Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REMEMBERING ELIZABETH TAYLOR AND MY BROTHER WHO LOVED HER

Elizabeth Taylor was one of my twin brother Greg’s favorite actresses. If he were still alive today he’d be in mourning. Her death today at age 79 is a colossal loss to the movies and to the world, and he would have made sure people knew just how deep an impact she had. But before he left this world he taught me many things, including a deep appreciation for the singular “Liz.”

My brother didn’t come out until college but his passions were apparent in high school as he developed consuming interests in showtunes, fashion, and people like Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and yes, Elizabeth Taylor. He loved the women who were bigger than life, divas before that word was bantered about so cheaply, and those in particular who had overcome insurmountable odds and triumphed.

As his straight brother more interested in the Farrah Fawcett’s of the world, I benefited from his interest in such people I might have otherwise ignored. Greg forced me to watch WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF on TV with him one Sunday afternoon. “Isn’t Liz Taylor supposed to be a glamorous movie star?” I asked cynically, after noting her haggard appearance as Martha in the film. “She is glamorous! It’s called acting.” he retorted. And boy, what acting it was. She was absolutely riveting as she spit out Edward Albee’s pungent prose, prowling the screen like a wounded tiger. It was a seminal achievement in her career and it won her a second Oscar. And left me forever a fan.

I became more and more interested in Taylor, much to Greg’s delight. (And to my mother, who was also a fan.) Together we all watched CLEOPATRA the next time it was on TV, and while it wasn’t nearly the accomplishment that her Albee role was, she brought a superstar appeal to the queen of the Nile, which no one could deny. Soon afterwards Greg and I caught reruns on TV of NATIONAL VELVET, GIANT, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and A PLACE IN THE SUN. My brother was endlessly pleased that I now saw what he saw in her - a classic movie star and wondrous actress worthy of all the fame and praise. I even confessed to him my lust for Liz in her iconic white one-piece from SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. My brother threatened to tear down my Cheryl Tiegs poster and replace it with one of his Taylor pictures but he smartly kept it for himself.
Elizabeth Taylor in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER
If Taylor was a giant on the big screen, she was also larger than life in her personal life as well. She went through men like most people go through socks; Taylor was way too formidable for most mortals. Those that could stand toe to toe with her, like Richard Burton, were doomed to a tempestuous affair that would make Rhett and Scarlett weep. And in additional to her scandalous love life, she was always making headlines with her constant struggles with weight and many illnesses. She used her lifetime of physical battles to understand and empathize with the gay community’s fight against AIDS. She became their de facto champion and courageously spoke out about it when many, including our president in the 1980’s, didn’t dare even mention the word. In the last decades of her life, Taylor became almost as famous for her philanthropy and charity as her Hollywood resume, an amazing accomplishment considering her place in the top pantheon of stars.

There were many times in her lifetime that people expected Elizabeth Taylor to die. But she hung in there. Even though she lived a lifetime full of suffering, enough for a number of lifetimes, Elizabeth Taylor was a survivor. Holding her head up, tall and proud, she reveled in her loves and passions. She was a brilliant example to the gay community, my brother, and the entire world, shining as brilliant as all the white diamonds she was so fond of. That she finally succumbed to heart failure today is almost fitting. Her heart was simply too big. It had to give out eventually.
The caricature I did of my brother Greg for his memorial service in 1995
My brother died of AIDS related pneumonia in July almost 16 years ago. We talked about her when I was with him on the last day of his life. Greg was grateful for all the work Elizabeth Taylor had done to bring attention to AIDS and to his embattled community. But mostly of course, he was simply a huge fan of hers, reveling in his love and passion for her. Just like me today. And I am better today for having had the privilege of time with the both of them. 

17 comments:

  1. Sigh. What a beautiful thing to read. I wish I had met your brother.

    So sad to hear the news today about Liz. She was cool beyond words. Your tribute to her is lovely, as is your love for Greg.

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  2. I wish I had met your brother too. Every day.

    What a lovely tribute to a lovely lady.

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  3. What a fantastic post. A great tribute to a movie queen and a larger-than-life brother. RIP to both of them.

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  4. Elizabeth Taylor is certainly one of the last of the great Hollywood movie stars. Not only will she be remembered for her iconic film and stage roles, but she provided enough gossip fodder for my grandmother and the National Enquirer to see us through the 70's.

    I think of Greg often. Thanks, Jeff, for a fitting tribute to two "superstars".

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  5. It's no question Elizabeth Taylor was a huge star, deserving of many world-wide tributes to come. However, I think the true stars in our lives are the people we know and love, like your brother. For you, NO ONE in Hollywood can ever outshine him. And he is yours eternally to keep in your heart. Beautiful tribute.

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  6. I too think of Greg so often - in fact almost every day as he made me become a Y&R Junkie! I still DVR every episode. The costumes have never held a candle to his marvelous creations. I remember talking to him so many times about all his "favorites" and surely Liz was at the top of the list. Thanks for yet another wonderful reflection on them both. XXOO

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  7. A beautifully well written piece. Thanks for sharing that. I bet it was and still is hard to live with.

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  8. Jeff, that was a lovely tribute to Greg. I loved him so much, and miss him to this day. I think of him so often, and thought how sad he would have been today to hear of Elizabeth Taylor's death. But I'm sure they are chatting up a storm in Heaven; laughing that boisterous, contagious laugh I miss so much. I miss seeing you on Facebook as well. I will always remember Greg as a true friend. Those friends are rare.

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  9. Jeff...this was such a wonderful and touching piece. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Just as Greg brought so much influence to your life, you do the same for many others.

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  10. Thank you all so much for your lovely posts. It was quite a day of reflection yesterday and I am so appreciative of your support. And indeed if you knew Greg you know how he is missed by everyone who knew him. As is Elizabeth Taylor I'm sure.

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  11. So beautifully written. I think Elizabeth will be remembered more for her good works than for her acting. Though an amazing actress, her work to enlight the ignorant about AIDs opened the eyes of the world. In the end, it's what we do to change our world that matters. And change it she surely did.

    I hope she is with your Brother and all of the people she worked so tirelessly for, who have succumbed before better treatments could be found. Dong a dance. Holding hands and celebrating love. Love is all we have.

    Peace and love to you. Cherish the memories.

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  12. Love it all. She was the epitomy of glamour. I miss Greg right along with you. You know that. Hugs to you!

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  13. Wonderful post. Sad to lose Liz and but nice to hear about your brother's unending influence on you! We are forever connected. xoxo

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  14. What a welcome she must have had yesterday! Lovely double tribute, Jeff!

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  15. Thanks to everyone who is following and commented. Your heartfelt expressions mean the world to me!

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  16. Oh, and oops. I meant epitomE! Duh Kate.

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  17. You are the epitome of class, Katy, I mean Kate. (tee hee)

    And thanks Debbi, Betsey, Kate and Mindy for your comments too. Along with everyone else. Beautiful thoughts by all. And thanks for your support here on the blog. It is greatly appreciated.

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