of four-letter words!

* * *

OTHERS ON hand in the audience of several hundred included Robert Wagner (a new first-time grandfather) … Jackie Collins … designer Nolan Miller Jaclyn Smith … photographer Douglas Kirkland, who first snapped Elizabeth in Las Vegas in 1960, during the Fisher marriage (“Nothing can adequately describe how beautiful she was!”) … Ron Berkeley, Elizabeth and Richard’s makeup man from their jet-setting heyday … Maury Hopson, who did her hair and makeup in the 70’s and 80’s, and traveled with her to a spa in 1979. That spa visit resulted in some adorable snapshots of the star. Hopson said the reaction to one shot — just showing Elizabeth’s shapely legs in an inexpensive pair of Candies heels — has some people thinking Candies should use Miss Taylor in their advertising! … producer Howard Rosenman Burt Bacharach Bob and Carol Daly Larry Fortensky and some of his feuding family … Sherry Lansing … lots of just plain folks who knew Elizabeth, and the star’s enormous family of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, etc. — even Michael Jackson’s children were there! As were Senator John Warner’s daughters. To say it was terribly en famille would be a major understatement.

And then, after the program, everybody was invited to eat, drink and mingle. And what food! If any part of the event was a real tribute to La Liz it was what was served — luscious crabcakes, chicken tenders, mac and cheese, mini pizzas, little potato, bacon and sour cream delicacies, beef sliders, warm sugared donuts, gigantic strawberries dipped in chocolate. And it never ended! Even after the desserts started coming, the other stuff was hauled out, tray after tray. It was divine excess — just like the goddess herself.

* * *

AFTER THE reception at Warner Bros., Sally Morrison — ETs press rep and a brilliant ally from the early days of the AIDS fight — led a select group of family and friends over to the Pacific Design Center, where Christie’s is showing off part of Elizabeth’s collection of jewels and gowns and art. (This show moves to New York City in December, and her effects will then be auctioned). Kate Burton said, “It’s so funny to view the jewelry like this. Because growing up, it was perfectly ordinary to see this fabulous stuff just lying around, along with us kids and the dogs!”

One person who did not speak, but who had a large part in the memorial, and spent almost twenty years of his life with Elizabeth, is her assistant Tim Mendelson. Tim said something to us not long ago, during one of Elizabeth increasingly perilous hospital stays. It bears repeating because it goes to the spirit of the memorial — though no such thing was imagined at the time: “She was extraordinary when I met her — funny and generous and earthy and human. But in recent years, with her mobility so challenged, she has had to become a more ‘inward’ and an even more thoughtful person. Her suffering hasn’t made her bitter; in fact it has somehow enlarged her sense of the suffering of others. And that quality was already enormous. People shouldn’t ‘feel bad’ for Elizabeth. Believe me, she doesn’t.”

41 Responses so far.

  1. avatar JERILYN says:

    Thank you Liz Smith for sharing this magnificent tribute to OUR DAME ELIZABETH. We will feel her spirit forever. For those of us who got to see her in person those memories will be with us and we will cherish them. Dame Elizabeth was a survivor who made her life count. All her fans were proud to be part of her PASSION & we admired her feisty spirit. I only hope the Academy Awards plans a Tribute to this Star of Stars who has also been recognized for her humanitarian contributions to our world with the Jean Hersholt Award. I nomination Elizabeth ROSEMOND Taylor for a Legend/Icon Stamp because I believe she had earned this honor. May our “Angel Eyes” sleep warm surrounded by her loves. May her LEGACY continue to grow. We can all make a difference by helping those with HIV/AIDS & continue her fight for human rights. Her fight goes on and her PASSION will never die.

  2. avatar rick gould says:

    Thanks for taking us readers there, Liz…
    It sounds like it was a lovely and real tribute, to a lovely and real person…
    who happened to be Hollywood’s greatest star.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    AFTER THE reception at Warner Bros., Sally MorrisonEntertainment Tonight’s press rep and a brilliant ally from the early days of the AIDS fight — led a select group of family and friends over to the Pacific Design Center, where Christie’s is showing off part of Elizabeth’s collection of jewels and gowns and art.


    And that appears to have been the purpose of this “intimate memorial” which garnered a little more publicity for the upcoming auctions.  None of which will directly benefit anyone but the family.  The thought of Colin Farrel “becoming number nine” sums up the final days of Elizabeth Taylor. Who apparently didn’t do too much better in the end than Michael Jackson did with the “friends, family, and other assorted strangers.” 

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Baby…

      I think somebody slipped up.  Sally Morrison was Elizabeth Taylor’s press rep–she has nothing to do with Entertainment Tonight.

      As for publicity—there was none.  No photos, no filming.  I believe Liz Smith will be the only extensive coverage to be seen.

      But doesn’t this memorial sound like the Earth Mother Elizabeth you always refer to? 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        A couple of stories have appeared. Here and there.  So there was publicity. Although everyone else  skipped the “number nine” revelation and the matter of the “after-party” so everyone could get a look at some of the loot the family hopes to get some big bucks for. At least one story added that the family requested that those who weren’t invited could remember their mother by donating to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Maybe the family should as well.

        There were little nuances of Earth Mother. Here and there. As for Earth Mother herself, she and Chen Sam were in the cosmos somewhere looking at each other and rolling their eyes and laughing as they both said “they’re full of crap…”

  4. avatar Rho says:

    She was a great lady. thanks so much Liz,  I still miss her.

  5. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Baby…

    During her life, in her efforts for AmFAR and through her  own foundation, Elizabeth raised millions upon millions of dollars for the fight.   I am sure (certain) that this coming auction, and who and what  receive the proceeds was stated clearly in Elizabeth’s will.  So these are her desires for her family. 

    Many years ago, during the launch of her first failed jewelry line (as opposed to her second failed jewelry line) Mr. Wow interviewed Miss T.  A terrifying experience.  At one point, I asked her about her own jewels and what would become of them, in time?   Miss Taylor gave me The Look, and said: “I’m certainly not going to tell you what’s in my will, dear.”  The room became an icebox.

    I’m sure (certain) that what’s happening now was already in place back in 1993. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      As I said before I am content with my memory of “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Warner” and of Chen Sam who twice became a “referee” in little “disagreements” with the “entourage.” I adored them both. Everyone else, including the family at this point, not so much. I will leave it at that.

      She and I had a mutual friend. The mutual friend had her “entourage” as well. In the end, if the hubris of Hollywood doesn’t get you, the “entourage” does. I will leave that at that as well.

  6. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    I still can’t quite bear to delete “Dame Elizabeth Taylor” from my Twitter account.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Count…

      Then don’t.  In my datebook I still have names and phone numbers of friends who have passed.  I find it rather comforting. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I hope it stays. I still enjoy pulling it up and visualizing her sitting there “having at it” with Arnie Klein before someone ran upstairs and grabbed the laptop before she found the “F” key and really “had at it.”  I suspect when she started “rewriting” the “final script” she left instructions that her Twitter account was to remain online. She loved having the final word. Which usually involved the “F” word.

  7. avatar D C says:

    Oh the intrigue!!!  I am absolutely on the edge of my seat. 


  8. avatar Bethany Christian says:

    From the time I was cutting pictures of ET from the movie magazines and hanging them on the wall of my bedroom until the day she died I was a devoted fan.  ET was bigger than life, bawdy and very funny. 
    And everytime she laughed I laughed too.  Definitely more than a fabulous beauty she was a earthy woman with a generous streak and, if I may say, a touch of class.  Cynical remarks about this gathering giving more publicity for the auction coming up are sad. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The cynical remarks might not have been made had this “memorial service” been held two monhts after the auctions instead of two months before.  And had some of the guests not been invited to come “inspect the loot” afterwards. How they determined which of the 400 guests would be invited to come “inspect the loot” is itself rather an interesting question. Maybe there were “RSVP” cards with little “net worth” boxes you checked.  

  9. avatar rick gould says:

    Both Elizabeth Taylor’s funeral and memorial were private, when they could have easily been turned into media events. They weren’t.

    As for Taylor’s will, it was not been made public, either.

    Considering how publicized her private life was, good for ET for going home on her terms.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick…

      There was Elizabeth’s public private life, and then there was her real private life. 

      For her grandsons to remark that she was the matriarch of her huge family, that she was the force that kept everybody together, speaks volumes to what she was, rather than what we think she was.

      Back when I was a fan, running after her limo, finding out where she was staying, haunting her every move, she returned one night to the NYC east side apartment where she was staying.    It was spring, 1976, and chilly.  Only  a few people knew where she was–this was the era before TMZ. 

      She gets out of the car–it’s midnight–signs some autographs, allows herself to be photographed, and then says–“Oh, aren’t you all cold?  Why do wait for me?  This is silly.  Go home.  I’m just an old broad.”

      The next night she attended a grand event in Manhattan, which resulted in a near riot.  She was thrilled and exultant; loving every second of the attention and excitement.

      That woman was the image of my fantasies.  The gal who got out of the car and told her shivering fans to go home and warm up–that was Elizabeth. 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        She probably thought you were all nuts. I was nuts once.  At ten, if I recall correctly.  Martin Milner answered the door with just a towel on. I got an autograph on a little grocery sack. I had forgotten to bring a pen and a piece of paper. He obviously was expecting someone else. He was here shooting a television show.  Route 66 if I recall correctly. He was probably embarrassed. I was very embarrassed. And never felt the need to get an autograph or a photo again. Although when I got older I might have waited outside in the cold waiting for Sean Connery to answer the door. But only if I knew he would only be wearing a towel.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        There’s a charming book in there somewhere, Mr. W!
        Elizabeth has made it very clear over the years that she answered to her loved ones–family and friends–not the media or public perceptions of her. Which is one of the reasons I admire her.
        Her memorial sounded fantastic to me and it speaks volumes that Warner’s daughters were there and Kate Burton spoke. And I am glad Liz Smith was there to cover it in her usual straightforward style.

  10. avatar Charles Casillo says:

    I have read many “Tweets” abougt this memorial service, almost from the moment it ended.  Everyone in attendance was very amused and moved and awed by her life.  But none of those many “tweets” with a few words of detail here and a tweet of information there, brought the event to “life” like this exquisite column.  It is reportage at its finest.  It gives one the feeling of being there and then adds an unknown tidbit.  Thank you for the good old fashioned, detailed jounralism for those of us who did not attend.  It sounds like a memorial service that Elizabet Taylor deserves.  And this is a column about it that she deserves.

  11. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    I’ve been watching a lot of Elizabeth Taylor movies lately, some of them for the first time, and I’ve really been enjoying myself. She was a remarkable woman and a mesmerizing screen presence. The only clunker I’ve watched is DIVORCE HIS/DIVORCE HERS, the point of which I did not get – and if anyone wishes to enlighten me, I’d be grateful. The big surprises for me have been THERE MUST BE A PONY, NIGHT WATCH and RHAPSODY, all of which I had not seen before.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      Hey Dan–
      I always thought Liz was about the only thing that made Divorce His/Hers watchable… Burton was a zombie in the movie…and Carrie Nye as “the other woman” looked like one!

      That said, some of her less known movies worth watching are Fitzgerald’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which showed signs of future leading lady talent, plus she’s incredible looking at 22. Liz holds her own, as often was the case, in an ensemble cast.

      Have you ever seen “Ash Wednesday,” where Liz plays a 60-something power wife who has head-to-toe plastic surgery to save her marriage to cold businessman Henry Fonda? Why it isn’t on Lifetime 24/7 is beyond me. But after playing a series of shrews, Liz at 41 is subtle (mostly) and the movie is a tribute to her mature beauty. A fun watch for a lazy day.
      At her best, Elizabeth’s strong suits as an actress were sincerity and vulnerability.

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Thanks Rick, ASH WEDNESDAY is one of my favorite Taylor movies. She warned Dominick Dunne (the producer) that it was going to bomb, but I still love the film and her performance. THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS is in my queue to watch, along with LOVE IS BETTER THAN EVER, two films of hers I’ve never seen.

        Your evaluation of her strong suits – sincerity and vulnerability – is spot-on accurate. It’s why I regard her much maligned performance in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC as superb. I remember the critics roasting this movie, but I’ve watched it many times with pleasure.

        We’ll not see her like again. She was the last great star. Thanks, Liz Smith, for reporting on her memorial service.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Dan…

          Putting aside her weak singing  voice, and very clumsy direction by Hal Prince (and her somewhat bloated appearance)  I have always considered “Night Music” to contain one of her most delicately rendered performances. 

          “Ash Wednesday” is divine.  “Love is Better Than Ever” is a revelation of her youthful comic talents–which she was never encouraged to develop.  (And she is beyond ravishing in that one!) 

          Oh, and “Night Watch” is a hoot of a thriller.    I retain fond memories of “X, Y and Zee”. “Hammersmith is Out”, “The Drivers Seat” “Secret Ceremony” and but of course–“Boom!”   (I appreciate the later,  baroque Liz)  And you haven’t lived till you watched ET in “Reflections in a Golden Eye” describing to to an annoyed Julie Harris, all the food that will be served at her party. 

          She is fun in “Malice In Wonderland”  and gives another quite subtle characterization in the odd little Hallmark movie, “Return Engagement.” (She plays a lonely history professor–and makes you believe it!)

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Rick…

        Liz to Carrie Nye:  “How could anyone have an affair with you?  You’re not even beautiful?!

        This doesn’t slow Carrie down, she keeps tormenting Liz until finally our girl shrieks, “Stop talking, stop telling!” and gives her a shove that should have put Carrie in another country. 

        “Divorce” has its moments, for Liz watchers–wandering through her house in her La Peregrina pearl.

  12. avatar rick gould says:

    As always, Mr. Wow is right on!

    “Reflections in a Golden Eye” is terrific, I think. Elizabeth has some sly comic moments, but also some big dramatic ones, as when she whips Brando with her riding crop for beating her beloved horse…and closet case Brando has a breakdown scene that incredible.
    The only movie off hand I have seen of Elizabeth’s that I did not enjoy is “The Only Game in Town.” It is soooo dull, taken from a two character play. Taylor is very miscast as an aging showgirl and Warren Beatty’s sleepy screen charms have always eluded me. The two do have chemistry, which is noted at the time. But a total snooze. And the late 60s fashions on a chubby Taylor make her look like a beachball.
    Another movie past mentioned is “Between Friends” with Carol Burnett, where their rapport and friendship is so evident. I think Mr. W and I need to start a campaign to get her latter day TV work out on DVD…Or hold an ET film festival 😉 I’ll start frying up the chicken!

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:


      “The Only Game in Town” is the only Elizabeth Taylor movie I would gladly see vanish forever–wrong in every way.   She wasn’t even that plump, but those terrible mini-dresses!  And even had she been slender, she was physically wrong for the role–too short, too busty.  And by then, ET playing a poor little thing who lives in a  tacky apartment, forced to say things like–“Look in my closet, no real furs! No real jewels!”–was quite absurd.  

      “Between Friends” was very good.  Liz–as a heavy drinker who won’t admit to having a  problem– has an especially fine moment after a suicide attempt.  “Jews do not become alcoholics!”  she declares at another  point.    A year later, she was in Betty Ford.  

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Where can I get “Night Watch”?  I have searched for that for years.  I want to see it ! ! !

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Count…

          You can try Amazon or eBay for a VHS copy.  Not on DVD yet, I don’t think.  And it is never shown on TV.   Well, most of these fun, later Liz movies aren’t.  TCM recently debuted  “X, Y and Zee” but it was a butchered TV version with a great deal of the cussing and raunchy Liz moments cut. 

          Good luck with “Night Watch.”  It’s great fun and her only thriller.   She’s in a state of neurotic high tension through most of the film.  In Valentino.  The hair is enormous. 

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            One of her best.  I forever love that final scene when she picks up the phone to call the police again to complain about the murders in the house across the way.  Don’t want to give too much away since the Count hasn’t seen it.  If I recall correctly they filmed it at the house Burton bought her in London. They called it “Sybil’s Folly” because Sybil had remarried and saved Burton a literal fortune in future alimony.

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Baby…

            It is one of her best (and thanks for not spoiling the end!)  but it was filmed at Pinewood.  Burton did not buy her a London house.  When in London they stayed at the Dorchester. 

            “Inspector!  Won’t you please search that house one more time?

          • avatar Dan Patterson says:

            I got my VHS copy of NIGHT WATCH on eBay and I really enjoyed it. I barely remember THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN. Weren’t doubles used for some of her dance numbers? I have a sneaking suspicion that if I saw it again, it would become one of my guilty pleasures. I’d love to see BETWEEN FRIENDS and will look for it. REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was a movie I went for in a big way when it was first released.

            My thanks to all of you ET fans! Long may we reign!

          • avatar Dan Patterson says:

            PS. I got a copy of POKER ALICE from eBay. The DVD appears to be of Greek origin.

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Dan…

            There was a long shot of some chicks dancing onstage, and then a close-up of Miz Liz, making like a chorus girl.  Too funny. 

            Oh–“The Mirror Crack’d”   Now that is fun.  And Kim Novak gives the performance of her life as ET’s rival.  (Best Liz bit–playing a mad movie star,  being caught by the detective, doing one of her old scenes from a movie. “Oh, you sneak!  I bet you’ve seen every one of my movies!”  Quite charming.)

  13. avatar rick gould says:

    A few of Liz’ latter day movies cleverly exploited her “hysterical” persona and Taylor had a flair for humor that made it fun.
    ET was a very good sport in “The Mirror Crack’d” co-starring with a lot of old friends. No classic like “Orient Express,” but fun…and led to Miss Marple/Angela Lansbury getting “Murder She Wrote.” 😉
    I just watched that scene of Liz toying with the detective in “Mirror” the other day on “You Tube”… charming indeed. And the set piece where Liz has a revelation at a cocktail party is well-done. The lady knew how to hold a scene 😉
    “Nightwatch” is fun in the same vein, by the author of “Sorry, Wrong Number.”
    Good rainy day movies!