Thursday, March 24, 2011

R.I.P., Elizabeth Taylor

The New York Times calls her "the last movie star," and they're probably right. Born in 1932 in London to American parents, Elizabeth Taylor became an international star at age 12 with her winning turn in 1944's, National Velvet. As seemed to happen often, Taylor's presence inspired her leading man -- in this case, Mickey Rooney -- to do some of his best work. Rock Hudson was never better than as Bick Benedict in Giant, and Montgomery Clift was at his considerable best in A Place in the Sun.

The tabloid headlines and legendary marital brawls obscured Taylor's impressive range: She played and played well characters created by Tennessee Williams, John O'Hara, Edward Albee, Dylan Thomas, and William Shakespeare. She made her mark in family movies and smoldered in sprawling epics and soap operas. She played it for laughs in Father of the Bride as naturally as she evoked pity and disgust in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 

To me, though, Elizabeth Taylor is first and foremost Leslie Benedict, the brash Maryland debutante who over the course of 201 minutes becomes the seasoned partner of a Texas rancher. (I grew up a mile from the main gate of the King Ranch, upon which Giant is based.) Over the course of the movie, the outsider becomes an insider while her principles and wit remain intact, a combination that causes her husband Bick Benedict (Hudson) to conclude that he won't understand her if he lives to be 90 (or a 100 or 150, one suspects). Taylor takes advantage of Giant's to show her character as arch, sardonic, wondering, overwhelmed, determined, warm, sympathetic, feminine, and maternal. She shifts moods as easily and naturally as you or I might change shirts. It's a bravura performance, all the more so as their isn't a trace forced or self-conscious.

Whatever the misfortunes of your personal life, Liz, you were not only one of the greats, you just may be the last of them...

Don't miss this 1949 Times profile of 16-year old "soft-spoken, rather quiet, almost shy" Elizabeth Taylor...

The savage fight scene from Giant, followed by the closing:


Foxessa said...

"To me, though, Elizabeth Taylor is first and foremost Leslie Benedict, the brash Maryland debutante who over the course of 201 minutes becomes the seasoned partner of a Texas rancher."

O buddy, have I been thinking of that constantly, living surrounded by MD horse country. In latter years my Easter week viewing has become my personal tradition for Giant and for Cleopatra, both of which I actually own DVD copies. I was wondering about it this year, but netflix has been offering (at least until now) Giant streaming.

Love, C.

TaraDharma said...

yes, RIP, Elizabeth. She is my dad's age, and he has a great tale of meeting her as a teenager. They were filming at the Hotel Del Coronado, and her aunt needed a couple of boys to accompany the young Elizabeth and a friend to the movies for a night out. Through friends, those two high school boys included my father. They had a nice evening, and that was that.

Gotta see "Giant" again!

injaynesworld said...

Thanks so much for posting these clips. Now I have to see the whole movie.

What a dame!

Peter Tibbles said...

Rock was better in "Seconds", by far his best film.
Neither of them seemed to like James Dean.

K. said...

Peter: I'll have to check out Seconds. There was not much conflict on the set of Giant. Hudson and Taylor tended to keep to themselves, whereas Dean was well-liked by the people of Marfa (Texas, where Giant was filmed) because he often went into town to shoot pool with the locals.

Jayne: If you've never seen Giant, put it at the top of your queue. You won't be disappointed.

TD: My Date With Liz! Now that's a story!

F: That is some beautiful country. I like the bit in Cleopatra with Richard Burton's Antony refers to Octavian as "what's his name" in classic Burtonesque diction. Did Richard Chamberlain play Octavian.?