Monday, February 27, 2017

Woman of the World

I was thinking that it was about time for a Garbo moment, but then I heard (thank you, TJB!) that this remarkable creature would have turned 85 today. What better reason for an Elizabeth moment?

We knew she left too soon; could we have any idea how much she'd be missed, how very much we need her raucous, mad, direct and utterly unfiltered take on what passes for reality?

The more time passes, too, the more remarkable she seems to be.

Imagine the burden of being, from earliest childhood, almost eerily beautiful - not just lovely in the way that one sees now and then, but of a beauty that recalls impossible legends, a beauty that blends earthiness and delicacy, a beauty of both bone and flesh, all at once carnal and ethereal. Add to that a quality that made her, throughout her life, somehow changeably ageless. She was more womanly at 14 or so than any 38-year-old, and more girlish at 75 than most people are ever lucky enough to be. Even as she aged, as wild living and poor health took their toll (and few have ever lived more wildly or enjoyed a more varied medical history), she remained set apart. In her last few years, however battered she might be, she never seemed diminished. And in the wake of her too-early death, we learned ever more of what we'd lost: her goodness, her courage, her infinite generosity and her sheer maddening reckless gusto for more, of whatever was on offer.

Diamonds, scandals, lashings of alcohol and excess in every form; at least one if not more mediocre-to-terrible picture for every triumph; the marriages and the waistlines and the headlines and the inexplicable attachments (the plumber? Michael Jackson?). All was forgiven, forgotten, with one look at those eyes, one chance to hear the horking laughter that seemed all the more incongruous - a fishwife's gleeful shout - coming from that perfect mouth.

It's all enough, almost, to make one forget that on top of all that, when she cared to be, she was an artist: the real thing. If all it took were beauty, we'd be hanging on the deathless career of Anna Sten or Isa Miranda. Hedy Lamarr - however much a worthy, fascinating woman in her own right - proves that bone structure on its own just isn't enough. No, Elizabeth (never Liz, please) had the spark. She was Velvet, and Amy March, Gloria Wandrous and Martha; inevitably, Cleopatra, and, God help us, Pearl Slaghoople. She endured, and her potent appeal will, I think, outlast us all. Who more outraged the easily shocked - but who left a better legacy of love and memory? 

And only 85. If only. Just look at her there. I don't know about you, but it's hard to look at those eyes and not feel, somehow, improved. Maggie the Cat is alive...


  1. I always think she looked even more beautiful (hard to imagine) in stills than in movies. Like here, where you can appreciate all the angles and pieces that came together to be Her.

  2. I agree with you that she was a great actress. I think the tabloid life she led somewhat got in the way of any such appreciation of that fact when she was alive. Now that there's only the films and not the gossip, I think her stature, her legacy, will only improve in coming years, which is both a good thing and a shame. She's like an artist whose paintings increase in value once they're gone.

  3. I was in NY in 1980 during the political conventions. I was standing on a corner with a crowd, waiting for the light to change when this huge, black limousine passed in front of me. The passenger at the window looked out with a smile and amazement at the crowd, and for that brief millisecond our eyes met. And she was gone. I'll never forget those eyes.

  4. "Diamonds, scandals, lashings of alcohol and excess in every form" - that is surely the recipe for life..?

    We can only aspire to such greatness. Jx

  5. My dear friend met her at a book signing, and said that she could not help herself - upon seeing La Taylor she said "Oh gracious, you are beautiful!" And the grande dame replied "Oh, thank you!" As if she had not heard it millions of times before. That my darlings, is what separates the Legends from the chaff...

  6. Hey! Anna Sten was very underrated actress! But seriously - a beautiful assessment. I treasure Taylor particularly for her performance as Sissy Goforth in Boom! She was a great interpreter of Tennessee Williams.

  7. I adored her in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF maggie the cat could not have been played better

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  9. For a short time at The Very Safe Insurance Company, we had a temp who had worked for Ms. Taylor. The Temp spoke of it in the most matter of fact way which was something itself. The Temp also had nothing but lovely, affectionate things to say about her. I believe the work was tied to the launch of one of her fragrances. The Temp said she was a hard worker and quite shrewd and a pleasure to be with.

    My Mother, who never suffered fools (except her own) and was a keen judge of character (she called out the bad eggs long before anyone else had so much as a whiff) was always incredibly fond of Taylor. I always thought it odd that my sensible, practical Mom could feel such a kinship with her like. But I've come to understand it was the direct, unfiltered honesty and the goodness that she admired.

    And, of course, that beauty. Truly one for the ages.

    1. I really don't know anyone who had direct contact with who had anything genuinely bad to say about her, which is kind of remarkable. She was sui generis, and not just for her bone structure...