Ed Driscoll

'The Last Movie Star'

I didn’t have much to say yesterday about Elizabeth Taylor’s death, because her career felt slightly before my time. Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Bogie, Clark Gable and Orson Welles all had at least one iconic star turn in landmark movies that immortalized them; few of Elizabeth Taylor’s individual films live up to that standard.

Beyond that, one of the unfortunate aspects of growing up in the 1970s is that I felt like I was constantly playing the movie backwards — by then, Groucho, Bing and Bob were old men, Sinatra and Dino’s Rat Pack cool had dissipated into the smug “Celebrity Roasts” they were always doing for NBC, and Elvis and Liz had each ballooned due to various indulgences. Glamor was gone from the movie world, instead, taking the late-sixties far left fad of radical chic to its logical conclusion, the industry transformed by Bonnie & Clyde and Easy Rider looked to the underworld for style, whether it was The Godfather or Superfly. Even James Bond’s tuxedos had bell-bottoms back then.

So I missed much of the glamor of Liz Taylor at her prime. (And wow, what a prime.) As Roger L. Simon writes:

Who can forget Elizabeth Taylor opposite Richard Burton in 1963′s version of Cleopatra? No male of my generation, I suspect. Or few. Personally, I always found Taylor more seductive on screen even than Monroe, though I prefer brunettes generally.

And now La Taylor is dead at the moment the Middle East — from Cleo’s Egypt to Libya to Syria and back — goes officially insane. Well, that’s an exaggeration. The Middle East has been insane for centuries. But it somehow seems bleakly ironic that Liz — who converted to Judaism — would die on the very day mad bombers once more stalk Jerusalem. The juxtaposition of the death of the woman Drudge aptly calls “The Last Movie Star” with the image of some religious lunatic (a madwoman in a hijab?) leaving a backpack filled with explosives in a bus station is not a fitting end for an actress who brought us so much.

And indeed there was a lot. My first vague memories of Taylor were from seeing her in A Place in Sun (I was a little kid then, getting a glimpse of the adult world) but my clearest early memories were from Giant, which appeared when I was twelve. An avid moviegoer at that age, I hustled down to the 86th Street Grande to see the great new icon James Dean, only to be transfixed by the female creature on the screen. I was mesmerized. Boy, did I know for sure at that point I was heterosexual! (Of course, as we know, Taylor later became a gay icon herself — but that was for other reasons…. her support for AIDS victims, etc.)

Roger’s post is titled “Cleopatra Dies as the World Goes Crazy.” Sadly, Elizabeth Taylor’s passing and the craziness of the increasingly reprimitivized world intersect here.