Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nomadic Existence: In Memoriam, Elizabeth Taylor

This week's Nomad Wide Screen is devoted entirely to Elizabeth it should be. Free 30-day trials are available here. The issue includes Glenn Kenny's "Auteurist's Guide to Elizabeth Taylor," Tony Dayoub's tour of Taylor on DVD, and Vadim Rizov's analysis of the many Taylor obituaries and two extensive photo galleries.

An excerpt from my own tribute follows.

...It's odd to comb through old pieces about Taylor and discover how frequently people — usually men — felt the need to say hey, she wasn’t that beautiful. There’s Rex Reed’s vicious description of her “enormous derriere” in Hammersmith Is Out (1972), a movie in which, whatever else you want to say about it, the 40-year-old Taylor was still breathtaking. Or Raymond Chandler, complaining about too many close-ups of Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951): “I could have gagged.” “Plumply pretty” was how the New Statesman waved off her supernal looks in Cleopatra (1963). Even Richard Burton once remarked that she “has an incipient double chin, her legs are too short and she has a slight pot belly.”

This is what’s known as a defense mechanism, I suppose. Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful all her life, and for a period that lasted into the 1960s, she was the most beautiful woman in movies. She never needed to blossom, she was a goddess from the cradle — ravishing as a child, stunning as a teen, heart-stopping through adulthood and middle age, through weight gain and weight loss, bad hairstyles and caftans, whether lacquered up at the side of a senator or, as she often was in the final years, ushered into an event in a wheelchair. Her looks were the central fact of her life, and she must have been used to that, and occasionally bored with it, quite early on. An ordinary woman hears someone say she’s lovely and glows with pleasure; to Elizabeth Taylor, it was probably like hearing, “My goodness, you have teeth.”

There were riders to that awestriking gift, however. There was the minor matter of her voice, an unexpectedly girlish, high-pitched mew that had charm when she gave a good performance, but grated when she did not. Stewart Granger noted the “rather squeaky voice,” but added cheerfully, “You can’t have everything, can you, and she had practically everything else in abundance.” True. Unfortunately for Taylor, that also included an abundance of health problems, usually tied to random catastrophes of some sort. Back injuries, an emergency tracheotomy, hospitalizations — the problems occurred with such regularity that it seemed the gods scheduled meetings to plot revenge on Taylor because they gave her too much in the first place.

“Everything else” also included a life that was never, in any real sense, private, despite the fact that she was far from the most forthcoming of stars. She got a great deal from that bargain with fame, but what it cost her was brought out by Bob Geldof in his memoirs. Geldof described speaking to a photographer who had been in the scrum of paparazzi at Richard Burton’s grave after the actor’s death. Taylor had pleaded with them to let her pay her respects to her former husband without the flashbulbs popping. And, uncharacteristically, they all agreed — except one, who said his job was to take a picture and that was what he intended to do. The others couldn’t agree to be scooped, so no deal. And Taylor left without visiting the grave.

Kitty Kelley called her Taylor biography The Last Star, but she had it the wrong way round. Taylor was instead the first star of the modern era, the first whose fate it was to have the public image smother the one on screen. Particularly for any movie she made after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), it requires conscious effort to watch Taylor without her legend intruding. Curl up on the couch with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 The Taming of the Shrew — one hell of a problematic Shakespeare play in any case — and just try to crowd out the images of Burton and Taylor falling in adulterous love, marrying, separating, then marrying again. It would require an exorcism. Even early movies like Father of the Bride (1950), or Conspirator (1949), with Taylor as the almost indecently young bride of Robert Taylor, arrive with her immature marriages to Conrad Hilton Jr. and Michael Wilding hovering around like escorts who don’t know their place.

The way to judge a Taylor performance, then, is to seek out the ones for which the headlines and the gossip discreetly exit the cinema and don’t come back until the lights go up...


DavidEhrenstein said...

Elizabth Taylor was at her peak (in A Place in the Sun and Suddenly Last Summer) extremely beautiful. But in the vast scheme of things mere physicality really doesn't matter all that much. "Beauty" in the abstract has limited appeal unless it can be backed up with personality. And she had that by the bucketful. It evolved over the years, and part of the fun of watchig her movies is seeing how this seemingly "familiar" figure changed. The heart-stopping loveliness of her youth gave way to the chilly beauty of Butterfield 8, the iconic magnificence of Cleopatra ("The corridor is day, gentlemen, but I am with you."),the brilliant bawd of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the baroque weirdo of Boom ! and Secret Ceremony and (my favorite) the raving psychotic of The Driver's Seat.

Off-screen was a character every bit as compelling as the ones she played on -- if not more so.

Yojimboen said...

Since our last exchange, David, I’ve looked again at Identikit aka The Driver's Seat and couldn’t agree more: it’s a fabulously mad performance – I only wish we’d seen more of that Elizabeth.

It’s always difficult to separate the star from the actor, she and M. Monroe moreso than any others. Neither she nor MM were ever bad enough to keep us away from the theaters (well me, anyway) but it seems one always had to bring an extra helping of suspension of disbelief to the enterprise. I disagree with our learnèd friend XT., in that I buy “Tell Mama…” completely, probably as the sexiest line ET ever uttered on screen. (F’r chrissakes, X., she almost makes you forget it’s Dreiser!) I reiterate that Stevens brought out the best of ET, Mankiewicz the worst.

Conversely (or perversely) Mank brought out some of MM’s best, simply, but cleverly, by giving her dialogue she could relate to:

Addison DeWitt: “You see that man, that's Max Fabian, the producer. Now go do yourself some good.”
Claudia Caswell: “Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?”

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mankiewicz got a lot out of Elizabeth taylor too. He had the good taste and moveimaking isnight to put her in a gorgeous one-piece white bathing suit in Suddenly Last Summer and se the screen on fire. On top of that he knew how well she understood the poetry of Tennesse Williams. She was quite something on that score. She did several takes of the last part of her big monolgue that weren't quite working. Mankiewicz coudl she she was itred and called it a day. Then a few minutes after she'd gone back to her trailer she came rushig out and insisted that she try it one more time. She did and that was the take he used. Magnificent!

He also knew a thing or two or three about Ultimate Icons and thus Cleopatra. While he called it "the hardest three movies I ever made" it was still worth it.

SO glad you've sought out the Patroni-Griffi!

Trish said...

She was the very embodiment of the words "movie star". I haven't seen "The Driver's Seat", but I can't think of a single film other than "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" where I felt she was in character rather than falling back on "Elizabeth Taylor, movie star". Well before she played Martha, her incessant, quavering chatter was irritating. She just never learned how to use her voice properly. Judy Holliday had a girly voice too, but she had the ability to break your heart with it. The only films in which Taylor's voice works for me-- aside from WAOVW -- are "Butterfield 8" and "The VIPs". They're not on any critics' ten-best list, but they are excellent melodramas for which Taylor and her talents were highly suited.

Raymond Chandler made a great point. There are too many close-ups in "A Place in the Sun". I suppose its because we are meant to understand Clift's obsessive attraction to her. If Stevens had allowed her to act, it might have changed the course of her career…

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I see your point and I'm mentally composing a polite dissent which I shall post later. Re: Dreiser, no argument, but dammit the rich people in Place in the Sun are SO nice, just like in real life. I submit that Stevens' decline had nothing to do with his war experiences since this sort of thing is evident in Woman of the Year; GS, in a fine phrase of D.H. Lawrence's, is an instance of good stuff gone bad.

Yojimboen said...

David, I’ve been a Patroni-Griffi fan since Il Mare (more years ago than I care to check), which was the first major feature I remember with an openly gay theme, albeit in a low-budget Death in Venice (semi-autobiographical?) kind of way. He was a major filmmaker, more than once described as ‘Pasolini with manners’; who sadly only made half a dozen features in his long career (our loss was Italian Theater and Opera’s gain).

I’ve seen most of them, a couple I can do without (Divina Creatura because I never cared for Laura Antonelli), but I can watch the rest till the fat lady sings.

He worked with some of my favorite actors, Charlotte Rampling; Ian Bannen; J-L Trintignant; A. Girardot; and the transfixing Florinda Bolkan, more luminously breathtaking in his Metti, una Sera a Cena than anywhere else. Ever.

(Keep your Capucine, dear lady, give me Florinda any day.)

One thing is certain, Patroni-Griffi had the instinct and the smarts to grab Taylor at exactly the right time in her life for Identikit.

Casey said...

I think Taylor really grew as an actress as she got older. She learned how to really let herself go, and seemed to enjoy playing characters that had an ugly side. Two later films I remember her in were X, Y and Zee and Sweet Bird of Youth. The movies aren't especially impressive, but she is.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I remember Il Mare too. It played the very first New York Film Festival back in 1963, but wasn't picked up for general release. It more or less invented "Bisexual Chic."

Count me as another Florinda Bolkan fan.

X. Trapnel said...


I just don't get it. There's no chance I'll ever break the Citizen Kane rule, but with some trepidation (Yojimboen got off lightly of darling Joan) I confess I see nothing whatever in Elizabeth Taylor, nothing I find attractive or otherwise interesting. There is something strangely obligatory about the way we are supposed to respond to her. This does interest me and so some untimely thoughts.

As with N.J. Baker ("Marilyn Monroe" is a grammatical form indicating that something boring, predictable and unconvincing is about to be said) I've nothing against the woman/private citizen (I'm sure she was a brick), it's the commodity that makes my teeth itch. Be it confessed I'm one of those men who don't think she was that beautiful (though she might have been if the make up [or workable fixitive] could have been sandblasted off [for the record, I don't get Richard Burton either, a slightly superior Peter Lawford). As dark-haired, catlike beauties go, she's not in a class with Vivien Leigh, Jean Simmons, or Jennifer Jones. Let us not speak of Gene Tierney. The Siren notes that she was still breathtaking at 40 in Hammersmith is Out. I shall never be able to ascertain this, but can only think, Darrieux, Deneuve at forty? Myrna Loy was 40 in Best Years and breathtakingly lovely. Nobody goes gaga over them, except privately and without journalistic prodding.

No, Taylor, like Monroe and Kelly, was part of the end of choice in film and culture generally, the corporate powered move toward homogenzation of taste ("What? You don't like MARILYN? What's wrong with YOU? Who the HELL is Cathy O'Donnell?). They are brand names, ideograms in the spirit of the fifties, as abstract as Pollock and Rothko (and as much in need of myth to keep them going). They and others signalled the end of the romantic age in film.

For the past few weeks I've been on a joyous Margaret Sullavan bender. Seeing daily now the blowzy, make up clogged face of E. Taylor is to me a signal to sober up and face reality.

William said...

That is a wonderful tribute to Liz Taylor. You show her not only as a movie star, but as a person.

That is absolutely horrible what the paparazzi did to her at Burton's grave.

I recently read that of all the Burton letters she allowed her biographer to see, there was one, sent just before he died, that she kept for herself and reportedly asked to be buried with it.

Ironically, when she returned from the horrible trip you described, she saw it in her mailbox.

I don't know why her death has held such interest for me other than to say I believe she was a paradoxical woman.

I am not what you would call a movie star groupie.

If she befriended you; she was your friend no matter what the world thought of you, and yet she went though husbands like (well, fill in your own metaphor).

A nice tribute....

Laura said...

One reason people might react negatively to her looks is because she wore her beauty like a pair of loafers, since as you say she grew up looking that way pretty much from the cradle. So she had that aura of being like, "Huh? Wha? Oh, yeah, um, beauty queen. Yup, that's me. Doo doo doot. Purple or maroon eyes or something, uh-huh, pretty spectacular...I wonder what's on TV?" Meanwhile, most people adore actresses like Audrey Hepburn unabashedly, because she never took anything for granted: despite the fact Hepburn had one of the loveliest faces in movies, she still always came across as the fawn-like underdog. And filmgoers love the underdog. Taylor, no matter what she was, could never be the underdog. She wasn't fooling anyone in Ivanhoe.

As gorgeous, radiant, and wonderfully aloof as Taylor was in fifties vehicles like Ivanhoe, Father of the Bride, and A Place in the Sun, am I the only one who thought she didn't look as great in Cleopatra? I dunno, around that time I feel her face lost some of that soft magic she had in those earlier flicks. I mean, she still managed to make everyday human girls like Yours Truly look like raw seaweed in comparison, of course. And anway, I think she became a more fun performer later in her career, so who cares if she wasn't quite as fresh and dewey as she was at 19?

Still, the most important fact is she'll always remain a legend in my heart for the nerdiest of reasons: she voiced Maggie Simpson's first word.

RIP, Lovely Liz! No more paparazzi where you are now, dear heart.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Burton "a slightly superior Pater Lawford"?

I can't see Burton doing THIS!

X. Trapnel said...

David, this is too cruel. You posted this some time ago and it took me months to expunge it from memory's chamber of horrors.

I recently saw It Happened in Brooklyn and the inexpressivity of Lawford's reaction shots put me on mind of Lev Kuleshov's editing experiment (has anyone seen it?)interspersing a still photograph of Ivan Mozzhukin with a baby (he looks paternal), a coffin (he looks sad) a bowl of soup (he looks hungry). Actually Lawford just looked still.

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

Maybe not, David, but you CAN imagine Burton doing this (at about 9 minutes in...):

the maitre'd

Karen said...

Well, I was born in 1958, which means that, growing up, Elizabeth Taylor was the biggest star in the world. I didn't get to see her in the movies she was making at the time, in the '60s--not a lot of parents would take small children to The Sandpipers (although I remember MAD Magazine's parody of it) or The V.I.P.s--but she was omnipresent (especially during the filming of Cleopatra: on TV news, newspapers, LIFE magazine. She was a fact of life: heavy makeup, perpetually tanned, voluptuous.

When I was an adolescent, and developing my passion for early Hollywood, I discovered her early years. I remember my shock, when I first watched Jane Eyre, at seeming to recognize a familiar face in tragic young Helen, and searching movie books for confirmation. Even though it's a comparatively small role, it's still the one I think of first when I think of her.

That soft voice of hers was less of a liability in those early films, when she was, in fact, still girlish. There's no denying it became more incongruous later, although she was able to put a harder edge on it when she wanted. The less said about The Blue Bird, for example, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

I guess the eternal fact of her as I was growing up gives me a fondness for her that transcends whether she was talented or not. But I do think she was talented, and I think she was beautiful, and I think the men the Siren quotes said those horrible things because they didn't know how to deal with a woman whose beauty had become larger than she was (even, if you'll forgive me, when she was rather large herself).

X. Trapnel said...

Karen's postings (too rare these days!) always merit careful study and on this subject I earnestly seek clarification. Taylor seems to be the only star I can think of whose looks we are morally enjoined to admire. As for the snide things said about her by men, I can only point out that we take in stride or chuckle along with comments about Clark Gable's denture breath, Bogart's toupee, Flynn's/Sinatra's alleged draft dodging, Alan Ladd's shortness but to suggest that there's less to Liz than meets the eye is le(i)s(z)e majeste. Part of my own skepticism with regard to ET has to do with the rather abbreviated careers of fities actresses who did not fit the manufactured mold of Taylor, MM, Grace Kelly. How could anyone imagine the Clift character in Raintree County could be lured away from Eva Maria Saint by ET. Only a cliched, one dimensional conception of sexuality can explain it, at least to me.

Yojimboen said...

Ah, caffeine, I could almost believe in god. Where was I?
Yes, me and ET, MM, GK and the girls.

First, though, X., old squire, you do me manifest injustice re Ms Fontaine (go here for our last exchange - about 14 comments in) when you say I got off lightly.
Au contraire, you chastised me (and DavidE even more) quite effectively by smacking us upside the haid with your Reflections on Alt Wien. Let me say/protest that in the interim, I’ve done with JF what you are now doing with Ms Sullavan: i.e. a retrospective reappraisal of her films. My opinion of Nymph hasn’t changed and outside of an academic setting said pensées could get me arrested. Re Letter I have had a not-quite Road to Damascus awakening, but close enough for discomfort. We’ll discuss JF’s undeniable skills anon, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, I do understand your professed trepidation yesterday before having at Ms Taylor.

Imagine how I felt some months back when I confessed to our gracious hostess (in words to the effect) that I found Joan Crawford and Bette Davis to be singularly unattractive as women and largely untalented as actresses. I think ‘brittle’ was the word I used. The trepidation ran deep that day, higher than my wellies could cope with.

The point of all this verbiage? Surely by now we should feel free to express our likes and dislikes without fear or favor. I look at “Varsity Drag” with delight (thank you, David); I think it’s a hoot and even violent aversions to Ms Allyson and the Hon Mr. Lawford shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying its antique foolishness.

For myself, I was never really won over by the adult ET (even less by MM – the saddest of the sad), you and I agree completely on the ludicrousness of the Raintree plot which would have us believe Clift preferred ET over EMS.

I disagree with David on pretty much everything about ET., even down to her famous white maillot in Suddenly Last Summer. It’s a personal thing, David, she’s short and zaftig and distinctly unappealing. By comparison, Julie Adams in the same white maillot in Black Lagoon knocks it out of Yankee Stadium far enough to hit the Green Monster at Fenway.

ET’s performances in SLS and as Maggie the Cat are, for me, almost bad enough to launch a class-action suit on behalf of the late Tennessee Williams. But I’m glad I saw both films and could probably sit through them again. Certainly the latter, wherein I discovered at a later age than I should have just how great Jack Carson really was.

Karen: What X said.

X. Trapnel said...

A masterpost Y, but the exigencies of the moment allow for only a short reply, at least for now.

We are told that ET was The Most Beautiful Woman In The World not as an opinion but as a piece of information, to which "Julie Adams" is an apt retort. So is "Dana Wynter."

To me the ET of the early sixties appeared an attractive, pleasingly zaftig suburban housefwife in capri pants, no more, no less. I suspect that her elevation has something to do with our moral unease about beauty (a stick constantly deployed to beat Hollywood film over the head with and make us feel guilty). Physical beauty seems unfair and artistic beauty is often viewed as a deception or an evasion of truth. In music, for example, we speak of a "melodic gift" as though the composer made no effort. My pet example is the critical preference for the melodically impoverished Stravinsky to that of Prokofiev who wrote some of the most beautiful, moving and memorable melodies post-Rachmaninoff.

I'm thinking music right now 'cause the mail just brought a cd of Alfred Newman's gorgeous score for The Counterfeit Traitor (a damn fine picture, and Lilli Palmer was more beautiful than ET at any age).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Is this all coming down to Elizabeth Taylor's height?

She may have been short but she never seemed short on screen. Like all Hollywood stars she appeared 10 feet tall in the mind's eye.

In Suddenly Last Summer -- particularly in the flashback sequences -- the camera looms over her and peers down from on high. So does Cousin Sebastian in the shot that became the film's prime advertising image (recently copied by Katy Perry for her new album.)
If you don't find Elizabeth Taylor your "dream Girl" be advised that no one is required to do so. Likewise if you don't find her an interesting actress. But make no mistake -- she defined movies stardom just as the studio system that created her was curling up like a leaf in autumn -- largely as a result of Cleopatra.

In the great climactic scene of Godard's (1962) where our anti-heroes return form the way and display to their womn postcard they claim are property deeds one of them is of Elizabthe Taylor. When the slpa it own on their kitchen table they say "Cleopatra!"

They weren't wrong.

Trish said...

Merci beaucoup for this engaging conversation! May I interrupt right about the time Yojimboen ponders his class action suit, for yet another moment of gravitas? Despite being dressed in a slip throughout most of the film, Taylor is easily eclipsed by the startling beauty of young Paul Newman. Well, that's the way I see it, anyway.

Karen said...

I can only point out that we take in stride or chuckle along with comments about Clark Gable's denture breath, Bogart's toupee, Flynn's/Sinatra's alleged draft dodging, Alan Ladd's shortness but to suggest that there's less to Liz than meets the eye is le(i)s(z)e majeste.

I wasn't referring to my sage fellow commenters' claims that they, personally, didn't find her attractive. Everyone has their own taste, after all. I was referring to the sneering nastiness that the Siren quotes in her post. It's as if those men needed to tear her down, to make her something on their level.

All of the flaws you mention in the quote above, X.T., are ones we speak of--at least I think so!--affectionately. The quotes the Siren includes have no affectionate quality whatsoever. And the Siren points out that the majority of those who got vicious about her looks, specifically, were men. Did Chandler "gag" at Sternberg's adoring close-ups of Dietrich, as well, I wonder?

I do not damn the entire gender (now would I want to). But there are men, certainly--and, sadly, I've dated far too many of them--who find it easier to be nasty about a woman's looks as a way of leveling a playing field, and making them feel bigger, handsomer, more important. Truly beautiful women--and is it possible to acknowledge Taylor as a beauty while still being able to maintain that her particular beauty didn't appeal to you?--all too often engender this reaction. Taylor's beauty doesn't diminish that of Dana Wynter or Julie Adams or Lilli Palmer. It doesn't diminish Margaret Sullavan. They can all exist in the same universe of beauty.

But, clearly, there was something in Taylor that caused men to feel the need to slash her down to size. Maybe it was the nature of her beauty. Maybe it was that ubiquity of hers I mentioned earlier. I don't know.

Yojimboen said...

“Is this all coming down to Elizabeth Taylor's height?”
No, David, that would be a simplistic position.

(A quick grab of five-foot two actresses: Elizabeth Taylor, Kathryn Grayson, Salma Hayek, Sandy Dennis, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Blyth, Shirley Temple, Hattie McDaniel, Helen Kane, Julie Christie, Juliet Mills, June Haver, Linda Blair, Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, Reese Witherspoon, Ona Munson, Sissy Spacek and Terry Moore.
Leslie Caron is a half-inch under five-two.)

I find nothing to argue about in your post, everything you say is true. But nobody is saying ET wasn’t an icon or attempting to diminish her enormous (perhaps even supreme) importance in the history of the H’Wood star system. On the contrary, it’s precisely because of her importance we’re having this discussion.

The Siren said...

I do quite love it when I find myself wholly, enthusiastically in agreement with David Ehrenstein. And Karen puts things quite eloquently too.

I’m not sure anyone has had access to the full piece on Nomad, so I’ll add something else here. I was in New York in the late 80s. I was extraordinarily fortunate in that none of those closest to my heart got sick, but some acquaintances who were dear to me did. Steven Hayes, the Tired Old Queen from Youtube, told me he went to 20 funerals in one year, all of them well-loved friends. I personally heard tell of one young man-—I’d worked with him--who came home to find his roommate had changed the locks upon hearing of his diagnosis.

And who, may you ask, was speaking out? Well, not one whole hell of a lot of people among the Hollywood old guard. Certainly not the Hollywood veteran in the White House, who should have known better.

Elizabeth Taylor did, before almost anybody else. Loud, and clear, and consistent.

This isn’t news to any of us, and I know we all admire her for it. But for that alone, gentlemen, I submit that she deserves better than she has gotten in this thread so far, even if you do think she was fat.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, Karen, I have no feelings abt ET's looks one way or the other, or her height (Is Julie Christie really 5'2"? I still can't wrap my head around the idea of Natalie Wood standing tall at 5') or her character (if Montgomery Clift came to MY door with his teeth in his throat, I probably would have gone off to whittle toothpicks. And of course her AIDS advocacy is wholly admirable, sufficiently so unto itself, but it isn't as if she had an acting career to risk ay this point). What annoys is the categorical imperative that we MUST acknowledge her supreme beauty regardless of what we really think, and for me (this may be paranoia) it's part of A PLOT to recast the fifties as the golden age of Hollywood hence the holy hush of martyrology surrounding MM, ET, J. Dean, Clift, et al. and the fact that nobody thinks it worthwhile to put Body and Soul on DVD. This is cognate with the idea of the ab-exers as "the triumph of American painting" and the moral pomposity that rock music would take on in the next decade. Give me the thirties, give me Joan Blondell and Harry Warren.

Karen said...

I'm not sure anyone here was asking fellow commenters to acknowledge her supreme beauty--I know I wasn't. I was responding to the mean-spirited gibes the Siren quoted. And I'm as susceptible as anyone to resisting hype--have Taylor and Monroe been so contentiously discussed here just because of their cult?

Me, I don't care so much about the cults. I find Monroe at her most beautiful when she's least like her pin-ups and most like Norma Jean--but I don't think, even at her pin-uppiest, she was ever quite the cartoon that, say, Jayne Mansfield was. I find Taylor at her most beautiful when she was younger, too, and not at the height of HER cult.

But it's all opinion, right? We're all entitled to ours. I prefer to watch Joan Blondell myself, and I think she was cute as a button, but I don't find her as beautiful as Taylor is in that photo I linked to in my last post. And, frankly, if Taylor had looked like that in the 1930s, I bet she would have had a hell of a career.

I guess what I don't understand is the inability to say, "Yeah, she was certainly a beauty, but just not of the type that appeals to me." Must all the rest of us be wrong about her because some don't agree? I get that Robert Taylor was handsome, for example, but he has never appealed to me. I don't understand why someone would put his picture up on his/her wall, but that's OK. (I love the scene in Something to Sing About when Cagney, newly-arrived in Hollywood, is getting molded into a "star," and they try to give him a Robert Taylor widow's peak.)

That is all beside the point, though. I was referring to the nasty men in the Siren's post, and not anyone here. So why is my original post being viewed as a gauntlet thrown to my fellow commenters?

Yojimboen said...

Ouchy! Dear, dear lady; with respect and yes, love, I feel that’s maybe a touch unfair.
(Take this comment as peppered with smiley emoticons, please.)

Nowhere in the thread had anyone mentioned ET’s social commitments. On that topic I’ll warrant no one who currently comments here thinks any differently from David or you; in that aspect of her life she had a legit claim on secular sainthood.

We were just dissing (short for discussing) the phenomenology of Taylor re, as X puts it, “…the only star I can think of whose looks we are morally enjoined to admire.”

I probably admire her looks more than my co-conspirator Mister X, but neither of us are, shall we say, swept off our feet by her acting chops. That’s all, no harm intended. (And "zaftig” does not mean ‘fat’.) If it seemed to you we were ganging up on David, that was never my wish (I can’t speak for X., he lives in NJ, you know the type) and would offer an apology, but David’s more than able to give as good as (and usually better than) he gets.

I also lived in the City - with a modern dancer as it happens - during the birth of the plague. I probably attended the same 20 funerals (and more – no community was hit harder than the dance world), many of them people very close to my heart.

From my own experience, trust me, it’s silly and pointless to compare ET’s valiant efforts with the cowardly non-actions of Reagan; I met the man twice, in the White House; he made G.W. Bush sound like Sartre. Again, ET’s work to alert the stubborn public to the crisis facing humanity will never be equaled; it actually was impressive enough to make us all forgive her for socializing with (and legitimizing) a serial child molester.

An aside: Karen, when I wrote “what X said” I was referring to his opening parenthetical that you don’t post nearly enough.
That’s all. Kiss, kiss.

Karen said...

Oh, now I feel foolish!

I've been scarce lately because I'm a judge for the Eisner Awards this year, and I've spent most of my free time over the past two months immersed in comics and graphic novels. But we created our list of nominations this past weekend, in San Diego, and now life will be a little freer.

I've missed you all very much, and I'm so touched to know I was missed back!

rcocean said...

I'll always remember ET as "Maggie the Cat", she was sexy, beautiful, and did everything the part required. I've never seen anyone play the part better.

For a film star, she was a good actress although voice was her weak point, probably at its worst as a teenager (cf: Life with Father).

X. Trapnel said...

Yeah, I fum New Joizy, yuh wan yuh face mest up?

Yes, Karen, Y and I were simply responding to the cult, which I find beyond morbid and I think Y is within bounds tossing in ET's friendship, or whatever it was, with the gruesome Michael Jackson.

Most of the fat jokes aimed at Orson Welles were unkind. And Raymond Chandler chuckled thusly about Hitchcock: "Look at that fat guy trying to get out of his car." Not a nice man; a great writer though. As for Burton, I recall an interview with him and Taylor in which he kept up a running line of "sophisticated" (i.e., witless) lewd remarks about her. He seemed like a real jerk. Who cares about Rex Reed.

Tom Farrell said...

Elizabeth followed her peak performance in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with another memorable role in "Reflections in a Golden Eye" in 1967.

Trish said...

I'm uncomfortable taking Taylor down for her looks. We all get older. We all put on a few pounds...

What bothers me (aside from her shortcomings as an actress) is the Cult of Elizabeth Taylor. She built a 50 year career out of her various illnesses, and the public always bought it. Standing ovations all around, no matter that she might steal your husband, or send one of her own off a balcony.

The only credibility she has for me is as an AIDS activist. She was the right person at the right time. And the standing ovation was for once, extremely well-deserved.

X. Trapnel said...

Trish, no one is taking down Taylor for her looks, just the idea (1) that she was more beautiful than any of her contemporaries when she had them (patently untrue) and (2) she was still the most aesthetic entity in the world after they were gone (also false). To me she was mainly the lady in the supermarket tabloids and Malcolm Forbes' beard, and by no stretch a significant figure in film as an actress.

Y, glad you're beginning to come round on Joan Fontaine. I've gone on in the past about Ophuls' relation to the 19th century novel and one aspect of this is his concern with how people change over time (I keep fantasizing about his desire to film Buddenbrooks) or through emotional experience. Fontaine's magnificent performance is fully equal to Ophuls in this regard from girl and daughter to woman and mother and tragic/fatal heroine.

Trish said...

I agree, X.

A performance like Eva Marie Saint gives in North By Northwest can blow Taylor off the screen anytime. It's an intelligent performance of which Taylor could never conceive, because she puts all of her goodies on the table at once.

X. Trapnel said...

Well put, Trish. Mystery is part of the fascination of all great actors/actresses. All art, come to that. Which is one reason that even good criticism doesn't really last, even in (per Randall Jarrell) an age of criticism.