Those of us who observed Elizabeth Taylor as a young actress, in all of her Cinemascope and Technicolor glory, will never forget the thrall of those black-lashed, violet eyes. She was one of the greatest screen beauties ever.
Elizabeth Taylor seemed to go through nine lives -- illnesses, divorces, excesses, businesses, weight problems -- yet she prevailed, and seemed to deal with problems gracefully and with sometimes bawdy humor. Her work for AIDS and other causes, her loyalty to her friends, and her privacy in an age of exposure, all add another legacy to her legendary beauty.
I am privileged to have seen Elizabeth Taylor in person, twice.
1956, Miami Beach
A few blocks from my house, in front of the Sheridan movie theater, 24-year old Elizabeth Taylor and her third husband, producer Mike Todd, are here to publicize his movie, Around the World in 80 Days. She is often described as "the most beautiful woman in the world," but to me, a pre-teen with a short view of life, she looks more like a doll on my shelf: petite and curvy, shoulder-length jet hair, purplish eyes, paper-white skin. In a couple of years Todd will be killed in a plane crash, and Liz will find comfort with singer Eddie Fisher, Carrie's dad. But at this balmy moment, all seems perfectly divine.
I stand right behind her, roped off in the first row because I have stood for over an hour, waiting for my first brush with a celebrity. She smiles at me as she walks by. In the photo in the Miami Herald the next day, my awed young face peers longingly at Elizabeth Taylor's perfect countenance. I don't wish being photographed near a young Liz on anyone.
I am working on an early DVD project for the military as the executive producer (not exactly Mike Todd, but a bit of irony). I'm between marriages and have been living for a few years in Washington, DC, but have been on my own here for several months, heading the international crew.
I see Liz Taylor once again, at the Oriental hotel, at a charity event for the magical festival of Loy Krathong, where the country is alight with candles along its waterways. She is with Larry Fortensky; in two years he will become her seventh husband -- for awhile. She is overweight, over made-up.
As I am invited to the same event, she glances my way, with a different smile than the one I remember 30-something years before at that movie premiere in Miami Beach. I watch her pass me, gracious and somewhat shy. All eyes are on her, as they must usually be whenever she goes out. She moves into a crowd, and then is gone.
When I think about her radiant smile as a young woman, I realize how even the greatest beauty fades. But there was more in her second smile. A full life is reflected in her face.
Thank you, Dame Elizabeth. You will be remembered long after we are all gone, and for more than just your beauty.
Follow Lea Lane on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lealane