Elizabeth Taylor became my Hollywood heroine in the 1960’s when her film production of Cleopatra hit my city. Tickets were purchased in advance, just as if it were a live performance. It was four hours long. Once you were seated there was no getting up again. A 30 minute intermission at the 2-hour mark allowed the audience to buy a cool drink, catch a breath of fresh air and then it was back to the seats for another two hours. I remember the line to the ladies room was so long I didn’t even bother.
I enjoyed the movie but Ms. Taylor captured my heart, mind and soul during the scene where she defiantly arrives in Rome to deliver Caesar his son. Behind a parade of dark, dancing Nubians in white ostrich feathers and fair-skinned concubines swathed in glittery veils, she stands in front of a golden pyramid at the top of stairs which stretch out onto a long platform. Hundreds of slaves carry this monstrous parade float on their shoulders in the hot sun. She stands by her child, she draped from head to toe in a costume made of bejewelled, golden feathers (meant, I believe, to resemble the Goddess Isis) him in golden robes and nestled under the keen protection of his mother’s arm.
It was the most powerful movie scene I’d ever watched. It was like seeing an old adage turn upside down and come to life – Yes Virginia, the mountain can come to Mohammad.
I do realize that the epic production of Cleopatra was created by authors, costumers, cameramen, directors, etc. But one cannot pretend the genuine gutsy demeanor brought into the scene by Ms. Taylor wasn’t the thing that pulled everything else together and made it work. I doubt there are many if any in Hollywood today who possess the ability to pair gutsy with ladylike quite like Elizabeth Taylor. Even in her drunken scenes in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf she is never for a moment – not poised.
The sense of true bravery didn’t end with the director saying cut, either. On camera or off, Elizabeth Taylor was a brave lady in every sense of the word. She became my real-life heroine in the 1980’s when she sat on a hospital bed and cradled a young girl who was suffering from AIDS. She deplored people who were unforgiving and who acted from ignorance and fought many social injustices many times over.
She was a great actress, a generous philanthropist, a loving and lovely lady. She will be missed.