Playing “grab ass” with a real Hollywood Dame
I sent a letter of congratulations when Elizabeth Taylor was named a Dame Commander of the Britsh Empire in 2000, and told her she deserved it. Not only for her acting ability but for her unstinting generosity to hundreds of desperately sick children all over the world, and her unselfish work in raising money for AIDS charities. She wrote back and thanked me, enclosing an autographed photograph of herself cuddling her little dog, Sugar. I’d like to show it here, but some bugger pinched it. Instead there is a picture I took of Elizabeth (She HATED being called Liz) and Richard Burton on the set of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
A few photographers, including me, were invited to “Breakfast with the Burtons” then watch them rehearsing a scene from the film. After a scrambled eggs and champagne, we were soon clicking away with our cameras while Richard and Elizabeth fought and argued rehearsing a scene from Virginia Woolf. It was acting. It wasn’t real and yet weeks later many magazines ran articles LIZ AND RICHARD… KNOCK DOWN BATTLES − splashing pix of them fighting all over the papers. There was no mention the pix were taken on the set at Warner Bros. It was lies, and the photographers had been treated to a champagne breakfast.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth had to endure bad publicity all her life because it sells magazines. From age 12, when she first starred in National Velvet, she has been on the cover of more magazines than any other star. Why? − because Elizabeth Taylor sold magazines − her marriages − ex husbands − her jewelry. Her so-called affairs all made juicy headlines − but quite often the reports are wrong, or wildly exaggerated. Elizabeth Taylor may be a Dame, but she’s no lady, and I mean that in the nicest way. Elizabeth was a REAL woman − loving, caring, bitchy , she smoked, swore, drank booze with no holier-than- thou attitude. All her life she had been followed by leeches cashing in on her rich lifestyle and the paparazzi close behind waiting to catch her off guard, sneezing, smoking, yelling, crying. Who could she trust? Certainly not ex-husband Eddie Fisher who wrote endlessly about their sex life complete with intimate pictures. Would YOU want your bedroom secrets headlines in the national papers? And not just once, but all the time?
Roddy McDowall, the London born actor was Elizabeth’s trusted friend for over sixty years. They became firm friends when filming the Lassie pictures at MGM. When Elizabeth needed a true friend, Roddy was there for her, sharing her secret joys and sorrows, his was a trusted shoulder to cry on. He knew all the Hollywood Divas and their intimate secrets but not a word to the press. When he died, there was no glitzy funeral. He knew if there had been, the ceremony would be crawling with paparazzi − zooming on his grieving friends, Elizabeth, Lauren Bacall, Liza and half the stars in Hollywood. Instead, Roddy McDowall’s body was secretly cremated, his ashes scattered at sea. Elizabeth and his friends held a private memorial service at her home, and there were no photographers. Roddy’s mother introduced me to him and he introduced me to Elizabeth. I was the manager of a gourmet shop in Hollywood where Mrs. McDowall, a lovely Scottish lady, was a regular customer. British imports like Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits quickly sold out, so I always kept some aside for Mrs. McDowall. I had no idea who her son was, but he always sent his thanks for biscuits. Later, at a party I saw him with his mother and realized who he was. She introduced us and we became good friends.
Roddy told Elizabeth I could be trusted, even though I wrote for magazines. Never bite the hand that feeds you, was my motto, although I never made a lot of money in Hollywood, I gained many interesting friends. Elvis was one of them. Unfortunately today many lurid exposes of the stars are published, telling all their secrets. One event I never wrote about happened at a star-studded cocktail party at Warner Bros at a party for the film The Phynx. Elizabeth was there, drinking, laughing telling jokes when Dorothy Lamour sashayed by, fortunately not wearing her skintight sarong. Suddenly Elizabeth leaned forward and smacked Dorothy on her undulating ass. It was a real SMACK and Dotty was mad. She turned around and glared at us all, madder than a wet hen. Immediately Elizabeth pointed at ME. Red faced and flustered, I tried to defend myself while Elizabeth disappeared into the crowd, hysterical with laughter…
Weeks later, at Director’s Guild, I was asked to save the end row seat for Elizabeth who was late. As soon as she entered the theatre I stood up and she sat down, quietly thanking me for keeping her seat. …at the cocktail party after the film, she glared at me. “Thank you for the seat Roger,” she groaned. “All through the movie, the young guy in the next seat was trying to grab my ass.” “Great!” I replied. “D’you want me to find out who it was?” We both laughed, hysterically.
That’s the Elizabeth Taylor I knew…