Dame Elizabeth Taylor, actress, died on March 23rd, aged 79
BESOTTED with her radiant beauty, men lined up to lay huge jewels at Elizabeth Taylor’s feet. Their size didn’t matter so much to her, she said. Though the Krupp diamond was 33.19 carat, flaming with life when the light shone through it, and the Taylor-Burton 69.42 carat, so big that it made Princess Margaret’s eyes start out of her head, what mattered more was the emotion that lay behind them.
So the $10,000 diamond and platinum ring that Nicky Hilton, the first of her seven husbands, presented to her in 1950 was the biggest thing that had so far happened to her, as marriage was. In the end it meant nothing, because he beat her. The ring of diamonds and sapphires from Michael Wilding, her second husband, which she rather than he steered to the correct finger, symbolised his caution; it soon became as dull as he was. Michael Todd, her third husband, gave her a Cartier set of rubies and diamonds and a $25,000 tiara, trinkets for the life of Hollywood extravagance to which he had introduced her. She wore the Cartier even barefoot under the lawn sprinkler. At this stage of her life, with Oscar nominations mounting up for her acting in raw, demanding parts, she began to feel that gorgeous ornaments—like lavish contracts—were only what she deserved.
It was Richard Burton’s jewels she treasured most, the wild spontaneity with which he gave them mirroring their explosive, unmanageable, on-again-off-again love. The Krupp came for beating her at ping-pong, the Taylor-Burton because, one night, he had insulted her hands. (He insulted her whole self, too, calling her a “fat little tart”, saying her legs were too short; she’d slap him, wrestle him on the ground, then make up, and so on and so on.) As the new rocks arrived during their two-decade Sturm und Drang she would parade them eagerly to friends, and sit at table silently adoring them while, with her free hand, she wolfed down steak-and-kidney pie.
Her amethyst eyes她的眼睛，好似紫水晶
Jewels were something to hide behind as, chronically shy, she always wished to hide. The glitter at wrist and neck and the cleavage-plunging pearls made “Elizabeth Taylor” less boring to her. The dutiful girl who had given up her childhood to her mother’s pushing in Hollywood, whose baby cheek had been daubed with eye-pencil to accentuate her beauty spot, who had eagerly promised to grow breasts at 12 to please the producer of “National Velvet”, could disappear behind the dazzle. She hid behind other things, too: scorching flights of four-letter words, the brash character of the “broad” or the “dame”, a demanding, regal arrogance, clouds of her own perfume (“Passion” or “White Diamonds”), pills, booze, food. Ordinary Elizabeth would then try to take that character in hand, forcing her to diet and behave.
She insisted on marriage, too, to seal the tempestuous affairs her wilder self kept falling into. Weddings allowed her to become a willing, wifely shadow behind her husbands. Cheerfully she took up Todd’s Judaism, John Warner’s senatorial Virginia tweediness, Burton’s rugby-loving, hard-drinking Welshness, and, temporarily, the weaknesses of all of them. She could “spin on a dime” for love—and spin again when another enchanted man strayed close.
Each film role gave her more cover. On screen, boring Elizabeth could win the Grand National, or tussle with horrific memories of murder in “Suddenly Last Summer”, or seduce both Caesar and Mark Anthony in real-gold robes in “Cleopatra” (1962), then the costliest film ever made. Decorous, timid Elizabeth could be a needy, whining, abandoned wife in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), or a disturbing prostitute in “Butterfield 8” (1960), the film for which she won her first Oscar, though she hated it. She never found acting hard, had no lessons, simply tried to become the other person, grateful to inhabit an alternative to herself. On screen she radiated a thoughtfulness in those blue-violet eyes which she defined as “concentration”. She brought it even to the dishevelled, bawling Martha baiting Burton’s George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), a film that epitomised her louder life and won her her second Oscar.
Yet, as she often told the press, acting wasn’t real to her. Pain was: colitis, crushed discs, exhaustion, or the pneumonia that almost killed her during the making of “Cleopatra”. Her stardom came at a price. This, as much as her longing for concealment, fed her empathy with Hollywood’s misfits, to whom she offered simple, common kindness: Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Michael Jackson, the homosexuals-in-hiding and would-be children whose secrets she heard and kept. Hence, too, her generosity to AIDS sufferers long before most others cared to help them. The money raised from jewels could now provide clinics and counselling.
Her love of those staggering pieces only strengthened as she grew older. She admired their durability then, the fact that they would long outlast her. She was only their temporary custodian, she said, a form and a face caught fleetingly by the movie camera or posing, in soft focus, behind the hard stones. Ever matter-of-fact, she liked that thought of transience, and always refused to sit for the painted portraits that might have lasted. Her own amethyst eyes, pearl skin, ruby lips, would disappear. The beauty of jewels was for ever.