Back in the day, folks took their star fix from radios and cold print: film mags like Photoplay, Screen Fan, Movie Star Parade, Motion Picture, and Movie Life.
Back in the day, print was the juiciest source of gossip, the true gen on the glitterati, though TV had wedged a foot in the door.
Back in the day—in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess—I was less than a decade younger than the most glamorous of them all, the girl with the violet eyes: Elizabeth Taylor.
She was just 14 in National Velvet, then in a single burst it seemed, she was glamorously grown-up, miles removed from me or any of the other callow beings within my personal ambit.
The nearest degree of separation I had from her luminosity was in 1957, when her third husband, director Mike Todd, came to a Hartford, Connecticut, theater to tout the opening of his hugely-popular (five Oscars) Around the World in 80 Days. A captivating showman, he apologized that his wife wasn’t able to join us, then left to a standing ovation as the theater darkened, and the curtains opened. Todd perished only months later, on March 22, 1958, when his plane, The Lucky Liz, went down in a blizzard outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Liz, luckily was home abed with a cold, and was not aboard. It was a shocking current event then, not a historic factoid.
I can’t say I was an avid fan—Robert Mitchum held that place in my pantheon—but Liz was always there. You couldn’t be unaware of her eight marriages (Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky), her seven divorces, her major illnesses and phoenix-like recoveries.
Finally, after the wasting sickness and death of her friend, Rock Hudson, in 1985 from AIDS, an illness no one, not even medical pundits, had known about back in the day, Liz’s tireless work raised millions for the sufferers of the disease until her own death on March 23 at the age of 79.
Her life was feisty, fearless—narcissistic at times—yet unstinting and always persevering, game in or out of her wheelchair.
Farewell, Liz. Your stellar work in film and for HIV/AIDS will continue, but the firmament is now dimmed by not a few angstroms.