The color of the day was violet.
All over, violet. Soft violet orchids at the table. A dark violet blouse. Light violet powder below her eye-brows. Deep violet shadow above her eyes, and then those fabulous eyes themselves.
Her trademark. Her signature. Her best and brightest feature.
Elizabeth Taylor, who holds the patent on those eyes, was at the Kennedy Center yesterday, along with some other members of the cast and production crew of "The Little Foxes," which is to be her first stage play ever. It opens on Thursday nights, and it long ago sold out each of its 47 performances here. Toughest ticket in town. Not because of the play, which is an American classic, or because of the cast, which includes Maureen Stapleton, Anthony Zerbe and Dennis Christopher -- but because of her. Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Taylor, who stepped out in front of those cameras and notebooks looking like she had just stepped out of a graduate course at Vidal Sassoon A&M. Elizabeth Taylor, whose every line, every shade, every nuance was perfect. Elizabeth Taylor, still blazing after all these years.
For more than an hour yesterday she dominated a fancy room with fancy tea sandwiches and fancy chandeliers and fancy actors, taking the spotlight and making it shine her wasy, as if she were the only person there. Sitting near her, without even a trace of makeup, Maureen Stapleton and Austin Pendleton looked as if they had come off a Washington tour bus. You talk about supporting roles, the rest of the company couldn't have been more supportive if they'd carried Liz in on one of the old thrones from "cleopatra." Liz's show. Curtain to curtain.
There are stars, and then there are Stars.
At some point you reach a level where it is only necessary to show up, and the rest is cake. If the questions were any softer, they'd be used as stuffing for pillows.
Q. Why are you doing this play?
A. "I want to be a stage actress. . . Now is a good time in my life to do it . . . John [her husband, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.)] is quite busy in town here."
Q. This character you're playing, isn't it a departure from your sexier roles?
A. (laughing loudly) "Oh, I'm wonderful playing bitches."
Q. When they come to write about the great entertainers, what do you want them to write about you?
A."That I tried . . . That's it. That's all I can do."
Q.No, about you personally?
A. (acting bored) "I was born. And I lived. And I died."
Q. Sounds exciting?
A. "Oh, it has been," (great sweeping gesture of hands, fluttering of those perfect regal eyes), "it's been faaaabulous."
There were questions for the others, but they were mostly perfunctory, mostly just to be polite. It was Liz the people wanted, and knowing that, she played them like a harp, saying just enough to make everyone realize that it was she -- and not them -- who was in control.
"It's amazing how people defer to her," said Dennis Christopher, who is something of a star himself since "Breaking Away." "You listen to these questions and it's like people are afraid to ask her anything, like it's a first date . . . But you see, she's such a professional. You just can't lead this woman on. She answers the question, and that's it."
And when it was over, when everyone had gotten his money's worth, when not a single question about Eddie Fisher or Richard Burton or even her weight was asked, and the only thing mildly topical concerned whether she felt Ronald Reagan was doing a good job -- and, of course, Mrs. Senator Warner did -- Elizabeth Taylor smiled once more for the photographers and posed once more holding her orchids, and then she and Maureen Stapleton went over to the buffet.
Liz: "How was your train ride down?"
Maureen: "Fine. Nice drinking."
Liz: "Yes. We did that on the plane, too."
Maureen: "You want chicken salad, Elizabeth?"
And Elizabeth Taylor reached her hand out, closing in on the sandwich tray as the cameras continued to film, and then she pulled her hand back, smiled at her friend, and said, "No, no thanks, I just got through eating."