May 19, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 31 March 2011 11:20
She lived her life on the big screen even when she didn’t appear in movies. She continued to dominate the tabloid headlines years after her screen career ended. And she brilliantly used her celebrity to bring attention to the tragedy of AIDS long before others were willing to talk about the disease.
Our children may not know who Elizabeth Taylor is and how magical she could be on film. Thanks to DVDs, any family can get to know this amazing star who could be a most commanding actress while making news about her personal life. Here are a few favorites among more than 50 films she made over a 70-year career.National Velvet. Taylor is only 12 when, in 1944, she creates a national sensation as Velvet Brown in this much-loved classic. She brings the qualities to her performance of a young girl in love with a horse that would endure throughout her career, from the sincerity of her violet eyes to the warmth of her voice and the aura of her presence.
Father of the Bride. Unlike the dreary remake made a few years ago, this classic from 1950 is a comedy delight, thanks to Taylor’s magical presence and the comic timing of Spencer Tracy. She conveys all the anticipation and joy of a fragile bride-to-be and, even in glorious black-and-white, shades her performance with marvelous colors.
A Place in the Sun. This brilliant adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy offers Taylor her first opportunity, in 1951, to show she is more than a beautiful face. She brings a compelling balance of sincerity and selfishness to her portrayal of a well-heeled woman who has the bad judgment to love the wrong man.
Giant. Taylor gets the chance, in 1956, to fully demonstrate the depth of her dramatic command. She grows — in this classic epic based on the Edna Ferber novel — from a young woman filled with expectation to a hardened Texas matriarch who will do anything to protect her family. The film and performance still ring true.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Delivering perhaps the strongest performance of her career in 1958, Taylor is magnificent as “Maggie the Cat” in this strong adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play. She sulks, screams, and smolders and refuses to give anyone in the audience a reason to watch anyone else.
Suddenly Last Summer. Taylor delivers, in 1959, a stunning portrayal of a young woman who is horrified by her cousin’s death in another Tennessee Williams drama. But the Academy waits a year to award her an Oscar for “phoning in” a routine performance in Butterfield 8. Her acceptance speech — a short time after almost dying of pneumonia — was far more authentic and moving as she simply uttered, “thank you”.
Cleopatra. Taylor becomes, in 1963, the first actress to be paid $1 million for a film that, today, is best remembered for her romance with co-star Richard Burton. While the film is an overblown epic, Taylor is ravishing and credible as the Eqyptian queen and her breathtaking entrance into Rome, by itself, makes the film worth watching.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Taylor submerges her beauty and radiance in a chilling portrait of a bitter woman, old before her time, driven by disappointment to destroy the man she loves. She wins a well-deserved second Oscar in 1966 for a performance that most consider the peak of her work on screen.
After her film career slowed, Taylor scored a triumph on Broadway (in a revival of The Little Foxes) and secured, perhaps, the greatest role of her life as the first celebrity willing to talk about (and raise money for) the fight against AIDS. In her work over the next several years, she personally raised hundreds of millions of dollars for research and personally removed the social stigma of openly discussing the disease. For this work, she won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars as well as the admiration of millions whose lives have been changed by the unselfishness of her contributions. Today, when so many performers seem to use causes for publicity only, Taylor’s unselfish work sets the standard for the good that celebrity can do.
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