Despite what most people think, I am neither a fetishist nor sentimental. But when I read this morning that Elizabeth Taylor was dead, I raced to the basement and started ripping open boxes of framed artwork, artwork I still love but my modest manse does not provide wall space to display.
The first one, a giant colorful print by Helmut Newton that features her in a pool with a parrot, was easy to find. Now it is on the floor of my living room.
Then the real frenzy began. The dogs were nervous, wondering why I was a) moving so fast in the morning, and b) yelling “Don’t worry Big Momma, I’ll find you.”
But there it was, my framed lavender (to match her eyes of course) cocktail napkin with “Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th Birthday” stamped in gold. It is sitting in my lap as I write this. (Thanks Dan, miss you.)
I met Elizabeth Taylor a handful of times over the years.
I played hooky from USA Today when I was 23-ish and used my newspaper business card (my title was simply “copywriter”) and an out-of-date Library of Congress research pass from Time Inc. to sneak into the Capitol building to listen to her testify before Congress about AIDS funding.
It was a few years after Rock Hudson had died, deserted by almost all but Liz (Doris Day did a photo op), and Reagan still hadn’t uttered the word AIDS yet in public. It was one of her best performances, even though I couldn’t see a thing. I just listened in the hallway where I was not the only one crying.
So I am writing this quickly to remind everybody that Elizabeth Taylor was the founder of AmFar, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
Elizabeth Taylor invented the AIDS fundraiser.
There were other groups around, C.R.I.A. and G.M.H.C. I think, but AmFar immediately changed the game through her sheer will.
The galas were held in the Winter Garden, that giant atrium with the palm trees that I now can’t even remember the name of, but then it was the place to have a party. There was a giant sweeping stairway and she of course made an entrance to end all entrances.
The night had its problems, and I get the years mixed up, so if I have this wrong let me know, but I think it was Harry Connick who was the entertainer. He was huge then, maybe even on Broadway (he is still super adorable), and the people didn’t stop talking and he got mad and stalked off, and who could blame him? But I waited my turn and finally got to say hello to her.
I told her that I had been there that day in D.C. and she said “Of course you were, I remember exactly where you were sitting,” which was, of course, complete bullshit—I never laid eyes on her—but I milked it. When it comes to Elizabeth Taylor, I have no shame.
So when I would run into her years after that, always at fragrance events (I worked on the FiFi Awards for a few years and trust me, Ms. Taylor was a welcome addition to the idiotic world of fragrance awards), we would go through the exact same greeting ritual. I would remind her that she “knew” me from D.C. and she would pretend to remember me and whomever I was with at the time would think we were friends. Heaven.
The last time I saw her was at some jewelry party that InStyle sponsored. I’m going to say late 2003. She was an hour plus late; she had fallen in the tub getting ready and couldn’t reach the handrail. “Oh shit,” she explained to the crowd, “What the hell was I supposed to do now.” The laughter was gigantic. Liz was a bawdy broad.
I was standing next to Academy Award winner Lee Grant, who was directing a documentary about her. I had seen her with her crew in the media pit, and tried in vain to get her camera crew admitted into the party (I still remember the dum dums who didn’t get that she shouldn’t have been left outside with Access Hollywood). She looked at me: “Can you believe I didn’t get that?”
So this is my way of making sure one fabulous line, in an amazing life that was full of them, gets its little moment in the sun.