We can't tell you how many lousy movies we've sat through simply because Elizabeth Taylor was in them. When she was seventeen, she and Honour Blackman, of all people, sat out a dance as wallflowers because no one would go near them, for reasons best known to the screenwriter of 1949's "Conspirator". In 1954's "The Last Time I Saw Paris", Van Johnson, of all people, locked her out in a storm so that she could catch pneumonia and die! We remember half-watching "Rhapsody", a sudsy romance also from the year 1954, in which she drifted back and forth between Vittorio Gassman and John Ericson. We don't remember whom she finally chose, but we do remember asking, "Why are we watching this?"
We knew why, though. No matter how many stinkers Elizabeth Taylor makes, she never puts any emotional distance between herself and any of the often-weird characters she plays and she is, moreover, always fun to watch. When she was twelve, she turned up in a tiny role in "Jane Eyre", and already her face had an eerie, unreal maturity: it didn't belong on a little kid. She actually got more child-like, playful and real once she grew up. Surprisingly, Elizabeth Taylor was once the most hated woman in America. At the height of the Liz-Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds-Liz-Dick and Sybil Burton scandals, it was supposed to be a sin for Catholic schoolchildren to see her movies. Yet today, on her 70th birthday, Taylor inspires more real affection than any actress of her generation. It's hard to think of any actress who has been rescued from the jaws of death umpteen times as Taylor has been or has really gone through the success-failure-success-failure cycles Taylor has also gone through umpteen times. The American public obviously gets a bang out of loathing and forgiving our favourite screen icons. But don't forget: Elizabeth Taylor comes from sturdy stock. Her mother lived to be 99.
Strings of steady success and unbroken records of strong discipline seem to inspire massive resentment. But that's no longer Taylor's problem. She has weathered all the media blitzes and is probably the world's most valuable fundraiser today in the fight against A.I.D.S. Her costars have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that no matter how hard they work in a film, everyone will be looking at Elizabeth Taylor. Never mind that TayIor's last two starring roles in theatrical features were released 22 and 8 years ago (1980's "The Mirror Cracked" and 1994's "The Flinstones", or that six of her last eight films were made for the small screen. When people think 'MOVIE STAR', they think of Elizabeth Taylor who, amazingly, celebrates her 70th birthday this week.
© 2002 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/27/02
Elizabeth Taylor's Career