Liz Smith: Remembering Farley Granger

Liz Taylor marries Larry Fortensky, 1991

And more from our Liz: A fabulous wedding at Neverland!

“CONSTANT USE will not wear out the fabric of friendship,” said Dorothy Parker.

* * *

SOMETIMES the synchronicity of life is amazing and sometimes it gives a fateful result. About two weeks ago I was in the theater restaurant Orso, having a late supper with Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia McFadden and Bette Midler. (We were giddy having just seen the musical of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” which Bette has co-produced.)

As we exited, I glimpsed a good-looking grey-haired man at the table nearby. It turned out to be the big star Farley Granger who was there with friends. “Liz! Liz!” he signaled and we had a brief kissy reunion because he has always been a pet pal of mine. And vice versa.

Farley was always the most beautiful man in movies and I won’t cite his credits but if you saw the classic black and white Hitchcock film “Strangers On Train” – well, you know what I mean. I forever admired Farley, who deserted movies before they deserted him and came back to work in  theater, where he spent his mature years. Even in old age he remained handsomely attractive and special – sweet and friendly.

We made a pact as we kissed goodbye to “get together” soon — and now that date can’t be kept as Farley died only days after, at age 85. Maybe he and his slightly younger contemporary, Elizabeth Taylor, are having a reunion elsewhere. I hope so for they were two of the most gorgeous souls ever born – and very nice, generous humans in the bargain.

* * *

AND P.S.: Thank you to the many, many people who have e-mailed me directly and personally about Elizabeth’s death. I appreciate this sentiment and I marvel at those who recall that Elizabeth and I were good friends from 1964 on.

I had this missive from the former People magazine editor, Hal Wingo, who is now living happily in retirement in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

Hal says: “I was tempted to write a letter to the editor to the Times this week when Barry Levine of the National Enquirer wrote an Op Ed piece telling how he tried all the tricks in his bag to get coverage of the Taylor-Fortensky wedding, including putting a photographer and reporter in a hot air balloon (which promptly crashed) and nothing worked.

“I wanted to say People did it the old-fashioned way, by hiring the best reporter who was inside the ranch as an invited guest. This coverage of that wedding was a real triumph for People.”

* * *

WELL, it’s nice that Hal remembers I was People’s person on the inside. I got the gig by bargaining with Elizabeth Taylor personally that whatever was earned from the magazine and other sources would go directly to AmFAR in the AIDS fight. And it did.

While many of us were waiting at the Neverland Ranch for the wedding to actually happen, I was also running back and forth down the road outside Neverland, in high heels, to a Fox TV trailer where I breathlessly reported that nothing much was going on inside. On one of these treks, I spied Dr. Mathilde Krim, who could not get the guards to admit her.

I, on the other hand, had impeccable “credentials” and after arguing for a while with the guards, I was able to escort Dr. Krim, the founder of AmFAR, inside to wait with the rest of us. I will never forget sitting on a stool at Michael Jackson’s ice cream parlor room with the tycoon Barry Diller. “Liz, I wonder if we’ll ever get a real drink here?” said Barry. But the servants were denying us, offering ice cream sodas, because no liquor was to be served until after the wedding.

It was unforgettable, as a guest with a pad and pencil at hand, to hear the wedding march begin and look back toward the house where Elizabeth, all in yellow and with a startling suntan, appeared in the doorway. She was the bride on the arm of Michael Jackson who “gave her away.”

(At least we can say that the loyal Miss Taylor never did vice versa. She kept all of Michael’s secrets to the end.)

It was no surprise during the actual wedding ceremony, which no one could hear for the din of helicopters overhead, when a man came crashing down on top of the audience in a parachute. Security whisked him away so quickly that I don’t think even Nancy Reagan, in the front row, was aware of this unusual happening. I was standing about four feet from this intruder, taking notes, when it happened.

It was fabulous at the wedding supper to be re-united with a man who had been my classmate at the University of Texas. Fess Parker, the former Daniel Boone/Davy Crockett of TV, had become a well-known wine producer in the Neverland neighborhood. We embraced and said, “Hook ‘em, Horns!” and congratulated ourselves on not having gone to Texas A & M.

It was also fabulous to be invited to talk to the newlywed Mrs. Fortensky at her own insistence that I sit awhile with her and — no, not her bridegroom, but with Michael Jackson. (Mr. Fortensky was at a table with his own family and various relatives.) Elizabeth and Michael talked to me about how close they were and why – both having had been lonely child stars. I jotted down every word and relayed it to People. AIDS benefited. And for the time being, everybody but the National Enquirer was happy.

Of all the people I have ever known who have passed to the great beyond while I kept on keeping on here, Elizabeth Taylor is the most memorable – and, in my mind, she will never die.

8 comments so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    Farley Granger always reminded me of Montgomery Clift. While Farley didn’t have Monty’s career, instead, he had a long productive life and aged beautifully. What more could anyone ask for?
    Liz, your coverage of Elizabeth has been great reading over the years: even-handed but wise and empathetic. And I agree that people who are special stay alive, in the mind and heart.
    To me, ET has gone home and finally left that pain-ridden physical self behind. Elizabeth Taylor may not be the absolute last of the great movie stars, but Hollywood’s GREATEST star is definitely gone.

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    It was also fabulous to be invited to talk to the newlywed Mrs. Fortensky at her own insistence that I sit awhile with her and — no, not her bridegroom, but with Michael Jackson. (Mr. Fortensky was at a table with his own family and various relatives.)

    ____________________________________________________________________

    Sort of odd.  But then this was the beginning of the odd. With much more to follow. A reflection of mine. A reflection of a friend who was there. I faxed a note and gave it two years. And moved on to other odd things. A mutual friend invited me to come out for the Disneyland odd. I had never been to Disneyland. And still haven’t been to Disneyland. So I was tempted. But it was, well, too odd.  And odd turned into bizarre as the Michael Jackson saga unfolded.

    Larry Fortensky was working on the renovation of the Kirkeby mansion which Jerry Perenchio had bought. Which added to the odd. I heard neighbors would watch him walk up Nimes Road to work. Have no idea if he did. But, well, it’s a short walk so maybe he did.  And then watch him walk back down Nimes Road after work. And ring the buzzer at the gate. The joke when it was announced they would marry was that she had given him a gate clicker as a wedding present. I think she bought him a car. And no doubt gave him a gate clicker.

    Someone commented at one point several years ago that her life had become a sequel to The Driver’s Seat. Possibly true. All I choose to remember or ever will is her wonderful way of being there for people whether they were friend, family, or a total stranger. Sometimes she offered a big check. Sometimes just a smile. And she knew which someone needed most.

    She was Earth Mother. 

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear baby…I spoke with Fortensky in Venice, when accompanied his wife to yet another AmFAR event.  He was sweet, attractive, very much alone and out of his element.

      We talked about a bit of construction he was doing for the Mrs. around the house.  He also had some ideas about how to keep Venice from sinking.

      A year later I brought this up to the lady herself.  “You talked to him, about that?” 

      She was not amused.  I guess by then his construction worker charms had worn thin. Not that he could maintain those particular charms as the husband/consort to the world’s most famous woman.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        As I said, the beginning of the odd. Personally I wonder if there’s something in the water up there at Bel-Air and Nimes. Or some weird vortex or something. I had my own little dramarama up there with someone telling me the loved me while they bounced around in beds. And bounced into one at that corner so to speak during one of weekends I was in Houston while he was using my rental car to find beds to bounce into. I sent him a pogo stick. And a note telling him goodbye but telling him I wanted him to have the pogo stick so he could bounce around the beds in Bel-Air in style. Which I sent all around. Including everyone who lived in the neighborhood so to speak. He liked to jog. I thought he should be properly introduced to everyone. I really should have written a book. Or two. Or three.

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        I’ve had my share of trysts in the Hollywood Hills from Topanga to Glendale, Bel-Air not excluded. There is a song, “The Story” by Brandi Carlile. Listen to it sometimes….the song vocalist/ writer really knew what she was talking about.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Touching lyrics. But for me, well, not lyrics that bring back memories I’m afraid.  Love just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I might have settled for something less but I’m afraid I never found anything even worth settling for. Some wonderful affairs, some memorable flings, even some memorable trysts. But love? Just didn’t happen. But who knows, you know? May still happen. 

  3. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Farley Granger was part of that gay pact that we hear so much about during the late 1940′s/ early 1950′s. All claim studio driven to believe that they were or act bisexual. To me, that was kind of a cover. Farley, Brando, Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Montgomery Clift, James Dean…even so far as saying Michael Wilding and his ‘best friend’, Stewart Granger. Rumors have existed about Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas…and the list goes on and on and on. But Farley did date (or has a great friendship with) Shelly Winters. There were many dates between the two of them during the Stan Donen & Elizabeth Taylor in the Spring 1951 period, which lasted about six months. They were all very young. A new breed of young Hollywood actors who were emerging. To me, Farley Granger is the spitting image of Eddie Fisher. Sorry he is gone. He seemed to have had a complicated, yet adventurous love life before settling down with one partner. As for Shelly, in her two autobiography books, she has many stories about her and Elizabeth Taylor throughout the years. Too many to get into now but good copy just the same. I am sure that eyebrows were raised when a traditional Taylor/ Fortensky wedding was announced. After her first 1950 extravaganza, the following weddings were very small, remote and done in good taste. Now, with wedding number eight, she decides to go the traditional route. Walking down the aisle, the wedding dress and all the guests. I certainly am not criticizing her for this. She must have thought that this was the last wedding (for her) and decided to make the best of it…which is not usually done for an eighth marriage. There were past ceremonies on farms, in the wilds of Africa, in a hotel room…just to name a few. Though this one was ‘the one’…meant to last for life. If you compare her in wedding dress number one, and wedding dress number eight (with forty years in between), she is just as beautiful and looks ever so much like a glowing bride. The wedding was definitely a statement…since she had been living with Larry for two years.
    Liz Smith, your devotion and friendship about Elizabeth knows no bounds. I remember you reporting on Elizabeth Taylor being in love with Jason Winters (2007), and they had a lovely life together in Hawaii…full of real love. You placed a romantic slant on it but you must have thought “is she kidding or what?” I know that I thought that, as did others. What an unlikely pair, if you knew all the facts. But you reported it exactly how Elizabeth wanted you too and this has been your history with Elizabeth. At times, you have entered a small amount of your own commentary, just to keep it real. You’ve balanced this well, and that is your God given talent!

  4. avatar Paula Kalamaras says:

    Although I never had the privilege of ever meeting Farley Granger, I do owe him a debt.  When I was about 9 years old, I was at a family wedding.  The wine was flowing freely and as we were all staying in the hotel where the reception was being held, my uncles were feeling no pain.  My one uncle, known to be parsimonious, spotted someone at the far end of the room – a distant cousin from Canada it turned out.  He was a tall handsome man with movie star good looks.  My uncle insisted that it was Farley Granger – and went on insisting this for at least an hour.  At long last, tired of trying to get her point across, his wife whispered to me that I should bet her husband (my mom’s brother) that this man was not Farley Granger.  I did so, and thus began a half an hour betting pool that ended up with a pot of at least $100.  I approached the Canadian cousin who finding out what I stood to gain, whipped out his wallet and proved to my uncle once and for all he was not Farley Granger.   My uncle lost in good spirit and doubled the pot, so I ended up with $200.  From then on, I always looked for Farley Granger movies and always thought about him gratefully.  May he rest in peace or as we Greeks say, May his memory be eternal