Maybe my last column was somehow, and sadly so, prophetic. I had planned this
month to continue the story of my first film, “Cleopatra”, but since the recent
passing of my dear friend, Elizabeth Taylor, I decided to depart my original
idea and share with you some of my memories of this wonderful lady.
My first glimpse of Elizabeth was at Pinewood Studios just outside London. She
was already seriously ill with the pneumonia which almost took her life then.
Even at the tender age of six, I was awed by her beauty. As they carried her
toward one of the sets, (she was doing screen tests for her costumes that day,)
I remember she looked over at me and smiled warmly. I knew then and there that I
had been gazed upon by something extraordinary!
I didn’t really have any contact with Elizabeth until the production had been
moved to Italy. Our one scene together, the epic entrance into Rome was
scheduled to begin shooting that morning. I was already there, looking like a
gilded cherub in my golden robes when Elizabeth arrived in her own glittering
“Isis” costume. When the sun hit her costume she radiated light like a supernova
making her look every inch the goddess she was dressed to represent.
The unit manager brought me over to her and introduced us, and she beamed down
at me and said, “How nice to meet you. You look very handsome!” All I could do
was stare up at her; those violet eyes having rendered me speechless. Then they
brought us around a corner where she saw the three story tall sphinx we were
supposed to ride on. She looked up at the gimballed litter beneath the beast’s
beard and said, “Way up there? They’re out of their tiny Chinese minds!” With
much coaxing, they finally got her up on the platform and seated, with Elizabeth
looking a little green.
When she sixty-odd ‘slaves’ began pulling at the harnesses and the sphinx
lurched forward, she reached around and held on to me. I looked up and saw her
swallowing hard. Through her clenched teeth, she said, “Are you alright,
Sweetheart?” I nodded subtly. “Good.” She said. “Because Auntie Elizabeth is
going to puke and all eight cameras are going to film it!”
After that (throughout the eight months I was there,” I spent quite a bit of
time with her. Another memory I love was the party she had thrown for one of the
kids, (maybe one of hers, I don’t remember,) when Eddie Fisher showed up
unexpectedly. They began arguing loudly about something, as we kids were taken
out to the back yard of her rented villa. Being a ‘curious George’, I ran around
to a window and looked into the foyer just in time to see Richard Burton coming
down the stairs in a very short robe. Fisher exploded, began screaming at
Burton, and well, to make a long story short, I learned quite a few new words
One thing that Elizabeth hated was to be called ‘Liz’ or worse, ‘Lizzie.’ If you
did it once, she would smile sweetly and say, “If you don’t mind, I prefer
‘Elizabeth’.” She would tell them, enunciating the syllables. God help anyone
who called her any nickname again. To do so was to invite ‘the look’ as Burton
called it. This was where the head tilted back, the eyes widened and her
nostrils began to flare like a rutting racehorse. I only got to see ‘the look’
once. We were all sitting around listening to Burton recite Shakespeare. As
usual, he was farschnikert, and kept jabbing at Elizabeth to recite
something, then saying, “Oh, I forgot, she knows nothing of the classics."