Wednesday, March 23, 2011

…but violet eyes to die for

I had no sooner sat down to work on a piece that will post at Edward Copeland on Film…and More tomorrow when I learned via The Daily Beast of the death of Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor, who has taken her final bow at the curtain at the age of 79.  The actress had been hospitalized for the past several weeks for congestive heart failure, having to celebrate her seventy-ninth natal anniversary and missing the Oscars on the same day, February 27th.  Needless to say, this really puts a damper on the day.

I often joke about how child actors give me a rash but I think Taylor was one of the exceptions to that rule, and not because she matured into an amazing actress in later years.  There was nothing cloying or pretentious about Liz in her early roles in films like Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944), something you can’t say about a good many kiddie thesps at that age.  As she grew older and landed more juvenile roles in Life with Father (1947) and Little Women (1949), both her talent and staying power were undeniable.  A list of her incredible acting turns would eat up more Internets bandwidth than humanly possible but I always enjoyed her in Father of the Bride (1950), Father's Little Dividend (1951), Giant (1956), Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Secret Ceremony (1968), The Only Game in Town (1970)...the list goes on and on.

My favorite Elizabeth Taylor film is A Place in the Sun (1951).  Liz was a breathtakingly beautiful woman, no getting around it, but I don’t think any other movie encapsulates that beauty than the one in which she first became acquainted with actor Montgomery Clift…who became her friend and confidante until Clift’s tragic death in 1966.  TCM runs a featurette every now and then that features Taylor talking about her experiences working with Monty on Sun, Raintree and Suddenly and at the part when she mentions how much she misses him to this day you can hear her voice crack with emotion; a wonderfully frank admission of how much affection a person had for another that is all-too-rare in an increasingly coolly detached and ironic world.  Sometimes when I’m watching Sun I’ll turn down the sound when Taylor’s character is onscreen just so I can drink in that beauty without any distractions.  I can’t blame Clift for drowning Shelley Winters’ character in that film…I would have thrown Shel an anvil as a life preserver if I knew I had Taylor on the back burner.

The one thing I always admired about Elizabeth Taylor was that even when she went slumming in bad movies or appeared on TV programs that were probably better off not visited she still had this admirable capability to, as I often say, class up the jernt.  The only time I ever watched General Hospital (sorry, GH fans) was the time she made her heralded 1981 appearance as villainess Helena Cassadine; I tuned in expecting to see her dignity dissipate in a double-eyelash blink and was pleasantly surprised that she made the experience a great deal of fun.  She was also the only redeeming feature of the regrettable 1994 The Flintstones; as Fred’s ma-in-law she was a real hoot…it’s a shame she didn’t let her hair down like that more often (I also loved her classic appearance, along with then-hubby Richard Burton, on Here’s Lucy in which our favorite redhead gets Liz’s diamond ring stuck on her finger).

Lauded for her tireless charity work efforts and teased about her multiple marriages (seriously…Larry Fortensky?), Elizabeth Taylor never lost sight of the fact that she possessed an amazing acting talent and put, as Paul Newman called it in another TCM featurette, “her instrument” to full use in a number of movies that offer up rich rewards to fans both old and new.  It seems only fitting that Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to one of the last great silver screen legends on April 10th with the following slate of films (all times EDT) in a 24-hour marathon:

06:00am Lassie Come Home (1943)
07:30am National Velvet (1944)
10:00am Conspirator (1949)
11:30am Father of the Bride (1950)
01:15pm Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
Raintree County (1957)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
BUtterfield 8 (1960)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Giant (1956)
04:00am Ivanhoe (1952)

Requiescat in pace, Elizabeth.  You will most certainly be missed.

Elizabeth Taylor’s feature film debut was in a Universal comedy entitled There’s One Born Every Minute (1942), starring cinematic toothache Hugh Herbert, Edgar Kennedy and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer.  The studio dropped ten-year-old Liz after this one film, allowing M-G-M to sign her to a contract…and you have to wonder if the brain trust at Universal who made that decision ever got their walking papers as a result.

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Page said...

A very nice tribute that Elizabeth herself would be proud of!
Thanks for posting the TCM schedule. I know I'll be clearing my DVR in anticipation and right there to watch each and every film along with the rest of her fans.

Yvette said...

Thanks for posting the schedule and thanks for the terrific tribute, Ivan. She will be missed, there's no getting around it. She was one of a kind. We shall not see her like again.

VP81955 said...

Trying to imagine what a Universal Elizabeth Taylor would have been like throughout the '40s and '50s (though one fears that studio might have relegated the young Liz into supporting roles in Abbott & Costello vehicles). Letting her go was as bad a mistake for that studio as letting Deanna Durbin go to Universal was for MGM.

(Yes, you could argue that if Leo could keep only Durbin or Judy Garland, the folks in Culver City made the right choice -- but with MGM's riches, and the difference in styles between Durbin and Garland, they could have kept both.)

Agree with you on Taylor and comedy -- to me, she was like Bette Davis in that she could do comedy when given the chance (which, alas, wasn't very often), rather than Joan Crawford, who simply didn't have the lightness of tone to compete with a Lombard or Loy.

Scott said...

I saw her a couple of years ago in, of call places, the P.F. Chang at the Beverly Center. She was in a wheelchair, that unmistakable shock of white hair standing on end, but she looked gleeful and content and was surrounded -- literally surrounded -- by an adoring posse of buff young dudes from West Hollywood.

Kudos on the Doonesbury reference.

ClassicBecky said...

Your usual talent for the serious and the humorous shines through your tribute to Elizabeth, Ivan. We're all thinking about and writing about her today, and feeling the loss of what I call one of the last of the last generation of real movie stars.

The Lady Eve said...

A great tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, Ivan - & thanks for TCM's schedule. However...I had to laugh out loud at your comment that you'd have thrown Shelley Winters an anvil as a life preserver in "A Place in the Sun"...I don't remember if "Angela" was called to the stand when "George" stood trial, but it seems if she had been the jury might've let him off with justifiable homicide. It is probably my favorite of her films, too.

maryclev said...

The fine folks at put up a youtube of some outtakes from Elizabeth Taylor's scenes from General Hospital:

Brought me back to my college days.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Brought me back to my college days.

Hey, moi aussi! Best seven years of my life...