When I was younger – possibly around 10 or 11, would be my best guess – I watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with my grandmother. I don’t remember the film too clearly – but what I do remember, was Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat. She was mesmerising – I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Like many, many young and slightly awkward girls, I wanted to be her – she was beautiful, confident, wildly talented and breathtaking.
There will only ever be one Elizabeth Taylor.
In the news rush that followed the confirmation of her death yesterday aged 79, I found this gem of a quote from Franco Zeffirelli – who directed Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew. “People like Liz don’t exist any more,” he said. “Because fairy tales no longer exist.”
It’s very true. In the current crop of stars, I don’t think a single actress could even come close to Taylor’s level. Angelina Jolie and Catherine Zeta-Jones are probably closest – but even their stars have faded in recent years. There’s nobody else who has the glamour or the magnetism of old Hollywood… And we’re left with “new Hollywood”.
“New Hollywood” is obsessed with punting out a Good Product. One that will draw in massive ticket sales. A film no longer has to be a masterpiece to garner attention – it’s all about the Product. And the biggest products of all? The stars themselves. Stars are photoshopped into oblivion for movie posters, magazine covers and promotional items. Mainstream actors in particular behave a certain way, interview a certain way, perform a certain way in order to garner some celebrity… And it’s all down to the pioneer that was Elizabeth Taylor.
William Mann, who wrote How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, said: “She created the whole business of fame, the way we know it today.”
“The template that she laid down in the 1950s and 1960s everyone continues to try to follow, with varying degrees of success. But she’s the one that invented it,” he told CNN.
As much as she was famed for her film roles and her tumultuous marriages, she was also a passionate humanitarian. She was a dedicated campaigner for the fight against HIV/Aids, helped to fund amfAR (American Foundation for Aids Research) and in her lifetime raised an estimated $200-million for Aids.
What a lady.