What is it about film that captures our attention so well? Some may say it's the story and how we best relate to it but most times, it's the performances played by actors who we are enamored by; who we choose to relate to in some sense of the characters they portray because deep down, they're just like us. This morning I learned Elizabeth Taylor passed away and my heart sunk. Of course, death is inevitable and inescapable but watching someone throughout your years through a television screen and finding them to be of comfort to you, that's hard to part from. Speaking to a friend earlier today, we came to the agreeable notion that these people -- these actors, we sort of expect them to be around forever. Perhaps it's because my generation grew up watching black and white films and anything from that golden era but it just feels weird with them not being around any longer. I remember I first experienced the pinch of an actor that I admired passing away when I was twelve years-old: James Stewart. I had been watching It's A Wonderful Life since I was around eight or nine years-old and in some mentality of sorts, I always thought of him to be evergreen and always around.
Today was no different. My heart grew heavy at the news of Taylor's passing. In my twenty-five years of existence, I have watched a ton of movies and always found an appreciation for film whether it be in colour or black and white. I often tell one of my best friends that film isn't old if you haven't seen it and try my best to encourage him to watch the Turner Classic Movies channel. I might be annoying in my feat to convert couch potatoes to TCM watchers but at least I'm persistent.
I have watched a ton of Elizabeth Taylor films growing up, due in part to my mother who was and still is to this day, a huge fan. I'd sit on the carpet in our family room with a colouring book as my mother sat glued to the television, watching Taylor in various performances. I never knew her by name but I remembered she was glamorous with these bright violet eyes and dark gorgeous hair that bounced when she'd laugh. I'm sure we can all agree that the moment she'd appear on screen, your eyes would be glued to her. She was just simply captivating and so easy to look at. Watching her onscreen was remarkable. Those eyes? Those eyes spoke to us with definition and heart. She had that face that you knew you'd never really see again; one of a kind and a style that was its own signature. The first movie I remember of hers by name was National Velvet. I watched it in grade two and as a kid suddenly grew this excitement about horses. The way young Taylor would encapsulate that emotion and that drive, it felt like we were the same, mind you I was seven years-old at the time but I thought, "She's just like me! We should be best friends!" I told my mother of the movie we watched in class and she was happy, telling me that was her favourite actress and she had been acting since she was around my age or so. It made me wonder then, how old she was as I never fully realized the clear difference in the film making from over the years.
"I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them."
Born as Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor in 1932 in Hampstead, a wealthy district in North West London to American parents residing in England, Taylor was always submerging herself in the arts. Shortly before the beginning of the second World War, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. Her mother took the children first, arriving in New York in the spring of 1939 while Taylor's father wrapped up matters of his business. The family settled in Los Angeles, California soon after. It was at the age of three that young Elizabeth began taking ballet lessons and later signed withUniversal Pictures to a six-month renewable contract at $100 a week. Taylor appeared in her first motion picture at the age of nine in There's One Born Every Minute which was her only film for Universal Pictures and just short of her tenth birthday in February of 1942, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed Taylor to $100 a week for up to three months to appear as Priscilla in the film, Lassie Come Home.
I may have watched Lassie Come Homeat least a dozen times as a kid and my affection for Elizabeth Taylor grew more so. My mother would often call me out of my room to watch films with her and a lot of them were Taylor's. I remember watching Cleopatra as a child with my family and thinking, this woman was beyond beauty and words could not match that spark she created. She held this boldness, like, when she was acting, your eyes were stuck on her every move, her every word and expression. She held such a depth in the art of acting. I remember that same year my sister dressed up as Cleopatra for Halloween, telling her classmates that she was "Elizabeth Taylor" as Cleopatra while I was stuck being just an average fairy who's underwear was on top of her leotards.
Another film I loved growing up of Taylor's was Father of the Bride. After watching the remake starring Steve Martin, I learned of the black and white version from 1950 starring Spencer Tracey and it's a beautiful film about a father's insecurities when his pride and joy -- his daughter, leaves the nest to get married. It's a relatable film on every level especially for anyone who understands that father-daughter dynamic. It's hard not to cry when watching Taylor's character, Kay Banks say goodbye to her father. It's one performance that truly captures that moment right and gives you goosebumps. Especially as the youngest in my family, I know that there will be a moment in life when I'll be in Kay Banks'shoes and watching Taylor go through it, was stunning and heartfelt; makes you wonder how someone so petite could carry such emotion.
The world watched Taylor grow up onscreen and her roles reflected each stage of her adolescence as idyllic girlhood archetypes: the adorable tomboy in National Velvet, the beloved daughter in Life with Father and the engaged ingenue in Father of the Bride. She truly claimed her spot in Hollywood history through the years and as she grew up, she burned up the screen with such a passion and the twinkle in her vibrant eyes. She was one of the first actresses in the industry to earn US$1 million for a role, that being of "Cleopatra" and one of the first to become the tabloid's key stars as she played out her tumultuous relationships and basically, creating way for what the tabloids are today with rumour and gossip. She's been nominated five times for an Academy Award and won two Oscars for her performances in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?She also scored the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1992.
Elizabeth Taylor had an undeniable beauty and a colourful life, onscreen and off-screen. She was a smart woman and authentic in who she was. She had a big heart and wasn't one to deny encouraging beauty from within. It was as if she encouraged women to be bold and smart and in an unspoken sense, shared beauty with them, allowing them to not only be themselves but be elegant in their own style. Not only did she create her own line of jewelry, Taylor launched several perfumes, "Passion", "White Diamonds", "Black Pearls" and "Forever Elizabeth" which, together earned an estimated US$200 million in annual sales. It was reported that in the fall of 2006, Taylor celebrated the 15th anniversary of her "White Diamonds" perfume, with it ranking as one of the top 10 best selling fragrances for more than the past decade. She's actually one of the first actresses also to ever have her own fragrance collection, making way for the starlets today with their own. My mother bought the "White Diamonds" perfume the moment she heard it was out for distribution and ever since, has been a fan, wearing it when she's going out for extravagant events, going to work or even just mere grocery shopping. It adds that certain "je ne sais quois" to who she is and a beauty that comes from within. That's what Taylor was all about. Just because she was gorgeous on the outside, that was just an accent to who she truly was on the inside. Her brand spoke that in a way, showing women can be confident in themselves.
Taylor was helpful throughout her years and her big heart spoke volumes when she spent much of her time and energy to AIDS-related charities and fundraising. She helped start out the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) after the death of her former co-star and good friend, Rock Hudson from Giant. She also created her own AIDS foundation called the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF) and raised an estimated US$50 million, as reported in 1999. On New Year's Eve of 1999, Taylor was named Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
"Give. Remember always to give. That is the thing that will make you grow."
It was in 2006 that she commissioned a 37-foot "Care Van" equipped with examination tables and x-ray equipment and donated US$40 million to the New Orleans Aids task force, a charity which was designed for the New Orleans population affected by AIDS and HIV.
One thing that fans knew of Taylor was that she always kept herself updated with the times. She interacted with her fans via Twitter and always made room for them, being curious of their thoughts and comments. It was in 2009 that she asked her followers over at her Twitter of what they would like her latest fragrance to be called, clearly proving that she cared about what her fans wanted. In some sense, she was a Queen, asking for input from "her people"; the ones that loved and admired her. She was admired by many and it will be no doubt that she will be missed with a heavy heart.
"Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind. I love you."
When I discovered of Taylor's passing this morning, I was not just saddened for the world's loss but my mother's. I was dreading telling her about it but knew I had to because I felt like, she'd appreciate it more from me than from a news reporter who wouldn't see the reaction behind the camera. When she called from work, we spoke casually and then I knew I had to tell her and the moment I did, I heard a sad silence on the end of the line and I knew exactly what she felt. I mean, sure we didn't know her personally but a part of us appreciated what Taylor did because we bonded throughout my adolescence from her films and that's the beauty of films, really. They bring people together, a common love and affection. Elizabeth Taylor did that with who she was and she won't ever be forgotten.
If there's one thing I know, it's that Elizabeth Taylor has not only made a mark on the world with her work but she's one of the last great movie stars. She's the epitome of a "movie star". Any actor in the industry would want a career like that, one with their head held up high and there's no denying the presence she's held in the art of acting. She was always authentically, Elizabeth Taylor. What you saw from her, was who she was. The world will never see another actress quite like her. Taylor will be sorely missed.
"You are who you are. All you can do in this world is help others to be who they are and better themselves and those around them."
Dame Elizabeth Taylor, February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
Essential Films: National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Butterfield 8 (1960), Cleopatra (1963), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967).
Quotes taken from Dame Elizabeth Taylor's Twitter.