WAS ELIZABETH TAYLOR THE LAST OF THE GREATS?

Elizabeth Taylor may have been the last Star, the last creation of the dream  factory who will be remembered as much for her divorces, diamonds and  dry-outs as for her films

Elizabeth Taylor made more than 50 films, won two Oscars, was a grandmother at 39 and was married eight times to seven men.  A woman of exceptional physical beauty, Taylor grew into the most photographed film star of all time.  Other love goddesses such as Rita Hayworth  and Ava Gardner were not in the same league in terms of public and press attention.  Everything she did was news.

One of the films I remember most was with Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was a scalding performance that scraped paint off the walls.

What Taylor films have you seen?

Is there a “star” male or female in Hollywood today that has a  bigger profile than Taylor did in her day?  Who?

I can think of Maggie Smith and Judi Densch but they don’t come near to Taylor.

I saw Richard Burton play Hamlet on the stage in New York.  I  think he may have been hung over

Is there anyone in film-land who takes up the space that Taylor filled in her day?

Was Taylor the last of the greats?

What do you think?

18 Comments »

  1. 1

    Elizabeth Taylor reminds me of Madonna: too little actual product, too much hype.

    I’ve seen her in several movies — “Cleopatra” and “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe” come to mind — and she really didn’t impress.

    Which actresses of bygone years impressed me? Why, the beautiful Dominique Sanda does whom you can see here:

    Grace Kelly and the young Nova Pilbeam were also favourites (by the way, Nova Pilbeam has, hands down, the greatest birthname name in the history of movies as far as I’m concerned!). Jean Arthur, too.

    Today, I like Hilary Swank, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Scarlett Johanssen amongst others. And, yes, I feel they all put Taylor to shame.

  2. 2
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all!
    Tony…much as it pains me to say this…I agree with you
    (this just in: Hell Freezes Over!)
    In two of the movies that I have seen featuring both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, they more or less simply played themselves.
    He drank. She nagged. They fought. You might as well have called them “Home Movies of the Rich and Fatuous”.
    In Faust, the lead character (Burton) is dragged into Hell by his obsession, Helen of Troy (Taylor). Okay, make that three movies then.
    Mark this moment, y’all. You may never see the likes of it again – CTZen

  3. 3
    Vin Smith Says:

    The key behind Elizabeth Taylor (she hated the nickname Liz) was that she had the entire package. The acting chops (disregard the above bits giving her films bad reviews; she was as good a thespian as any in her day), the devastating beauty, the larger than life persona, the fast, spectacular pace of her life.

    Other female stars lived outrageous lives (Mae West, Mamie Van Doren, Brigitte Bardot, others), but not one of them could emote in Taylor’s class. Human nature will always be drawn to those who live large. Elizabeth Taylor had that, but she also became one of the greatest humanitarians of her day. There will never be another Elizabeth Taylor. Consider that she predated the paparazzi culture, and yet drew that kind of publicity. If the motion picture is a medium that allows us to fantacize wildly, Elizabeth Taylor was perfectly molded for that role.

  4. 4

    I think some of Taylor’s “greatness” was her relationship with Burton, a towering thespian.

  5. 5
    Vin Smith Says:

    I agree with you partially, Neil. The Taylor/Burton pairing did create silver screen sparks. A better analysis might be the startling fact that Elizabeth Taylor made her co-stars better. The screen chemistry was incredible. As an example… The great actor Montgomery Clift… Never better than he was in Raintree County. Even more of a shining performance than he gave co-starring with Clark Gable, Eli Wallach and Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits.

    She might have been the nudge that turned Paul Newman from the “lousy” actor in The Silver Chalice, to the incredible performer that he became, thanks to his co-starring role with Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

    Taylor certainly did bring out the very best, top-notch work that Burton ever produced in her co-starring roles with the man she called one of the two true loves of her life.

    The real convincer though is her role opposite Laurence Harvey in Butterfield 8. Harvey, was a mostly wooden actor of extremely limited range (American audiences might be hoodwinked by his British accent). It was Harvey’s best role. Ms. Taylor won the Academy Award. And she did it without a stellar co-star. She didn’t much like the film, perhaps because she did not have a powerful co-star to work off of. Thus, she totally carried the movie.

    Elizabeth Taylor–though enjoying enhanced screen prestige because of her frequent co-star, Richard Burton, was a very unique performer, indeed. We will never see her like again.

  6. 6
    zeusiswatching Says:

    Yes, she was a great actress in her day. She paired with Burton to make a remarkable team — thespian is the best word by far to describe them both and especially as a pair — and she did carry herself as an actress of the Era was expected, perhaps even setting a standard.

    Was she the last of the great? She probably had a greater screen presence and personality than many who followed. I think future actors and actresses will study her and Burton together with a keen interest. They created something together (a certain atmosphere and culture around them on-screen) through more than one movie.

  7. 7
    freesoft Says:

    Thank you..really informative!!

  8. 8

    Thank you..really informative!!

  9. 9

    I think my favorite of all her movies was Taming of the Shrew. And running a close second was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And if I liked Edward Albee’s stuff at all, I’d probably have enjoyed Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf (I rather like your description of it, Neil — “a scalding performance that scraped the paint off the walls!”) a lot more than I did, but I can’t stand Albee’s product. Still, she gave a creditable performance as Martha to Burton’s George.

    I don’t know that I’d call her the Last of the Greats, though.

  10. 10
    zeusiswatching Says:

    “The Taming of the Shrew” was our favorite of the Taylor-Burton works too. I believe their performance was a positive influence upon performances of the Bard’s works, especially performances for the silver screen.

  11. 11

    Vin:

    Don’t forget that Montgomery Clift starred in an Alfred Hitchcock film in 1953 called “I Confess” which was filmed entirely in Quebec City (not one of Hitchcock’s or Clift’s great films, however).

    As for Taylor in “Butterfield 8″, I have never seen the film but I have heard that the only reason she won was because she was in the hospital at the time with a life-threatening illness and got the Oscar as a “pity” win. Indeed, Taylor seemed to always milk her illnesses for publicity thereafter. I can recall the media for at least the last three decades always reporting that she was near death whenever she went into the hospital, which she frequented all too often. Except for the last instance, she always seemed to miraculously survive.

    Which reminds me of a line Michael Corleone gave in “The Godfather II”:

    Hyman Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years.

  12. 12
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Mea culpa, all!
    Thank you, Lady Janus, for reminding me of the fourth Taylor-Burton home movie, Taming Of The Shrew. He drank, she nagged, they fought, same old, same old. But GRAND entertainment nonetheless, AND Zeferreli got wonderful characterizations from all the supporting crew, including the very first major motion picture for Michael York.
    Kiss me, Kate! – CTZen

  13. 13
    Vin Smith Says:

    Howdy Tony!

    I would have to agree with some of the observations that others have made that Butterfield 8 was hardly one of Elizabeth Taylor’s best films. Taylor herself didn’t really like the film and her biographer told me on my radio show that she was astonishd to have even been nominated.

    Actually, I saw Butterfield 8 as a double feature back in the days when theaters in Southern California had those. The other film was Of Human Bondage, which I thought a much better film.

    Elizabeth Taylor was not the best actress of her day; Katherine Hepburn was better. Today, a good twenty stars–Meryl Streep at the top, but also Cate Blanchett and Gweneth Paltrow are better. However, the combination of pure beauty, animal magnetism and acting chops will likely never be matched.

  14. 14

    Vin — tell us more about your radio show. I know of course about Neil’s career (and I was a sometime frequent called on both his radio and TV call-in show). Where and when was your show?

  15. 15
    Vin Smith Says:

    Howdy Again Tony…

    The Midnight Bookworm family of radio shows produces three different programs. The first is the original, Midnight Bookworm, that features any type of book and its author.

    The second is Goddess Radio that features ladies of distinction only, no matter what their calling (authors, performers, politicians, etc.).

    The third is Beyond the Paranormal. I have had most of the big names in paranormal circles on that show, includinig Stanton T. Friedman, who lives in New Brunswick. Stan is actually a dual citizen–Canada and the U. S.

    Currently, all three shows are on hiatus.

    In a rather interesting evening of broadcasting, I appeared on Brent Holland’s Night Fright Radio Show, out of Laurentian University, and hypnotized Brent back to a previous life, during World War II, when he was killed by a Gestap bullet around Warsaw, if I remember correctly. That show can be accessed from the Night Fright archives.

    I can see why Neil has had you on his show. You are a thinking man’s observer of the body politic. While our politics might not match up all the time, I do find your reasoning to be spot on much of the time.

    Neil’s blog is truly a public service. I truly enjoy trading ideas with all who are on this site.

  16. 16

    Hi Vin,

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Neil had me on the show as a guest but, rather, I called in frequently.

  17. 17
    Vin Smith Says:

    …No problem, Tony. I have always thought that what has made my radio shows (when call-ins were part of the format) was when thinking people called in. The shows I did were not dependent on call-ins, as I had famous authors on (they were mostly book shows), but to get the readers involved, that is when the sparks were there.

    It is far more fun to engage callers with strong opinions than it is to just speak to those who agree with the host–or the author. Most radio types would agree.

  18. Awesome, that’s exactly what I was scanning for! You just spared me alot of searching around


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