Elizabeth Taylor is Hollywood’s child. From her starring role opposite Lassie in “Lassie Come Home” in 1943 until last year’s brief appearance as Fred Flintstone’s mother-in-law in “The Flintstones,” Taylor has been a movie star for more than a halfcentury.
She’s been married eight times. Her career has been played out on the covers of the scandal sheets and in the gossip columns of everyone from Hedda Hopper to Liz Smith. She’s had the tragedy of losing husband Mike Todd in a plane crash and fought public drunken bouts with the late Richard Burton. She was laughed off the screen for her bumbling through “The V.I.P.s” and “Butterfield 8” and justifiably applauded for her brilliant performance as Martha in Mike Nichols’ movie adaptation of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
She befriended men who were outcasts - James Dean and Montgomery Clift - and has treated Michael Jackson like her own son. She’s kept finding a cure for AIDS on the top of her charity agenda, and she’s still looking for roles to play.
“Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story” (9-11 p.m. Sunday and Monday, NBC, KHQ-Channel 6 out of Spokane) is based on C. David Heymann’s intimate, unauthorized biography that details Taylor’s drug addiction and sexual habits with healthy examples of her neurosis, cursing and other exploits tossed in. Her life is so extraordinary that they’ve probably toned it down for TV.
NBC refused to screen the film in advance. This could mean several things: They’re afraid Taylor will get a restraining order to prevent the film from airing; the film is so bad they want to hide it from the critics; or they’ll get more publicity by discussing why they’re keeping it under wraps.
Certainly some of the scenes that made Heymann’s book a best seller - Taylor’s previously unpublished sexual exploits and the codification of her drug addiction - probably will not make it to the screen.
Taylor recently lost a multimilliondollar suit and several appeals she brought to block the miniseries.
How can they possibly shrink this life to fit on the small screen?
My guess is that what may disturb this legend most is the low-budget cast they assembled to interpret her Panavision life.
In an unusual twist, the TV stars are less famous than the celebrities they portray.
Sherilyn Fenn, who was the amputee object of Julian Sands’ affection in “Boxing Helena” and one of the leading characters on “Twin Peaks,” plays Taylor. The supporting cast includes Nigel Havers as Michael Wilding, Katherine Helmond as Hedda Hopper, Angus MacFadyen as Richard Burton, William McNamara as Montgomery Clift, Corey Parker as Eddie Fisher, Ray Wise as Mike Todd, Judith Jones as Debbie Reynolds and Dan McVicar as Rock Hudson.
So what can we expect?
Here’s a guess.
Teenaged Elizabeth is thrust by stage mother Sara Taylor into the movies. Spurred by Hedda Hopper’s enthusiasm, Elizabeth dazzles auditioners and is signed for “Lassie Come Home” at MGM. Gets role in “National Velvet.” Falls from horse. Injures back, which eventually leads to a painkiller addiction. Meets Montgomery Clift on set of “A Place in the Sun.” Marries hotel heir Nicky Hilton. A year later, they’re divorced. Makes “Ivanhoe.” Marries Michael Wilding, 20 years her senior. In 1956, after bearing two sons, she falls in love with Mike Todd and divorces Wilding. Marries Todd. Daughter Liza Todd is born. Mike Todd dies in a plane crash. Taylor gets depressed. Finds comfort with Eddie Fisher. Fisher divorces Debbie Reynolds, marries Taylor.
Then comes “Cleopatra.” Tabloids announce Taylor-Burton romance. And Fisher-Taylor divorce. Taylor marries Burton. The couple drinks too much. Taylor takes painkillers. They divorce. They marry. They divorce. Taylor meets John Warner, former secretary of the Navy. They marry. He wins Senate seat. She gets bored. Tours with ex-husband Burton in “Private Lives.” Divorces Warner. Rock Hudson, Taylor’s friend, announces he has AIDS. Taylor is a drug addict. Checks into Betty Ford Clinic. Meets Larry Fortensky. Marries Larry Fortensky. Taylor has TV movie made of life. Sues. Loses. Watches at home.
What Taylor should have done was buy some commercial time to sell her perfumes - Passion and White Diamonds. That’s what this whole mess is all about anyway - the scent of money.