Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The once and future queen

(Image ©

When the news came out that legendary actress, successful business woman and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor had expired from congestive heart failure, it signaled what may have been the end of an era. At this juncture only Mickey Rooney (who also racked up at least eight marriages) still survives as the last vestige of the golden age of the Hollywood studio system. The iconic beauty whose motion picture career began in 1941, was first signed to a contract at Universal Studios, but that contract was trashed by Universal Production Chief Edward Muhl who complained that despite propping from her agent Milton Selznick (producer David's brother), "She can't sing. She can't dance. She can't perform. What's more, her mother has to be one of the most unbearable women it has been my displeasure to meet." It was a short year later that she was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to star for $100 per week for three months opposite Roddy McDowell in "Lassie Come Home." Other early starts included "National Velvet" in 1944, but her incredible beauty made itself evident first in "Father of the Bride" starring Spencer Tracy in 1950. By then she was a star of epic proportions and the films that became her calling cards - "BUtterfield 8," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Giant," "Suddenly Last Summer" and "A Place in the Sun" - began to be churned out by Hollywood to great fanfare from critics and movie goers alike. By the time I was old enough to know who she was, she was already on husband number four (Eddie Fisher) and I remember reading about her reaping an unprecedented salary of $1 million dollars for her work in "Cleopatra" opposite husband number five and six (Richard Burton). Even at such a tender age, I was amazed at how beautiful she was and it was the first time I had ever heard of anyone having been described as having violet eyes. Yes, truly violet eyes. They were definitely not blue and definitely not brown, but an intense light purple that almost denied adequate description. To this day I have only met one other person who had violet eyes. While her eyes may have been her most striking point, the rest of her body in her prime was almost that of a gliding goddess who had set down on earth. She was magnificent. While her career hit the skids in the last two decades, she managed to become an integral founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) after the death of her friend and former co-star Rock Hudson as well as a well-known designer of jewelry and a manufacturer of perfume. She was a bright woman whose compassion shone even during times when she was besieged by a number of health concerns or private tragedies. A winner of two Academy Awards for Best Actress in "BUtterfield 8" and "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," she was a star among stars. Her passing from congestive heart failure will never diminish her legacy nor dilute her importance on the Hollywood scene. She will live on as long as we remember her and treasure that gift of her many moving and brilliant performances she has bestowed upon us and other generations of film lovers to come. Rest, sweet lady, for you have earned your peace. And we shall have you "to-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow."

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