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Of Violet Eyes

Last week I had a guest from Pennsylvania here. Actually, the guest isn't "from" Pennsylvania. She's living there. She's from England--at least that's where she spent most of her formative and young adult years. Where she'll return when retirement age arrives.

She's led quite an interesting life, including spending some time in a commune in the mountains of Wales. We talked about it a bit, and it turns out that the day she left the commune it was because she had just "had it" with the men sitting around and "finding themselves" and expecting the women to do all the work. That afternoon she blew up at the man in the commune she considered the worst offender.

That man's mother died today. Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky. The woman Sinatra famously complained he couldn't get into bed because she required marriage, or the promise of marriage. The woman with three Oscars, two for acting. The woman with the diamonds. The woman who filled the tabloids in ways that not even Britney Spears or Paris Hilton or Charlie Sheen can equal--though they do try. Not because of scandals (so long as you skip over that awkward Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds-Richard Burton period). But because she was beautiful, and talented, and public, and fragile physically--though not, apparently, spiritually.

She was a tigress. She loved and lived fully, completely, committedly. And she was loyal. And when a friend died of a disease shunned and denied, she took her fame, and her voice, and her heart and decided that she wouldn't stand by and write checks, but would put her reputation, and character, in service to the cause of saving lives.

I recently read a book that was less than kind to her. I guess that beautiful mouth was capable of incredible vulgarity. And her capacity for alcohol was...legendary. Long after Burton was drunk reports are that Elizabeth was still coherent, on her feet, and had been well ahead of him all night. And she paid for it, ultimately, with weight, and addiction, and her already fragile physique probably didn't benefit from pouring so much poison in.

Everyone, I think, has a moment in their lives when they are wholly themselves, and the famous often find that self captured on film. But the beautiful British girl who grew up in America had so many selves, I don't know which image that is. I've seen photos of her fat. Slovenly. And recently a heartbreaking photo from the last few months. Is it that girl with her arms around a collie's neck? Is it Michael Wilding's beautiful bride? Or Mike Todd's heartbroken widow? The AIDS activist with the stark white temple wings, or the post-cancer Taylor with the white spiked crew-cut? The woman standing beside a dangerously ill Rock Hudson, or the one defending Roddy McDowell when he was facing federal charges, or the woman mourning the man she divorced twice. I don't know which is the "self" she would say was her. Or perhaps it is all of them.

But for me, she is that beautiful woman with porcelain skin white as snow, lips red as a rose, and hair of blackest ebony.

Fare thee well, Miss Taylor. Your being here made the world a more beautiful, and a better, place. No one could ask for a better epitaph.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 23rd, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
Excellent eulogy.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Of all the articles and eulogies I read about her, yours was the very best.

I keep hoping against hope that some day they will finally release a complete version of Cleopatra.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
Hear hear! A better recounting of her life than any published out there!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
She was so beautiful!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC)
Just beautiful.
Mar. 24th, 2011 01:24 am (UTC)
She was a great Lady.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )