Elizabeth Taylor

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rent a Beatnik

Gerald Williams asked Ted Joans about his memory of Elizabeth Taylor. "Oh, ya," Ted commenced, "that was when I started the 'Rent a Beatnik' business. Upscale party throwers could have folks like me and Gregory Corso attend their blasts for a fee. We helped to break the ice, provide momentum, add color.... It wasn't a bad deal: we got money, free food, a chance to recite our poetry, sell a painting, blow some horn...maybe even cadge a little Park Avenue pussy on the side...."

"What about Elizabeth Taylor?"

"Oh, she was just there...one of the guests. It was during her Eddie Fisher period. He was there, too. It was in a loft. She said she liked my poetry a lot, even bought one of my chapbooks. A beautiful person, a real person. Nothing phony about her at all."
---Massachusetts Review Vol XLVI, No. 2

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Taylor's Snake

All persons, chronically diseased, are egotists, whether the disease be of the mind or body; whether sin, sorrow, or merely the more tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among the cords of mortal life. Such individuals are made acutely conscious of a self, by the torture in which it dwells. Self, therefore, grows to be so prominent an object with them, that they cannot but present it to the face of every casual passer-by. There is a pleasure--perhaps the greatest of which the sufferer is susceptible--in displaying the wasted or ulcerated limb, or the cancer in the breast; and the fouler the crime, with so much the more difficulty does the perpetrator prevent it from thrusting up its snake-like head to frighten the world; for it is that cancer, or that crime, which constitutes their respective individuality. Roderick Elliston, who, a little while before had held himself so scornfully above the common lot of men, now paid full allegiance to this humiliating law. The snake in his bosom seemed the symbol of a monstrous egotism…
From Hawthorne’s Egotism or the Bosom Serpent (Classic Books CD)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rocks in Head

Elizabeth Taylor may have a brain tumor. My father and aunt died of brain tumors. It’s generally agreed by her biographers that Taylor faked illnesses for publicity. Nevertheless brain tumors make people act strangely. My father became obsessed with keys, duplicating every key he could possess, then arranging them in patterns which made sense to him alone. Taylor’s most recent book is called My Love Affair with Jewelry. It’s an autobiography. She tells her life’s story through associations with particular expensive rocks.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Pissing Apollo off

The dust jacket copy of Donald Spoto’s A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor says: “Generous and compassionate, self-absorbed and egocentric, few stars have achieved as much.” In another place Taylor is described as a vacuous and vulgar egocentric. Egomania with her might be construed as a solipsistic vanity.

Probably writers about Taylor have the sensitivity to meaning all writers must have to succeed; yet only Sheridan Morley’s study shows real style and insight; I suppose the presumption that the audience for a star’s biography is unintellectual and probably downscale leads the other writers on Taylor to ignore, so to speak, Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Freudians have their id, ego and super-ego; Hollywood stars just have lots of ego.

In Latin the word ego tends to be suppressed. “Ego” is a particle which, as Chomsky would say, some languages suppress. Aside from the different alphabets, the Latin ego and Greek εγω are the same word. The Greek cognate is one of the first defiant words uttered by the first real character in The Iliad, the first real character in Western literature:
μη σε, γερον, κοιλησιν εγω παρα νηυσι κιχειω
Agamemnon says, “I will not return the beautiful girl, the beautiful booty, to her father, even if this angers Apollo.” Agamemnon may not be lovable or pious but his assertion of his desires against god and over those of the community is greatly significant. L’Etat, c’est moi?

Such too is the imperious significance of Taylor. Turturro admires Taylor because her whole life she has acted and she has never stopped acting. Marrying conservative Senator Warner and fundraising for AIDS research extended her career onto a political stage. Her nieces by marriage Paris and Nicky Hilton also perform on a kind public stage. Taylor has never retreated into impossible pseudo-Garboesque retirement, from the public eye. And does this assertion signify? Despite its primacy, I hesitate before a phrase like “the invention of self.” Is acting an assertion of ego? Does one thing underlies words like affection, attention, aggression and assertion? Aside from the different consonants, is this simply spirit in action?

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Believing you are a star, as opposed to believing in your star, can be a sign of egomania. Susan Sontag, the late Jewish lesbian, believed contemporary culture is the creation of Jews and homosexuals. T.S. Eliot, on the other hand, following Action francaise, believed Jews and women were destroying civilization. You decide.

Dick was a star in the Sixties, but, compared to Muhammed Ali, Dick was a lightweight. On the other hand, Daryl Strawberry, one might say, was the Judy Garland of baseball. Rex Reed would sympathize with Judy but despise Daryl.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Elizabeth the Cat loves a former athlete played by Paul Newman. But in the play wasn't Paul's character gay? Actors and athletes are valued in their youth. Taylor now sells perfume, Newman salad dressing. Does it smell like teen spirit? You don't see Rex Reed in the sports pages.

Stars in a Dark Night

What is a star? Andy Warhol, when he started making underground films, dubbed his bohemian actors “super stars.” Lou Reed, Gerard Malanga and Jackie Curtis were talented; Jackie Curtis’ trajectory seems like the story of a star born to burst; he thought he was James Dean for a day. Jean-Michel Basquiat, from later in Warhol’s life, died similarly or, as they say, tragically: heroin.

The New York Times once described Hannah Wilke as Claes Oldenburg’s greatest objet trouve. After her career as a performance artist had attained an arc well beyond Oldenburg, after attaining what fame the art world offers, Wilke was struck with lymphoma, a disease that killed her mother. She had documented her mother’s illness; she documented her own ruthlessly. Her final photographic acts of art were horrifying, courageous, ugly and real. Was she a star?

Hannah Wilke was only an art-world star. Babe Ruth was more than a baseball star. Errol Flynn was a star and a creep. Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol were celebrities; Yoko Ono is still a celebrity. John Lennon was a rock star. Perhaps Wilke was a heroine. But artists and poets are not stars because stars have vast, uneducated publics who follow their doings, for good or ill, on television. You need brains to appreciate contemporary art, poetry and music.

Giant (1959), starring Liz, James Dean and Rock Hudson, was filmed in Marfa Texas; but Don Judd established a contemporary art center there that Liz’s fans rarely visit.
Poets and painters are known for their work. Actors are known for their persons.
Oprah or even Charley Rose won’t do it. The desperate classes of Hollywood fans described by Nathaniel West equally with the drunken blue-collar sports jock have no truck, after college, with literature, or philosophy, or art.

There are stars because of the night.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


O, may the Latin god Ego invade and rule from this time to the next my actual living soul, may Ego be my aura expanding and in translucent flame commanding.


Ego and ambition drive most human endeavors. Vanity, said the preacher, vanity! All things are vanity!

Someday they’ll make a movie about Elizabeth Taylor.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Liz & Ego

Egotism is a literary vice -- the excessive use of the word I.

“I was writing really the damnedest trash,” says Francine du Plessix Gray. “It would always be put into the third person and it would always be a twenty-two-year-old actress sort of weeping at the altar. Really adolescent -- awful…nothing to do with my feelings. I would always exteriorize my feelings into a third person….So, [Charles Olson, the poet,] said, ‘Stop this shit… cry into it, weep into it, rant at it… but stop all this third person writing. Get to know what your real feelings are or your real emotions are.” (Martin Duberman: Black Mountain)

I never met Charles Olson or Francine du Plessix Gray, but I met John and Yoko. And I met W.H. Auden: “Remember that another poet’s work is not a pair of spectacles, but a key with which to unlock one’s nature and find its unsuspected treasures. Ask yourself constantly and remorselessly ‘What am I really interested in?’ ‘What do I know for myself?’ ‘What, in fact, are my experiences?’ And however boring or silly those experiences may seem at first sight, those and only those can be the subject of your poems. Make the fullest use you can of your own visual and emotional experiences.” (The New Yorker,1 April 1996).