Ed Driscoll

Liz Taylor: 'A Woman's Body and a Child's Emotions'

There’s a telling quote from the late Elizabeth Taylor at the start of Kyle Smith’s latest New York Post column, titled “Vixen, lush, nut … icon:”

“My troubles all started,” Elizabeth Taylor once theorized, “because I have a woman’s body and a child’s emotions.”

The line from La Liz to LiLo is short.

A common gripe about Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown, Kanye West, Charlie Sheen and the rest of our celebrity monster posse is that they’re immature brats whom genetic fortuity gave riches but not brains, morals or character. They are.

As Kyle notes:

Hollywood is enduringly outrageous, but outrage rarely endures. Chris Brown smashed a window? It was less than 20 years ago that cuddly manchild Johnny Depp — today so Mom-friendly that he headlines kids’ movies — smashed an entire New York hotel room.

If comedy equals tragedy plus time, grande dames and silver foxes are simply bad girls and boys who survived. (Those who don’t survive climb even higher up Mt. Posterity: Take a bow, Car and Driver man of the year for 1955, James Dean.)

Twenty years ago, you could barely get through a comedy monologue without mentioning the one-man tempest that was Sean Penn, who pointedly didn’t deny he ran around firing a gun in the air as airborne paps buzzed his wedding to Madonna. “I would have been very excited to see one of those helicopters burn and the bodies inside melt,” he declared. “They were non-people to me. I have never shot a firearm at anything I considered a life form.”

Today Sean Penn is a two-time Oscar winner, a beacon of gay rights, savior of New Orleans and Haiti’s unofficial ambassador of hope. Tomorrow? Maybe he’ll be flying to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. (Just don’t try to take his picture.)

The great old screen sensations weren’t any greater. Faded movie stars brighten our spirits because they remind us of our younger, prettier selves, days when our hair was bountiful and our cellulite was not. Eventually even the most ardently scandalous celebrities quiet their internal clamors, and eventually we forgive the transgressions that sweetly coincided with our own.

Except that we were willing to forgive them their excesses much more in the past because (a) there wasn’t a 24/7 gossip industry, between celebrity-themed Websites and cable TV channels such as E!, to rub our noses in them, a reminder of Virginia Postrel’s Deep Glamour maxim that distance=glamor. And (b) they made better movies. Combine the nihilism of modern Hollywood with their krrrrep product (to borrow a Lileksism) and our general hooking-up-oriented overculture, and it’s no wonder we don’t respect stars the way we used to.

(Which is also a pretty good reminder that while boomer mythology requires us to laugh at the naivety of our parents, in some ways, they were much more sophisticated, and oftentimes less puritanical, than many of their offspring.)