A number of images came to mind: This enormous flawless face whispering "Come to Mama" in Montgomery Clift's ear. This slithering spectre in silk ship learning near a nantebellum bed and giving Paul Newman the come-hitherest of looks. This vision of threatened innocence kneeling on the beach in her one-piece bathing suit as the surf sloshed around her and "suddenly, last summer, she knew she was being used for something evil."
Just then a clown blew a horn and the reverie ended. The Liz that was vanished. The Liz that is appeared, hobbling into a hall filled with 1,100 members and wives of the Saints and Sinners club for a big whoop-dee-doo, a Liz Taylor roast.
She took her seat on the dais in front of a Liz-o-rama. She endured two hours of Liz-o-mania.
Since marrying John Warner, Taylor has posed on tractors, blown kisses, and tossed behemoth brunches all in the interests of hubbie's political career (he's after the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia). And now she had come to this - serving as "fall gal" for the 2,000-member businessman's group who'd been invited to bring "their ladies" to the event.
The nubby aroma of King's Men hung in the air. The band played "California, Here I Come." The clown blew his horn again. Liz Taylor smiled patiently, even valiantly, as Warner and others assisted her to the stage. She's still suffering from bursitis and other aches, and yet politics is one of those shows that inexplicably must go on.
But how can anybody cling to their luscious memories of Elizabeth Taylor when this bucolic new Liz of Virginia handshakes and hunt-country socials is staring you in the puss everytime you turn around?
Yesterday she was hailed as "the first lady of the screen" and "a great actress who needs no introduction" but got several. And at the end, she donned a Maggie-the-cat drawl to tell the crowd. "Well, now, listen y'all, ah jes, wanna thank y'all so much fer bein' here. You saints and sinners, ah jes love ya all!"
Liz. How could you?
You might think her omnipresence as Warner's adornment would make her seem commonplace, but the Saints and Sinners threw reticence to the winds, mobbing her so heartily in the hallway that the lights had to be turned out to protect her. Emcee Bill Hill expected this bedlam to carry over into the hall, so he entered it crying out hysterically, "Pleeeeease, get baaaaack!!!"
Nobody had even thought of pressing forward until they heard that.
Liz was outfitted with honorary gold cape for her entrance; it was an honor she doffed soon after making it to the dais, while husband Warner took a seat at Table No. 2 out front.
Liz gave John a little wave, and John waved back with two fingers.
Each year the club "roasts" some lucky celeb. Past names have included Kissinger, Ford and Doolittle (the General, not the Doctor). This time they had a real glamour object trapped in their midst - and since it was a lady, and some of the members' ladies had even dressed up like Liz in tribute, the stairic jabs tended to be a marshmallow consistency.
"This is a time of insult and with everything that goes," club president barney Breeskin warned La Taylor. Then he said, "But, on! Who could insult this beautiful lady? Earlier, other members, including an old man dressed as an angel in a white robe, paraded around the hall with signs that delivered such zingers as "Hail to the Queen." "The Star of Stars," and "Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you."
A number of images came to mind: "Rex Harrison giving her Egypt and Richard Burton throwing in Rome. Monty Clift watching Shelley Winters drown just so he could kiss Liz again. Laurence Harvey letting her dig a high heel right into his shoe. Lassie swimming a river for her, Robert Taylor fighting a duel for her, Dana Andrews risking his life to save her from an elephant stampede. And "The Pi" running like hell with HER on his back.
A voice came to mind: Velvet's mother telling her, before the big race, "I, too, believe that everyone should have the chance at a breath-taking piece of folly at least once. Your dream has come early. But remember, Velvet, it'll have to last you all the rest of your life."
The entertainment included parodies of such songs as "Mame" "You brought the movies back into style, Li-iz; is not on the farm you've got a bit smile, Li-iz". And, "The stirrup cups are just a bit thick, Ii-iz; you give our mint juleps a great big kick, Li-iz . . ."
Do you want to hear more?
One joke that made the crowd go "ooh" with amused was when a man playing John Warner said, "My wife is currently Mrs. John Warner."
UPI correspondent Helen Thomas did get off a frew nifties during her "biography" off a Taylor. "The Virginians have taken her to their bosom - and that's a switch," Thomas joked. The reporter also managed to get a hand from some of the women in the room when she said Taylor supported the Equal Rights Amendment, although disc jockey Eddie Gallaher was among the men who responded with a "Boo" to this radical notion.
The horn blast came from club stalwart Pete Baruda, who likes to dress up like a clown, painted clown portraits of Liz and John, and also did a mural for a backdrop to the dais that showed Taylor as Cleopatra flanked by Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, both as red-nosed clowns.
Clowns are not his only idec fixe, however, Baruda also has thoughts on the subject of marriage, some of which were printed on big gag placards in the hallway. Among them: "Be My Wife's Companion and You'll Never Grow Old." "Everybody Should Be Married - Nobody Should Be Happy," "A Yawn Is Nature's Way of Getting Married Men to Open Their Mouths," and "The Most Dangerous Two Words in the English Language - I Do."
Since this is the "P.T. Barnum Tent" of the Saints and Sinners, the hall itself was decorated with circus banners.One said, "Side, Show Freaks," And another said, "World's Strangest People - Alive."
An image came to mind: Her, lying at the foot of the title tree in "Raintree County," its blossoms floating down around her, her bouts of madness ended in peace, her red, red lips still dewy-shiny, and the MGM heavenly chorus singing, "I loved you in Raintree County, and I found what we all seek to know; we share the golden dream when we found, our true love, in Raintree long ago!"
The merriment would have been veritably unceasing if not for Breeskin's frequent introductions of celebrities in the audience, each of them instructed to stand and wave a gold napkin. Joel Broyhill got a big hand. Hubert Humphrey's siter got a medium-sized hand. Eighty-nine year old liquor importer Milton Kronheim got a HUGE hand.
Taylor sat there patiently, attentively, holding back the pain - his was women who once could have had herself plastered on Life's cover at the flicker of an eyelash. This is a woman who still doesn't seem right at home watching five wiry girls in sparkling green tutus do a dance to "Topsy" or listening to bombastic Breeskin, who looks and sounds like temhan who sells Carvel Ice Cream on television.
"His face will never appear on a postage stamp, but I want to tell you, we love him!" sand out Hill in tribute to Breeskin, a public relations man who earned immortality by composing "Hail to the Redskins."
ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the supreme moment!" Breedskin said, finally. "We have been waiting for it!" This was just after he presented Taylor with "a water lily-bowl centerpiece to go with that lily-white heart of yours."
Taylor smiled. Can one be blamed for suddenly lapsing into visions of Taylor as Martha in "Virginia Woolf" telling the folks what they could do with their lily-white centerpiece?
"The Hope Diamond would have been a suitable gift," Breeskin declared.
"Where is it?" Taylor asked quickly. This was more like it.
Breeskin produced an enormous fake diamond.
"Too small," said Taylor. But she graciously modeled it for the crowd anyway, placing it in the general vicinity of her heart.
"I feel like a Virginian Joan of Arc." she told the crowd, humble-pie again. "I can't sort of say anything against any of you, really. In your nastiness, you've been very kind."
They were in the palm of her hand now.
She told an anecdote about how one morning she had mistake a tube of Head 'n Shoulders for a tube of toothpaste. "John had gotten up earlier and taken his toilette," Taylor said - and some of the crowd thought she meant "toilet." Then she added. "We share a tootbrush. Don't you think that's togetherness?"
Then she told another story that really was about a toilet - how she had been locked out of a pay toilet on the way to a reception for the governor of Virginia and had to go through the receiving line "gritting my teeth." Boffo.
By this time, one's ability to conjure images of Taylor the movie goddes had been taxed to the limit. It was even difficult to picture her leaping steeples in "National Velvet," though the movie was referred to more than once. It was hard to remember the old merchandizing of Elizabeth Taylor because the new merchandizing of Elizabeth Taylor has become so relentless.
Hustled out a back entrance, helped into a wheelchair and then into a car, with Warner following along, it would seem the two had left the public eye for awhile. but not for long. Three hours later they would do a repeat performance as a National Press Club reception for suburban newspapers, and Elizabeth Taylor would be doing her Elizabeth Taylor impression all over again.
"It was just like Hollywood!" a man in a giant tie clasp had gushed at the Saints and Sinners party.
If only it had been.