Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait
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In the days before there was an "Intimate Portrait" on every Britney, Kate and Ashley, came the documentary Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975) about a real star - Elizabeth Taylor. The documentary, which has the feel of a pre-1980 60 Minutes episode, is hosted and narrated by Taylor friend and co-star Peter Lawford. All of her key films are represented in clips from Lassie Come Home (1943) to Cleopatra (1963) but the primary focus of the film is on the woman behind the public image, one who is greatly admired for her generosity and kindness by colleagues and close friends.
First in the interview chair is Rock Hudson, who discusses the making of Giant (1956). He describes James Dean as a loner who was hard to reach, but reveals that Taylor was able to connect with the young actor. Hudson calls Taylor "one of the warmest, friendliest and certainly the most beautiful actresses [he's] ever worked with."
Next up is Taylor's mother, Sara, who shares early memories of her daughter. Sara Taylor was herself a stage actress that gave up a career for marriage and family. She recalls Elizabeth's initial enthusiasm for filmmaking - how her daughter was not really even acting in early films like National Velvet (1944). In fact, Elizabeth was Velvet. She loved the horse just the same as her screen character did. Unfortunately, around age fifteen, the lifestyle began to wear thin with Elizabeth. The lack of friends and normal social activities left the young actress questioning her future. But not for long. After just a few days of consideration, Taylor decided she could not give up acting. It would "be like cutting off the roots of a tree."
Taylor's life has also had its share of tragedy. Director Richard Brooks describes a distraught Taylor after the death of third husband Mike Todd in a plane crash during the making of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Ever the professional, Taylor poured her grief into her work and production continued. Still, Brooks remembers having to trick a heartbroken Elizabeth into accepting food. While filming a party scene in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he called for take after take, just so that Taylor would have to keep eating.
Roddy McDowall describes first meeting Taylor on the set of Lassie Come Home. He recalls her eyes - so vivid that the cameraman actually asked to have her mascara removed. Of course she wasn't wearing any. Producer Sam Marx tells the story of how he discovered Taylor; he was an air raid warden with her father. And he discusses casting her in Lassie Come Home, which proved to be her first big break; she won the role because the original actress cast in the part was too tall. Other interviews include designer Helen Rose, who not only dressed Taylor, but many other stars like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. Rose outfitted Taylor for her first grown up role in A Date With Judy (1948). And Vincente Minnelli who directed Taylor at vastly different points of her career - first at 18 years old in Father of the Bride (1950) and later, as an international superstar in The Sandpiper (1965).
Though the tabloids may not have always been kind to Taylor, it's clear in Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait that she has always been blessed with a hard-core following of friends and fans. And through illness, loss and scandal, she has always maintained her grace. As Lawford puts it, she is "if anything, a fighter...a survivor."
Producer: Jack Haley, Jr., Michael Ornstein
Film Editing: Jerry Greene
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Peter Lawford, Vincente Minnelli, Richard Brooks.
by Stephanie Thames