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March 25, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

Roy Meachum

Directly I turned on my computer Wednesday morning, I learned Elizabeth Taylor had died. I remembered a glorious conversation we had. But that’s not when last I saw her.


Virginia’s U.S. Sen. John Warner, her husband at the time, brought the famous movie star to Kennedy Center to see her friend Eva Marie Saint appearing in Eugene O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms.” Publicity director Leo Sullivan made arrangements for the couple to go backstage. Knowing I had met Liz Taylor, Leo offered for me to re-meet her. I declined, because in her then-state – fat and blowsy – the actress looked totally unlike the beauty that had enchanted me.


Ms. Taylor was Mrs. Eddie Fisher and the pair just arrived at Idlewild (later John F. Kennedy) International Airport from London where she had throat surgery to relieve raging pneumonia. She wore gauze taped around her throat. Her stunning looks converted the bandage into a glamorous “choker,” jeweled beads worn to accentuate the face. Fortunately for me, my Army best buddy had an errand to Manhattan.


In some forgotten airport hotel, I spent an hour with the most beautiful woman I had met in a surprisingly tart and playful conversation I could never forget. In talking with any man at that age, under-30, she flirted. That figures. All girl babies coyly try to seduce their admirers; before the onset of puberty they learn to be selective, targeting boys. With Liz’s violet eyes, she was over-equipped for the games.


Let’s face reality. Before entering the hotel, I knew she was better looking than any actress on movie screens. Her intelligence blew my mind. Long before Eddie returned, we had reached deeper subjects than how her husband held up the marriage. This was another game: show me how smart you are. As I said, I will never forget the conversation, but my aging memory has misplaced details.


In any event, Liz Taylor was working on “Cleopatra;” her million dollar pay had made Variety and other entertainment publications’ headlines. On the set, Richard Burton replaced the actor originally cast for Mark Anthony. I am told the Emperor of Seducers took her flirting seriously. Comments from the movie’s cast and crew told of how he tried to forget her, walking away several times, and failing miserably. They were married, and again. In between their brawling made interesting reading. I saw him in New York doing “Hamlet,” and wondered if she was backstage, maybe in his dressing room.


Her further adventures were celebrated in tabloids. When I went to see her future films – not “Cleopatra” – I was disturbed; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” troubled me most. I had no problem connecting Liz’s Martha with the hellcat Eddie Fisher lived with the last months of their marriage; maybe that night in the hotel suite of our unforgettable conversation.


Anyway as the world knows, my Army buddy wound up with a permanent “loser” sticker, pasted on by Richard Burton and his ex-wife. Eddie’s career hummed along in a low key. He married again and again; took up narcotics, he told me when singing in Las Vegas. His Chinese fifth and last wife bailed him out of Betty Ford Clinic, a famous institution that treats addiction. Former PFC Fisher died last year.


His famous former wife suffered seemingly all the ailments known to woman. She wound down her life fiercely fighting for friends she felt wronged by the media, prominently Michael Jackson. She enjoyed hosannas of praise for her many good works, notably the millions she raised – and donated – for AIDS research.


For her a special blessing:


In death, may Elizabeth Taylor find the peace she never knew living.


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