Friday, May 4, 2018

A Gallery of Vintage Greykittens: Elizabeth Taylor

She was born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor. Throughout her life she would be known as Mrs. Hilton, Mrs. Wilding, Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Burton (twice), Mrs. Warner and Mrs. Fortensky. She died as Dame Elizabeth Taylor after being honored by another famous Greykitten, her Queen. I have chosen Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps the most beautiful face to grace screen and stage, as the Vintage Greykittens’ saint patron because she gave us a true example of what it means to live a full life and a full old age.

She was a goddess of beauty and lust, Aphrodite incarnated. And yet ill-health ravaged this gorgeous creature. After menopause she fought an ungallant Battle of the Bulge, had too much fondness for the bottle and perhaps other more toxic substances. But she remained an object of veneration and adoration to zillions of people throughout the world.
(The Mirror)

I was glancing at Elizabeth’s last photos, those taken before her death at age 79. Her hair is dyed too dark for comfort, her flesh shows the ravages of skin cancer, but those legendary violet eyes still sparkle with love for life and people. No Botox or anti- aging serum can replace that sparkle once it goes. It never left her. It followed her to her deathbed and probably beyond. After all, she believed in the afterlife. In her old age, Dame Liz surrounded herself with psychics who tried unsuccessfully to get in contact with her beloved Richard Burton.

It was public knowledge  that Elizabeth Taylor was the loving kind, but recent biographies provide information that  extends her list of lovers making  it sound like the Who is Who in Hollywood and American Politics. She started young, losing her virginity to teen actor John Derek (yes,  the one who created Bo Derek) at age12. If that is not shocking enough, at 14 she almost broke up Mickey Rooney’s marriage after his wife caught the young couple in a compromising position. Sometime along her teen years, Elizabeth bedded Peter Lawford, and had her best friend Roddy McDowell photograph her without a stitch on. That nude studio was kept under lock and key until Liz gave it to Hubby Number Four, Mike Todd, as an engagement gift.
Peter Lawford was just one of the lovers in her passionate teen years

But Hollywood was not the only turf where Dame Liz hunted. In the 80s, she became Senator John Warner’s wife. That was public history, but there was a secret that was revealed only after her death. At age fifteen, she had a one night-stand with future president, Ronald Reagan. And while he was in office, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy apparently made a threesome with our Greykitten and Robert Stack in Elliot Ness’ swimming pool.  Besides the star of “The Untouchables”, Elizabeth took to her bed some other TV icons of the 60s such as Marshall  ”Daktari” Thompson and Richard Long of “Big Valley” fame.
Did Nancy knew about these two's past history?

Years before Queen Elizabeth “damed” the violet eye wonder, Liz had a tryst with royalty. Her first husband was womanizer, alcoholic gambler Conrad “Connie” Hilton”. The heir to a hotel fortune, he turned up to be also a wife-beater and a brutal lover. Small wonder that in their honeymoon, the very young bride fled to the arms of the, then single, Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Before Grace there was Liz

All these smut is necessary to understand that like the fae and other mythological creatures, Dame Liz had mores of her own that set her above human codes of good and evil. Yes, to get Eddie Fisher she didn’t mind breaking his wife (and her dear friend) Debbie Reynolds’s heart. And then she dumped Eddie to go after much married Richard Burton, the love of her life. Oh, and she tried to turn Francis Albert into one of her husbands, using the old “you are going to be a Daddy!”tale.  Sinatra was too smart (or too caught up in Ava’s web) to fall for it.
Frankie and  Dame Liz (Harper's Bazaar)

Heterosexual men were potential lovers, but homosexuals were her friends.  Long before the term was coined, Dame Liz was a fag-hag.  Aside from her long devotion to Montgomery Clift, in her later years she surrounded herself with gay men. One of them,   her manager,  Afro-American Jason Winter, became the caretaker of her estate and (rumor has it) almost married her. Indeed, Dame Liz adored and trusted him, and as a former “fag-hag” myself, I can tell you that it´s marvelous to have an intelligent, kind (cuteness can also be a bonus) man escorting you around listening to your problems and flirting with you in the safest way.

Elizabeth was a romantic. Each time she married, she thought it was for life. In the bedroom or in the boudoir, she gave more than she took, and if we believe Colin Farrell, she was not above a platonic affair. The Irish actor confessed (publicly) to Ellen De Generes that   for almost three years prior to the diva’s death, he shared a passionate, ergo sexless, romance with Dame Liz. It could be.  In matters of the heart, she was always unpredictable.
Dame Liz and her last love

There was another reason behind her lustiness. Her appetite for life was born out of her constant brushes with death. Beautiful, talented, adored by men and women, Elizabeth Taylor was also known for her perennial infirmities. If you think that being sick rests attractiveness from you,  read and think again. When watching “Cleopatra “ look closely at the queen’s throat, you´ll see tiny scars. During the filming, the diva contracted Asian flu, fell into a coma and had to undergo an urgent tracheotomy. But this was just one of  multiple maladies that extraordinarily made her more endearing to men and fans alike.
She was one sick lovely Greykitten

During the shooting of “National Velvet, ” the young protagonist experienced a riding accident. The back injury never healed and led her to a life of pain. Five surgeries did little to alleviate the problem.  While married to Mike Todd, she sustained another back injury, this time due to a yachting incident. Giving birth to her last biological child turned out to be a life-threatening labor. Dame Liz had an appendectomy in 1957, an abscessed tooth led to meningitis in 1960; in 1973 she underwent surgery for an ovarian cyst, and while campaigning for her senator husband, she choked on a chicken bone.

In her old age, Elizabeth Taylor was afflicted with skin cancer, a benign brain tumor and a stroke. Cognitive heart disease killed her eventually. On her last years, she lived as a recluse plagued by osteoporosis.  Her bad health kept her from going out and making public appearances, but she was no hermit. A social animal, she received friends constantly and had an entourage of people serving and entertaining her. They were paid generously, because Dame Liz was known for her largesse.

She was always a party girl and fond of a cocktail or two, but her unexpected widowhood in 1958, led her to a regrettable affair with the bottle. Although she managed to pull out from the dependency, she relapsed into alcoholism in the 70s. She had the courage to publicly announce her addiction and her intention to rehabilitate herself at the Betty Ford Center, being the first luminary to do it openly. 
Vanity Fair

She went through years of sobriety, just to fall off the wagon after Richard Burton´s death.
When talking about Dame Liz’ dipsomania it is common to speak about her “drug-addiction” as if she smoked pot or shot heroin. The truth is that she was addicted to prescription drugs and painkillers. In view of her aching existence, one should not be surprised.

Another aspect of her ill-health was the excess of weight she accumulated in the 70s that spiraled onward until her death. It all started with her marriage to a future senator. Being a politician’s wife she had to give up so much, her career, her lifestyle, her friends. Confused and lonely, she found comfort in drinking.
1979, a large Elizabeth Taylor and husband John Warner

After John Warner’s election, he also became a workaholic and had not much time for his glamorous spouse. Liz had to retort to the usual bored housewives’ activities. Watching TV, reaching for the Jack Daniels shot, having hot dogs, fried chicken and biscuits and gravy for lunch almost every day. The result was as expected; the diva grew too big for her breeches. People noticed and some were quite critical, quite public and quite cruel. John Belushi parodied Elizabeth after her freak chicken bone accident, and Joan Rivers made her fortune poking fun at the diva´s obesity.
Elizabeth Taylor at the fat farm (Vanity Fair)

Rehab, returning to work, devoting herself  to philanthropy, and even a stint at a Florida fat farm reduced her ballooning 180 pounds to a 120 but in her seventies, Dame Liz regained her weight back as it happens to those who grow old. The prodigious thing was thatdrunk, drugged ,fat and almost on the verge of death,Liz  could still enchant those around her. Perhaps some resentful butler would call her “an old trampoline” and accuse  her of turning him into a “sex slave.”.But in truth, millions of people wanted to be the former Cleopatra´s slaves, sex or not.

So far, I have dealt only with what may be construed as Elizabeth Taylor’s dark side. We have yet to speak about her many virtues, those that inspired others to emulate her and those that made her a Vintage Greykitten.
Bowie and Liz , two legends (The Irish Times)

We know now that midlife crisis struck Elizabeth Taylor in her days as a Washington wife. She adopted some unhealthy habits like binging on food, overdrinking, and turning into a couch potato. She paid with massive weight gain, but how she dealt with her life after rehab? Well, this is where the Vintage Greykitten aura starts. She reinvented herself. She went back to work but didn’t pretend time had not passed. Instead of concentrating in a movie career, she found new venues to express her talent.
Luke, Laura and Liz in "General Hospital

She went on the stage. First, getting accolades with The Little Foxes in 1981, and then in 1984 with the highly publicized Private Lives. This Noel Coward comedy reunited her with  Dick Burton. She also tried her hand at television starting with a publicized appearance as villainess Helena Casadine in “General Hospital.” At the time, GH was the hottest daytime drama and it was the perfect road to fame. Spotting her on dates with the soap’s hunk Toy Geary didn’t hurt her reputation and brought recognition by new fans.  Dame Elizabeth began a long affair with television. Starring in “Malice in Wonderland “as Louella Parsons plus guest appearances in “The Simpsons “and “The Nanny” were ways of reminding new generations of who was this goddess their elders talked so much about.

But Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t contented with being an actress, she became an entrepreneur, designing jewelry and launching perfumes like Passion, White Diamonds, Violet Eyes and a homage to her favorite flower, White Gardenia.

Elizabeth Taylor managed to revive  aura and fame through constant activity and reinvention, but her foremost activity and the one that showed her true heart was becoming an AIDS advocate and activist. Until her illness forced her to an indoor life, she worked incessant and aggressively to promote awareness of the HIV virus in both the gay and the heterosexual communities. She also campaigned to find a cure for the threat, and she convinced former lover, now President, Ronald Reagan to speak publicly about AIDS, the first POTUS to do so.

Many stars have lent their faces and names to philanthropic causes, but Dame Liz went further. She was personally involved in her war against an illness that had afflicted so many of her dear friends and even her former daughter-in-law,  oil heiress Aileen Getty.
(Huffington Post)

The catalyst that brought Liz close to the ravage of AIDS was Rock Hudson´s outing. During the shooting of “Giant,” she had grown very close to her hunkish co-star. They remained lifelong friends, but she was as shocked as all of us when this dazzling man had to come out publicly about his sexual orientation and the illness that would eventually kill him.
Rock and Liz in "Giant"can't think of a more gorgeous couple

Rock ravaged by AIDS.

Her AIDS activism had as logical consequence a companion campaign for gay rights. Liz Taylor had always been a gay icon, but she was also open-minded and close to homosexuals as her entourage showed. They say that her lack of prejudice came from being married to three apparently bisexual men (Michael Wilding, Mike Todd and Dick Burton). Some say it went beyond her sexual life, that her biological father, Victor Cazalet, and her putative father Francis Len Taylor were lovers.

One of the most romantic (and I don´t how platonic it was) friendships of Dame Liz was with Montgomery Clift. She became a front to shield his private life from the public that assumed they were lovers. Going further, he owed her his life. One night after dining with Liz and her then husband , Michael Wilding, the actor left their house in a state of intoxication. The concerned hostess followed him, witnessed his car wreck, and found Monty in a ditch choking to death. While fending off paparazzi (in her most florid language), Elizabeth pushed her fingers into the actor´s mouth and pulled out a pair of molars he had swallowed.

Liz Taylor was a giving woman, who would stand for her friends against all odds. Michael Jackson is the classic case. She even loved animals, keeping pets throughout her life. In her old age,  she cherished the company of Daisy, her old Maltese dog that she treated with the same love she treated all humans she cared for. 
Dame Liz and Daisy

Here´s another anecdote that illustrates her warmth. She met Richard Burton socially and didn´t like him. She thought he was a boor, and was not mistaken. She changed her mind after the Welsh Ham showed up, with a bad hangover, in the set of ”Cleopatra.” She gave him coffee, listened to him, pampered him, fell in love. That was Dame Liz;  a goddess of lust, but also an incarnation of Mother Nature, an earthy Madonna.

That brings to mind one of least explored and yet significant aspects of her life. For Hollywood standards, Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent mother.  She had four children. In her marriage to Michael Wilding she bore two sons: Christopher and Michael Jr. Liza Todd was her last biological child. Unable to have more babies, Dame Liz adopted a German little girl. Typical of her kooky lifestyle, she started the adoption papers while married to Eddie Fisher, but ended up giving the child a certain Sir Richard Burton for a father. Therefore,  the child has lived as Maria Burton since her adoption.
Elizabeth, Mike Todd and her three biological children

Although Hollywood and adoption equals stories of abuse and neglect, Liz Taylor was anything but an absentee parent. She was never abusive as Joan Crawford was to her adoptive brood or callously neglectful as Marlene Dietrich who when told by her daughter that her governess had molested her, just spat:  “You survived. Get over it!”

Dame Liz was not big on discipline, but was always there for her kids, especially for holidays and birthdays that ,true to her splendid nature, were grandiose affairs.Unlike  other Hollywood families, there is neither tragedy nor major Sturm und Drang surrounding Dame Liz’ offspring. Her son Christopher Wilding is a successful photographer. After a wild youth when he lead the hippie lifestyle and fathered two daughters out of wedlock, Michael Jr .settled down to a popular presence in daytime drama. For two years,  he played  Jackson Freemont  in “ The Guiding Light.”
Dame Liz and her loving children

It took nine doctors to save the life of Elizabeth Taylor while giving  birth to her only daughter. Before his untimely death, Mike Todd stated that he wanted his Liza to grow up to be the first female rabbi. Elizabeth Frances Todd did not become a rabbi, but neither did she follow her mother´s steps. Too sensible to go to Hollywood, she has been married for years to artist Hap Tivey. They live in a farm , surrounded by  sons and horses, where Liza pursues her true calling: sculpture.

Maria Burton became a talent  agent. She was always close to her adoptive mother. When her marriage collapsed , she ran off to Mom´s arms, ensuing ugly press declarations from her ex husband who blamed Dame Liz for being a mother-in-law from hell. Well, Elizabeth last film role was portraying Fred´s meddling mother- in-law in “The Flintstones.” Jokes aside, Maria´s story shows that her children could always count on Elizabeth.  
The Burton-Taylor and Baby Maria

Elizabeth Taylor feared she was “a lousy mother” but swore she was doing her best. “The best that Elizabeth Taylor can do.” And a bad job she did not do because they loved her back. Her four children were there at her bedside. In his eulogy, her first-born Michael spoke about how “she lived her life to the fullest.”.Most important is that four of her grandchildren are now ambassadors of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. This gorgeous lusty, spoiled and fouled-mouth goddess left behind a legacy of good memories and good works.  Most of it she achieved in her Golden Years when she became the paramount Vintage Greykitten.

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