Elizabeth Taylor, acting legend, AIDS activist, and style icon has passed away today, March 23rd 2011, at the age of 79 due to complications from congestive heart failure. She will be survived by her four children, ten grandchildren, and four great grand children. In lieu of flowers, her family is requesting that donations be made to her charity, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundation.
While some may wonder if she will be become more infamous for her marriage habits, she was married eight times (twice to the same man, Richard Burton). It must not be ignored that her film work was extensive and included a number of quality films (two of which, Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won her the Best Actress Academy Award). So let’s look at a few of her key roles that fans will remember her for:
National Velvet: Taylor’s first film was made when she was just twelve years old, and helped bring her to early stardom. The movie follows a free-spirited girl named Velvet (Taylor) who begins to ride the jumpy and wild horse The Pie, eventually training him to the point they compete in a contest, the Grand National. While it is not a brilliant or ground breaking film, in fact its kind of a script doctor’s dream, the best part is Taylor who is charming and humorous, making the film palpable.
Father of the Bride: While younger audiences will remember the Steve Martin led remake in the early nineties, it is actually a remake. The original 1950 version of the film starred Spencer Tracey as Stanley Banks, an affable man who hits a crisis when learning his only daughter (Taylor) is about to become married. It’s a well-paced and filmed (directed by Judy Garland’s ex-husband Vincent Minelli) that keeps the comedy and neuroses coming as we approach the wedding, and asks every question about weddings (why go through with it, how many people to invite, how much to spend, etc…) that we still ask today.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Based on Tenessee Williams’ play, the movie is quite the departure from the original script, but entertaining nonetheless. The plot primarily follows the disjointed conversation between Brick (Paul Newman) and his wife Maggie (Taylor) in their room while Brick’s entire family goes through the motions in the main house below. The couple at a cross-roads, to stay or go, whether or not they should have a child, and the fate of Brick’s career prospects (which will be impacted should his ailing father Big Daddy dies). They are a couple that does not mince words necessarily, but avoids a single sensitive topic relating to the nature of Brick’s discontent and unwillingness to sleep with his wife. It is when Taylor screams, “Maggie the Cat lives” that you understand just how tortured this woman is, that she wants a life, a future, but she does not know how to do so; instead she must try to convince her husband and herself that she is alive. And you want her to have a resolution, an answer that seems intangible.
Butterfield 8: This movie about a modern 1960s girl named Gloria Wandrous (Taylor) who falls in love with a man, Weston Ligett (Laurence Harvey), for all the right and wrong reasons still resonates. The moral anguish over love or money is clear in a number of plotlines, involving both the main couple’s courtship and the story of how Weston came to be fiscally blessed in the first place. Yet, the whole film does hinge on Taylor’s role in making Gloria vulnerable and relatable because of how fantastical some of the story’s elements are, and somehow she manages to bring that tinge to a character that uses her charm as a defense mechanism from the world.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Based on the award-winning Edward Albee play, Taylor plays one half of the films central couple, Martha of George and Martha. George and Martha host the world’s worst, but possibly the most engrossing dinner party for anyone who is not actually officially in the room. Their drunken and bitter battle is both scorching and makes you smile despite yourself with witty reparte that speaks to any cynic alive. The performances by Taylor and Burton (who played George, and real-life husband to Taylor) are what really made the sparks fly with their grounded, nuanced work in a show that goes to some crazy and dark places. It’s a lesson in acting without a single lecture.