"Passion was a quality she never lost," CBS' Harley Carnes said today about Elizabeth Taylor.
No kidding. I got a glimpse of that in action.
I'd seen Ms. Taylor a few times at events in San Francisco where she'd been blown up like a monster truck tire and moved around in a wheelchair or balancing precariously on a cane. You could only imagine then, as she struggled with various ailments, the striking allure of her beauty, her weirdly violet eyes, her porcelain skin, soft voice and incendiary temper.
At a showing of Cleopatra many years earlier, my preteen self watched as Liz slowly raised herself and her cleavage out of the bath on screen -- just a little on the other side of the propriety of the era -- and realized for the first time with shock and awe that I had parts of me that could function independently.
Skip to 2002. My previous life. Elton John was having his annual Oscar-time birthday bacchanalia at a private room in the Beverly Hills Hotel. There were probably 35 to 40 people at a long table. Jon Bon Jovi (very pleasant, low-key) was on my right. Ingrid Sischy (hilarious), editor of Interview magazine and Andy Warhol protege, was on my left.
Ms. Taylor was seated directly across from me, obviously in some discomfort from her endless, ongoing health problems. But she was nothing short of regal in her demeanor and bearing. She looked better than when I'd seen her here, much better. Only her occasional trips to the bathroom required an entourage of assistance.
Her white fluffy Maltese, Precious, sat in her lap.
She was deep in conversation for much of the dinner with teenage actress Thora Birch, then the saucer-eyed sensation of movies like American Beauty. Birch had a serious goth look at the dinner that she clearly felt showed both her young nonchalance and hipness. But she was very much into this inter-generational mind meld.
It was a snapshot that said oceans about Hollywood, about acting, about the passage of time and about the willingness of a film star dowager on one end of the life cycle to counsel patiently a fledgling.
I couldn't hear what they were saying but I imagined lots of wise counsel being passed down, professional and maybe even personal nightmares that Ms. Taylor had suffered through that she was trying to help her successor avoid.
It was clearly the best and most interesting coupling in the room, although Courtney Love showed up at some point with incipient presidential candidate John Kerry, introducing him around the table. A sure sign that Kerry was doomed.
Suddenly, I noticed that Ms. Taylor had stopped in mid-sentence and was looking around the room in a panic. Her dog had jumped off her lap at some point and she'd just noticed.
In a voice that sounded like a raging fan at a Raiders' game, she screamed. It was a deep rumble and stunning roar that Richard Burton must have heard a few times and seemed impossible from someone who often spoke in little girl whispers:
"PRECIOUS! PRECIOUS! Where the F**K are you!!??
Chaos ensued until the rat-like dog was found. It wasn't curves emerging from a bathtub but it was passionate and it clearly was Elizabeth Taylor.