Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elizabeth Taylor: Too Bloody Much

"She was unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much."
--Richard Burton, Meeting Mrs. Jenkins (1966)

I found this awesome little book a few months ago at Housing Works. Originally published as an article in Vogue, the book is only twenty-four pages long, and reads like a literary short story. Burton, who was born Jenkins, published one other book, the well-reviewed, A Christmas Story.

The story is comprised of three spare incidents. First Burton meets Liz at a pool party in Bel Air and is stunned by her "apocalyptic breasts." Five years later he runs into her and new husband, Mike Todd,and remarks to himself with sour grapes that she seemed merely, "bovine content." Burton artfully skips over how he and Elizabeth actually become a couple; next we see them it is "seven or eight" years later and they are in Paris together, walking in the rain and bantering ruthlessly, Nick-and-Nora style. The book ends with Burton punching a paparazzo and Liz making him apologize. I like the way he writes, but I love his ga-ga descriptions of Liz on their first meeting:

"... so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud."
"... the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen."

"... her body was a true miracle of construction and the work of an engineer of genius. It needed nothing, except itself. It was true art, I thought, executed in terms of itself. It was smitten by its own passion. I used to think things like that."

Mike Todd died in a plane crash, and before Elizabeth married Richard Burton for the first time, she married Eddie Fischer, the former husband of her former best friend Debbie Reynolds. Being known as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World would be enough to make some ladies lose their sense of humor about themselves, but not Liz. In her 1987 weight-loss book, Elizabeth Takes Off, she writes:

"Certainly without a sense of humor I would never have used one of my most effective diet tricks. Someone told me that Debbie Reynolds kept a photograph of me taken during my fattest period on her refrigerator door. She said it reminded her of what could happen if she charged into the icebox. During the initial stage of my diet I thought, well, if it works for Debbie, maybe it will work for me. I stuck a picture of myself at my worst on the refrigerator, and every time I went into the kitchen, there was my corpulent self reminding me of what would happen if I broke my diet. That sight was an excellent deterrent to bingeing. If you think a picture of me as Miss Lard will inspire you, go ahead and put it on your refrigerator, I have no objection. Certainly there are enough photos for you to choose from. I didn't exactly skulk about in those days, and even if I had tried to avoid the press, they would have found me."

I've been planning to write about Elizabeth here and show off that sweet little book. Today I read today that she is on life support. Hope that's just a false rumor.