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March 23, 2011


Liz and Dick

Richard Burton and Liz Taylor in 1970

Hollywood and celebrity obsession today don't have much in common with the era of Elizabeth Taylor, but her death still feels like the end of some lost, revered image of glamour and excess (see tan, makeup, cleavage, and jewelry, above.) She was such a gigantic star for so long, she was so beautiful, and she so far outlived her stardom and beauty. In a lot of ways, we've been losing her for the last 30 years. Here's the NY Times obituary.

Last summer, Vanity Fair published an excerpt of a book by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (my one-time professors) called Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. It's a great read. I knew the world was obsessed with Liz and Dick, as the papers called them, and their tumultuous, scandalous, tabloid-ready relationship, but I didn't know that this obsession formed the blueprint for every other media-saturating celebrity affair, marriage, and breakup that has become a self-perpetuating industry.

Liz Smith, gossip columnist at the Post until 2009, was writing about celebrities through the entire Burton-Taylor era, and has some wonderful stuff to say about why the world's appetite for Elizabeth Taylor and the couple was so insatiable:

"On the face of it, Elizabeth Taylor was just totally arrogant. She'd walk out in Capri pants and her Cleopatra makeup and her kerchief and go off to whatever local restaurant and drink up a storm with Burton. That's part of what excited the public: her vulgarity and her arrogance and the money. Oh God, their love story had everything."

The details of their consumption are spectacularly lavish. Despite owning six homes, they mostly stayed in hotels, and sometimes ordered room service to be flown in from other countries. Liz Smith points out that only one celebrity couple has ever been condemned by the Vatican (for "erotic vagrancy".) At the height of their married fame, nearly half of the US film industry's income came from movies starring one or both of them.

One fact I learned about Elizabeth Taylor today: she converted to Judaism when she was 27, and used to fight with Richard Burton about who was more Jewish. And here's a really cute photo of her:

Elizabeth Taylor, white bikini top

categories: Celebrities, Media, Movies
posted by amy at 2:33 PM | #

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