The Light Touch / Liz and I -- a legend in my mind
For a long time it was Lizzie and I -- two peas in a pod. It was the 1950s when my fantasies ran wild, and I was emotionally joined at the hip with Elizabeth Taylor. Like many girls my age, we all had favorite movie idols that we worshiped from afar, and even went so far as to think we shared a connection. My link to Liz (who didn't know I existed) was our eyes. Mine are blue; Liz's were violet, but close enough, in my mind, to make us optically-bonded. That's where it began and ended.
Once, on a class trip, a girl who sat next to me in English class was stopped by a woman at the American Museum of Natural History. "Did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Elizabeth Taylor?" she asked Roseanne Rotcup, who lowered her eyes, and shyly countered: "Yes, it happens a lot." I resented Roseanne not only because she resembled Liz, but because she carried this image around for years emulating the actress ad nauseum. Though I hated admitting it, we were in competition, and she was trespassing on my territory.
Roseanne's hair was jet black like Liz's. Her outfits were chosen with Liz in mind. When Liz changed hairstyles, Roseanne changed hers. She painted a black beauty mark on her face with her mother's eyebrow pencil and wore lipstick in deep shades of purples and reds. She even had a leading man, Bobby Kreger, the captain of the football team, who looked nothing like Liz's men. A legend in her own mind, Roseanne's entire demeanor exuded Elizabeth Taylor's. After seeing Lassie Come Home, I pretended for a while that I was Liz. I once asked my next door's neighbor, Ritchie who I reminded him of.
"Minnie Mouse," Ritchie said, without batting an eye. I didn't talk to him for a year. I chose to ignore most of Ritchie's comments, which were delivered with such malevolence he could ruin my entire day. Not once in all the time I knew him did he ever say a complimentary word about me except when he told me I had the best Archie comic collection he had ever seen. "I'll trade you my Dick Tracy decoder ring for a stack of comics," Ritchie said one Saturday afternoon when I was hanging out at his house with his sister, Patty.
"I don't need a decoder ring," I said in my best Liz Taylor voice.
"Can't you tell she's Elizabeth Taylor's double?" Patty came to my defense.
"Minnie Mouse," Ritchie said. "That's who she is."
For many years, photos of Liz were taped to my bedroom wall in various stages of her movie career: Liz In jodhpurs sitting on a horse; Liz leaning over a veranda, her hair blowing in the breeze; Liz with leading men, who looked adoringly at her. And I, a gawky teenager, took the Liz Taylor persona to an art form, and perfected her every move.
Once, when Patty and I watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on the big screen, I turned to her in the dark. "You see how Liz moves her hips? I move mine exactly the same way."
Patty smiled, stuffing popcorn into her mouth, and shrugged her shoulders.
That night I practiced undulating in front of the mirror until I thought I had gotten Liz's effect down pat. All week, I threw my body around until my mother finally intervened.
"Is there something wrong with you?" she asked.
"I'm trying to emulate Elizabeth Taylor.
"Try studying like Albert Einstein," she said.
One memorable night in 1956, my dad, supporting my adoration for the actress, surprised me by snagging tickets to the film premier of Giant at New York's Criterion Theater. It was a dazzling evening when I took my seat, and watched with uncontained excitement as members of the cast walked down the aisle. Suddenly, there she was: Elizabeth Taylor looking even more beautiful than any of her photographs or movies depicted -- her eyes an exquisite deep violet against her translucent, ivory skin. Bolstered by an uninhibited enthusiasm, I shouted out her name as she sauntered by, standing only inches away from me. In that brief nanosecond our eyes met, and she smiled. I smiled back, knowing we had shared an unforgettable moment.
Looking back now, I realize it was "unforgettable" only to me. Like all overheated and passionate young girls, I shared my adoration for Liz along with a cast of thousands. I also came to understand that she was merely a figment of my imagination, existing purely as a vehicle to get me through my restless and impressionable years.
Liz was irreplaceable as a great beauty, bombshell and movie icon, who held us captive by her ability to play diverse roles. But, even more: she was plucky and vibrant-- a woman who defied all the odds, had seven husbands and gave her all both on and off the screen. Years later -- gray-haired and still a beauty -- she never faltered, but always rose to occasions with humor, wit and boundless energy that spurred her on, earning her the title of not only of "Glamour Puss" but as Dame Elizabeth Taylor. She was a woman for all seasons, and lived each one of them with style and panache.
I laugh now when I think of my adolescent years, and how earnestly I clung to the belief that Liz and I were alike. Yet, that fantasy awakened in me the possibility that, like Liz, I too could take on the world. In that way, she became a role model that allowed me to evolve. I even named my daughter, `Elizabeth' because the name had figured so strongly in my life. It was Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson, after all, who concocted and introduced the Chocolate Martini; Liz, after whom the perfume, White Diamonds is named; Liz who married the men she loved, and when asked by the press why she did that so often, her answer was: "I don't know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me." I adored her cockiness, her gigantic heart and unwavering spirit, and her ability to keep on plugging right to the end. When she died, we mourned, not only because we had lost a legend, but a woman whose uniqueness can never be replicated.
Years after my Elizabeth sighting, I saw Roseanne Rotcup at a class reunion. She had gained thirty pounds, and battled a weight problem (as did Liz) and married a man who was nothing like any of her Liz's leading men, but more like Woody Allen.
As for me, I finally came to realize that I look nothing like Elizabeth Taylor, and that Ritchie was right: I do bear a rather strange and startling resemblance to Minnie Mouse.
Judith Marks-White's "The Light Touch" appears Wednesday in the Westport News. She may be reached at email@example.com or at www.judithmarks-white.com.