Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Night I Met Elizabeth Taylor

Yes, I met and chatted with Elizabeth Taylor.
I could hardly believe it myself.
Though it's really not all that incredible, I suppose.
Elizabeth Taylor was a public figure for more than six decades and during her illustrious career she probably met thousands -- even tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
Still, to have gotten close enough to look into her eyes, to talk to her, touch her -- that was something.
How did it happen?
Well, like many things in my life it came about through my career in public relations and my connections with the media.
Miss Taylor was scheduled to attend and be honored at a charity dinner in the Philadelphia area -- a benefit for Technion Israel Institute of Technology. Technion is a science and technology research university, among the world's top ten, dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership, for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity.
In case you didn't know, Elizabeth Taylor was a convert to Judaism and she was a very strong supporter of the State of Israel.
Anyway, this event was held at a synagogue on Philadelphia's Main Line.
At the time Miss Taylor was married to Senator John Warner.
A friend arranged for me to get press credentials to the event and I was instructed to go to the press room in advance of the dinner. That's where Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner would be for photo ops and a brief Q and A.
I'd always admired this legendary Hollywood star and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet her. So I made sure I was at the proper place, showed my credentials and reported to the press room -- actually a classroom at the synagogue's Hebrew school. I was one of the first people to arrive and I took a seat in one of the classroom desks right up front.
One by one, members of the news media piled into the classroom -- TV camera people, still photographers, reporters, editors, etc. They set up their lights, connected their audio and video units and quickly filled every space.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited.
It had always been my experience that the media waited for no one. They had better things to do and other stories to cover. That was the rule. That was the way it worked.
But they waited for Elizabeth Taylor.
They waited dutifully. They waited quietly. And yes, for the most part they waited patiently. Quite astounding.
All her life, Elizabeth Taylor kept people (mostly men) waiting. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.
Then, the excitement began to build.
We were told that Her Arrival was imminent.
And we were also told that no one was to ask to be photographed with her or request her autograph or anything like that. This was the first time I ever remember the media having to be cautioned against breaking professional boundaries.
But this was Elizabeth Taylor.
And at about 60 minutes past the designated arrival time, there she was.
The first thing I noticed was how relatively tiny she was. She was short (5 ft., 3.5 inches tall, I later learned).
And she was wider than I remembered her. But the width was nicely concealed in a gold lame caftan -- all flowing and sparkling.
The next thing I noticed was her plunging neckline. Yes, there they were, wonderfully intact and complete with cleavage.
And then, the eyes. And it was the eyes more than anything else that mesmerized and worked to her constant advantage. They were vivid, deep, stunningly violet.
The flashing of cameras was ceaseless -- like lightening on steroids.
I wondered how she could stand all the lights, the cameras, the flashes, the hunger just to capture a moment of her presence. But then I thought she's used to this; this is all she's ever known; this is her life.
I was close enough to her to watch her every move -- close enough to see the color and shimmer of her nail polish and the gloss of her lips and the sparkle of her dangling earings.
Oh, yes -- Senator Warner was there too. But no one paid any attention to him. He was just a fixture.
What did Elizabeth Taylor have to say to the media that night? I don't know. I didn't hear a word. I suppose she said something about being happy to be there for Technion. But I didn't absorb it. I was too busy just watching to actually listen.
And then she was gone. Just like that. Gone.
But I had a ticket to the dinner.
And it was at the dinner that I was finally able to approach the head table and talk to Elizabeth Taylor.
I got her attention and she turned to me. "Miss Taylor," I said "you are and always will be the definition of the word 'star.'"
She reached over and grabbed my hand.
The cleavage. The eyes. A tilt of the head. The soft voice.
"You are so kind," she said. "So kind."
And then someone else wanted to tell her something -- probably something else that she'd also heard many times before.
That was my night with Elizabeth Taylor.

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