Classic Film Reading Challenge 2023 - Elizabeth Taylor The Grit and Glamour of an Icon


Best laid plans Truly, Madly: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and the Romance of Century was going to be my first book for the Summer Reading Challenge. I could not resist the lure of the first authorized biography of Elizabeth Taylor. So, here we are. 

There was a lot of buzz when the news came out for this book, authorized by the estate of Elizabeth Taylor and cooperation of her family and at least one ex-husband Senator John Warner. Over the years there have been many books written about Elizabeth Taylor, often focusing on scandal, image, and in many cases, fiction. There were also beautiful books like Taylor's own My Love Affair with Jewelry. 

Elizabeth Taylor, one of the great beauties of the 20th century, was newsworthy almost the instant she arrived in Hollywood. A great beauty, no doubt, always newsworthy, always hunted. She has always been a person of interest, even when I was growing up in the 1970s and browsing the magazine rack at the PX and seeing her (and Richard Burton) on the covers of Modern Screen and Rona Barrett's Hollywood magazines. I was aware of her long before I'd seen a movie beyond National Velvet and Cleopatra.

After Taylor's passing in 2011, I began hoping there was a manuscript lurking hidden away authored by Taylor. She was a very smart, no intelligent, lady. She not only mastered her public persona, she was a master of her own private life. Even if you thought you knew who she was, in many things you had no idea at all. Taylor was not one to do interviews, made wary of the press from a very early age, the press corps was not to be trusted. The rare interviews such as Larry King Live and her sole appearance on Johnny Carson, were just about it. Therefore, this biography authored by Kate Anderson Brower was highly anticipated.

Elizabeth Taylor lived a very complex and full life in her eventful 79 years. Author Kate Anderson Brower had access to the entire Elizabeth Taylor archive, this included 7,358 personal letters and conducted over 250 interviews.  Clocking in at 512 pages, this biography still feels like a Cliff Notes edition. So much seemed glossed over or not mentioned at all. I read the kindle edition so I cannot really count the pages of back matter to exclude from the meat of the book. This was a speedy read, it was engaging, I had no problem with that.  

The chronicle of her life and career up to her first disaster of a marriage to Nicky Hilton seemed fairly complete.  Her marriages to both Mike Todd and Richard Burton are well known. The marriage to Michael Wilding is not super deep. The scandal/affair and subsequent marriages to Richard Burton could fill a single volume alone. They were everywhere in the news and in the world consciousness with their many films together as well as the non-stop public fascination of their volatile pairing. Kate Anderson Brower did a good job covering a lot of it, and still condensing it. I understand that could not be her whole book, it could be someone's whole book, though. It was great to have memories and comments from her marriage to the late Senator John Warner. That was really new information, to me. Taylor's final marriage to Larry Fortensky seemed rushed as did her very close friendship with Michael Jackson. 

The book really opened up once Elizabeth became an activist in support of research for a cure for AIDS and support of the gay community. Of this, enough good cannot be said. Taylor always has been a good and loyal friend, in fact her loyalty seems to be one of her most admirable attributes, be it friend, costar. or even someone who needed her help. This last third of her life has much to admire and it meant a lot to me reading of it. She was a light, that's for sure.

In the end, however, I found the book wanting a little something more. A life as large as Taylor's certainly deserves it. This was the authorized biography, open access to so much. Taylor, a figure so public and a private person so very private; I am glad we got a glimpse of her. The book was a speedy read and I totally enjoyed it. My only caveat was, is this really all there is?  


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