"How to describe Elizabeth Taylor? She was not a movie star; she was the entire galaxy of stars in one package. That was the energy she emitted when she walked into a room. People froze. When they spoke to her, they stuttered."
That's designer Vicky Tiel describing Taylor, her friend and frequent client, in her book, "It's All About the Dress." This is a delicious, sexy, gossip-heavy memoir of Tiel's rise as a designer in the Swinging '60s. It's a lot of fun. It is dotted with little essays on wisdom she learned from the likes of Coco Chanel, Miles Davis, Kim Novak and Ursula Andress, along with recipes she picked up along the way. She is candid about affairs with such disparate types as Woody Allen and Warren Beatty, as well as her own extramarital affair with Taylor and Burton's makeup man, Ron Berkeley, which eventually led to a marriage - one not fated to last forever.
If you are at all interested in fashion and how it morphed so drastically in the '60s, side-by-side (thigh-by-thigh!) with a new liberated society, this book will dazzle.
Sometimes, Tiel's adventures become exhausting. Readers will adore snippets such as her erotic encounter with Beatty. During the (expert) lovemaking, Beatty took a phone call from an ex, sensitively talking her down from some emotional extremity. Fun, sexy, gossipy. A good solid, witty read.
However, I really was most interested in Tiel's observations on Taylor and Burton, with whom she was close for years, joining at times Taylor's cacophonous entourage. It reminded me of my most extreme times with the couple. She makes some startlingly astute observations of Taylor and Burton and their strange, fabulous relationship.
Some various snippets: "Elizabeth's eyes were dark navy blue, like the deep sea, with an indigo light some people might call violet." ... "Did she like being holed up in an enormous hotel suite with all her favorite food and wine and her favorite people flown in from all over the world? She loved it!" ... "The things that mattered most to Elizabeth were being Earth Mother to her loved ones, sex, food and drink, helping the unfortunate (humans and animals)." ... "Her fame and beauty did not matter much to her." ... "She hated snobs almost as much as she hated cheap producers." ... "She loved losers as friends. The bigger the loser, the more she loved him. She was a sucker for a sob story, she believed everyone." ... "Her generosity was her foremost quality."
Burton, whom Tiel clearly adored as well, was a different breed. Although he and Taylor were always "deeply connected," they had "little in common." Burton hated almost everything that Taylor loved. He preferred solitude, quiet, reading. And he was jealous. Tiel believes the night he lost the Oscar for "Virginia Woolf," but Taylor won, "Richard never got over the loss, or his childish jealousy." (For her part, Taylor was devastated by Burton's loss.)
But there is one more Taylor story that is so "her." After Burton's death, after being barred from the funeral by Burton's last wife, Sally Hay, Tiel - who still designed for Burton's subsequent wives - was called by Hay to help her dress for the service. To Tiel's shock, Hay also tried on three elaborate evening gowns. "Now I'll finally be able to go and wear smart things," she said.
Tiel immediately called Taylor, distraught in L.A.
"Can you believe she is so cold?" Tiel exclaimed. Taylor quietly replied, "Oh, no, Vicky. She must be in shock."
Immediately following this book, I read the complete diaries of Richard Burton, soon due. Fascinating and rather melancholy. I tell all that, later in the week.
Very interesting piece in a New York tabloid the other day, attempting to explain why Janet Jackson, who always tried to keep herself above and away from her wildly dysfunctional family, became embroiled in the matter of overturning Michael's will. She is terribly worried that she will have to end up supporting the Jacksons, depleting her own fortune. Especially as her career, like that of so many others who were big in the '80s and '90s, is no longer red hot.
Unfortunately the plan backfired, and not only is Janet still worried about having to boost the finances of the other Jacksons, she has damaged her public image, although this might not be fatal. Miss Jackson has a wildly devoted fan base. Many of them think Michael's daughter Paris deserves a slap-down (literally or figuratively).