Elizabeth Taylor Tribute: She Lit Up The Screen

By Sherry Goldberg

Sometimes, it seemed as if Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty obscured her talent on screen. In truth, however, Elizabeth’s talent matched her beauty. Later in life, she became an icon as an AIDS activist. With tremendous dedication and compassion, she helped raise awareness of this disease to raise money for many of the victims.

Her personal life was played out on the front pages of magazines and newspapers throughout her life. Consequently, she became larger than life.

Throughout her career she made many important and wonderful films that have survived the test of time. I fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor when I saw The Last Time I Saw Paris. Perhaps it was her beauty that first captivated me as a child. But her performance in this film rang true and made the movie come to life. It was a movie I never forgot.

As a tribute to Elizabeth, I would like discuss some of her most important films and why they should be watched and recognized for their contribution to film history. When she was very young, she had small parts in other movies, like Lassie Come Home and Jane Eyre. At twelve, her portrayal of Velvet Brown in National Velvet ensured that Elizabeth Taylor would always have her place on the screen.

Her portrayal of Angela Vickers in A Place In The Sun was unforgettable. She was only a teenager and yet, she could play love scenes as well as women much older than her. Hedda Hopper, who was a gossip columnist at that time, was quoted as saying, “Elizabeth, where did you learn to play love scenes like that?” Elizabeth became a Femme Fatale in this movie.

In Giant, Elizabeth plays Leslie Benedict, the wife of Rock Hudson’s character, Bick, who has a huge ranch, Reata, in Texas. As his wife, she moves to Texas to begin her new life. Leslie’s loving and compassionate nature has an uplifting effect on the people at Reata. Then, James Dean in his final film role, as Jeff Rink becomes enthralled with Leslie. The conflict between Rock Hudson and James Dean over oil, and Elizabeth Taylor makes this a true Giant of a movie. If you haven’t seen this one, rent it. All three principals were phenomenal.

Elizabeth was not happy with many of her movies in the early 50s. But, Giant and A Place In The Sun were her true crown jewels. The late 50s were Elizabeth’s powerful years on screen. Her beauty was at an all time high and, she startled audiences with three more remarkable performances.

The first one was as Susanna Drake in Raintree County. Elizabeth plays a southern belle who visits Indiana and falls in love with Montgomery Clift’s character, John Shawnessy. Although Susanna and John love each other, the conflict between the north and the south comes between them as they strongly disagree over the issue of slavery. As a tortured soul, Elizabeth gives a deeply moving performance. I believe that Raintree County suffered because it was compared to Gone With The Wind. Elizabeth’s beauty and performance, as well as the lush scenery, music and costumes are what made this movie memorable.

The second role was as Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Sadly, the censors of that day would not allow the full scope of Tennessee William’s story come to fruition so the movie, on some levels was confusing. Both Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman as, her husband, Brick were wonderful. Burl Ives as Big Daddy sparkled in a one of a kind role. Elizabeth suffered the loss of her beloved husband, Mike Todd, during the filming of this movie. But she returned to the set and gave a shocking performance as the neglected wife of a handsome husband.

Her third and best role was as Catherine Holly in Suddenly Last Summer. I never like to give away the plot of this movie. I believe that everyone should see it, for it is truly shocking. It is so shocking that Elizabeth wore a very sexy white bathing suit to lure audiences into the movie. Watching her play against Katherine Hepburn is thrilling. Both ladies were nominated for Academy Awards and I believe that is why neither won. In my opinion Elizabeth should have won the Academy Award for this movie.

The last movie in this series was the weakest. Elizabeth hated the role and did not want to play it, but she was under contract and she had no choice. She plays Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8. Elizabeth called the role that of a prostitute. Frankly, it was. She did it well, but I have always believed she received the Oscar for this movie because of the three that came before it. Elizabeth almost died of pneumonia before she won the Academy Award for this movie. When Eddie Fisher walked her to the stage to accept her Oscar, her tracheotomy scar was fully visible.

In 1962 Elizabeth made Cleopatra. She fell in love with Richard Burton and literally all hell broke loose. Was Cleopatra a good movie? See for yourself and decide. She is exquisite, so on that level you will not be disappointed.

She won a second Academy Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She intentionally gained approximately twenty pounds and allowed the make-up artist to age her, so that she could play the part of Martha. She was thrilled to receive the award, but she truly wished that Richard could have won for playing George. The night she won that Oscar, I threw a party in my dorm room. I, frankly, think I may have been more excited then Elizabeth was when she received it.

For all Elizabeth fans, rent The Taming of the Shrew (1967). As a former actress myself, I know how difficult it is to work with Shakespeare’s dialogue. It is a challenge and I am always amazed when I see it done well. Elizabeth was sparkling and magnificent in her role as Katharina.

Elizabeth made many movies after this time. Some of them good, some of them better than that. If you are a true Elizabeth fan see all of her films and judge for yourself which ones you like. She also performed on stage and received rave reviews.

When Rock Hudson passed away, she became an AIDS activist. She helped found the American Foundation for AIDS Research and 6 years later, in 1991 created her own Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. She started a perfume line and performed on television. She lived a full, exciting and challenging life. Blessed with incomparable beauty and talent, her life was not without its challenges.

I have been collecting Elizabeth memorabilia since I was a little girl. When she made Cleopatra, I copied her make-up. When she made The Taming of the Shrew, I copied her hairstyle. Elizabeth lit up my life; she lit up the world; she lit up the screen. This is my tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.