An Appreciation of Dame Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

One of the more interesting things that happens when someone with the star power of Elizabeth Taylor passes away is that people from all walks of life start talking about her. What is more fascinating for me is to hear the varied recollections have about her life and work.

Most people seem to remember Elizabeth Taylor as a fearless AIDS campaigner, a peddler of perfumes, friend of Michael Jackson, and much married.  That is all well and good, but when I think of Elizabeth I think of the body of work on the silver that she has left for us to watch and rewatch.

My first cinematic memory of her was her turn as the tragic Helen Burns in the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version of Jane Eyre (1943). Her part was small but there was something that drew you in – she seemed to be a young girl who was beyond her years. I am pretty sure there were a couple of Lassie pictures sprinkled around that time, but the next film that stands out for me in her filmography is 1944’s National Velvet. Five short years later, she began to make her transition from child star to dazzling adult star.

My favorite films during this period are A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, Giant and the mad Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

It just seems a shame that so many do not immediately remember her these entertaining performances. Hopefully looking back on her life will make many examine in greater detail her work as a performer. I think they will be amazed that she was not just a star who traded on her good looks. Over the course of her long career, she tried to craft screen performances that was emotionally nuanced and multilayered. No performance exemplified this for me than her role as “Maggie the Cat” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She was at one point a sexually charged siren, at others an emotionally vulnerable woman longing for love; most of all she was a survivor.

By all accounts the role of survivor mirrored her triumphs in real life – triumphs, that surmounted all trials and tribulations.

And now let us take time to remember her and allow her to rest in piece.

 

*Programming Note: on April 10th (Sunday) Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is running a 24-hour marathon of her films. Get your DVRs ready!