Friday, March 25, 2011

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Long Time Coming (Live)

Making a Killing

After Portlaoise-native Robert Sheehan asks Declan Cashin to follow him to the loo, the Killing Bono star reveals his love for Larry Mullen, what it was like working with the ‘wonderfully eccentric’ Nicolas Cage, and how he has set his sights on a superhero role.

By Declan Cashin
Friday March 25 2011

Pardon our French, but some actors are prone to talking shite in the course of a movie's promotional junket. It just comes with the territory. However, within moments of Day & Night meeting Robert Sheehan to discuss his new flick Killing Bono, the young star is, quite literally, talking shite.

"I keep drinking all these things purely out of greed," he begins, nabbing a glass of juice from a table of refreshments in a suite in Dublin's Merrion hotel. "I have a crazy bladder so if I have to rush off to the toilet, just follow me, and we'll keep going with the interview.

"That's how people make friends. I love when you're at a party, and you get talking to people in the jacks. It's always the most intimate conversation. I was at a house party recently, and myself and a couple of mates just ended up taking poos in front of each other. But the cistern was broken, so as one was pooing, the other was filling up a basin to pour down the toilet. That's the kind of thing that bonds you."

It should be noted that Sheehan is delivering that anecdote in the same cheery, everyday manner as you'd describe the weather, but his energy and sense of humour shouldn't come as any surprise to the TV viewers who know the handsome, curly-haired actor as the foul-mouthed delinquent Nathan Young on E4's black sci-fi comedy-drama Misfits. In fact, they'd probably expect no less, but more of that anon.

Right now, the 23-year-old Portlaoise native is all about Killing Bono, a partially true comedy-drama set in the late 70s and early 80s when a fresh-faced U2 are fast becoming the biggest rock group in the world. Sheehan stars (and does his own singing) as Ivan McCormick, a schoolmate of Bono and the lads, who is in a rival band with his ambitious, envious brother Neil (Ben Barnes).

The two brothers move to London to try to launch careers that they hope will equal, if not surpass, the success of Bono (played in the movie by an uncanny Martin McCann), but sibling tensions, together with Neil's propensity for making calamitous career decisions, threaten to ruin everything.

The movie is only loosely based on music writer Neil McCormick's own memoir of the period, I Was Bono's Doppelganger, meaning Sheehan didn't feel the need to spend time getting under the skin of the real Ivan (who is a musician to this day).

"We weren't making the truth of his memoirs," he explains. "Our director Nick Hamm said to Neil [adopting a theatrical English accent], 'Darling, the problem with your life is it doesn't have a third act, so we're going to give you one!' So Ben and I decided to strike up our own dynamic, where the two of us just figure out our own brotherly buzz. But we did meet Neil and Ivan near the end of filming."

Alas, Sheehan didn't get to consult with Bono et al either. "I've never even been in the same room as U2," he laughs. "But they saw the movie in Australia and apparently loved it. It was great to hear that they'd actually given it their blessing. They even gave us some songs. Those rights don't come easy -- you'd either have to know them or be shagging them. Neither of those options was available to me. I wish! Larry Mullen, you sexy devil. Larry's the handsome one, the eye candy, isn't he? I hope he reads this."

While the character of Ivan in Killing Bono constantly struggles as he tries to hustle his way into a tricky industry, the actor playing him has had a much smoother entry into an equally hard-to-crack business. He started acting at aged 14 with a role in Aisling Walsh's Song for a Raggy Boy, and from there worked solidly throughout secondary school on short films and Irish and Canadian TV series including Foreign Exchange, Young Blades and The Clinic.

"I got my first part easily enough," he says. "It was harder on my mother who had to drive me to Dublin for about five million callbacks, and then the subsequent driving for more auditions. Sorry, mother dear.

"But as a young fella you don't think about the difficulties of fashioning a career for yourself. It's not on your mind. After the Leaving Cert, I went to Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology to study film-making, but I dropped out after a year. I'd done some acting during the year, so I didn't really put much work into the course. And then I decided to just keep on doing the acting."

The work came steadily -- The Tudors and Red Riding (opposite new Spider-Man Andrew Garfield) included -- before he was cast in one of the lead roles in the BAFTA-winning Misfits. His aforementioned character Nathan is id incarnate: he says and does what he likes -- the more shocking the better -- and his behaviour is rarely checked by silly things such as ethics or conscience. It's a scenery and limelight-devouring part, and Sheehan goes at it with gusto, making Nathan an oddly sexy anti-hero for the Asbo era.

He keeps his Irish accent for the role too, which probably makes it harder for people to distinguish between him and his cheeky smart-arse alter ego. "That's how you're beamed into their living room," he says. "You've become a familiar face to people as that person. I have had a few people go, 'You're just like your character', and I'm like, 'What?! Oh my God, really?' I suppose when you're playing someone like that all day, every day, you tend to keep some of the mannerisms."

The actor lives in a friend's house in Hackney, north London, while film- ing the series, but says that while he gets a "daily amount of attention", he isn't so famous yet as to have to stop taking the Tube. But while he may have started out in acting on a 'let's see how it goes' basis, Sheehan admits to becoming much more professional in attitude during the past couple of years.

"I think, as I get a little bit older, I'm starting to embrace the ideas of self-improvement, and going back to that very basic but very true principle that you get out as much as you put in," he says. "You have to do good work or it'll be over in a flash. You can't slack off: like in any other job, the people who advance are the ones who put the effort in."

Then we saw a different side to the versatile Sheehan when he played a small-timeDublin criminal avenging his brother's death in Stuart Carolan's well-received four-part TV drama for RTE, Love/Hate -- a role which saw Sheehan star opposite Aiden Gillen and Ruth Negga. A second series is due later this year.

Last year, Sheehan also starred in Season of the Witch, which bombed at the box office, but gave him the chance to work with Hollywood heavyweight Nicolas Cage. "Wonderfully eccentric, but in a very, very disarming and lovely way," is how Sheehan describes the famously, erm, unpredictable star.

It's this kind of experience that gives Sheehan the confidence to keep aiming high. "I had the very amazing pleasure of meeting Christopher Nolan [director of The Dark Knight and Inception] in LA for an hour a couple of years ago," he says.

"We just had a chat and a bit of banter. I'd love for him to cast me. Imagine an Irish Batman? Mind you, Cillian Murphy screen-tested for the role originally. Chris said he saw those blue eyes, and thought, 'Imagine those peering through the mask?' Chris, if you're reading this, give me a call!"

Killing Bono is released nationwide on April 1

‘Battle: Los Angeles’ Review: American Exceptionalism on the Big Screen, #1 Film Overseas!

by Lisa Mei Norton
March 25, 2011

Liberal film critic, Roger Ebert, called Battle: Los Angeles “noisy, violent, ugly and stupid”. Editor-In-Chief, John Nolte, called it “wildly entertaining and subversive”. That was all I needed to read to know this was a “must see” movie. And it most definitely is…in fact, movie goers overseas agree as this epic sci-fi film garnered a first place finish in its second weekend overseas bringing in $27.1 million…with Rango, the animated film about the chameloen sheriff (Johhny Depp) earning $17.5 million in its third weekend. Now that’s American exceptionalism…on the big screen!

As a retired Air Force veteran, I viewed this movie from a slightly different vantage point than one who has never served in our armed forces. And I loved every minute of this fast-paced, heart-stopping, riveting movie…silently cheering on the small platoon of courageous Marines, led by 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), sent out on what seemed like a suicide mission to rescue a few stranded civilians in Santa Monica before the Air Force was to completely level the entire city that had fallen to a devastating alien invasion.

What was originally reported to be meteors falling into the ocean along the Los Angeles coastline (as well as the coastlines of 20 other major cities around the world) was quickly determined to be a well-orchestrated invasion of a massive force of seemingly impossible-to-kill aliens… and they were everywhere… annhilating everything and everyone in their path. As I watched the fast-paced, chaotic, and gripping action unfold, I often found myself holding my breath and sitting on the edge of my seat — myheart racing wildly, pulling for our heroes. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a movie that left me exhausted like that, in a good way.

I appreciated how they introduced each member of the platoon and gave us a little insight into their frame of mind just prior to their embarking on this terrifying mission, setting the stage for some of the heart-wrenching actions and decisions that occurred throughout the movie. It made them more real to me, as real as the stories and situations faced every day by our men and women deploying overseas into hostile combat zones.

The main hero of the movie, Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, pictured above), was very convincing as a tough, no-nonsense, war-weary Marine. In spite of having just gotten his retirement papers signed — a man who was struggling with some demons from his past (something not uncommon to our brothers and sisters who have served in a war zone) — SSgt Nantz displayed the kind of leadership, ingenuity, courage, selflessness, and compassion commonly found in the members of our military, most especially in our Marines, who are always on the front lines … and go where few dare to go.

I love that the movie producers hired members of our Marine Corps to serve as Technical Advisers during the filming of this movie to ensure every shot rang true to how Marines operate in battle and that the cast members had endured three weeks of intensive Boot Camp where they had no mobile phones, no television, no internet and no contact with the outside world. They all slept in the same big tent, ate rations together, and acted like a cohesive Marine unit, wearing 40 pounds of gear at all times and staying in character between takes.

That rocks.

Coincidentally, I found myself relating to and rooting for the tough-as-nails Tech Sergeant Adriana Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) who was in Air Force Intel (I spent my 20 year AF career in this field), and kicked ass with the military hardware (pictured below with an M4A1 carbine). Never fired one of those but have no problems handling an M-16 or a 9mm.

I thoroughly enjoyed the intensity and suspense of this movie, never knowing what to expect next. Yet, according to Ebert:

“In a good movie, we understand where the heroes are, and where their opponents are, and why, and when they fire on each other, we understand the geometry. In a mess like this, the frame is filled with flashes and explosions and shots so brief that nothing makes sense.”

Clearly he has never been on a real battlefield. War is hell. And in today’s largely asymmetrical conflicts in the Middle East, it is every bit as chaotic and unpredictable as depicted in this movie.
It is no wonder the critics on the left panned this movie the way they did. It is a pride-filled drama that highlights true heroism, military might, camaraderie, friendship, and forgiveness. There were some very poignant moments in the movie that made my eyeballs sweat a bit and the popcorn hard to swallow having to negotiate its way past the large lump in my throat. My heart swelled with pride at how these fine warriors took on every unpredictable, dangerous situation they encountered with uncommon valor — fighting for their families, their homes, their country. They showed what true heroes are made of … and it made me think of all our brave men and women currently deployed who face unknown dangers, not knowing if they will ever see their loved ones back home again.

God bless them.

I couldn’t help but notice some parallels in this movie to what we are experiencing right here in our own country. These Marines faced an unknown, ruthless enemy who wanted our resources and were bent on destroying anything and everything standing in the way of achieving their objective. There was a scene where one of the civilians being rescued, a young boy named Hector, told his father “Maybe we should try to talk to them. Maybe they just want to be our friends”. Sound familiar? Sorry. That doesn’t work when the enemy wants you dead…at all cost.

Honor, courage, service-before-self, love of country, and faith (love the close up shot of one of the Marines’ Bibles and the highlighted words “Through Christ comes freedom.”) …all things foreign and distasteful to the left and all the more reason for you to head to the theaters and enjoy. As a strong proponent of promoting conservative art (music, films, etc.), I enthusiastically recommend this movie. Go see it. Let’s make it #1 for the third week in a row!

P.S. And to our brothers and sisters in the Corps (the “ps” is silent for those who don’t know) …Godspeed and Semper Fi.

Leave Our Bulbs Alone

Is no household object safe?

By Rich Lowry
March 25, 2011 12:00 A.M.

It is one of the magical moments in American history: On Sept. 4, 1882, Thomas Edison threw a ceremonial switch at the offices of J. P. Morgan in New York City, and there was light.

The nearby Pearl Street Station power plant provided the electricity for light bulbs to switch on throughout the immediate area. The New York Times had 52 of the bulbs and reported they provided light “soft, mellow, and graceful to the eye . . . without a particle of flicker to make the head ache.”

The light bulb represents one of the most ingenious and useful American-created commercial products — so ingenious, in fact, that it’s the metaphor for the arrival of a new idea. Now, the humble old incandescent bulb is in its senescence, about to be snuffed out entirely by an act of Congress.

In 2007, Congress passed and Pres. George W. Bush signed an energy bill forbidding the sale of the traditional, cheap incandescent bulbs on grounds that they aren’t energy-efficient enough. This has stoked grassroots opposition ( and bulb-hording among people ready to give up the old bulbs only if someone pries them from their cold, dead fingers.

Republicans in the House and Senate are pushing to roll back the provision in the 2007 law. Are there more important matters of state to attend to? Surely. Is the light-bulb regulation rushing us down the road to serfdom? Probably not. But it is so annoying, it deserves the resistance of friends of freedom and of nice, clear artificial light.

Think of the national 55 mph speed limit, imposed in 1974, also in the name of energy efficiency. Congress repealed it in 1995. Think of the metric system, pushed in the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, again in the name of efficiency. It never quite caught on. Think of, for that matter, the three-pence-a-pound Townshend duty on tea. Was that the end of the world? No, but it was the principle of the damn thing.

The more energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive, but make up their cost in the lower use of electricity over time. The Department of Energy contends that mandating new bulbs will save up to $6 billion for consumers in 2015. Industry supports the mandate because it says it is stoking competition for the creation of all sorts of new energy-efficient bulbs — some of them incandescent.

All to the good, but if the new bulbs are so wondrous, customers can be trusted to adopt them on their own. Are we a nation of dolts too incompetent to balance the complex factors of price of bulb, energy efficiency, and quality of light on our own?

One of the alternatives to the old incandescent bulb is the compact fluorescent lamp, a twisted affair seemingly modeled on fusilli pasta. It contains mercury. If it breaks, you have to undertake cleanup measures worthy of a minor industrial accident. Its light is inferior to the old bulb. One congressional critic says it reminds him of “something out of a Soviet stairwell.”

It’s entirely possible the compact fluorescent lamp will catch on and become as universal and beloved as the Edison version. If so, it shouldn’t need an artificial push. At a hearing on the light-bulb regulation, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky castigated the deputy assistant secretary of energy in terms she may have never heard before. Noting that the Obama administration professes to be “pro-choice,” he argued, “there is hypocrisy that goes on in people that claim to believe in some choices but don’t want to let the consumer decide what they can buy and install in their own house.”

Just so. You can be forgiven for thinking no household object or minor convenience is safe. First, they made our toilets less efficient. Then, they came after our plastic grocery bags. Then, they mucked around with our dishwasher detergent. At the light bulb, brilliant for more than 100 years and counting, it’s time to make a stand.

— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, © 2011 by King Features Syndicate.

Obama and Libya: The professor’s war

By Charles Krauthammer, Thursday, March 24, 8:21 PM
The Washington Post

President Obama is proud of how he put together the Libyan operation. A model of international cooperation. All the necessary paperwork. Arab League backing. A Security Council resolution. (Everything but a resolution from the Congress of the United States, a minor inconvenience for a citizen of the world.) It’s war as designed by an Ivy League professor.

True, it took three weeks to put this together, during which time Moammar Gaddafi went from besieged, delusional (remember those youthful protesters on “hallucinogenic pills”) thug losing support by the hour — to resurgent tyrant who marshaled his forces, marched them to the gates of Benghazi and had the U.S. director of national intelligence predicting that “the regime will prevail.”

But what is military initiative and opportunity compared with paper?

Well, let’s see how that paper multilateralism is doing. The Arab League is already reversing itself, criticizing the use of force it had just authorized. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, is shocked — shocked! — to find that people are being killed by allied airstrikes. This reaction was dubbed mystifying by one commentator, apparently born yesterday and thus unaware that the Arab League has forever been a collection of cynical, warring, unreliable dictatorships of ever-shifting loyalties. A British soccer mob has more unity and moral purpose. Yet Obama deemed it a great diplomatic success that the league deigned to permit others to fight and die to save fellow Arabs for whom 19 of 21 Arab states have yet to lift a finger.

And what about that brilliant U.N. resolution?

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is already calling the Libya operation a medieval crusade.

China is calling for a cease-fire in place — which would completely undermine the allied effort by leaving Gaddafi in power, his people at his mercy and the country partitioned and condemned to ongoing civil war.

Brazil joined China in that call for a cease-fire. This just hours after Obama ended his fawning two-day Brazil visit. Another triumph of presidential personal diplomacy.

And how about NATO? Let’s see. As of this writing, Britain wanted the operation to be led by NATO. France adamantly disagreed, citing Arab sensibilities. Germany wanted no part of anything, going so far as to pull four of its ships from NATO command in the Mediterranean. Italy hinted it might deny the allies the use of its air bases if NATO can’t get its act together. France and Germany walked out of a NATO meeting on Monday, while Norway had planes in Crete ready to go but refused to let them fly until it had some idea who the hell is running the operation. And Turkey, whose prime minister four months ago proudly accepted the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, has been particularly resistant to the Libya operation from the beginning.

And as for the United States, who knows what American policy is. Administration officials insist we are not trying to bring down Gaddafi, even as the president insists that he must go. Although on Tuesday Obama did add “unless he changes his approach.” Approach, mind you.

In any case, for Obama, military objectives take a back seat to diplomatic appearances. The president is obsessed with pretending that we are not running the operation — a dismaying expression of Obama’s view that his country is so tainted by its various sins that it lacks the moral legitimacy to . . . what? Save Third World people from massacre?

Obama seems equally obsessed with handing off the lead role. Hand off to whom? NATO? Quarreling amid Turkish resistance (see above), NATO still can’t agree on taking over command of the airstrike campaign, which is what has kept the Libyan rebels alive.

This confusion is purely the result of Obama’s decision to get America into the war and then immediately relinquish American command. Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country. America should be merely “one of the partners among many,” he said Monday. No primus inter pares for him. Even the Clinton administration spoke of America as the indispensable nation. And it remains so. Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead — no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources — America is led by a man determined that it should not.

A man who dithers over parchment. Who starts a war from which he wants out right away. Good God. If you go to take Vienna, take Vienna. If you’re not prepared to do so, better then to stay home and do nothing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paglia on Taylor: "A luscious, opulent, ripe fruit!"

Camille Paglia considers the "volcanic" Elizabeth Taylor -- and all the unworthy starlets who could never match up

By Salon Staff
March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor in "Butterfield 8"

When news broke that Elizabeth Taylor had died at 79, we immediately reached out to founding Salon contributor and lifelong Taylor obsessive Camille Paglia for her thoughts. We found her in a Philadelphia research library researching her new visual arts book for Pantheon, but she diligently trekked outside in the rain to speak to Salon editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman by telephone under a portico, as the wind howled around her.

I remember reading your essay on Elizabeth Taylor from Penthouse in 1992 (it appeared in the collection "Sex, Art, and American Culture"), where you called her "a pre-feminist woman." You said: "She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm."

Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill.

As the '90s went on and Turner Classic Movies increasingly became a national institution, people had a chance to see Taylor's old films on a regular rotation, so they came around to her. And then the extent of her power as an actress, and the enormity of her achievement in her whole body of films, became evident. As time went on, but obviously past her professional peak, she finally obtained universal respect.

To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right" is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening -- who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman -- were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars -- a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There's something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.

This was something you've written a lot about, the skinny starlets, the Gwyneth Paltrows ...

If Gwyneth Paltrow were growing up in the 1930s, she would have been treated as a hopelessly gawky wallflower who would be mortified by her lanky figure. But everything about her is being pushed on to American young women as the ultimate ideal. And it's even more unpalatable to me now because I've been spending the last few years speaking in Brazil, and I'm fascinated by Brazilian women -- their humor, energy and openness and the way they express their sexuality so naturally and beautifully. I love it because it's so much like the old Hollywood style. Now Elizabeth Taylor's persona was at first a continuation of Ava Gardner's. They had a natural lustiness and spontaneity, an animal magnetism, though both Ava and Elizabeth at the beginning of their careers didn't have command of basic technical skills, particularly dialogue. That's what people laud Meryl Streep for -- "Oh, her accents are so great; oh, her articulation is so perfect." But she doesn't really live in her characters, she merely costumes them. Meryl Streep is always doing drag. But it's so superficial. It all comes from the brain, not the heart or body.

Richard Burton, who was supposed to become the next great Shakespearean actor after Laurence Olivier, used to say how much he had learned from Elizabeth about how to work with the camera. Cinematic acting is extremely understated. The slightest little flick of an eyelid says an enormous amount, and that's where Elizabeth Taylor was far superior to Meryl Streep. Streep is always cranking it and cranking it, working it and working it, demanding that the audience bow down and "See what I"m going through! See what I'm doing for you!" Streep is an intelligent, good actress, but she doesn't come anywhere near Elizabeth Taylor on the screen. Because she wasn't a trained stage actress like Streep, Taylor has vocal weaknesses -- at high pitch, she can get a bit screechy -- which is perfect for Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" but not so good for Cleopatra. But she was like a luscious, opulent, ripe fruit. She enjoyed life to the max. She loved to eat and drink, she loved baubles, and she had a terrific sense of humor -- people would say they could hear her raucously laughing from a mile away. She was a basic, down-to-earth gal who could play queens when she had to. The performances she gave were indelible -- for example, that long, long take at the end of "Suddenly, Last Summer" as Catherine finally recalls the way her gay cousin Sebastian was slaughtered and cannibalized by a pack of boys he was trying to pick up!

Your early obsession with Taylor is well-documented.

Elizabeth Taylor has been a colossal pagan goddess to me since I was 11 or 12. I was so lucky to have seen her at her height. And my sensibility as a culture critic and as a feminist was deeply formed by her. In the U.S. in the 1950s, blondes were the ultimate Aryan ideal. Perky blondes like Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee ruled the roost! And then there was Elizabeth Taylor with that gorgeous, brunette, ethnic look. She looked Jewish, Italian, Spanish, even Moorish! She was truly transcultural -- it was a radical resistance to the dominance of the blond sorority queens and cheerleaders. And then her open sexuality in that puritanical period! It was so daring. She picked up one man after another. The tragedy of Mike Todd being killed in a plane crash -- then her stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds. There's no way to describe the joy I felt at the enormous embarrassment she handed to Debbie Reynolds! I've since come to respect both Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day for what fine comedic actresses they were. But at the time, I couldn't stand them! They represented the saccharine, good-girl style that was being forced on me and my generation by our parents and teachers and every voice in the culture, which was telling us to be like them. Elizabeth Taylor was bad! She was a bad girl! I loved it.

But there were always flickers of strength about her. She wasn't the exaggerated, vulnerable icon Marilyn Monroe was.

That's right. There was a robustness about Elizabeth Taylor, compared to the vulnerability and emotional train wrecks that were Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. Hayworth also projected a wonderful, melting womanliness on-screen, but Taylor was a tough broad. She had survival instincts. And that's another thing about her, the way she could bounce back from all her tragedies and near-death experiences and draw on her suffering in her acting. Who could forget when she was near death from pneumonia in London in 1961? There were dramatic pictures of her being carried out on a stretcher, when she had an emergency tracheotomy. Then she bounces right back and gets the Oscar! That was one of the great television nights of my entire life, as I watched the Academy Awards and was praying and praying she would win. Then she goes up to the podium with her bosom exposed and her throat bare, with no bandages, not even a band-aid, so everyone could see the scar, and says in a frail, breathy voice, "Thank you so much." I was delirious! I could barely focus the entire next day at school. And then the glorious color photos in Look magazine of her sitting serenely with her Oscar at the after-party -- stunning!

She won for "Butterfield 8."

"Butterfield 8" was my Bible. She didn't want to make that film. She hated it her whole life. But "Butterfield 8" meant everything to me as an adolescent. It formed so many of my ideas about the pagan tradition descending to us from Babylon and surviving the Christian onslaught of the Middle Ages. The first time you see her in the film, in that tight, white, sewed-on slip, it's so amazing. Her dress is ripped on the floor, she brushes her teeth with scotch, and she goes up to the mirror and angrily writes "No sale!" on it in lipstick! To me she represented the ultimate power of the sexual woman.

There was a long feminist attack on the Hollywood sex symbol as a sex object, a commodified thing, passive to the male gaze, and it's such a crock! "Butterfield 8" really shows it. There's that incredible moment in the bar where she's wearing a svelte black dress and she and Laurence Harvey are fighting. He grabs her by the arm, and she grinds her stiletto heel into his elegant shoe. It's male vs. female -- a ferocious equal match. He's strong, but she's strong too! That scene shows the power and intensity of heterosexuality, with all its tensions and conflicts. It also shows how terrible current Hollywood filmmaking is -- how false and manufactured sex has become. There's no real eroticism anymore. "Butterfield 8" sizzles with eroticism, because of the psychological distance and animal attraction between male and female. The businessmen in that film are all in their uniforms, their black suits. They're like a horde of identical and characterless myrmidons or clones. They have wealth, they have power, but they're nothing compared to her! The film truly captures the complexities and struggles of sexuality -- all of which have been lost in our period of easy gender-bending. Everything's become so bland and boring now.

The era of the great movie queens is certainly over. Sharon Stone did have her solar moment in "Basic Instinct." Not just in the famous interrogation scene in the police station but everywhere in that film, she was commanding sex and commanding the camera. It was a spectacular performance -- and then the movie kind of self-destructs. But I had a brief moment of hope there -- I thought, is Hollywood sex finally coming back? But no, they never could come up with anything that good for Sharon Stone again, and the moment faded.

Is there really no one else who has made that sort of splash? I'm having a hard time coming up with one. Angelina Jolie, perhaps?

For me, Jolie's greatest performance was in "Gia," where she played the bisexual fashion model Gia Carangi, who died of AIDS. Jolie is amazing in that. She had the sensuality and animal energy of Ava Gardner, which virtually no one has been able to duplicate. But after she got huge around the world, Jolie decided to become the big humanitarian. Elizabeth Taylor did that, but it was later in her career. So suddenly Angelina Jolie thinks she's a U.N. ambassador for all human misery in the world. Everything turns high concept, and soon she's collecting a multiracial menagerie of children. The result is a total flattening out of her artistic image. In a way, she suffers from the problem of being a star in the age of paparazzi, where you're much more hounded than even Elizabeth Taylor ever was. Marilyn Monroe was certainly harassed by the press and hated it, but not like today, where there's hardly a place on earth to have your own thoughts. So Angelina Jolie became defensive and covert, and now there's something too calculated and manipulative about her public persona, so she's less interesting than she was. Of course, there are no great roles being written for her. She gets action adventure scripts, like Lara Croft, where a contemporary woman has to show she's tough and can duke it out with the guys. But I'm not sure Jolie would have been able to handle some of the roles Elizabeth Taylor did so well like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." There's a relaxation at the heart of Elizabeth Taylor's acting style -- and also in Elizabeth Taylor the woman-- whereas you always feel a wariness or tension in Jolie.

We're in a period now where everything has to be taut -- in mind and body. And part of it is that we're in the post-studio era. Elizabeth Taylor was a creation of the old Hollywood studio system -- she was one of the last great studio products. And in the studio, you were very protected as you grew up. It was a family environment, which some people -- like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis -- found claustrophobic. But it was very nurturing for someone like Elizabeth Taylor. Angelina Jolie, however, had a kind of hard, unsettled, up-and-down life. She's tough, she's a survivor, she's a little bit cynical. But you never feel cynicism in Elizabeth Taylor -- never! She does it when she has to play it, as in "Virginia Woolf," but it isn't her. There was never an ounce of cynicism in her. To all reports, she was a warm and maternal woman.

And that's another thing -- all these stars today, accumulating children with an army of nannies. Despite all her children, no one would ever call Angelina Jolie maternal. But Elizabeth Taylor's maternal quality is central to her heterosexual power. Elizabeth Taylor could control men. She liked men. And men liked her. There was a chemistry between her and men, coming from her own maternal instincts. I've been writing about this for years, and it was partly inspired by watching Taylor operate on-screen and off. The happy and successful heterosexual woman feels tender and maternal toward men -- but this has been completely lost in our feminist era. Now women tell men, you have to be my companion and be just like a woman; be my best friend, and listen to me chatter. In other words, women don't really like men anymore -- they want men to be like women. But Elizabeth Taylor liked men, and men loved to be around her because they sensed that.

But she was no pushover! She gave as good as she got. There were those famous knock-down, drag-out fights with Burton, and she loved it. No man ever ruled her. Not for a second. But at the same time her men weren't henpecked. She liked strong men. That was one reason she dropped Eddie Fisher. Evidently, according to Carrie Fisher in her one-woman show, he was quite renowned in the sack, and Taylor went for that. But then she realized he was no Mike Todd or Richard Burton, and he got the boot.

We've spent almost 30 minutes talking about a very small part of her career, but she's been such a public figure, decades later, in very different ways.

Right! On the way to the library this morning, I was listening to New York's WABC on the car radio, and they were saying how all the interns think that Elizabeth Taylor was just Michael Jackson's friend or "that crazy old lady in a wheelchair." For many people who are older, however, our lives were permeated by her for decades. She affected us on the deepest emotional level.

It's interesting what a profound rapport she always had with gay men, beginning with Montgomery Clift. She was a great friend and counselor to him early on, when he was struggling with his homosexuality. Then when he had that terrible car crash that deformed his face, I've read that she ran down the road to his aid and saved his life by pulling his tongue out of his throat. It was a bloody scene -- he was choking to death. She always had a gift for intimate communication with both gay and straight men.

Is there anyone we're missing, though? Is there no one else who captures, as you've called it, her raw, lush sensuality?

I would say there's no one else in Hollywood. However, there are a number of examples in the European tradition -- authentically sexual and maternal stars like Sophia Loren, who has the same combination of qualities. Loren's tenderness toward men is so obvious. At the same time, she's very strong -- a working-class Italian woman who survived the war. And then you have the French actresses, like Jeanne Moreau, whose overt sexuality is fabulous. But Moreau has a kind of decadent quality that Elizabeth Taylor never had. Moreau's eroticism was tinged with a sophisticated world weariness -- something a bit haggard: "I've seen it all. What can you show me?" The French actresses can also project such a delicate femininity. Catherine Deneuve, for example, shows such genuine emotion and sensitivity, but she's always cool. She's an observer, a little detached. I adore Deneuve, but she's not like Elizabeth Taylor, who is volcanic. Taylor is all gusto and fire.

She lived life to its fullest. There hasn't been anyone quite like her. I mean, we've had some high-energy, bawdy, over-the-top actresses like Stockard Channing and Bette Midler, and they're very endearing, but there's always something slightly ironic about them.

They're in on the joke.

They're campy. But Taylor was so instinctive and intuitive, so in the moment. It was pretty remarkable that someone with such a strong personality could also be such a good actress. Usually, actors who can project themselves into so many different types of roles tend to have a kind of fluid, unfixed identity in real life. But Elizabeth Taylor's personality was rock solid. At the same time, she was always ready to throw on costumes from any era and look magnificent. She was a real trouper, a pro. By the way, do you notice how we're calling her an "actress"? The minute Hollywood actresses decided to become "actors," they lost their sexuality. It's time to junk that pretentious term.

You famously collected 599 photos of Elizabeth Taylor when you were a teenager. Which one should we use to illustrate this interview?

The canonical shot of Elizabeth Taylor sewn into that white slip in "Butterfield 8" is one of the major art images of my entire life! She is Babylonian pagan woman -- the goddess Ishtar, the anti-Mary!

That photo heralds the dawning sexual revolution, among other things. But the leading feminists totally rejected the Hollywood sex symbols from the start. Raquel Welch was still complaining about that when I interviewed her for Tatler in 1994. Gloria Steinem wouldn't even let Raquel speak at an abortion rights rally in the 1970s. Puritanical fools! But thanks to Madonna, the pro-sex, pro-pop wing of feminism rose with a vengeance in the 1990s and swept the prudes into the dust bin of history.

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her most recent book is "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems."


"Liz Taylor says trade me for Entebbe hostages" -

Today's Tune: Tito & Tarantula - Back to the House That Love Built

For Coach Krzyzewski, It’s 900 and Counting

The New York Times
March 23, 2011

If Duke and Mike Krzyzewski can make it to a 12th Final Four together this weekend, he will tie Bob Knight in career victories, with 902. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — After Duke secured career victory No. 900 for Coach Mike Krzyzewski last weekend, he took a moment to reflect. One. Then he boarded the team bus and watched the game that would decide his next N.C.A.A. tournament opponent.

Such is the Krzyzewski way: understated, methodical, consistent, the force behind 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles, 12 national coach of the year awards, 11 Final Four trips, 4 national championships and now, perhaps the most implausible milestone of all, 900 wins.

Yet when the moment came, Krzyzewski, 64, reflected on the people who made the number possible. Players. Assistants. Administrators. Bob Knight, his mentor. Knight was the first coach — and before Krzyzewski, the only Division I men’s coach — to reach 900 victories. That Krzyzewski, his former point guard, first matched that achievement seemed improbable, until now.

On his weekly SiriusXM radio show, Krzyzewski addressed Knight, said he loved him and admired him. “Yesterday is a day that will never happen again, for anybody, in the history of our game,” he added, referring to their shared accomplishments.

Knight retired with 902 wins, a number Krzyzewski could match with triumphs over Arizona on Thursday night here in the Round of 16 and in Saturday’s regional final. From Texas, Knight alternately pitched his prostate cancer awareness initiative — — and spun stories of Krzyzewski, before career victory No. 1.

When Knight recruited Krzyzewski to West Point in 1966, he asked Krzyzewski to reinvent himself from a high school guard who led his league in scoring to a defensive stopper and distributor. In all his years of coaching, Knight said, Krzyzewski made the greatest transformation of any single player.

“He became a totally different entity,” Knight said. “He was observant, and to this day, that’s one of his outstanding characteristics. It helped him do as good a job in college sports as anybody who ever coached anything.”

As Tom Butters watched No. 900, he thought back to 1980, when, as Duke athletic director, he phoned Knight looking for a coach. Knight rattled off three names, but Butters instead asked about Krzyzewski, winner of 73 games at Army but only nine the previous season.

Butters considered Krzyzewski the best young defensive coach in the country, cut from Knight’s prestigious cloth. Knight told him Krzyzewski possessed all his best coaching qualities, and none of his worst. That was 827 wins ago.

“I mean, 900 wins, it’s incredulous, a testament to the coach,” Butters said. “I remember those first three years at Duke. A lot of people didn’t think he’d reach 50 there.”

Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas saw the latest milestone in different states, but flashed back to the same place. Each graduated in 1986, as members of the recruiting class that turned Duke basketball into the current incarnation, a dominant, envied, in some quarters irritating, force.

Dawkins was the key recruit, and even though he described the choice as “easy,” his friends wondered why he did not choose a more established basketball program. In his freshman season, Bilas said, players heard calls for Krzyzewski to be fired.

Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski met in the Midwest Regional semifinal in 1987. Knight's Hoosiers won, 88-82. (Rob Kozloff/Associated Press)

Then Duke started winning. It won the A.C.C. tournament in 1986 and reached the N.C.A.A. final, after Krzyzewski asked Knight to address his team before the tournament. Then came wins 200, 300, 400, one milestone bleeding into the next.

Bobby Hurley watched the 1986 team at the Meadowlands, saw Dawkins throw down a two-handed reverse dunk against Navy. Hurley thought, “Maybe I should go to Duke.”

Hurley arrived in 1989 and helped Krzyzewski capture his first two national titles, in 1991 and 1992. The speeches Krzyzewski delivered, the stories he relayed, gave Hurley chills. His favorite: Krzyzewski spoke of the pickpocket who went after his mother’s purse and how she chased him off. To Hurley, a presumed protector of the basketball, that story resonated.

“It’s amazing how many generations he navigated, how many players he reached,” said Hurley, now an assistant coach at Wagner. “We never thought about the numbers. That’s not how he operated.”

For the CBS analyst Bill Raftery, 900 prompted reminders of when he coached at Seton Hall and Krzyzewski coached at Army. Raftery always admired how Krzyzewski prepared for games, his concentration on the smallest details. But he never expected this.

Raftery was there in November 2000 when Krzyzewski notched his 500th win at Duke against Villanova. He said he thought, “Wow, 500, incredible.”

And now, “He’s going to double it.”

Krzyzewski added USA Basketball duties to his Duke responsibilities in 2005. The man who hired him, the USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, liked Krzyzewski’s military background and the Knight influence.

Colangelo heard from those who thought Krzyzewski had taken on too much, but he later insisted it made him a better coach. He learned offensive principles from N.B.A. coaches, borrowed drills, expanded the highest of basketball I.Q.’s.

Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks’ coach and an Olympic assistant, said Krzyzewski “is absolutely the best at creating an organization that pulls in the same direction,” while Chauncey Billups, a Knicks guard and an Olympian, described Krzyzewski as “probably the most passionate coach I’ve ever played for.”

This season, more than three decades into his Duke tenure, Krzyzewski has proved as adaptable as ever. He lost point guard Kyrie Irving for months to a toe injury, shifted Nolan Smith into that slot, coaxed an exceptional performance from Smith, and deftly worked Irving back into the rotation.

Irving made the decisive shot against Michigan for win No. 900. Krzyzewski drew the play up on the sideline.

In that game, Krzyzewski channeled his inner Knight. He screamed at his team during a timeout in the second half. He glared, teeth clenched.

Some of the things that he learned from Knight are showing up on branches of the Krzyzewski coaching tree.

“I find myself saying some of the same things he said to me as a player, or assistant,” said Dawkins, a longtime Duke assistant and now the head coach at Stanford. “I catch myself, and I laugh, like wow. I can’t believe it, but it kind of comes out that way. It shows you there will always be a connection forever.”

Should Krzyzewski advance to another title game, he will pass Knight this season. If not, he will secure the career victories record next season and stretch the total well into the future.

“I just don’t see an end to it,” Bilas said. “His style really hasn’t changed, but he seems more active now. More productive. More energetic.”

On the satellite radio show, Knight told Krzyzewski, “Before you get carried away now, let me tell you, in the great beyond, somewhere down the road, I’m coaching, and you’re playing, I’m still not going to let you shoot.”

“Coach,” Krzyzewski answered, “that’s why we won a lot of games.”

Indeed, from Knight to Krzyzewski to Bilas to Hurley to Smith and right on down the line. But Krzyzewski is not concerned with numbers, not 900, 902, 903, or even his 12th trip to the Final Four, which would tie John Wooden for the most in a career.

He reached 900 victories by focusing only on the next game. In this case, potential win No. 901.

Howard Beck and Jonathan Abrams contributed reporting from New York.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Eyes Had It


Both on screen and off, the actress' violet eyes were irresistible and her star power formidable.

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
7:21 AM PDT, March 23, 2011

"Tell Momma. Tell Momma all."

If you are a fan of Elizabeth Taylor, and how could you not be, you don't have to be told the source of that dialogue. It's the heart of Taylor's country club love scene with Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun," and the actress' face in huge close-up is so exquisitely, so heartbreakingly beautiful you never doubt that Clift's intoxicated character would do anything to keep her in his life. Up to and including murder.

Both on the screen and off, Elizabeth Taylor and her irresistible violet eyes had that effect on men. She was only 17 when she filmed that scene for director George Stevens in 1949 (the film was released two years later), and her career as a talented adult actress and world class femme fatale was just beginning. Before she was finished, Taylor had collected five Oscar nominations, two victories, seven husbands and innumerable broken hearts.

In this and in many things, the actress was in a class by herself. Her astonishingly dramatic personal life, characterized by full-throttle romantic love and later recriminations, serious illnesses and tragic deaths, matched the drama of her on-screen roles stride for stride and maybe even bested it. While many actresses specialize in public private lives, it's hard to think of another one quite as astounding in its fearless pursuit of happiness as Taylor's.

She began as a child actress, on screen at age 10, and the best of her early films, which often matched her with animals, still captivate today. Both "Lassie Come Home" in 1943 and "National Velvet" a year later showcase a youthful performer with uncommon determination and poise.

As a young adult Taylor was luminous with the promise of youth not only in "A Place in the Sun," based on Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy," but also costarring with Spencer Tracy in the still-charming 1950 "Father of the Bride."

"Giant" marked another step forward, as Taylor was the cynosure of all eyes as the romantic interest fought over by Rock Hudson and James Dean. The same thing happened in the screen version of Tennessee Williams' sultry "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," with the actress playing Maggie the Cat and holding the screen with Paul Newman and Burl Ives with the help of a seductive white slip.

Though MGM, not Yale Drama, was her acting school, Taylor was a gifted performer, more than she gave herself credit for. She was nominated for the best actress Oscar four years in a row before winning it on the fourth try for another slip role, a high-class call girl in 1960's "Butterfield 8."

That victory, Oscar historians claim, came partially as a gesture of sympathy after a severe case of pneumonia nearly killed her. It was not the first or the last time her private life merged with and accentuated her movie star appeal.

Taylor's first brush with tragedy came in 1958, when her third husband, producer Mike Todd, died in a plane crash after little more than a year of marriage. Just as shocking to America was the way she immediately took up with Eddie Fisher, married to America's sweetheart Debbie Reynolds, and the best man at her wedding to Todd.

All this was just a warm-up for Taylor's volcanic relationship with the great Welsh actor Richard Burton. They met on the set of "Cleopatra," a flop of legendary proportions, married, divorced, remarried, re-divorced and made a number of films together, from the forgettable to the one that won Taylor her second Oscar, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

I never met Elizabeth Taylor, but when I think of her career I think of a moment when I saw her across a crowded room, the Washington Post newsroom in the mid-1970s, where I worked and where the actress was paying a kind of Hollywood state visit.

Other stars had come to the Post newsroom in the post-Watergate era, and despite their celebrity they had often tried unsuccessfully to blend in to the point where they were irritated if people gawked. Not Elizabeth Taylor. Dressed to be noticed, her fabulous eyes accentuated by makeup, huge diamonds on her hands, she knew she was a star and relished, even cherished her position. She will be missed.

Photo credit: A pose and hairstyle that recalls her later portrait by Andy Warhol, here against a striking verdant backdrop in 1951. (By François Lochon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images).

Movies, Men, Melodramas: A Lust for Life

The New York Times
March 23, 2011

The last movie star died Wednesday. By the time Elizabeth Taylor left this mortal coil at 79, she had cheated death with a long line of infirmities that had repeatedly put her in the hospital — and on front pages across the world — and in 1961 left her with a tracheotomy scar on a neck more accustomed to diamonds. The tracheotomy was the result of a bout with pneumonia that left her gasping for air and it returned her to the big, bountiful, hungry life that was one of her greatest roles. It was a minor incision (later, she had surgery to remove the scar), but it’s easy to think of it as some kind of war wound for a life lived so magnificently.

Unlike Marilyn, Liz survived. And it was that survival as much as the movies and fights with the studios, the melodramas and men (so many melodramas, so many men!) that helped separate Ms. Taylor from many other old-Hollywood stars. She rocketed into the stratosphere in the 1950s, the era of the bombshell and the Bomb, when most of the top female box-office draws were blond, pneumatic and classifiable by type: good-time gals (Betty Grable), professional virgins (Doris Day), ice queens (Grace Kelly). Marilyn Monroe was the sacrificial sex goddess with the invitational mouth. Born six years before Ms. Taylor, she entered the movies a poor little girl ready to give it her all, and did.

Ms. Taylor, by contrast, was sui generis, a child star turned ingénue and jet-setting supernova, famous for her loves (Eddie & Liz, Liz & Dick) and finally for just being Liz. “I don’t remember ever not being famous,” she said. For her, fame was part of the job, neither a blessing (though the jewels were nice) nor a curse. Perhaps that’s why she never looked defeated, unlike those who wilt under the spotlight. In film after film she appears extraordinarily at ease: to the camera born. She’s as natural in “National Velvet,” the 1944 hit that made her a star at 12, as she is two decades later roaring through “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” proving once again that beauty and talent are not mutually exclusive, even in Hollywood.

In many respects she was a classic product of the old studio system. Pushed by a quintessential stage mother, she was signed to a contract in 1943 by MGM, which was banking on child talent, much of which was used up by adolescence, either disappearing for good or absorbed into the ranks of character actors. Unlike so many fledgling stars then and now, Ms. Taylor bloomed as a teenager and seemed remarkably relaxed in that newly plush body that soon became a big-screen fetish. She made it all seem so effortless, as did the studio machinery grinding away in the background. “She’s the kind of a girl,” wrote a reporter for The New York Times in a charmingly naïve 1949 profile, “to whom nice things just happen.”

Yet Hollywood and nice don’t often keep company, as one after another crash-and-burn studio tell-all attests and the perils faced by the young, beautiful and exploitable are legion. “Remind me to be around when she grows up,” Orson Welles joked after watching the 10-year-old Ms. Taylor shoot a scene in “Jane Eyre.” It’s a half-funny, queasy comment and however made in jest (or so you hope), it’s also a reminder of the predators that were always lurking and could have swallowed Ms. Taylor whole. That seems particularly the case given how, as she developed (at 16, she was “obviously mature,” as the reporter from The Times put it), she often seemed far too knowing, too womanly for the juvenile and young-lady parts she played.

It was George Stevens, who directed “A Place in the Sun,” who gave the young actress her first Elizabeth Taylor role, the one in which everything — her looks, presence and power — came together. Based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel “An American Tragedy,” it starred Ms. Taylor as an heiress whose allure is so potent it drives a young striver (Ms. Taylor’s close friend, Montgomery Clift) to murder his pregnant working-class lover (Shelley Winters). Everything wondrous and mysterious about cinema itself is captured in a dazzling, sensuously lengthy kiss between Ms. Taylor and Clift that Stevens shot in tight, almost claustrophobic close-up, filling the frame with beauty made immortal by film. It’s an intoxicating vision of bliss if one that — and this is critical to the film’s force — has been paid for by the murder of another woman.

Here, the movies seemed to say, was a woman worth killing for. It’s hard to think of many actresses, even those die-hard professionals raised inside the old studio bubbles, who could have weathered such an impossible burden. Ms. Taylor managed the role of sex object effortlessly as if it too were just part of the job. In contrast to so many other actresses, she seemed as desiring as desirous, with the gift of a thrillingly unladylike appetite. She was a great lover of food, of course, as her cruelly documented weight gains make evident. Yet the appetite that appeared to drive, at times even define her, exceeded mere food to include everything, and her consumption of men, booze, jewels and celebrity itself was an astonishment.

Living large proved a brilliant survival strategy as well as something of a rebuke to the limits of the studio system, both its formulas and false morality, which was all but gone by the time she appeared in “Virginia Woolf” in 1966. Her weight went up and down and the accolades kept coming. She cheated on one husband and then another at a time when adultery was still shocking, and her career kept going. She was a lovely actress and a better star. She embodied the excesses of Hollywood and she transcended them. In the end, the genius of her career was that she gave the world everything it wanted from a glamorous star, the excitement and drama, the diamonds and gossip, and she did it by refusing to become fame’s martyr.

Photo Credit: On the set of "Giant", Taylor poses in a bikini top and waist-cinching slacks in November of 1956. By Frank Worth/Emage International/Getty Images


In Memoriam

The Death, and Many Near-Deaths, of the Hollywood Cleopatra

by David Kamp
March 23, 2011, 12:30 PM

“I was pronounced dead four times,” Elizabeth Taylor told me. “Once I didn’t breathe for five minutes, which must be a record.” This was in early 1998, when I was interviewing Taylor for my V.F. story in that year’s Hollywood issue about the calamitous making of her film Cleopatra, “When Liz Met Dick.”[1] She was talking about her health scare of March 1961, when, wracked with what her doctors called “Asian flu,” she fell into a coma in London.

I don’t mean to make light of Taylor’s death today, at the age of 79, but when I heard news of it, my first instinct was to ask: Are they sure? This was a woman who turned the emergency hospitalization into an art form, the wheelchair into a red-carpet accessory, and the sickbed into a press room. In her later decades, especially, her bouts of ill health, along with her extraordinary bounce-backs from the brink, were themselves a kind of performance.

Taylor had a sense of humor about this. Upon reviving at the London Clinic in ’61, she found her room garlanded with flowers and piled with fan mail and appreciative newspaper writeups. “I had the chance to read my own obituaries,” she said. “They were the best reviews I’d ever gotten.” Not long thereafter, she won what even she recognized was a sympathy best-actress Oscar for the middling 1960 film Butterfield 8. (She told me she’d been more deserving for the previous year’s Suddenly, Last Summer.)

This was quite a turnabout for a woman who only weeks earlier—days, even—had been pilloried as an amoral wench, already on her fourth husband at 29: that husband being Eddie Fisher, whom she had “stolen” from his wife, Debbie Reynolds. Now, even Reynolds was among the well-wishers who sent telegrams. (Forty years later, she and Taylor, in a sign of salty-survivor solidarity, costarred in the bawdy TV-movie comedy These Old Broads.) A still-bigger scandal was yet to come—Taylor’s affair with Richard Burton—but for now, Taylor had discovered the palliative effect of public sympathy. She soldiered on with Cleopatra, and her tracheotomy scar, a souvenir of the emergency measures taken by her London physicians, is visible throughout the film.

When I got the assignment in 1997, I put in a request for an interview with Taylor and was turned down. She wasn’t keen on talking about Cleopatra, for understandable reasons: it had resulted in lawsuits, it had turned marriages upside down, and the Vatican’s own newspaper, theatrically outraged at Taylor for carrying on with Burton, had published a catty open letter to her, accusing her, marvelously, of “erotic vagrancy.”

But as Christmas and my deadline approached, I’d gotten nearly everyone else associated with the film who was still alive to talk to me. The one other exception was Roddy McDowall, who played the nefarious Octavian in the film and, in real life, was very close to Taylor, Burton, and Burton’s first wife, Sybil. McDowall could not have been nicer in saying no; he called me himself to explain that he understood what my job was, but that he could never betray his loyalty to his friends. He graciously invited me to come see the holiday show he was in, a gaudy Madison Square Garden production of A Christmas Carol (he was playing Scrooge, against type), and to pay him a visit afterwards backstage.

And so I went. I appeared at McDowall’s stagedoor after the show at the same time as a striking, fortyish woman with a young son in tow. McDowall welcomed us all in, and we passed a few convivial if awkward minutes of conversation before I got up to leave. Later that evening, McDowall called me. “I am so sorry about today.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I thought you had all come in together, so I didn’t introduce you. That was Elizabeth’s daughter, Liza Todd. I should have introduced you.”

I explained that there was no need to apologize, and that, perhaps, it was for the better; Todd might have been dismayed to learn she was in the same room as a writer who was reporting a piece about her mother’s most notorious chapter. (Liza Todd is an amazing-looking person, by the way, with the dark brow and sharp jawline of her father, the late producer Mike Todd, and the glassy, otherworldly gaze of her mother.)

Anyway, McDowall said he would do his level best to get Taylor to talk to me for the article, at least on the telephone. V.F.’s Dominick Dunne got in on the act, too. Their powers of persuasion worked. One night, Dominick gave me a number to call.

Taylor was in friendly form, not needing any time to warm up. “You want to talk about le scandale, don’t you?” she said. That was what she and Burton jokingly called the worldwide commotion over their affair.

The truth is, Taylor was not a critical source for the story, which was more of a moviemaking chronicle than a blow-by-blow of her romantic life. But it was great to get her comments into the piece, as elliptical as they could be. She wouldn’t get into the details of the off-and-on nature of the Burton affair, whose rhythms affected the film shoot. Then again, she admitted that the “food poisoning” story put out by publicists to explain her February 1962 hospitalization in Rome was hogwash. She had foolishly swallowed a bunch of Seconals, she said, because “I was hysterical and I needed to get away.”

The phone interview went on for about an hour: me sitting in the dark on a still winter night, listening to that famous voice through the receiver like it was a radio transmission. I tried to stretch things out as long as I could without pushing it. Finally, Taylor saw fit to proactively sum things up.

“It was the most chaotic period of my life. But I also fell madly in love, so it couldn’t have been all bad,” she said. “O.K., that’s it for me now, time to go. I’m all dried up.”

Photo credit: Looking positively bridal in creamy lace and a tiara, chin demurely down, for this 1956 seated portrait. © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis.



Elizabeth Taylor: 'It takes one day to die – another to be reborn'

In a deeply personal piece, Hollywood biographer Peter Evans, who knew Elizabeth Taylor for 50 years, pays tribute to the film legend who has died aged 79.

By Peter Evans
The Telegraph
24 Mar 2011

It has been more than three decades since she made a memorable film – and nearly as long since she made even a good one – but no other movie actress in the second half of the 20th century sustained a hold on the public’s imagination longer or more assuredly than Elizabeth Taylor. Maybe Marilyn Monroe ran her a close second, but she had to die in her prime to do it.

“Dying young does give Marilyn an edge over most of us,” Elizabeth conceded when the subject of Hollywood immortals came up the last time we met in Los Angeles, where she died yesterday, aged 79.

“But I nearly died quite a few times. Nearly dying was my specialty. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”

It was a throwaway line, but typical of Elizabeth Taylor: dark, perfectly timed, and full of mockery – of herself, and of the Hollywood star system, in which she had lived since she was 10 years old, the fledgling heroine of Lassie Come Home.

I first met Elizabeth Taylor in 1960 when she began filming Cleopatra in London – a production that was abandoned, and later moved to Rome, when she nearly died of pneumonia. Doctors had fought for 10 days to save her life. She carried a scar on her throat for the rest of her life where the surgeons had inserted a tube into her windpipe to keep her breathing.

Survival, she liked to say, was her middle name. “I’ve appeared in more theatres than Dame Nellie Melba on her farewell tour. Unfortunately, mine have all been operating theatres,” she once told me. She could always be funny about her ailments. In 30 years she had more than 37 operations, including the removal of a benign brain tumour, congestive heart failure, and hip joint replacements.

She could be difficult when a leading man, a script or anything else displeased her; she provoked nervous breakdowns in hostesses whose dinners were spoiled by her habitual lateness; producers regularly counted the cost of the delays she caused.

But those who knew her well admired her courage. Her loyalty to old friends was staunch and often puzzling. She stuck by Michael Jackson at the height of his scandal, when it was considered unwise even to return his phone calls. She did the first big charity show for Aids when Aids was still a forbidden topic of conversation in polite circles.

Elizabeth was a great collector: of two Oscars (Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), innumerable global accolades (she treasured her DBE), and eight husbands (if you count Richard Burton twice).

It was her two marriages to the bibulous Welsh actor that most people remember, and which will always define her.

They first met on the set of Cleopatra in Rome in 1962. For her role as the fabled Egyptian queen, Elizabeth became the first actor ever to be paid $1  million for a film. For far less money, Burton played Mark Antony. Inevitably, this renowned, classic stage actor, and a womaniser of remarkable energy, would attempt to seduce her. She was, after all, “the most desirable woman in the world”.

“Richard came on the set and sort of sidled over to me and said: 'Has anyone ever told you that you’re a very pretty girl?’ ” she recalled of their first encounter. “I thought, 'Oy, gevalt’,” – she had been married to Mike Todd, the brash Jewish-America showman, whose religion and vernacular she had adopted – “the great lover, the great wit, the great Welsh intellectual, and he comes out with a corny line like that!”

But then she noticed that his hands were shaking, “as if he had Saturday-night palsy. He had the worst hangover I’d ever seen. He was obviously terrified of me. I just took pity on him. I realised he really was human. That was the beginning of our affair.”

From their first screen embrace, it was plain that she and Burton were more than just good friends. The director Joseph Mankiewicz, aware of the potential for scandal and trouble, cabled the studio: “I want to give you some facts you ought to know. Liz and Richard are not just playing lovers – they are lovers.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 'The Sandpiper' - 1965

Their affair broke up each other’s marriage – his to former Welsh actress Sybil Williams, mother of his two daughters, Kate, then aged 5, and Jessica, 3; Elizabeth’s to the crooner Eddie Fisher. The scandal almost bankrupted the studio 20th Century Fox – though it made Taylor and Burton the hottest couple in Hollywood. Each got $1 million for their next film, The VIPs, but Elizabeth, regarded as one of the smartest actors in Hollywood, collected a piece of the profits, too.

They were still going through the process of their divorces when I caught up with Elizabeth in Mexico, where Burton was making Night of the Iguana, based on the Tennessee Williams play. It was 1963. He was now the top-notch star he had always wanted to be.

Aged 31, with four marriages behind her – the first to hotel heir Nicky Hilton, followed by English actor Michael Wilding, then Mike Todd, and Eddie Fisher – she contemplated marriage to Burton with an equanimity that astonished me. Wasn’t she apprehensive?

“Richard knows me better than any man I’ve known,” she said. “I think he was born knowing me. I feel I’m in safe hands.”

Burton agreed with proprietorial pride. “I know her inside out, stewed and sober, in sickness and what passes for health in her hurt and troubled life.”

At dinner that evening, she told me: “A lot of mistakes I’ve made were because of the peculiar world I’ve lived in. I’ve been a movie actress since I was 10 years old, so of course I’ve been spoiled and pampered. The most difficult problem for any actress is trying to understand the difference between reality and make-believe.

“Richard has given me a sense of reality. I’m now, above and beyond anything else, a woman. That’s his gift to me. I used to have these marvellous spending sprees, but they were just compensations. Most women, when they are depressed or unhappy, go out and buy a new hat. I used to go out and buy up Dior’s, which is singularly immature and doesn’t compensate for a thing.”

Burton would encourage her to overcome this spasm of immaturity with a season of diamond buying – the Taj Mahal and Krupp gems, the Koh-i-noor, La Pelegrina Pearl – that would stun the world.

She married Burton in 1964, but it was a tempestuous relationship as well as an enriching one. Together they made 11 films – including the memorable Virginia Woolf, an admired production of The Taming of the Shrew, and some others best forgotten – and achieved a kind of corporate notoriety. They drank too much. Privately, and increasingly publicly, too, they were never less than competitive. Only Burton had the temerity to laugh at some of the foolish things she said. Only Elizabeth had the feistiness to ridicule his sexual braggadocio.

Once, after another furious row with her, Burton dropped by my London home and offered to buy it – for a love nest. Later, when they came to dinner, Elizabeth told him: “This place is too big for a love nest. It’d make a fine harem, though – but you’re not up to that any more, Buster.”

I was astonished. Why had he told her about his plans to get a love nest? “It keeps her on her toes, luv,” he said.

In 1974, they divorced. But their addiction to each other remained unchanged. The following year they remarried. One year later they divorced for the final time.

“It takes one day to die – another to be reborn,” Elizabeth announced defiantly, but those who knew her well knew that Burton was still the love of her life. She wed twice more – to US senator John Warner, and to Larry Fortensky, a builder – but neither marriage lasted.

The happiest and most exhilarating years of her life, which began and ended with Richard Burton, were over.

Burton seemed to be speaking for both of them when he told me: “There is an emptiness in my life that only Elizabeth can make less empty. For 13 years we were together constantly, compulsively. How can you end such a wild and perfect relationship? You can’t. A love affair like ours is never ended – only temporarily abandoned.”

She was increasingly frail in her last years, and only seen in a wheelchair. “I never imagined there’d be such a price to pay for the fun we had,” she said the last time I saw her.

Last year, 25 years after his death, Dame Elizabeth Taylor was asked if she would marry Burton again if that were possible.

“In a heartbeat,” she said.

I’m told that she died with a picture of Burton by her bedside.

Peter Evans is working on 'Ava’, a personal memoir of Ava Gardner.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Today's Tune: Kasey Chambers - The Captain (Live)

While Obama searches for clarity, we're plunged into another war

By John Kass
The Chicago Tribune
March 23, 2011

President Barack Obama unmasked himself Tuesday.

He was in El Salvador, standing with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, when reporters asked him about his war in Libya.

It is indeed his war. He started it. He gave the order to launch the missiles over the weekend. And now the man who ran for president as an anti-war candidate owns his very own war.

But there has been confusion over which member of his coalition will command the war. Will Obama ask a foreign general to direct American troops? Will President Nicolas Sarkozy of France take the coalition lead?

On Tuesday, Obama was asked about these command issues. It wasn't a trick. It should have been expected. He stood there, and he opened his mouth.

"I would expect that over the next several days you will have clarity and a meeting of the minds of all those who are participating in the process," Obama said.

We'll have clarity in a few days?

Clarity in a few days, Mr. President?

You don't wait to find clarity a few days after you begin a war. You'd better have complete clarity before you ever give the order to fire in the first place.

Days after ordering the launch of cruise missiles at around $1 million a pop isn't the time to find clarity, Mr. President.

Days after you bomb a country — even one run by a murderous psychopath like Moammar Gadhafi — isn't the time to begin searching for clarity.

The president must find clarity before beginning such an enterprise. To do otherwise is to risk not only American lives and his own presidency and political fortunes, but to risk America's future security and its place among nations.

There wasn't much drama in that quote in El Salvador, so I wonder whether Mr. Obama's Search for Clarity will remain in the news cycle or will drop mercifully from public notice.

Given the free pass he's had on this Libya business, I doubt whether it will become a slogan.

But he did say it — in front of TV cameras. And it would be laughably ridiculous, except that lives are at stake.

I suspect that every world leader saw it, and their generals saw it, from China to Russia and beyond, and they all took his measure and saw what was in him.

His enemies, the Republicans, say that if you take away his teleprompter, he's quite vulnerable. He's misspoken many times, but so has every president.

If this were merely a matter of rhetoric or misspeaking, I wouldn't mention it.

But that passive discussion about clarity, coming from the mouth of the president, underscores another problem that's been noticed by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

He hasn't been clear on the war at all.

Before he ordered the strikes against Gadhafi, he'd argued that the Libyan dictator had to go, that driving him from power was the important thing.

Then that argument changed, and Obama and his advisers said we had to save the people of Libya from a bloody civil war. So it became a humanitarian mission. Sort of.

Naturally, members of Congress are shrieking, since he attacked without asking their permission. Liberal U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat, brought up a quote from the past:

"The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

And who said it? Barack Obama, to The Boston Globe in 2007.

Early polls show that only 50 percent of the American people are in support of Obama's attack on Libya. Historically, such numbers are much higher at the outset of a war. So expect the numbers to get worse.

Sen. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican and U.S. naval intelligence officer, was speaking at the City Club of Chicago the other day, and I caught up to him there.

"The president needs to clearly define the war aims and who is in command," said Kirk, who supports the war in Libya.

"My hope is that when he returns to the United States, he needs to speak to the nation because he's just taken the country to war," Kirk said. "And a presidential address from the Oval Office is necessary to outline the mission, how he expects to achieve it and who is in charge."

When the president returns to the U.S. on Wednesday, and if his teleprompter is working, he'll put on a blue suit and a red tie and a white shirt and look quite presidential.

He'll speak forcefully. He'll speak reasonably. He will appear to the world like a leader.

And he won't look anything like the back bencher in the Illinois Legislature who never confronted power and spent his entire career accommodating the bosses so he could climb the political ladder. He won't look anything like that fellow who voted "present" time after time after time.

Instead, he'll look the picture of clarity.

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

Elizabeth Taylor, legendary actress, dies at 79

Elizabeth Taylor, star of stage and screen who married multiple times, became a successful businesswoman and helped to pioneer the fight against aids, dies of congestive heart failure.

By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times
6:57 AM PDT, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, the glamorous queen of American movie stardom, whose achievements as an actress were often overshadowed by her rapturous looks and real-life dramas, has died. She was 79.

Taylor died early Wednesday of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said publicist Sally Morrison. She had been hospitalized six weeks ago.

"My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor and love," her son Michael Wilding said in a statement. "Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world. Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished. We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts."

During a career that spanned six decades, the legendary beauty with lavender eyes won two Oscars and made more than 50 films, performing alongside such fabled leading men as Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, whom she married twice. She took her cues from a Who's Who of directors, including George Cukor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Vincente Minnelli and Mike Nichols.

Long after she faded from the screen, she remained a mesmerizing figure, blessed and cursed by the extraordinary celebrity that molded her life through its many phases: She was a child star who bloomed gracefully into an ingenue; a femme fatale on the screen and in life; a canny peddler of high-priced perfume; a pioneering activist in the fight against AIDS.

Some actresses, such as Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, won more awards and critical plaudits, but none matched Taylor's hold on the collective imagination. In the public's mind, she was the dark goddess for whom playing Cleopatra, as she did with such notoriety, required no great leap from reality.

Taylor, New York Times critic Vincent Canby once wrote, "has grown up in the full view of a voracious public for whom the triumphs and disasters of her personal life have automatically become extensions of her screen performances. She's different from the rest of us."

Her passions were legend. She loved to eat, which led to well-publicized battles with weight over the years. She loved men, dating many of the world's richest and most famous, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger and Malcolm Forbes, and married eight times, including the two visits to the altar with Burton.

She loved jewels, amassing huge and expensive baubles the way children collect toys.

"It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor's finger," Andy Warhol once mused about the woman who owned the 33-carat Krupp diamond ring — a gift from Burton that she wore daily. It broadcast to the world that she was a lady with an enormous lust for life.

But Taylor attracted misfortune too. According to one chronicler, she suffered more than 70 illnesses, injuries and accidents requiring hospitalization, including an appendectomy, an emergency tracheotomy, a punctured esophagus, a hysterectomy, dysentery, an ulcerated eye, smashed spinal discs, phlebitis, skin cancer and hip replacements. In 1997, she had a benign brain tumor removed. By her own count, she nearly died four times.

In 2004 she disclosed that she had congestive heart failure and crippling spinal problems that left her in constant pain. For much of her life she struggled with alcohol and prescription painkillers.

She was often described as the quintessential Tennessee Williams heroine, a characterization Taylor did not dispute.

It meant, she once told the Los Angeles Times, "steamy, full of drama. I'm sure they didn't mean it kindly. Tennessee's heroines are all fraught. They're all on the brink of disaster."

On the evening of Oct. 6, 1991, two dozen helicopters carrying paparazzi and reporters whirred in the skies above singer Michael Jackson's ranch in Santa Barbara County. Despite an armada of hot-air balloons launched as a shield against prying eyes, a parachutist wearing a camera on his helmet managed to land mere yards from the 59-year-old bride and her 39-year-old groom.

Thus were Taylor and construction worker Larry Fortensky wed — amid Hollywood hoopla and conjecture about whether the movie star's eighth walk down the aisle would be her last.

Who could know? The only sure thing was that Elizabeth Taylor adored men.

"I'm more of a man's woman," she once admitted. "With men, there's a kind of twinkle that comes out. I sashay up to a man. I walk up to a woman."

She was 17 when Husband No. 1 laid eyes on her. That was Conrad Nicholas Hilton Jr., the handsome scion of the Hilton hotel clan. Their 1950 marriage, burdened by Taylor's celebrity and Hilton's gambling, drinking and abusive behavior, lasted eight months.

No. 2 was Michael Wilding, a British actor 20 years her senior, whose gentleness offered Taylor a safe haven. They had two children: Michael Howard, born in 1953, and Christopher Edward, born in 1955. They were divorced in 1957 after five years.

No. 3 was Mike Todd, a flamboyant producer ("Around the World in 80 Days") who would be one of the two great loves of her life. After he delivered an hour-long monologue about why they should marry and a 30-carat diamond to seal the deal, they exchanged vows in 1957. They had been married slightly more than a year when, on March 22, 1958, Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico, leaving Taylor a widow at 26.

In the days following Todd's death, Eddie Fisher — the singing idol who was Todd's best friend and actress Debbie Reynolds' husband — spent long hours by Taylor's side, crying with her as they read through thousands of sympathy letters and telegrams. When mutual consolation turned into romance, Fisher broke up with Reynolds and married Taylor in 1959.

After the wedding, Taylor's career reached new peaks, but Fisher's flagged, creating an opening for the second great love of Taylor's life.

The future No. 5 met Taylor at a Sunday afternoon swim party. "She was, I decided, the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen," Burton (pictured with Taylor at right) wrote in a diary passage quoted in Melvyn Bragg's 1988 biography of the Welsh actor. She was, Burton said, "beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography."

He and Taylor began a tumultuous affair in Rome on the set of "Cleopatra," the epic about the Egyptian queen who dies for love. Because both were huge stars married to other people, their adultery caused a worldwide scandal. A member of Congress introduced a motion to ban them from the U.S., and the Vatican condemned their "erotic vagrancy."

Such bad press, Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons wrote, "ought to have killed them." Others joked that it only encouraged the besotted stars. After a two-year separation, Taylor divorced Fisher in early 1964 and married Burton.

Theirs was a marriage on a grand scale. She gave him a Van Gogh, he lavished her with priceless gems, including the behemoth Krupp diamond and a 25-carat, heart-shaped pendant of diamonds, rubies and emeralds originally made for the bride of the man who built the Taj Mahal. Burton also outbid shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis for a $1.1-million, 69-carat diamond ring from Cartier in New York that became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

America's most famous couple not only spent extravagantly, but also fought and drank to excess. When their union finally unraveled, Burton told the London Daily Mail: "You can't keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up." They were divorced by a Swiss court on June 26, 1974.

The next year they retied the knot before an African tribal chief in Botswana. Less than a year later, in 1976, they severed the tie in a Haitian divorce, but their love for each other continued.

Taylor said that if Burton had not had a fatal brain hemorrhage in Geneva in 1984 she probably would have wound up with him a third time. "I was still madly in love with him until the day he died," she said. Long after his death, she kept a copy of his last letter — penned three days before his death — in her bedside drawer. She allowed many of the letters to be published in the book "Furious Love" by Sam Kushner and Nancy Schoenberger (2010).

Husband No. 6 appeared when the screen goddess needed an escort for a dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth and then-President Ford. The British Embassy paired her with John Warner, a ruggedly handsome former secretary of the Navy and gentleman farmer from Virginia. They were married in 1976, and in 1978 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Although Taylor had been a devoted campaigner, she found she was ill-suited for the role of political wife. While Warner spent long hours in Washington, she passed the time watching television and eating until her weight ballooned to 180 pounds on a 5-foot-4 frame. "I don't think I've ever been so alone in my life as when I was Mrs. Senator," she wrote in "Elizabeth Takes Off," her 1988 diet book-cum-autobiography.

Seeking relief in acting, she starred in a Broadway production of Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" and spent a year on the road. In 1982 she officially canceled her run as the senator's wife and moved to a mansion in Bel-Air.

By the end of 1983, she was burned out, bloated and abusing alcohol and pills. Confronted by her family and close friend Roddy McDowall, she checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, where she slept in a dormitory, went on clean-up detail and, as she later told writer Dominick Dunne, was "peeled down to the absolute core" in group therapy sessions. Her public announcement that she was being treated for substance abuse encouraged other celebrities, including Liza Minnelli, to disclose their own struggles.

A clean and sober Taylor held on to her newfound health for a few years, until pain from a crushed vertebra sent her back to pills and booze. According to an investigation some years later by the attorney general of California, her addictions were enabled by three of her personal doctors, who wrote more than 1,000 prescriptions over seven years for painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants and stimulants.

During her second visit to the Betty Ford Center in 1988, she met Fortensky, a twice-married construction worker who was seeking treatment for a drinking problem. After leaving the clinic, Taylor invited him to Bel-Air for weekend barbecues and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with him. Later she would tell gossip columnist Liz Smith that she was attracted to Fortensky because "he wasn't a wimp, and I'm not a wimp."

After the wedding in 1991, Fortensky tried to resume his working man's routine, rising before dawn to head to his construction job. At the end of the day, he would park his dirty boots outside the mansion door, shower and sit down to dinner with his wife by 6 p.m. The regimen seemed exotic to Taylor, who told Life magazine in 1992: "I used to go to bed at 1 or 2 in the morning. Now we're in bed by 10 o'clock, and I have to admit I like it."

But the charm wore off after Fortensky stopped working. Citing irreconcilable differences, she filed for divorce in 1996 and swore off marriage.

"I don't want to be a sex symbol," she once said. "I would rather be a symbol of a woman who makes mistakes, perhaps, but a woman who loves."

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London of American parents on Feb. 27, 1932. Her mother, a former stage actress named Sara Sothern, and her father, art dealer Francis Taylor, gave her and brother Howard seaside holidays, servants and plenty of toys. Adults doted on little Elizabeth, who had luminous eyes, alabaster skin framed by raven-black tresses and a tiny birthmark on her right cheek that her mother highlighted with a cosmetic pencil.

When she was 7, her family moved to Beverly Hills, where Francis managed an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel. With her fetching little-woman looks and a mother who aggressively pushed her into auditions, Elizabeth was noticed by talent scouts and soon had a contract at Universal Pictures. In 1942 at age 10 she made her film debut in a little-noticed comedy, "There's One Born Every Minute." Soon she was earning more than her father, whose resentment of this fact deepened his reliance on alcohol and fueled occasional beatings of his daughter.

"I stopped being a child the minute I started working in pictures," she told writer Paul Theroux in 1999.

She changed studios in 1943 when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was looking for a dog-loving English girl to play a small role in "Lassie Come Home." Elizabeth landed the part and became an MGM contract player.

Critics did not really take notice of her until MGM cast her in "National Velvet" as Velvet Brown, a girl who dreams of riding in England's Grand National steeplechase. "I wouldn't say she is particularly gifted as an actress," James Agee wrote in The Nation in 1944. "She strikes me, however, if I may resort to conservative statement, as being rapturously beautiful. I hardly know or care whether she can act or not."

After the success of "National Velvet," it was difficult for Taylor to call her life her own. Her contract, she said later, "made me an MGM chattel" for the next 18 years. The studio chose her roles, controlled her public appearances, picked her dates and stage-managed her first wedding. After a string of ingenue roles, she won her first romantic lead opposite Robert Taylor in the forgettable melodrama "Conspirator" (1950). She experienced enough success to be noticed by the Harvard Lampoon, which teased her for "so gallantly persisting in her career despite a total inability to act."

In 1951 she answered those skeptics with her work in "A Place in the Sun," directed by Stevens. Playing a restless, sexually eager society girl drawn to a young man from a lower-class background, Taylor won her first critical praise as an adult actress.

Shelley Winters, who played Taylor's lower-class rival in the movie, said in 1985 that "A Place in the Sun" was "still the best thing she ever did. Elizabeth had a depth and a simpleness which were really remarkable."

Stevens later hired her for another demanding role in "Giant" (1956), an epic about two generations of Texans. She played the wife of cattleman Rock Hudson, and James Dean, who died in a car crash before the movie was released, played a wild young ranch hand. Critics hailed her artistry, her "astonishing revelation of unsuspected gifts," the Times of London put it.

Her next three films would bring her Oscar nominations.

The first was for "Raintree County," a 1957 release directed by Edward Dmytryk, in which Taylor played a passionate Southern belle capable of madness.

The next nomination was for her portrayal of Maggie in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958). Taylor played the beautiful, sexually seething wife of Paul Newman (pictured at right), the alcoholic, latently homosexual son of a Mississippi plantation owner. Although the actress was widowed in the midst of filming when Todd's plane crashed, she managed to turn in a performance widely considered one of the best of her adult career.

"She was an intuitive actress," Newman said years later of the woman who never took an acting lesson. "I was always staggered by her ferocity, and how quickly she could tap into her emotions. It was a privilege to watch her."

Her third nomination recognized her work in "Suddenly Last Summer," another Williams story, which explored insanity, homosexuality and cannibalism. A commercial success like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," it boosted Taylor into the box-office top 10 for the first time. She remained in the top 10 almost every year for the next decade.

In 1961 she won her first Oscar for her portrayal of a call girl in a tortured affair with a married man in "Butterfield 8." Although she hated the part and the script, she agreed to the role because it ended her contractual obligations to MGM.

Her next project was "Cleopatra" for Twentieth Century Fox. Taylor was loath to take the title role and set her asking price at $1 million. According to Fisher, she eventually earned $7 million after her percentages and other fees were paid.

With a record-breaking final price tag of $62 million, the film ushered in a new era of excess in Hollywood. It nearly bankrupted Fox, which was forced to sell its back lot bordering Beverly Hills to a developer, who turned those 200 acres into Century City.

The production also launched the most turbulent period of Taylor's life. She contracted pneumonia during filming in Rome and underwent an emergency tracheotomy. She was reported to be near death for days.

After she recovered and returned to the "Cleopatra" set, headlines around the world began to scream details of her affair with Burton. When the movie was finally released in 1963, the reviews were brutal, but audiences flocked to see its shameless-in-love stars.

Taylor co-starred with Burton in several more movies, including "The V.I.P.s" (1963); "The Sandpiper" (1965); "Doctor Faustus," "The Comedians" and "The Taming of the Shrew" (all 1967); "Boom!" (1968); "Under Milk Wood" and "Hammersmith Is Out" (both 1972); and an aptly titled television movie, "Divorce His, Divorce Hers" (1973). Critics found most of their collaborations unremarkable.

The exception came in 1966, when the ritzy couple were cast against type in Edward Albee's drama of marital angst, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Taylor gained 25 pounds and donned a gray wig and extra padding to play Martha, the frumpy, foul-mouthed, highly educated wife of Burton's henpecked college professor. She was reportedly terrified by the challenge of playing a role so far removed from her glamorous persona.

Nichols put the Burtons and the other two cast members — George Segal and Sandy Dennis — through weeks of private rehearsals and closed the set during filming. Gradually, Taylor said, she grew so comfortable in her "Martha suit" that it freed her acting.

Critics lavished praise on her performance, calling it the best of her career. The film won five Oscars, including Taylor's second for best actress. She also won awards from the National Board of Review, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the New York Film Critics Circle and what is now the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Her next film, "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967) with Brando, showed more of Taylor as a serious actress, but it was followed by a torrent of bad movies that made it easy for critics to dismiss her again. Her voice, thin and inflexible, was considered one of her chief limitations.

Nonetheless, she played a surprisingly broad range of roles, including a rollicking performance as a bitchy wife in the 1972 movie "X Y & Zee." Critic Pauline Kael, writing in the New Yorker, said Taylor knocked "two fine performers [Michael Caine and Susannah York] right off the screen."

Taylor portrayed an aging movie star in "The Mirror Crack'd" (1980), an all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel. She also dabbled in television movies and returned to the stage, earning mixed reviews on Broadway in 1981 in "The Little Foxes." In 1983, she reunited professionally with Burton in the Noel Coward farce "Private Lives," a play about a divorced couple whose romance is rekindled by a chance meeting. "Life doesn't imitate art in this 'Private Lives,'" the New York Times' Frank Rich wrote, "it obliterates it."

With her acting career in decline, she turned to business. In 1987 she introduced Elizabeth Taylor's Passion, a perfume sold in a purple, heart-shaped flask for $165 an ounce. It would eventually become the fourth-bestselling women's fragrance in America, grossing $70 million a year. In the 1990s she introduced another successful scent, White Diamonds.

Among her last acting jobs was the modest role of Fred Flintstone's mother-in-law in the 1994 release "The Flintstones," Universal's live-action version of the cartoon series. Critic Leonard Maltin called her performance "deliciously funny." She also lent her voice to a character on Fox Television's popular animated show "The Simpsons."

In 2001, she co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in the ABC movie "These Old Broads," in which Reynolds played an aging Hollywood actress and Taylor her agent. The movie — written by Carrie Fisher, Reynolds' daughter with the man who four decades earlier had left her for Taylor — brought a happy ending to one of Hollywood's most famous feuds.

Taylor said she would have relished more character roles but the market was limited for aging glamour queens. Neither could she slowly fade away: Her every move was still fodder for the tabloid press. "So I thought, if you're going to screw me over, I'll use you," she told Vanity Fair in 1992. "I could take the fame I'd resented so long and use it to do some good."

Taylor had many gay friends and, as the AIDS epidemic mushroomed, some of them were dying. In 1985, she became the most prominent celebrity to back what was then a most unfashionable cause. She agreed to chair the first major AIDS benefit, a fundraising dinner for the nonprofit AIDS Project Los Angeles.

She began calling her A-list friends to solicit their support. Some of Hollywood's biggest stars (Sinatra reportedly among them) turned her down. Taylor redoubled her efforts, aided along the way by the stunning announcement that Hudson, the handsome matinee idol and "Giant" co-star, had the dreaded disease.

Thanks to Taylor's high profile and public sympathy for Hudson, the star-studded AIDS fundraiser netted $1 million and attracted 2,500 guests, including former First Lady Betty Ford. Hudson was too ill to attend but used the occasion to release a major public statement about his illness.

Randy Shilts, who wrote the pioneering AIDS chronicle "And the Band Played On," said Taylor made a profound difference.

"Elizabeth Taylor got AIDS on 'Entertainment Tonight,' and you can't underestimate the value of that kind of exposure," Shilts said. "It made the disease something that respectable people could talk about."

Taylor went on to co-found, with Dr. Mathilde Krim, the first national organization devoted to backing AIDS research, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmFAR. In 1991 she formed the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which directly supports AIDS education and patient care. She denounced President George H.W. Bush, accusing him of inaction on AIDS; called for AIDS testing; and emphasized personal responsibility in prevention of the disease. "People shouldn't stop having sex — I'd be the last person in the world to advocate that — but safe sex," she said, "is important."

Her AIDS work brought her the Legion of Honor, France's highest civilian award, in 1987 and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993.In 2000, Queen Elizabeth made her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an honor on the level of knighthood.

Through her various efforts she would eventually raise more than $270 million for AIDS prevention and care.

In late 2007 she made a rare return to the stage to raise another million in a benefit performance of A.R. Gurney's bittersweet play "Love Letters" at Paramount Studios. Striking Writers Guild members temporarily laid down their picket signs to allow Taylor and guests to support the event without guilt or rancor. After her moving reading brought the audience to its feet, the frail actress stood up from her wheelchair to acknowledge the ovation. She was still regal — and dripping diamonds.

In addition to her sons Michael and Christopher Wilding, Taylor is survived by daughters Liza Todd and Maria Burton, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

Her family plans a privater funeral this week. Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation at Personal messages can be posted to a Facebook tribute page,

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