The bad news about "Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star" is that it does not deliver what the buyer has a right to expect of a "breathlessly detailed biography by Kitty Kelley, author of the best-selling 'Jackie Oh!' " -- it does not deliver any hot gossip. The good news . . . well, there isn't any good news. "Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star" is a bore.
Those in the market for lurid new details about the life and loves of the pneumatic Taylor must look elsewhere. Relying almost entirely on secondary sources and the testimony of persons barely within genuflecting distance of the Taylor throne, Kelley has produced a tired, ordinary star bio that reeks of information gathered from old news clips and/or borrowed from other books and articles -- few of them identified.
Kelley comes to her task, however breathlessly, with no clear view of her subject and no evident interest save that of making a bundle -- which, since Barnum was right, she will. She has no discernible feeling for Taylor, who is if nothing else a certifiably fascinating individual; to Kelley she's just another star, about whom to write just another formulaic biography.
Okay. You want to know about the gossip. Well, if you are a reasonably regular reader of the newspaper and magazine gossip columns, then the news here is that there is no news. The only information that came totally out of the blue to me is that Taylor has somehow arranged at one time or another to be buried next to at least three of her husbands (Michael Todd, Richard Burton and John Warner), which will be a nice trick if she can pull it off. All the other stuff -- her tantrums, her girth, her menagerie, her foul mouth, her jewels, her drinking -- can be followed in the National Enquirer or the National Star or any other tabloid currently available in your supermarket checkout line.
Oh yes. The affairs. You want to know about the affairs.
Well, Kelley says, she had one for a while with Stanley Donen. Right. Stanley Donen! She also had one -- this is the gritty according to Kitty -- with (!) Henry Wynberg, and another with (wow!) Peter Darmanin and still another (hold your breath, Washington!) with the legendary Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian party giver and man-about-town who kept "The Ear" in business for several years. Or so at least Kitty Kelley says.
She also, Kelley says, had an affair with Max Lerner, the eminent heart-on-his-sleeve columnist who was last glimpsed, in the pages of Gay Talese's "Thy Neighbor's Wife," hanging around at a California sex retreat called Sandstone. Lerner, who evidently has little if any shame, speaks for the record in Kelley's tome. The author of "America as a Civilization" and other momentous books says of his affair with la Taylor: "She always introduced me as 'my professor.' She was proud of my professional standing. She said I was her intellectual Mike Todd." If that doesn't tickle your funnybone, try this, spoken in 1980:
"Every time we talked she tried to make a great point of telling me that there was nothing between us. She doesn't want John Warner to find out about our love affair. I'd be a real threat to him because I am a serious man."
It is difficult, on the basis of this and other evidence, to escape the conclusion that Taylor's beauty and magnetism are exceeded only by her lousy taste in men. Aside from those already mentioned as lovers, consider her husbands:
* Nicky Hilton, a spoiled playboy.
* Michael Wilding, an amiable but lazy actor.
* Mike Todd, a gaudy promoter.
* Eddie Fisher, a third-rate crooner.
* Richard Burton, a histrionic actor.
* John Warner, a United States senator.
No wonder she drinks! No wonder she eats! No wonder she cusses a blue streak! No wonder she loses herself in baubles and bangles and beads! If you'd gone through six husbands and seven marriages and God knows how many affairs, and still come up empty, wouldn't you look for the nearest "Exit" sign? To me the only genuine surprise is that she hasn't called it quits and hied herself to a nunnery.
Instead she forges on, ever the star. No matter how gross her corpulence -- and there are a couple of pictures here that will knock your eyes out -- her charisma is untarnished. Whether she has found anything even remotely approximating happiness is quite another matter, the answer to which is not to be found in the pages of Kitty Kelley's book. But a case can be made, and a good one, that it is none of Kitty Kelley's business -- or of ours.
As for "Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star," Kitty Kelley helpfully provides her own review. In a footnote about another book, she writes: "Critics reviewed the book as 'thin,' 'superficial' and 'prattling.' " Enough said.