(Air Date: Week Of 3/5/97)
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. There's been considerable discussion lately about why Jane Fonda, 59, and Barbra Streisand, 54, attract such hostility from the moviegoing public. The fact is, Elizabeth Taylor was once the most hated woman in America. At the height of the Liz-Eddie-Debbie-Liz-Dick-Sybil scandals, it was supposed to be a sin for Catholic schoolchildren to see her movies. Yet today, Taylor inspires more real affection than any actress of her generation. The problem with Fonda and Streisand apparently is that neither has been rescued from the jaws of death umpteen times as Taylor has been and neither has really gone through the success-failure-success-failure cycles Taylor has also gone through umpteen times. You're unlikely to see Fonda or Streisand checking into the Betty Ford Clinic. The American public obviously gets a bang out of loathing and forgiving national icons.
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 starring role in a theatrical feature was released 17 years ago this month or that five of her last six films were made for the small screen. When people think 'MOVIE STAR', they think of Elizabeth Taylor who, amazingly, celebrated her 65th birthday last week.
Copyright 1997 Monica Sullivan
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