Thursday, March 24, 2011

Here's To Growing Old and Fat, Like Elizabeth Taylor

What did you think of when you heard that Elizabeth Taylor had died?

Did you think of young Liz, a child star who grew into a woman considered among the world's foremost beauties, and a wonderful actress who earned two Oscars and three more nominations by the time she was 35?

Or did you think of old Liz, who had largely stopped acting, grown quite large and become a punchline for her excessive weight, odd friendship with Michael Jackson, eight marriages and often peculiar behavior?

For those old enough to have witnessed Taylor at the peak of her film stardom and sex appeal, I'd imagine thoughts of "young Liz" were substantive if not predominant. And not coincidentally, the vast majority of U.S. newspapers today feature a photo of her from at least 50 years ago or so.

But for those of us under 50, the sad truth is that the prevailing public image of Elizabeth Taylor during our lifetime has been that of a freak show, not a once exquisite screen legend aging gracefully. It would be natural for many of us to remember Liz more so as tabloid fodder and the subject of late-night jests--I still recall a Joan Rivers joke from at least 25+ years ago ridiculing Taylor for having "more chins than a Chinese phone book"--than as a "Hollywood goddess."

Yet no matter what age you are, from 12 to 104, I imagine the images conjured up by the name "Marilyn Monroe" are primarily that of a sexy, albeit long-dead, starlet (even if her--nor Taylor's--body type was never akin to today's fashion model barometer for feminine beauty).

So in living to age 79, much of the last half of it not so glamorously, Elizabeth Taylor largely decimated her youthful iconography. After all, you don't see ubiquitous posterized images of Liz like you do of Marilyn or Audrey Hepburn.  

Taylor isn't alone in illustrating that for the famous, living a long life can be considerably worse for one's public image than dying young.

James Dean died at 24, shortly after filming Giant with Taylor and Rock Hudson. He's forever remembered as he looks at left.

Yet while Marlon Brando certainly continues to be held in high regard as one of the greatest actors ever, his legacy was somewhat tarnished by getting old & fat and having had 12 children by at least 5 women (some of the mothers are still unidentified), with one of his kids killing the lover of another, who then killed herself. So like Taylor, Brando's obituaries had to devote space to some less than savory aspects of his later life.

Being forever frozen in time isn't only limited to Hollywood stars. In music, you can die young and be  worshipped forever like Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons and Duane Allman or stay alive to be largely forgotten and/or besieged by struggles like Sly Stone, David Crosby and Gregg Allman. Even Elvis, who died relatively young at 42, is commonly derided for his old, fat and drug-addled years.

But while I imagine it's not too much fun being reminded of how young and gorgeous you once were, I would think Elizabeth Taylor should've been thrilled to be her, rather than Marilyn. Or even Audrey, who died at 63 or Natalie Wood--an oft-forgotten contemporary--who drowned when she was just 43.

After all, according to an article I read today, Taylor--who was one of the first public figures to decry and raise money to fight AIDS--raised more than $270 million for AIDS prevention and care. She is survived by four children, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. And with the click of a button, Netflix subscribers can instantly be reminded how great she looked and acted in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Cleopatra, with many other movies--like her Oscar winning roles in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?--available on DVD.

Thus, so what if the last half of Elizabeth Taylor's life wasn't as outwardly attractive as the first half? So what if she long ago lost the chance to be immortalized in quite the same vein as Marilyn Monroe? So what if she didn't go out on top? At least she got the chance to fade away, which in my book, at least for the one doing it, beats burning out any day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She was Glamorous and Beautiful Till The Very End...*THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN GOD EVER CREATED