Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011
Elizabeth Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure this morning at the age of 79, has been a constant of American life for nearly 70 years. We watched Taylor grow up in a way only the movies can allow us to do. We saw her as a pre-teen in "National Velvet," a blushing teen daughter in "Father of the Bride," an ethereal beauty in "A Place In The Sun," a sexpot in "Suddenly, Last Summer," the wife of an alcoholic jock in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a fashion goddess in "Cleopatra" and, ultimately, an aging ingenue in "Sweet Bird Of Youth." There hasn't been a moment in our popular culture over the last 70 years that Elizabeth Taylor wasn't a central part of.
Taylor won two Oscars and was nominated for three others, but Taylor was the rare movie star who transcended awards: She was a far bigger star than some statue. Taylor was wonderful in films like "A Place In The Sun," "Giant" and "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf," but the film role she'll be most known for is "Cleopatra." That film, in which she met on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again paramour Richard Burton, is considered the most expensive American film ever made and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox; that it is almost entirely an obsessive dedication to Taylor's beauty is perhaps the best evidence of how powerful and famous Taylor truly was. Men spent fortunes simply to document her.
"Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?" showed the gruffer side of the lilac-eyed Taylor, who played one-half of the film's central sparring couple.
Many critics consider her most glamorous, fully Hollywood performance was in "A Place In The Sun," which won six Oscars and was nominated for three more. Montgomery Clift plays the poor nephew of a rich businessman who meets Taylor's socialite and is immediately entranced. Here, Taylor isn't just a beautiful woman: She's the very picture of allure, an invitation to a better, lusher, more ideal world. She represents, essentially, perfection.