Immortal: Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Elizabeth Taylor, July 1, 1964, photographed by Richard Avedon

Elizabeth Taylor, New York, July 1, 1964, photographed by Richard Avedon

We toss around the term “legendary,” but Elizabeth Taylor was the genuine article.  Perhaps the last movie star who really was bigger than any picture she appeared in, Taylor belongs in the company of a tiny elite–Garbo, Dietrich, Hepburn, not many others–actresses who on screen seem made of some finer, rarer substance than mere mortal clay. Writing about the 1973 movie Ash Wednesday–a true stinker–Pauline Kael put it this way: “In a few scenes, Elizabeth Taylor is done up like Arletty playing Garance in Children of Paradise, and she’s absolutely ravishing in an unearthly, ageless way.” But of all those screen goddesses, Taylor was the most human, the one who seemed most tangled up in the messiness of life–the woman really lived!–so her beauty never became remote or chilly. The gutsy, abundant spirit always came through, making her somehow even more lovely. It’s a quality that’s palpable in the Avedon photograph above, what Kael called “the excitement of seeing a woman who has vast reserves of personality and who wants to come forward, who wants to make contact.” It’s the secret of Elizabeth Taylor’s eternal glamor.