A legend has died. For 15 years Elizabeth Taylor was the most famous woman in the world, and now I wonder if the Facebook Generation has any idea who she was. Has anyone lived a life more completely in Technicolor?
Taylor was once the biggest star in Hollywood — post studio system and pre television — with the most husbands, the highest salary, the biggest press and the bluest eyes. If you catch even ten minutes of A Place In the Sun on Turner Classics, it is still scandalously sensual and you simply can’t take your eyes off of her or Montgomery Clift. On screen Liz embodied Tennessee Williams’ breathy martyrs, played Cleopatra like a Brentwood housewife, spoke Shakespeare, and won her second Oscar for an old-style performance in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolfe. I know my mother played with Elizabeth Taylor paper dolls as a child; it seems like there was never an era when Liz didn’t exist. And for many years I’ve had this as a guilty pleasure: BUtterfield-8.
BUtterfield-8 Blue — Taylor won her first Academy Award for her role in this film as a high-end call girl who falls in love with a married man — was one of my earliest entries under this byline in 2006, and my first film entry. So early, the punctuation didn’t survive our platform change, so I’ll just retype it here:
Elizabeth Taylor is Gloria, wearing a slip and a mink, padding about her lover’s Fifth Avenue apartment after a night of dissolute behavior. The entire apartment is painted light blue — but the color is bigger than I remember it — and not a washed out baby blue but something closer to a classic mid-century Robin’s Egg. Still, the color is very reserved, and contrasts with the incredible sensuality of Ms. Taylor. When she discovers the envelope full of money and a note that says “Is this enough?” she revolts, writes “no sale” on the mirror in lipstick, and runs out the door with his wife's mink coat. My response exactly.
I’d like to say already I like the color in this opening scene more than I remember it, though if I were going to use it anywhere, I’d like to wink at the way it was used in this film and not take it so seriously or use it so formally. I also thought that this color was used in every scene in the film — but that’s not true. It’s used as a connecting element throughout — especially in the posh settings of Manhattan nightclubs — and this contrasts the beige paper-bag colors of Eddie Fisher’s West Village flat, or Gloria’s apartment she shares with her mother. In that sense, Butterfield-8 blue is classy, stylish, rarified, and for Gloria, ultimately unattainable.
Elizabeth Taylor: long live her name.