by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 5, 2011
MY TWO LIZZES
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- I was thinking of the two Elizabeths who both fit prominently in my memories of the past seven decades. First, I looked up the origin of the name Elizabeth and was pleasantly surprised to read the meanings.
"God's promise" was one. and "God is my vow" is the other. How appropriate! Elizabeth II, Queen of England and Elizabeth Taylor, Queen of the Silver Screen.
Queen Elizabeth is five years my senior but when I was four and she was nine, she and her little sister, Margaret Rose, were the royal princesses gracing the covers of glossy magazines and weekly magazine sections of the newspapers.
Princesses! Real and true princesses, just like the stories Mama told me. I loved looking at them but was surprised by their common skirts and sweaters as opposed to chiffon frills and sparkling crowns.
There were other little girls who didn't escape my notice, and Shirley Temple was the most prominent. I loved her movies but I was so very jealous that I used to hide the Shirley Temple paper dolls rather than look at "Curly Top." She wore chiffon ruffles and looked like a princess - but she wasn't one. I was confused.
Except for the magazine photos I didn't hear about the two little girls growing up in a palace in London until World War II broke out. Then, RKO Newsreels featured scenes from around the world of our allies and how those on the homefront were doing their part.
In London, there was Elizabeth, a teenager, serving as a military auto mechanic. I was impressed. I put more muscle into collecting scrap metal. A princess, I thought, an auto mechanic?
So I always followed Elizabeth's life and career with interest and admiration. Our lives were not quite parallel but within a five-year span.
Elizabeth Taylor is seven weeks younger than I am and the times of our lives were the same. We lived through the same cultural events, and because of the circumstances of our births, made different choices. We were born with the Atlantic Ocean separating the rooms where we first saw the light of day: Elizabeth in London, I in New York.
Elizabeth Taylor came to our attention as the 12-year old star of National Velvet in 1944, but, I'm sorry to admit, I never saw it. It was about a girl and a horse. I knew that much. It may not be widely known, but New York City kids would rather see movies with car chases, cops and robbers, and over and over "The Grapes of Wrath." That's how we were living then - in abject poverty.
My first view of Elizabeth Taylor was in Lassie. I love dogs, especially Collies. Her beauty was inescapable and I was star struck. I was not in the least bit jealous. Her skin appeared translucent and flawless - like alabaster. I sat in the darkened theater wishing I could erase my freckles, loving Elizabeth.
Through the years I followed her career and her personal life as well. She was always self contained. I didn't always think her moves were to my liking but somehow I understood. I understood the Eddie Fisher debacle because he had been best friend of her late husband, Mike Todd, and she was clinging to Mike anyway she could.
She was arriving at an airport one day and the reporters were trailing closely behind her. "What would Mike think," one asked, "about you and his friend, Eddie?"
"Mike's dead, I'm alive." It was flippant and sounded crass and yet it was how she was at that moment. Much is made of her many marriages but somehow we can justify it as some have said: "at least she didn't sleep around. She always married the guy."
My daughter took me to see "Private Lives;" it was the last time she and Richard Burton would appear together. Already divorced but, I assume, but fulfilling a contract, they were wonderful.
We waited outside in the street while they changed and came out to their cars. The crowds were mulling around in excitement. Mounted police kept order saying things like "Mind your step, dear, mind your step."
Richard came out, put his collar up, lit a cigarette, smiled and stepped into a limo. Easily a full hour later, Elizabeth Taylor came out. Her grooming was impeccable in an "after the show" way, makeup perfect, colorful turban holding her black hair in place, and just went into her limo. She waved with her gloved hand and smiled. She was not avoiding a raucous crowd; she was merely doing what came naturally: she was behaving like a lady and we were awestruck.
Each Elizabeth was known by a nickname. Queen Elizabeth is called Lillibet by her husband, Prince Philip. It's a name she's been called at "home" since she was 13. after not being able to say Elizabeth as a child.
As for Elizabeth Taylor, fans and writers called her Liz, or, "La Liz." She never liked it at all and was quite vocal about it. I learned this just last week when an earlier interview with Barbara Walters was rerun following Elizabeth's death:
Barbara: "What would you like on your tombstone?"
Elizabeth: "Here lies Elizabeth, who never liked to be called Liz," she answered with a satisfied smile.