SHE WAS LATE, the day we met in 1999. Not as late as her legend would profess, but late enough to remind us who she was.
That meant everyone waited. The writer of that day's commercial, who happened to also be her ex-step-daughter, Carrie Fisher. The legendary photographer -- also her dear friend -- Herb Ritts. Stylist -- and Mick Jagger's paramour -- L'Wren Scott. And a host of supporting characters -- make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe, lighting grips, assistants, the head of marketing for Elizabeth Arden and me, then U.S. Regional Sales Director -- West Coast for Harry Winston. No one seemed to mind. I mean, it's Elizabeth Taylor forgodssakes.
Sugar came in first, leaving a trail of piddle behind. Security guards followed. Miss Taylor close behind on a golf cart, with a driver.
The shoot was for both a White Diamonds TV commercial and print ad campaign and Winston was providing the ice. Why Miss Taylor's own wasn't good enough, I don't know, but I will tell you that when Miss Taylor saw the 104 ct. stone we brought, she did emit a soft squeal. "Ooooooohhh!" she cooed, eyes wide. "Let me take this (supernaturally-beautiful-Golconda-Richard Burton-33.19 ct. Krupp Diamond) off," she exclaimed while handing it to me, "so I can put THIS on!" Without missing a beat -- as she ooohed and ahhhed over the very, very large D, IF cushion-cut stone on her finger -- she said, "Do you wanna try it on?" Meaning, did I want to slip the infamous sparkler that caused Princess Margaret to utter, "how very vulgar" on my finger. "OMFG" my inside voice was screaming, while I silently slipped it on. "Wow! What an incredible thrill!" is all I could muster. She grinned.
"You know," she began, " John [Warner] made me sell the 69 ct. pear shape Richard gave me and I have NEVER gotten over it!" (Second OMFG! What am I hearing?!?!?) "He needed to finance his campaign and I wanted to make him happy, and well... I still miss it!" Ok, I am now having girlfriend talk with Elizabeth Taylor. Out-of-body experience.
Make-up staff flurried about, but Miss Taylor did her own. She did her own. The crew on the set scurried and buzzed. Miss Taylor settled into her seat and a voice from the shadows shouted, "Mom! Are you ok??" Violet eyes swiveled, a laugh filled with familiar affection erupted and Carrie Fisher started doing schitck making La Liz cry with laughter. I am now wondering if I have crossed to a parallel universe. Like the Mt. Olympus of Hollywood where the deities' myths have their own constellations.
Herb Ritts starts to shoot. He asks if Elizabeth can deliver a line in a slightly different way. "Can I say that? Of course! I am an ACTRESS!" Silence from the entire room. She delivers. Cut. Applause.
Now everyone and their basset hound wants a picture with her to commemorate the day. I am shy/respectful/panicking/opportunistic. I lie in wait. Four, five, six different people jump in the frame in rapid succession. Herb clicks. Strobes flash. Her back -- a well-known ailment -- has flared up and she is ready to drop, but a pro. I watch to see if it's cool to finally jump in, thinking... "If I don't, I will never have this chance again," but still hesitate. She sees me standing in the shadows -- my eyes must have been like those on 1950s ballerina paintings. "Come on!" she beckons. I rush into position, lean in close and whisper, "I am going to have to be sooooo retouched!"
"Witch!" she replies and we both laugh. Sugar, who is still in frame, does not.
The exhibition of her jewels at MOCA to be auctioned by Christie's, displays one of the most extraordinary collections of not just significant jewels in the world, but the most glamorous and most personal. Her intense passion for the fire of precious stones is legendary in cinematic history, but also in the world of serious jewelry collections. Her association with them, uniquely unparalleled.
Although well familiar with each piece, seeing them today behind plexi boxes, I was actually still a little gaga. Their scale is monstrous. This was a petite woman who carried these exceptionally large jewels as if they were made for her. Some were. But most, had legends of their own.
The infamous pieces were all there. The Richard Burton gifts; the Krupp Diamond (est. $2,500,000-$3,500,000), "La Peregrina" Pearl (est. $2,000,000-$3,000,000), the Bulgari emeralds (est. $2,150,000-$3,200,000). The Mike Todd ruby suite from Cartier (est. $430,000-$620,000). The Prince of Wales brooch (est. $400,000-$500,000).
There will never be another Elizabeth. I genuflect.
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