What I read: Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon by Kate Andersen Brower

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon Kate Andersen BrowerThe gorgeous, glamorous Elizabeth Taylor!

Growing up, my reference of “Liz Taylor”, as with most kids growing up in the 80s, was directly influenced by what the “Huisgenoot” decided to cover. Also, within the first couple of pages of this book I was made aware that she hated being called “Liz”, so I feel as if I should apologise profusely for what I called her all those years ago. So disrespectful. As if we ever had real life conversations, but still.

I remember her, always dressed beautifully, her ample bosom draped in the glitziest jewellery. By that time, her movie career was over, and she was in her fifties, and most of the articles about her were either about her friendship with Michael Jackson or her rich history of accumulating husbands. And, of course, her passionate and stormy relationship with Richard Burton.

Still, until this day, when I see photos of her from the 1960s or 1970s, at the height of her Hollywood movie career, I am struck by how beautiful she was. Her long and successful career made her one of the most iconic actresses ever, and, together with powerful (and stylish) female figures of the 20th century, like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, she made a notable impact on history.

Now, 12 years after her passing, journalist and author Kate Andersen Brower published this book: “Elizabeth Taylor, the grit and glamour of an icon”, and what an icon she was!

The author was granted access by Elizabeth Taylor’s estate to her personal diaries, previously unpublished interview transcripts and personal records, making this the first biography officially endorsed by her estate. Kate Andersen Brower spent 3 years writing this biography, interviewing 250 people, including her 4 children and ex-husband, Senator John Warren.

This book delves into the personal life of this symbol of Hollywood glamour, as well as her extraordinary career.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon Kate Andersen BrowenThe book shared details of a difficult childhood, shadowed by an overbearing and dominating mother and a physically abusive father. It is quite interesting how this shaped her, as person, though. From a young age, she was standing up and fighting for what she wanted. Most notably, telling the co-founder of MGM Studios, the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer to “go to hell” after being rude to her mother. This, while she was still a teenager and a starlet in the making. It could have been a career-limiting-move, but when she wasn’t fired from the studio, she realised her value and that inspired her even more. I was shocked to read about the way that child actors were used (and abused) during the early days of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Often, they were drugged (given measures of uppers and downers) to keep them performing, often working very long hours. This is undoubtedly the start of her struggle with addition, very much the same as it was with another child actor at the time, Judy Garland. She often had to fight for what she wanted and had to prove herself worthy of some of the roles she got. She was smart, talented, and intelligent and had an undeniable gut feel about the scripts she was presented with. She recognised her own worth, she was the first actress in history to get $1 million for a role (Cleopatra), a paycheck that was several times more than what actresses earned in the early 1960’s.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon Kate Andersen BrowerI found it quite ironic that, whilst she had to deal with physical abuse from an early age, it seems as if she was also purposefully seeking out men who displayed abusive behaviour, and she always said that she loved a good fight. Thus, also often being physically abusive to her partners, herself. Love, for her, should be fiery, stormy, and often involved passionate fighting. On the other hand, as a hopeless romantic, this seems to have doomed all her relationships from the start. The best and most well-known example of this, is her relationship with Richard Burton. As one of the great loves of her life, they loved passionately and fought passionately. With both struggling with addiction, they both enabled each other in the various stages of their relationship and marriages. My heart was breaking reading about her dealing with his death and the drama of his funeral.

One of my favourite parts in the book were her relationships with Montgomery Cliff, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. The friendships, the drama, the trauma. All at such a young age.

Also, her special relationship with Colin Farrell, I had absolutely no idea of. It made a huge impression on me, and somewhat changed my opinion of this often-gruff Irish actor. Although Elizabeth was almost 45 years his senior, the tender connection between them made me wonder if he was in line to be husband number 8? He has claimed in interviews, that she was his “last romantic relationship”.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon Kate Andersen BrowerAll wasn’t just glam and glitz, she had a very intricate life, with her struggle with opioid and alcohol addiction, as well as tragedy and pain following her throughout her rich and dramatic lifespan. All that, often within the public eye. She was also very aware of her shortcomings and knew when and how to ask for help, going for rehab at the Betty Ford clinic a couple of times.

What I do believe she should be best remembered for, is her advocacy efforts. She was passionate about issued that still resonated today, LGBTQ+ rights, addiction, and AIDS/HIV awareness. She needs to be remembered for the part she played in history, bringing the HIV pandemic to the forefront and passionately driving awareness and change, when the world tried it’s best to ignore the issue. I learnt from this book that her marriage to Senator John Warren, lasted much longer than I thought, but that she, in the role of seemingly “demure politician’s wife” used this opportunity to further her political influence. She rallied frontline doctors, scientists and fought for AIDS consciousness and research, and more importantly, against discrimination. Even when her close personal celebrity friends declined to support her in these efforts.

I do see Elizabeth Taylor as the first “influencer” as well (regardless of what your thoughts on that species are). Building her perfume empire, recognising the value of her image and name. A true celebrity trailblazer! Her obsession with jewellery was also entertaining to read about. Even more so, the fact that she made a point to wear her most glamourous pieces at home, while wearing her pajamas, made me realise that this was a woman who relished in what made her happy.

This book represents her all, her humane side, her career, her relationship with her family, but also it doesn’t whitewash the bad decisions she made, and the flawed personality that she was. As with Elizabeth Taylor herself, this is all part of the person she was.

Even if you don’t know much about Elizabeth Taylor, I’m sure you will be inspired by the force that was this Hollywood (and beyond) icon. Rest in Peace Ms Taylor and thank you for everything.

With thanks to Exclusive Books for the opportunity to read this book.

The details:  

PUBLISHED BY:  HarperCollins Publishers (in South Africa by Jonathan Ball Publishers)
EAN:  9780008435837
DATE PUBLISHED:  08 December 2022
GENRE:  Biography: arts & entertainment

About the author: