Fare Thee Well, Liz Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor in a wardrobe still shot on the set of the 1958 film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. [Source: Dr. X's Free Associations]

Elizabeth Taylor in a wardrobe still shot on the set of the 1958 film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  [Source: Dr. X’s Free Associations]

According to her obituary in the New York Times:

Elizabeth Taylor, the actress who dazzled generations of moviegoers with her stunning beauty and whose name was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.

A spokeswoman at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said Ms. Taylor died at 1:28 a.m. Pacific time. Her publicist, Sally Morrison, said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure. Ms. Taylor had had a series of medical setbacks over the years and was hospitalized six weeks ago with heart problems.

In a world of flickering images, Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star. First appearing on screen at age 10, she grew up there, never passing through an awkward age. It was one quick leap from “National Velvet” to “A Place in the Sun” and from there to “Cleopatra,” as she was indelibly transformed from a vulnerable child actress into a voluptuous film queen.

In a career of some 70 years and more than 50 films, she won two Academy Awards as best actress, for her performances as a call girl in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) and as the acid-tongued Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966). Mike Nichols, who directed her in “Virginia Woolf,” said he considered her “one of the greatest cinema actresses.”

When Ms. Taylor was honored in 1986 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, “More than anyone else I can think of, Elizabeth Taylor represents the complete movie phenomenon — what movies are as an art and an industry, and what they have meant to those of us who have grown up watching them in the dark.”

I hadn’t thought much about Elizabeth Taylor until a few weeks ago, when I happened to listen to Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Free.  what do we need to make the country grow? Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, and in the end, Elizabeth Taylor – all the impossible fantasies of my 1960s childhood!

It’s a helluva song, but just try and find a video clip of the original. Give it up Bob! It’s a national treasure! Here are the lyrics:

I Shall Be Free

Well, I took me a woman late last night
I’s three-fourths drunk, she looked uptight
She took off her wheel, took off her bell
Took off her wig, said, “How do I smell?”
I hot-footed it . . . bare-naked . . .
Out the window!

Well, sometimes I might get drunk
Walk like a duck and stomp like a skunk
Don’t hurt me none, don’t hurt my pride
’Cause I got my little lady right by my side
(Right there
Proud as can be)

I’s out there paintin’ on the old woodshed
When a can a black paint it fell on my head
I went down to scrub and rub
But I had to sit in back of the tub
(Cost a quarter
And I had to get out quick . . .
Someone wanted to come in and take a sauna)

Well, my telephone rang it would not stop
It’s President Kennedy callin’ me up
He said, “My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?”
I said, “My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot
Anita Ekberg
Sophia Loren”
(Put ’em all in the same room with Ernest Borgnine!)

Well, I got a woman sleeps on a cot
She yells and hollers and squeals a lot
Licks my face and tickles my ear
Bends me over and buys me beer
(She’s a honeymooner
A June crooner
A spoon feeder
And a natural leader)

Oh, there ain’t no use in me workin’ so heavy
I got a woman who works on the levee
Pumping that water up to her neck
Every week she sends me a monthly check
(She’s a humdinger
Folk singer
Dead ringer
For a thing-a-muh jigger)

Late one day in the middle of the week
Eyes were closed I was half asleep
I chased me a woman up the hill
Right in the middle of an air-raid drill
It was Little Bo Peep!
(I jumped a fallout shelter
I jumped a bean stalk
I jumped a Ferris wheel)

Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote
He’s a-runnin’ for office on the ballot note
He’s out there preachin’ in front of the steeple
Tellin’ me he loves all kinds-a people
(He’s eatin’ bagels
He’s eatin’ pizza
He’s eatin’ chitlins
He’s eatin’ bullshit!)

Oh, set me down on a television floor
I’ll flip the channel to number four
Out of the shower comes a grown-up man
With a bottle of hair oil in his hand
(It’s that greasy kid stuff
What I want to know, Mr. Football Man, is
What do you do about Willy Mays and Yul Brynner
Charles de Gaulle
And Robert Louis Stevenson?)

Well, the funniest woman I ever seen
Was the great-granddaughter of Mr. Clean
She takes about fifteen baths a day
Wants me to grow a cigar on my face
(She’s a little bit heavy!)

Well, ask me why I’m drunk alla time
It levels my head and eases my mind
I just walk along and stroll and sing
I see better days and I do better things
(I catch dinosaurs
I make love to Elizabeth Taylor . . .
Catch hell from Richard Burton!)

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One Response to Fare Thee Well, Liz Taylor

  1. Mark Willis says:

    John Powers said this in his NPR Fresh Air tribute to Elizabeth Taylor:

    I was raised to dislike Elizabeth Taylor. My mother, who taught me about the movies, disapproved of her countless men — she never forgave Liz for stealing Eddie from Debbie — and flat-out scoffed at her acting. “She’s only beautiful,” Mom would snort, a line I found convincing — until I reached puberty. Then, like almost every man in the world, I felt the tidal pull of that violet-eyed, raven-haired beauty, whose ethereal perfection contained within it the promise of carnal delight.

    Taylor was only 12 when National Velvet made her famous, and she spent the next 67 years in the public spotlight. The obituaries keep calling her the last movie star — meaning she was the last star from that era when movies were the center of American culture — and I sometimes think she was the purest of them all. Not because of what she achieved on-screen — next to John Wayne or Barbara Stanwyck her career was flimsy — but because her glamour seemed to soar over anything so pedestrian as a single movie or single performance.

    t was Taylor’s fate to be at her peak just as the old Hollywood was dying and the new Hollywood was yet to be born. She became the first million-dollar star when she agreed to do “Cleopatra,” that great barge wreck of an epic that was both a symptom of Hollywood’s decline and perhaps the first movie to become best-known for what happened off-screen: Taylor’s great love affair with Richard Burton.

    Liz and Dick quickly became the Adam and Eve of today’s celebrity culture, pursued everywhere by paparazzi, every detail of their lives duly noted. And what details they were. Theirs was a life, we were told, just bursting with booze, humongous diamonds, extravagant fights and equally extravagant makeup sex. They made Puerto Vallarta world famous just by showing up there. So what if their lives often seemed vulgar. Their appetites – their greedy embrace of life – only made their passion grander and more comprehensible to those fascinated by their every split and reconciliation.

    Of course, such living took its toll. While Burton died young, Taylor’s excesses seemed to be symbolically punished, most visibly in her struggles with her weight, a distinctively American punishment that also claimed other icons: Fat Orson, Fat Elvis, Fat Marlon.

    And once the ’60s counterculture took root, she started seeming more like a blousy joke than a goddess. On “Saturday Night Live,” her eating was cruelly lampooned by John Belushi, whose own unruly appetites killed him at 33. I’m betting Liz felt more empathy for that wayward soul than he ever did for her.

    You see, through it all, Taylor didn’t simply keep on living as she chose; she helped others live, too. Always close to gay men – perhaps because they didn’t view her as a sex object – she was one of the world’s leaders in fighting AIDS, helping to raise money through her organization AmFAR and, far more important, being willing to talk about it freely in public at a time when the president -also from Hollywood – wouldn’t even say the word. Born of the human compassion that was inseparable from her human appetites, her AIDS work was her life’s great achievement.

    Still, that’s not what will assure her own enduring place in the sun. Watching clips from her films in recent days, I was reminded that she was one of those rare stars who could flood your head with the image of a world richer and lovelier and more magical than our own, a reality outside of time and space that mere mortals could only dream of touching, which is to say, Taylor embodied the boundless allure that is, or perhaps once was, the movies.

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