My piece in Vanity Fair last week – Life with Elizabeth

August 16, 2011 Posted by admin

Little did I know at 16, when I cut my hair for my junior prom into the Elizabeth Taylor “artichoke,” the hairstyle she made famous at the 1961 Oscars, that at the age of 21 I would be hanging out with Elizabeth as a girlfriend in Paris. Or even better yet, that she would want to dress young like me and wear my clothes.

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. The only other person I’ve met who ever came close was Elvis. Ron, who did Marilyn Monroe’s makeup in her later years, said Marilyn was just the opposite: Toward the end of her life when Marilyn came around, people ran. She was so desperately unhappy that her gloom was contagious.

Elizabeth’s eyes were not the clear blue of Paul Newman’s or Cameron Diaz’s but dark navy blue, like the deep sea, with an indigo light that most people call violet. They were very large, and she could use them as the actress she was: just open them up and glare. Since her blackened eyebrows were a good two inches above her eyes, the glare was so intense it went right through you and the gaze could shock you silly. I saw many a nervous producer go faint when he told Elizabeth she had taken too long for lunch, and she snapped open her eyes and said, “I what?!”

Yes, life with Elizabeth was an amazing time. Ron and I lived with her and Richard for the good part of 10 years and rented apartments nearby for another 10. Elizabeth invented the entourage. At times there were 12 of us all flying around together. Richard Hanley, Elizabeth’s secretary, had been secretary to Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, and traveled with his partner, John Lee. Jim Benton, Burton’s secretary, and George Davis, Benton’s partner, were frequent fliers. There was Agnes Flanagan, Marilyn Monroe’s hairdresser; then Claudye Bozzacchi, Elizabeth’s hairdresser; Gianni Bozzacchi, Claudye’s husband, who became Elizabeth’s personal photographer; Gaston Sanz, the bodyguard and driver; as well as Bob Wilson, Richard’s dresser from Broadway. There were four kids and 4 to 10 dogs, depending on who had had puppies. There were no cats.

For a while there was Sarah, a nurse, to whom Elizabeth gave a sable coat in a moment of feeling sorry for her having given up her personal life to fly around the world for a year carrying Elizabeth’s pill bag. It was the 60s and Doctor Feelgoods gave her wake-up pills for jet lag, go-to-sleep pills, pain pills, act-outraged pills (for intense parts), and pills to sleep off hangovers to be mixed with Bull Marys. We all got to share the pills, too.