I’m sorry to hear about the passing of Elizabeth Taylor. I cannot think of another living Hollywood star of her caliber.
I grew up hearing all the personal stories of her marriages and remarriages. Peter Rainer, past president of the National Society of Film Critics, said that she was “bigger than the movies”. Certainly, when I watched her films, I saw her less as an actress than as a Movie Star. To be honest, I didn’t really “get” Elizabeth Taylor, and why everyone made such a fuss over her, until I finally saw her in person.
In 1985, I was working for the UCLA Film Archives at their facility in Hollywood, the old Technicolor building just up the street from the Paramount lot. The site was occasionally used for film locations, which mostly just presented a burden to those of us who worked there. Such was the case one afternoon when an alleyway right around the corner from my office was redressed to look like a studio backlot from the 1930’s for a TV movie about Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. My annoyance at having to walk around the location, however, was replaced by intrigue when I heard that Elizabeth Taylor was on the set.
Working in Hollywood, one runs into actors all the time, but less often do you get to see genuine Hollywood legends. Out of curiosity and boredom, I parked myself on an outdoor catwalk to watch the filming. If you’ve ever been on a set, you know that most of what happens is quite mundane. After several minutes of watching crew members adjust the set and get ready for filming, I was close to leaving when suddenly the Grand Dame herself appeared. I was well out of range of the cameras, watching from the catwalk overhead, quite a distance away. In the scene, Elizabeth Taylor was walking down the alley with another actress and delivering some dialogue. When they finished, they were almost immediately below me, maybe 25 feet away. The cameras stopped, someone adjusted her costume, and she just stood there waiting for the next set up. Then, as if she knew I was there, Elizabeth Taylor turned and looked right at me. She gave me a big, beautiful smile, and waved. I actually did a double-take and looked around to see if there was anyone else standing near me, then looked back at her. She waved again, I weakly waved back, and then Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood’s shining star, blew me a kiss.
I was completely smitten. Suddenly I understood why so many considered her to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She was Hollywood royalty, and I felt like I had just been knighted.
Then, just as quickly, it was over. She turned back to the film crew and walked out of sight. It was a fleeting instance, one she probably shared with other people more than a thousand times over, but a moment I will never forget.
Rest well, Liz Taylor. You were an extraordinary woman, and your star will shine ever brightly.