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Taylor’s death marks end of a Hollywood era

March 25, 2011 - Keith Frederick
Elizabeth Taylor died of congestive heart failure on Wednes­day, and a major part of Hollywood history died with her.

Taylor, perhaps more than anyone, personified the Golden Age of Holly­wood and the glamour of those days. She was always shimmering with diamonds, always covered in makeup, as though she were just waiting for her cue. You would NEVER see Liz Taylor in jeans and a T-shirt.

I usually pictured her in some kind of gown or im­possibly sparkly pantsuit — like something your grandma would wear if she won the lottery.

There are few stars left who left an imprint on film and film culture like Tay­lor did. Fittingly, perhaps the star who comes closest is Mickey Rooney, Taylor’s fellow child star and frequent co-star. Like Taylor, Rooney is perhaps best known now for being himself — a former child star who used to act and has been married countless times.

Though Taylor was just 79, most of her former co-stars had died long ago, as the old guard of Hollywood faded away. Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Paul Newman, Richard Burton — Taylor’s most famous leading men proceeded her in death, most by decades.

Her female contemporaries fared no better. The best actresses of Taylor’s era — Katharine and Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr — passed on long ago. In fact, of the 17 actresses Taylor competed against in her five Academy Award nominations, just five are still with us today: Joanne Wood­ward, Shirley MacLaine, Doris Day, Vanessa Red­grave and French actress Anouk Aimee.

Ah yes, the Oscars. Taylor won two during her career, but her craft was often overshadowed by her personal life. Her first Best Actress win, for 1960’s “BUtterfield 8,” was eventually forgotten after the fiasco that was 1963’s “Cleopatra” and her torrid affair with Richard Burton. The film, in many ways, signaled the end of “Elizabeth Taylor” and ushered in “Liz!” The former was a respected actress. The latter was a controversial, larger-than-life persona — the first of today’s celebrities whose off-screen antics far surpassed their silver screen accomplishments.

Taylor had a comeback of sorts in 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” winning her second Best Actress trophy and, for perhaps the last time, showing the world just what a talented actress she was. She spent the next decade of her career making forgettable films, many co-starring Burton, and effectively retired in the late 1970s.

From the 1980s until her death, she mostly appeared in cameos — most frequently on tabloid covers which speculated on every aspect of her life, from her marriages to her weight to ... basically anything else they could come up with.

Despite Taylor’s tabloid popularity, she was a tireless humanitarian. Even as she hocked her White Diamonds perfume in ridiculously pretentious commercials, she campaigned for AIDS research and stood by Hudson, who was Hollywood’s first big victim of the disease.

There will never be another Liz Taylor. There couldn’t be. A popular, talented actress with her personal life? She’d be eaten alive by today’s media, with studios treating her like the plague.

Rest in peace, Liz. Like no one we’ll ever see again, you were one of a kind.

Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick’s column runs monthly in Go. He can be reached at 946-7466 or by email at kfrederick@altoonamirror.com.

 
 
 

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Blog Photos

The Associated Press Elizabeth Taylor is seen during the filming of “National Vel­vet.”