Mr. wOw: Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor: CC/Public Domain

Now, Mr. wOw could write a million serious or sentimental words about Elizabeth Taylor on her 78th birthday. But I’m feeling rather lighthearted today. (The Wellbutrin must have kicked in, finally!) When I realized today was indeed February 27, and that la Liz was indeed 78, I was drawn back to remember the spring and summer of 1962. Outside the corner grocery store a block from where Mr. wOw lived with his mom, a rack of newspapers was always placed outside the store, weather permitting. Seven New York City tabloids. I’ll never forget passing that rack of papers, day after day, and on every front page screamed the scandal of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I knew who Elizabeth Taylor was. I recalled my mother, two years previously, wondering if Elizabeth would survive her dreadful illness in London. (Mr. wOw was only about six, but … already very interested in the Lives of Glamorous Ladies. My mother thought it was amusing then. Later, not so much.)

But this attention to Miss Taylor’s love life seemed unprecedented (a word Mr. wOw probably didn’t even know at that time). It was thrilling and sexy (Mr. wOw knew that word!) and very exciting. Mr. wOw wanted to buy all the newspapers, and read every word about this monster of iniquity – my mother expressed herself as “very disappointed” in La Liz. But we could only afford one newspaper. Just one? Mr. wOw burned with curiosity. He was often shoo-ed away from the store because he tried to quickly flip through papers. And on more than one occasion, Mr. wOw went criminal for ET – he stole several of his favorite headlines right off the newspaper stand. “Liz and Burton Romp in Rome.” Mr. wOw had a pretty good idea what a “romp” was. (My mother later “forgave” Elizabeth because … she was too beautiful to know better and “she’s always so sick, poor thing.” Even Mr. wOw thought this made little sense, but it also made Miss T. seem quite powerful. She could change my mother’s mind – no easy task, that!)

As the years passed, Mr. wOw didn’t think much of Miss Taylor as an actress or even as a beauty (what was up with her weight and that double chin?!) But she was a fascinating creature – so excessive, so bejeweled, so overly made-up. So “I don’t give a damn what you think!”

Mr. wOw found that attractive and amusing. Finally, during the High Rococo period of Elizabeth’s career in the late 1960s/early 1970s,  Mr. wOw came to appreciate the onscreen Liz – and in doing that, went back and looked at her earlier work, and found her surprisingly good and subtle. (Though, natch, Mr. wOw preferred the unsubtle Liz – anyone could act, nobody could do what Miss Taylor did with a teasing comb and liquid eyeliner!) Then, in 1973, Mr. wOw clapped eyes on Miss T. for the first time, and that was that. She was, in the flesh – and in the riot that broke out around her – every crazy headline, every lurid Photoplay cover, every fantasy of a movie queen come to life. And even – just for Mr. wOw’s sake, I am sure – very slender at that moment.

Birthdays are days of celebration. I want to celebrate all the good times, all the fun, that Miss Taylor has provided for me over the years. Her great movies, her great charity works, her sufferings, courage – all those are for a more serious day. Today I remember going to see “X Y & Zee” with four friends and a bottle of Jack Daniels (Miss T’s favorite libation), shrieking with pleasure as Taylor picked up a phone, furiously dialed her rival, Susannah York, and barked, “Is my husband in your skinny, chicken-like arms? He likes women to be a mess, that’s why he’s with me!” (Miss Taylor wears hot-pants in this movie. Need I say more? She deserved the Oscar.) 

Oh, Elizabeth. I hope today is full of love, friends, family and a hell of a good time, honey. You deserve it.

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