Elizabeth Taylor was no snob. She truly felt all humans had the same value in society. She preferred to befriend cooks, housekeepers and secretaries rather than their bosses. My husband, Ron Berkeley, had been her makeup man since their youth, working on Giant and Raintree County together. He was a close friend, as was her hairdresser Agnes Flanagan who had also worked for Marilyn Monroe. Elizabeth hated snobs as much as she hated cheap producers.
By the time I joined the entourage full time in 1966, Elizabeth was locked up in hotel rooms and had no longer any sense of the real world, especially finance. Once she handed me a hundred dollar bill to buy a bikini on the beach in Rome and sweetly asked if it would be enough. The price of a good swimsuit then was $10, and from a beach vendor it was half that. She could have been robbed blind by the entourage, but we all loved her and would never have done it. She never minded the vast hotel or dinner bills as long as everyone was happy.
Elizabeth's favorite pastime was eating and drinking on the set in a private dining room or in the hotel suite. Special guests were brought in for lunch and dinner.
Everybody who was anybody on the planet wanted to meet her, so it was not unusual for luncheon guests to include: Valentino, Yul Brynner, Maria Callas, Princess Grace or Princess Margaret; heads of states like, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, or the Duke of this or that; jewelers like Gianni Bulgari; the musicians, Andre Previn and Tom Jones; the writers, Gore Vidal, Graham Greene and Kenneth Tynan. English actors who were in town would come over to take on Richard. Michael Caine, Richard Harris, Peter O' Toole and Burton would make fun of each other's Shakespearian accents as they ripped apart other actors. Elizabeth's lunches were eating marathons often lasting three to four hours, especially in Italy where the chefs at the studio invented dishes to please her.To Elizabeth, from what I saw, the things that mattered most were:
- Being an Earth Mother to her loved ones
- Food and drink
- Helping the unfortunate (humans and animals)
- How much money she was being paid to do a movie, and what jewelry was offered by the producer for the "end of the movie" gift
Her fame and beauty did not matter very much to her. She was never one to worry about herself as much as he worried about others. She really didn't pursue the film career she might have had. Her financial interests were nil. She never counted her money or cared, wanting only to know that there was enough to pay each vast hotel bill for herself and the entourage; one of which amounted to a few hundred thousand for a multi-week stay (it would be $1 million today).
The reason she wanted the world's top salary (she was the first actor to be paid $1 million for a movie) was that she loved to "mess" with producers. Having been given a hard time early in her career by Louis B. Mayer (who owned every actor at MGM), she never looked back once she was freed from his clutches. She was always an activist.
When Ron did the makeup that won an Oscar for 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, his boss at MGM, Bill Tuttle, got the award because his name, not Ron's, was on the screen. In early
Hollywood, only the head of each department in the studio got screen credit. The actual person who did the work never got the credit. When Ron mentioned this to Elizabeth, she screamed, "not fair!" and, ever the activist, she got the Academy rules changed. Ron was the first actual makeup man to get credit for a film he did. Ever since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the individual makeup and fashion designers get the credit, not just Bill Tuttle or Edith Head. Thanks to our dearest Elizabeth.
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. See Vicky and her NEW Collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, "It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion" was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.