“Seems like we always spend the best part of our time just saying goodbye.” – A Place in the Sun (1951)
This morning’s news of Elizabeth Taylor’s passing is not entirely surprising. Reports of her declining health have been frequent these past few months. None of that matters though. Everyone should pause for a second to reflect on Dame Elizabeth’s life, her career and her humanitarian work. She was the very definition of a Hollywood icon and one of the true greats.
I’ve written about Taylor’s performances before and I love so many of them. Suddenly Last Summer. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Butterfield 8. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Even Cleopatra.
Like many people, I first encountered Elizabeth Taylor when I was very young. I was barely a teenager, probably younger, when I saw National Velvet.
National Velvet is one of my mom’s favorite movies from when she was a child. We watched it together. (My parents had this amazing way of casually forcing Hollywood classics on me when I was a child.)
I loved (love) the story of a 12-year-old girl and her beloved horse training for the Grand National steeplechase. When things don’t go exactly Velvet’s way, she disguises herself as boy to compete. (In retrospect my mom was probably also giving me some subtle hints about why feminism matters.) It is Elizabeth Taylor’s natural screen charm, even as a child performer, that makes this movie so wonderfully memorable. I watch it whenever I stumble across it on television.
My absolute favorite Elizabeth Taylor film is the 1951 romantic tragedy A Place in the Sun. It is the only one of her more than 50 films that I have made a point of owning.
Montgomery Clift portrays factory worker George Eastman, Shelley Winters is Alice, his pregnant girlfriend, and Taylor is Angela, the socialite that comes between them. So much of this George Stevens film belongs to Clift and Winters. Did George ever really love Alice or is does he only desire the money that comes with loving Angela? We never really know. We’re just left with the pain of the many failed romances.
Taylor’s performance in A Place in the Sun cemented her transition to adult roles. How could it not? Just watch:
Every time I watch A Place in the Sun, my jaw drops and I’m left devastated. It’s a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, and everything I want from a movie of its caliber. Although it is a respected and much loved film, A Place in the Sun never gets the full recognition it deserves.
Then there is this clip of Taylor on “What’s My Line” that is making its way around the Internet.
I watch this clip and realize that what Vincent Canby once wrote about Taylor in the New York Times couldn’t be more true: “More than anyone else I can think of, Elizabeth Taylor represents the complete movie phenomenon — what movies are as an art and an industry and what they have meant to those of us who have grown up watching them in the dark.”
Elizabeth Taylor really was just one of the best actresses Hollywood ever gave us.