Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor's Nine Lives

Years ago, when a million dollars could last you a very comfortable lifetime, a mega-major literary agent offered to get me a million dollars for a biography of Elizabeth Taylor. It was an offer I knew he could back up and in all likelihood already had. He was, he professed, enamored with her. I wasn’t. I had just come back from a distant trip with her that felt even longer than it was; had weathered and survived the traveling circus that was Elizabeth and Co., the center ring steadily drawing in fast-shrinking concentric circles of fans and gawkers who threatened to suffocate us in every airport, hotel lobby and public space we entered; and I was refreshing myself in the anonymous air of my New York. In one of those lucid moments when your life passes before you, in this case the future, I couldn’t see myself spending the time on her life it would take to write a book about her. Still, my lunch host had just put a million dollar offer on the table at, where else?, the Russian Tea Room. I told him I’d been invited to be her house guest in L.A. next week and said, “I’ll ask her.”

I related the agent’s offer to Elizabeth, thinking she’d have visions of sugarplum-shaped diamonds dancing in her head and foresee many more lavender dresses and shawls hanging in her vast dress closet. After musing momentarily about it, she said, “I don’t think I’ve lived my life yet.” I laughed and said, “The way I see it, you’ve lived at least eight of them.”

It was a relief for me to come up with an alternate plan. I had come to know Elizabeth as a wonderful story teller. After we were both injured in a car accident and consequently relegated to gorging ourselves on marzipan in the presidential suite at The Tel Aviv Hilton while we recovered, I managed, with simple prompting, to get her to tell me what seemed like every story she had in her. Our afternoons were like biopics: in addition to The Mike Todd Story, The Richard Burton Story and The (briefer) Eddie Fisher Story, her cast of characters and foibles included her friendships with Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, royalty and roués and, get this, Anwar Sadat. Telling her I was concerned about her inevitably losing track of pertinent details of her truly singular stories, I suggested she tell me any that occurred to her I hadn’t yet heard and I would write them up. We would keep them in a drawer in her house until the time came when she was ready to tell The Elizabeth Taylor Story. She welcomed the idea. Unfortunately, her life in L.A. and mine in N.Y. being what they were, we never got to another story.

In her ninth life, she befriended Michael Jackson and stuck by him when he most needed a friend. She distinguished herself by becoming an early and leading advocate and fund-raiser for AIDS research. A genuinely good person, she used her celebrity to become an effective activist wherever she believed she could help.

Wherever she is, I’m confident she’s already embarking on life number ten.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

With Gratitude

To all who have been so loving and supportive over the past six months, to all who have expressed their concern: your prayers and good wishes, heartfelt by me, have immeasurably helped medical science do what it did to heal me. Yesterday, my neck and throat were pronounced “absolutely clear” by my one-of-a-kind oncologist, Dr. Louis Harrison of Beth Israel Hospital.

To each and every one of you, THANK YOU. I wish I could have responded to you individually, but my condition at the time and your generous outpouring overwhelmed me.

Once again, my deepest thanks to you.