Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary actress famed for her beauty, her jet-set lifestyle, her charitable endeavors and her many marriages, died this morning. She was 79.
Taylor died “peacefully today in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles,” said a statement from her publicist. She was hospitalized six weeks ago with congestive heart failure, “a condition with which she had struggled for many years. Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home. Sadly, this was not to be.”
Taylor starred in Tennessee Williams’ classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Maggie the Cat in late February 1958. Not only is Tennessee Williams one of my favorite playwrights, this is one of my favorite plays. When Taylor made the movie, she was straight from a trip around the world, she was happily married to Mike Todd and was the mother of three very small children under the age of 5. It looked as though she was going to retire from her contractual obligations at MGM Studio’s and work exclusively for Mike Todd. Life seemed perfect. Too perfect. Three weeks after production began, Mike Todd was tragically killed in a plane crash and Elizabeth Taylor’s world fell apart. His death caused such a tear in her life that it would take four years to mend. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of her finest. She garnered her second Academy Award nomination. She literally threw herself into her work as detraction from her tragedy. Her role boiled with subdued and expressed emotion.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was not the only Tennessee Williams play that Taylor made into a movie. She also acted in Suddenly Last Summer. Both plays deal with gay men and the trials and tribulations they dealt with during William’s lifetime. Williams himself was gay and often, homosexuality was a subtest of his plays. Paul Newman’s character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof never recovered from the love he had for a boyhood friend, which frustrates Taylor’s character Maggie. In Suddenly, Last Summer, Taylor played Catharine Holly, a young woman who seems to go insane after her cousin Sebastian dies on a trip to Europe under mysterious circumstances. Sebastian’s mother, Violet Venable, trying to cloud the truth about her son’s homosexuality and death, threatens to lobotomize Catharine for her incoherent utterances relating to Sebastian’s demise. Finally, under the influence of a truth serum, Catharine tells the gruesome story of Sebastian’s death by cannibalism at the hand of local boys whose sexual favors he sought, using Catharine as a device to attract the young men (as he had earlier used his mother). The clip below features Taylor and Montgomery Clift, who happened to be Taylor’s best gay friend and a marvelous actor.
After her acting career faded, she devoted herself to charity. In 1985, she organized a benefit dinner to raise money for her friend Rock Hudson, who was dying of AIDS. The project eventually led to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR); in 1991, she began the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation. “The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation” funds programs and organization that give direct care to the population of millions affected with HIV/AIDS,whether it is direct care or related/ associated services. So many people are now living longer with AIDS/HIV due to advances in viral medication technology, but the impact of living a life with AIDS is far reaching. AIDS affects all of us, in one way or another. Generations of young people are not conscious of the 1980’s. The face of AIDS has changed since the time when those who were ill were visibly stigmatized, akin to being lepers. Now, those with HIV/AIDS live life among the general population attempting to cope with the disease. Sometimes, silently. Emotionally, the impact is just the same as those first diagnosed. Fear. The only solution is to rid the world of this disease, therefore opening a technological highway aimed to ignite the remedy to so many other diseases as well.
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation
c/o Derrick Lee
Reback Lee & Company, Inc.
12400 Wilshire Blvd #1275
Los Angeles, CA. 90025
March 23rd, 2011 at 7:17 pm
Excellent tribute. I loved Cat on a Hot Tin Root. I never knew Tennessee Williams was gay. Interesting.Thanks as always for an interesting and informative post.Peace <3Jay
March 23rd, 2011 at 11:53 pm
Jay, I am so glad you liked it. I once met a gay acquaintance of Williams in New Orleans, where he was famous in the gay subculture of the time there. Williams was a very interesting man. I have to do a post on just him. Of all the great southern writers, he is by far my favorite and his material never gets old.