Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More than a movie star

How is it possible for one woman to have lived so many lives?

She was an unapproachable goddess, a fallen angel, a movie star, an actress, a temptress, a tabloid dream, an AIDS activist, the wife of a senator, a guest on the Larry King Show, a two-time Oscar winner, a friend to Michael Jackson, a mother, and a woman given a title by a queen, Dame Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at the age of 79, transcended movies, occupying a realm of celebrity few have attained.

A friend left me a message early Wednesday morning, saying that the old Hollywood finally could be pronounced dead. br />

Actually, it probably died a long time ago, but we might as well let it be buried with Taylor. Even at her most scandalous, Taylor had an epic stature that eludes today’s tabloid favorites. Running off with Eddie Fisher or cavorting with Richard Burton seems a long way from the feeble antics of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen.

Taylor's life was in most ways unimaginable. She appeared in her first movie at the age of 10, 1942’s There’s One Born Every Minute. Two years later, National Velvet would make her a star -- and she remained one.

She won two Oscars – for Butterfield 8 (1961) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1967). Her co-stars were legendary: Spencer Tracy (Father of the Bride); James Dean (Giant); Montgomery Clift (Suddenly Last Summer, Raintree County and A Place in the Sun); Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Marlon Brando (Reflections in a Golden Eye). That's not a resume: It's history.

I once attended an event in Santa Fe at which Taylor showed up. She instantly eclipsed every star in attendance, inspiring a paparazzi rush that was both frightening and inevitable. This was in 1980. Taylor was past her big-screen prime, and she still managed to relegate everyone else to “B"-list status.

Even as the tide of journalists swept rudely toward her, Taylor remained regal. As close as the photographers and scribblers got, she seemed untouched, a woman on some unattainable Olympus.

We won't see the likes of Taylor again; celebrity culture has become far too puny for goddesses -- fallen or otherwise.* *I decided not to run a picture with this brief article because no single photo captures Taylor; it would take a hundred photos.

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