Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

I've always had a strange fascination for Elizabeth Taylor. I think the first of her movies I remember (sort of) seeing was "Elephant Walk", as turgid a melodrama of the White Man's Burden Out In Injah -- it was actually Ceylon, but close enough -- as there ever was. It made an impression for its scope and color, though I don't think I could tell you what it was about.

There was something personal about her fascination, though. You see, she and my sister strongly resembled one another. The resemblance was quite striking at various times of their lives. I don't know where it is right now, but there is a picture of my sister taken in San Francisco when she was 12 or 13, and she looks hauntingly like Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet" -- without even trying. There are pictures of my sister taken when she was older, say 17 or 18, on the beach at Pismo or puttering around the yard, and there is remarkable sense of glamor about her.

Elizabeth Taylor and my sister were about the same age, Taylor being a few months older. When my sister was very young, she had blonde curls and an open round face and of course she was compared with Shirley Temple, but she didn't really have a close resemblance to Temple -- apart from the curls. Soon enough, her hair turned dark, and by the time she was in her teens, she had a smouldering look about her and she was strikingly beautiful.

She was fifteen years older than me, and she left home when I was three to go to college. The next time I saw her was five or six years later when she came to visit with her new husband. She was dressed amazingly, with a giant hat, gloves, a striped full skirt with petticoats, a long coat, and very dark glasses. She was consciously trying to look like a Movie Star, and I thought it was wonderful and strange and astonishing. She had married into "money." Well, a department store family, and they were well off, but I wouldn't say they were so very rich by today's standards. Her wardrobe was from the fashion section of her father-in-law's store. Ah, that explained it.

But still, it was glamor like I had never seen in my own home and have not seen since.

And yes, I think she was consciously trying to emulate Elizabeth Taylor, and she pretty much pulled it off.

Later, after she had kids, she would not try for Glamor any more, but her natural look was quite lovely without all the get up of perfect make up, fancy dresses and hats and gloves and so on. As she got older, she still resembled the older versions of Elizabeth Taylor that appeared everywhere in the celebrity media.

My sister died almost 20 years ago and I did not see her for almost ten years before she died, she having moved to far northern California, and then back to the Central Coast while I was being peripatetic all over creation until I came back to Sacramento to do something different. By that time, she was living in Templeton, and I didn't get down that way at all anymore.

So I don't know what she looked like as she passed through her fifties and barely into her sixties. All I know is that she did not show her age; she always looked an indefinite age, much like Elizabeth Taylor throughout her life.

Taylor's movies, especially "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", will live on as the extraordinary (and sometimes very pedestrian) accomplishments they are. People will continue to watch and discuss her work, both on screen and off, for a good long time. And that's as it should be.

Elizabeth Taylor was an image, absolutely. But she was a woman, too, and from all accounts, she was one of the most remarkable women of the 20th Century. She helped define an era, and she went beyond any expectation in using her fame and influence to literally force the American government to pay attention to the AIDS epidemic that was devastating a whole generation of gay men and would have become much worse had it not been for her tireless efforts.

The world is a better place for having her in it.

Bless her heart.

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