"She has everything: magic, money, beauty, intelligence. Why can't she be
- Andy Warhol on Elizabeth Taylor
I love Liz, but not for any of the usual reasons. I don't love Liz for her acting, humanitarianism, or sheer survival. I love her because she's larger than life, though not as large in life as she used to be. She's one of America's Sacred Monsters, and being a big fan of irreverence, I love to see icons get a good going-over. In Liz (Birch Lane Press $24.95 hard), C. David Heymann seems to feel the same way. Let's get dishily specific....
Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky __________. It's rather like a child's rhyme with a sing-song kind of malice. The blank at the end is provided for future updating, ever since the recent distressing news that marriage No. 8 fizzled. Naturally, Liz swore up and down that each marriage would be forever, and we wanted to believe her. Every time. Fortunately for Fortensky, if Mr. Heymann is correct, the recovering alcoholic construction worker will walk away from this marriage with $3 million. That's $750,000 a year. Pretty good wages for an ex-hardhat.
Liz is the kind of work we've come to expect from Mr. Heymann, whose most recent literary vent lit into Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. Every lurid detail is rendered in Technicolor, from Liz's menagerie defecating on hotel carpets to Liz herself on her hands and knees purring like a kitten while Eddie Fisher "enters" her from behind (!). Heymann clearly delights in revealing these tidbits, just as he knows emotionally crippled readers like me will delight in reading them.
It would seem that Liz's obsession with enormous male organs is rivaled only by Heymann's. Short of being able to give first-hand testimony to the endowments of Liz's husbands and suitors, the author lovingly reports every morsel of info he can find. A sampling: Nicky Hilton ("...wider than a beer can and much longer"), Eddie Fisher ("...may well have been one of the reasons Elizabeth married him"), Henry Wynberg ("...of equine proportions - long and thick and hard"), and John Warner ("Warner was big"). Fortensky doesn't seem to measure up, however, with an organ described by his first wife as "average."
Then there are her injuries and maladies. It would seem that Liz is cursed with hideous bad luck, combined with unbelievable clumsiness. She is forever slipping, tripping, and falling, rupturing this and fracturing that. Maybe all that jewelry makes her top-heavy, although Nature gave her a good start on that already. Her body has been a major source of interest for decades, as she has lurched between voluptuous, vulgar, and voluminous. When she looked her worst, we were appalled, inspiring a female journalist to remark, "All our lives we've wanted to look like Liz Taylor, and now, God help us, we do!"). Fortunately, we were able to distract ourselves by focusing on her somewhat dysfunctional relationships. Like her friendship with Michael Jackson, for instance.
These two are quite the pair, with ostensibly little in common except that they were both deprived of "normal" childhood experiences. Together, they both come off as somewhat developmentally disabled. Heymann reports that during the 1984 filming of Jackson's Captain EO video, the two of them caused damage to the tune of $3,000 per week to Jackson's trailer as a result of "messy food fights." $3,000 a week? Let's put this in perspective. Imagine that you and a friend are having a few drinks, or whatever, and some hors d'oeuvres. The cocktails, or whatever, make you feel a little giddy. In a moment of abandon, you toss a Vienna sausage at your friend. Your friend hurls a cheese puff at you. Laughing, things escalate, and pretty soon, you, your friend, and the place are a complete mess. You both sheepishly pick up the mess, realizing it wasn't all that much fun, but hey.... End of story. $3,000 a week? How many times each week did this occur? For how many weeks? How much food was involved? Were children present (a distinct possibility) to instigate this? Was it a bizarre plot to keep Liz from eating the food? Good questions, all. Heymann goes on to set the stage for a surreal scene in which Liz is giving maternal advice about marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. On one hand, who knows more about marriage than Liz? On the other, would you take marital advice from someone who's been married eight times?
Hype and glory aside, Liz is the story of one very tough cookie, remembered for her many excesses onscreen and off. Even in the difficulties she caused for herself, she deserves a great deal of credit for surviving - the husbands, illnesses, scandal, drugs - all of it under the microscope of public scrutiny. For every actress who does everything possible to become a star and then claims to loathe it, the alternative is Elizabeth Taylor. She is a magnificent star and revels in it, having survived the very system that created her. Demanding? Yes, and why not? She can afford it. Brassy? You bet. When Princess Margaret remarked at how vulgar the 33.19 carat Krupp diamond Richard Burton purchased for his wife was before asking to try it on, Liz, touching us to the bottom of our white-trash hearts, responded, "Yeah, ain't it great?"
She is a treasure, made more so in an era of "flavors-of-the-week." So what if she's as famous for her jewelry and weight fluctuations as she is for her acting? The whole package is spectacular, and C. David Heymann dishes it out with a shovel. - Stephen Moser