With glamour and outrage, Liz broke the mold

March 28, 2011|Susan Reimer

When Elizabeth Taylor left this world — with instructions that she be "fashionably late" for her own funeral, a diva to the last — she took with her a list of Hollywood epithets that may never again describe a leading lady.

With her bird's egg-sized diamonds, she was glamorous in a way that will never be used to describe any other actress. Cameron Diaz looking sweaty and ripped after a workout with baseball boyfriend Alex Rodriguez? Elizabeth would have handed him a martini by the pool.

With her smoky voice and her violet eyes, she was a screen goddess who could melt reels of film by simply appearing in a white slip and holding a tumbler of scotch. Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett would not smolder so well on the hottest tin roof.

Her romantic life — eight marriages, and affairs that shocked the country and the Vatican — was scandalous in a way that makes Natalie Portman's red carpet baby bump look pedestrian.

And her devotion to the idea of love — she kept Richard Burton's last letter by her bed, a secret treasure — makes Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's pronouncement that they will marry when gays can marry look like a position paper.

It is an irony that Elizabeth Taylor, the first real star of the tabloids, the most enduring prey of the paparazzi, would be followed on the cover of People magazine (she appeared 25 times) by a collection of famous-for-no-particular-reason Barbie dolls generated by "American Idol" and reality television.

Ms. Taylor was famous first. She was famous when famous meant more than being photographed often carrying a Starbucks and a yoga mat. It is as if the Hollywood star-maker machinery could not manufacture her equal, so it crawled into a closet of mothballs and stopped trying.

I suppose that her voluptuousness, her heavily penciled eyebrows, her ruby, pouty lips, her raven hair teased into a headdress are out of date today. So is her brand of outrageousness. After the death of husband Mike Todd, she broke up the marriage of her consoler and his best friend, Eddie Fisher, and then she famously asked her critics, "What do you expect me to do, sleep alone?"

Can you imagine Demi Moore explaining her attraction to Ashton Kutcher with such candor? Or Halle Barry saying out loud that she booted out her fashion model baby-daddy because he was a lazy parasite?

The leading ladies who have followed Elizabeth Taylor might catch our eye, but they never take our breath away. She was the last Hollywood star to truly shock us, and she took that power with her, too.

It was her private life that became Ms. Taylor's greatest role, and she played it, many critics said, better than any screen role. Her vulgarity and her unearthly beauty, her raspy "dame" voice and her whispery child's voice were in constant conflict for public attention, and just when you thought perhaps she had drifted into seclusion, she would emerge on the arm of a Michael Jackson or a Larry Fortensky.

Elizabeth Taylor was the Cleopatra of our age, a woman whose beauty and power over men will remain a legend far, far into the future. She survived when Marilyn Monroe succumbed. She stayed when Grace Kelly fled.

"Hold your horses, world," she Tweeted last summer when rumors emerged that a movie of her life was under consideration. "No one is going to play Elizabeth Taylor but Elizabeth Taylor herself."

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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