Last night America had to suffer through the film massacre that was Liz & Dick on Lifetime. From the South Bend Tribune, “At no point in this unenergetic revisiting of the legendarily volatile romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton does it actually feel like you’re watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.” It did not do the great Elizabeth Taylor any justice at all. But luckily we were able to speak with a woman who who really could tell us about the career of Elizabeth Taylor. Cindy De La Hoz is the author of the new book Elizabeth Taylor: A Shining Legacy on Film and she talked to us about this legendary actress:
Why did you decide to write this book?
It was a book I always wanted to own. As an avid classic film buff I collect books on the films of all my favorite actors and actresses. There had been a book published about her films in the 70s but it left out a lot of films, so mine was the first to include ALL the films Elizabeth Taylor made. I had also made the acquaintance of Joseph Cruz, a huge Taylor collector, and he gave me access to a great many rare and never-before-published photos that we wanted to share with her fans.
What do you find especially fascinating about Elizabeth Taylor?
The way she went after everything she wanted in life—and then did it to the very max. In terms of men, movies, salary, family, and certainly not least, using her fame to help others.
What do you think were some of her greatest career moments?
National Velvet brought her to prominence. Playing Angela Vickers in A Place in the Sun was the best performance of her early career. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof because Mike Todd had just died and she put all her heart and soul into working through her pain. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a tour de force and she won an Oscar for it. The Taming of the Shrew was an event to see her play Shakespeare toe to toe with her husband Richard Burton.
Can we talk about her asking for this outrageous salary for Cleopatra? Was that just absolutely unheard of for a female movie star to demand that? Could a man have done that back then? When they said yes to her requests did that change a lot for women in the film industry?
No actress had ever requested a million dollars for a film before. Elizabeth did it—and got away with it—because she was the biggest star (male or female) in Hollywood and not having any great interest in making the film gave her the confidence to make so bold a request. Looking at it from today’s perspective the salary request, which led to her being signed to Cleopatra and it subsequently becoming the costliest film made to that time, not only changed things for women but it rocked Hollywood to its core. It was really the end of the studio system era. Studios were no longer the driving force in Hollywood. Stars had a lot more power. I could go on and on about the impact of Cleopatra on Hollywood and even social mores of the time. The film is not only a landmark in Elizabeth’s career and life but a landmark in Hollywood and American cultural history. Books can (and have) been written on the subject.
What was your favorite behind the scenes story?
Perhaps the story of how she overcame her grief after the death of Mike Todd during the making of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—and how much support she received from her director and co-stars.
Do you think all of her personal crisees (death of Mike Todd, ups and downs with Richard Burton) made her a better actress?
Yes, she said so herself. Life experiences gave her acting more depth.
Was Liz considered a publicist’s nightmare or a dream?
I think today she would have been considered a dream because she constantly did things that the public was hugely interested in. During her day sometimes it was for reasons that made her a villain in the public—like the whole Liz-Eddie-Debbie scandal.
Why do you think America and the world loved her so much? Do you think her public failures made her more likeable?
I think she was loved because you could see a heart of gold beneath the glitz, glamour, and large lifestyle. She was incredibly genuine. What people saw was what they got.
Have you seen Liz & Dick? If you have, what did you think?
Haven’t. I’m afraid to but will work up the courage.
Are there any modern day actresses that you think come close to an Elizabeth Taylor?
This is always such a hard question. There is no one quite like her. Someone like Madonna might be her equal in level of fame.
Did you always want to be a film historian? What is your favorite part of this job?
Writing about film isn’t really a job at all. I’ve studied and read about film—specifically the 20s-60s)—since I was about 10 years old. It is an honor, a pleasure, and not a job when someone actually pays me to do it!