Liz Taylor, the woman who loved to live
Elizabeth Taylor, who died in Los Angeles on Wednesday, may not have been the greatest of actresses, but she stormed the citadel of cinema, often upset moral keepers, scandalised the Vatican, at least once and serialised marriage.hollywood Updated: Mar 25, 2011 13:31 IST
Elizabeth Taylor may not have launched a thousand ships and started a long, long war like Helen did, but she captivated Hollywood like nobody else, enslaving men in her exquisite beauty. Taylor, who died in Los Angeles on Wednesday, may not have been the greatest of actresses, but she stormed the citadel of cinema, often upset moral keepers, scandalised the Vatican, at least once and serialised marriage. She wed seven times, twice to the hugely enigmatic Richard Burton. The first time, Liz, as she was endearingly known, stayed with Burton for 10 years, but the second marital tryst with him lasted just 12 months. But what a fiery relationship it was, so much so that they were nicknamed “The Battling Burtons”.
Although in a very long career of seven decades – and naturally for she began as a child actress -- and 50 films, she did win two Oscars and for very different kinds of roles. As acidic Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, and earlier in 1960, as a street-walker in Butterfield 8, she dazzled dozens and dozens of movie-goers.
But it was Cleopatra that made a legend out of her: she was ravishingly beautiful and it was the on set of the film that she met Burton. Both were married then to different partners, and their affair ruffled the Pope and his holy men. Later, they would divorce their spouses, to get married to each other, with Burton wooing her with the largest of diamonds. For 10 years, they stayed together, a period that was marked by squabble and sex. They fought as violently as they made loved passionately.
Elizabeth was born to American parents (her father was an art dealer) in a London suburb, and when the family migrated to the U.S. to avoid World War II bombing, Hollywood mandarins saw in her a face a haunting sense of ethereality. And sure enough they were right. Even much later, she would be remembered for extraordinarily ravishing looks rather than her performing skills.
She first appeared on screen when she was just 10, and quickly leapt from National Velvet to A Place in the Sun. From there on to Cleopatra, turning into an unsurpassed beauty. People were left wondering where the little child went, so quick was her transformation from girlhood to womanhood.
Her popularity never waned, though critics were often guarded about her acting ability. Can one as pretty as her be also talented, they would often wonder. This would remain a point of eternal debate, but her range was phenomenal. She played wounded women, predatory vixens. She was melodramatic, she was subtle, she was raging, she was quiet, she clawed and she loved. She was scheming, she was innocent, she was lovely and she was devilish.
She was perfect as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), as a southern lass in “Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and as the shrew in The Taming of the Shrew (1967), where she and Burton made their fight scenes unbelievably authentic.
Her off-screen life – though amply endowed with love, looks, honour and wealth – often seemed to run through a cyclonic course. She had to endure serious illnesses and several near-death experiences. She took drugs, slipped into alcoholism and over ate. Her love for expensive jewellery bordered on the vulgar. But she was honest about all these, and asked her fans whether they would like her to be someone else. Of course not, for they adored her what she was. Above all, for her great zest for live. When quizzed about writing her memoirs – which was quite often – she would look shocked. “Hell no, I am still living my memoirs”.
I am sure she never expected to go now, and sadly her memoirs can no longer be her own. As much of her life was.