Start with a martini, add a jigger of Kahlua and a pinch of Hershey's chocolate syrup. You've got the very taste treat that Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson drank at night to bolster their spirits while shooting "Giant" in 1955. "We'd be so stoned before we got around to dessert that a chocolate martini tasted great," said Taylor on her last visit to Washington.
Chocolate martinis are not one of the recommended recipes in Taylor's book "Elizabeth Takes Off" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $17.95), which will appear on the market this week. The book deals solely with her weight gain and loss, not her other past excesses of alcohol and drugs. "This book is about one of my addictions -- overeating. I am not trying to avoid, skip over, or make light of my alcoholism or drug addictions. That is another book -- and a big one," Taylor says in the book's introduction.
It's an autobiography, but not the confessional that some were pushing her to write. "Publishers wanted me to become very intimate about details, and I said no. Our own personal unhappiness, and how we got to that point in our lives, is indigenous to our own territory," said Taylor in an interview. "I just had to tell how I got this way -- without naming names and giving dates, without hurting anyone, which I hope I don't. I am totally responsible for what happened -- no one else."
In fact, she says, that's why she wrote the book in the first place. Many articles blamed her weight gain on others, suggesting it sprang from outside forces beyond her control. "This simply isn't true," she says in the book.
Taylor can be brutally hard on herself. When she finally got the courage to "strip and survey" herself at her heaviest -- more than 180 pounds -- "I saw for myself what the public had been seeing for years -- a middle-aged woman who looked fat and bloated. Those 'violet' eyes were hidden in folds of flesh. It was far from a pretty picture and certainly not a healthy one."
She recently came across a picture taken at her 50th-birthday party during the London engagement of "The Little Foxes." "It made me shiver. I'm dressed all in white and my eyes have disappeared into suet. I'm still wearing stage makeup and I look for all the world like a drag queen."
She chose the least flattering pictures for the book, including the one she kept on her refrigerator for incentive while losing weight. "I think it will help people," said Taylor. "If I could reach that point of desperation ... Being out in public looking like that shows, more than 10 million words, how desperate a lady I was."
Even her editors suggested she didn't have to show pictures that ugly. But the pictures, she says, show how she felt then about herself. "It shows in my face, in my bearing. It shows in the way I wore my hair. It shows in all the downward lines of my face. And I promise you, no surgeons' knives had anything to do with getting those lines there or removing them. That comes from within."
But in fact, in a recent verbal skirmish with Bob Sipchen of the Los Angeles Times, Taylor blew up and acknowledged: "I did have a chin tuck, because there was so much skin. I haven't had suction. I haven't had a face lift. I did it the old-fashioned, hard way, with suffering, boredom and determination triple. And that is that ...
"This is the last time I'm going to answer this question, because it's nobody's damned business," she said.
Determined to stay slim this time once she got that way, Taylor began to give away what she calls her "fat" clothes. "So I don't have fat clothes anymore. And my Size 6 blue jeans are better for me than scales."
She doesn't buy the theory that as people age, a bit more weight fills out their faces attractively. "I think that's bunk. I think that's a cop-out."
On the other hand, she said, "I think you can get too thin. And if you get totally gung-ho behind dieting, there's a danger with us addictive types of becoming anorexic. I think that could very easily have happened to me. I had some Size 4s and I thought, 'Whoopee, wow, God, that's great. Maybe I can get down to a 2.' " "You know, it's a part of me that I have to be careful of," she said. "Because if I get too skinny it starts to show on my face. And I do think you can't afford to get too thin in the face." There are other problems. "Once I dropped below 120 pounds and began to lose my bust!" she writes in the book. "I had to put on some flesh in a hurry."
Taylor's book is written in an easy, almost conversational style, which is just the way it was created. She talked into a machine, answering questions from writer Jane Scovell. "Fortunately, we got along. It was just like having an everyday conversation with her about myself."
She speaks in an unforced way about her childhood and her marriages. "It's probably because of some of my 'quaint' attitudes that I've married so many times," she writes. "Basically I'm square. My sense of right and wrong makes it very difficult for me to have an affair. I have to be really in love in order to sleep with a man, and when I'm really in love I want to be married."
There are interesting revelations -- not to be confused with gossip -- about her movie roles and her leading men. "On the screen, I ran around the moors looking for Lassie, and raced in the Grand National. In reality, I never could kick up my heels like other kids, there were too many restraints. My life was overscheduled and overdisciplined."
She writes honestly about those roles she accepted in third-rate films when she was married to Michael Wilding and needed money. She's made somewhat different sacrifices in recent years to keep up her current life style. She says she even sold the diamond engagement ring Mike Todd gave her and the monster Taylor-Burton diamond while she was married to Virginia Sen. John Warner to keep up with their expenses.
It was her marriage to Warner, she says, that hastened her downfall and eventual turnaround. It was in Washington, she writes, that she first lost confidence in Elizabeth Taylor the person. But it was also here that she heard the "click that turned my life around."
"What politicians endure to achieve their goals makes acting look like a kindergarten exercise," she writes. "... there's no camera to hide behind, no retakes, no final cuts ... Playing a character on stage or screen is simply playing. Campaigning for office exposes you to a degree that I, in all my years as a working actress, had not encountered."
To cope with the constant fatigue, lack of privacy, and late and unhealthy meals, she began to snack to keep up her strength. "Grapple-snapping," she calls it, referring to a term she used with her brother Howard as a kid -- "a Protestant version of 'noshing.' "
"Like many other political spouses I knew, I was gaining weight and didn't really care. The only thing that counted was winning the election, and since I wasn't working as an actress, I felt there was no reason for me to look any particular way or weigh any particular amount.
"Still, if I consider my eating patterns during those months, it's a wonder I didn't explode." She was on a strict schedule, getting up at dawn, doing her own hair, riding in buses, taxis -- usually anything but a limousine. "Eating, it seemed, even if it was only burgers and fries, was the only luxury left."
She shook 2,000 hands a day, even when her veins were so swollen she had to wear a hand guard. "Even when the skin on the balls of my feet split from so much standing, I kept on going, just adding an extra order of fries and a little more ice cream to keep the smile on my face."
It wasn't any better once Warner was elected. "I don't think I've ever been so alone in my life as when I was Mrs. Senator, and I don't blame my ex-husband," she writes. He'd get up early, eat breakfast on the run, and she would go back to sleep. "There was no reason for me to get up. I had nowhere to go. Later in the day I'd rise, get dressed, and then maybe read or watch television, or look at the walls, or do nothing ... If I overate unhealthy fried food during the campaign, it was nothing to the way I overate when I had nothing to do at all." The designer Halston kept providing increasingly larger caftans and pantsuits to accommodate her swelling silhouette.
While she was gaining weight she would use only small hand mirrors to make up her face. "I scrupulously avoided looking at my torso. But this one day I got out of the tub, walked into the dressing area, and made myself open the closet doors (where the full-length mirrors were). I saw myself, my entire self. I saw the shape I was in and I could not believe it. I was obese."
She couldn't tear herself away from that vision. She tried to superimpose on it the image of the eager teen-ager in "National Velvet," the seductive wife in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or the temptress in "Cleopatra." "But the longer I stared the longer I was confronted with the dreadful truth."
Taylor went to spas, always losing the same 15 pounds. "After years of trying this diet and that, I finally worked my own miracles. I heard what I call the "click," that little bell that goes off in your mind and says, 'Enough, time to stop.' "
She made a determined effort but it was slow going. Warner was encouraging. At one time in a supermarket in Middleburg, Va., Warner directed her to the frozen turkey department and told her to pick up a turkey. "At that time I had lost 10 pounds and was complaining that I couldn't seem to take off the next ten." Warner told her to check the weight of the turkey, then put it back. Taylor remembers how heavy it felt. It was 11 pounds. "I'm just making a point," Warner told her. "Do you realize you've already lost nearly the same amount of weight as that bird you thought was so heavy?"
One month after Taylor finished touring with "Private Lives," she entered the Betty Ford Center, which, she says, gave her the help she needed. "At Betty Ford I was able to strip away all my protective layers and deal with the essential core." Richard Burton later saw a picture of Taylor after she left the Betty Ford clinic and told her how impressed he was with what she had done. "I told him I wished we could have gone together while still married."
The book concludes with a collection of recipes for weight loss and maintenance. Dishes appear to be very well seasoned. If more artificial sweetening and low-calorie items are used than some would like, it is hard to argue with what it has done for Taylor.
It also includes an exercise regimen. The exercises, says Taylor, "have been worked out for somebody, like myself, with certain physical limitations. Someone who can't do all the aerobics, gung-ho kind of things. But they are all good, they are all toning up, none of them could injure you. And they're good exercises. And they were worked on by a doctor friend of mine."
The next book will be more of an autobiography, but Elizabeth Taylor is in no hurry to get to it. "I hate talking about myself. I hate talking about the past. I guess because I'm so concerned with the present, and tomorrow -- I am so much more fascinated by that. That's why I don't sit down and write my autobiography. It would mean dwelling on the past too much."
She admits there is a lot that hasn't been told, "or even intimated, that is so very personal, very hidden and deep. It would take a lot out of me. And I'm not sure that I'm ready to do that. To go, to delve that deeply into the past. It would mean reliving it. I'm just too happy with the present. I'm enjoying it too much. I don't have time for that.
"Maybe one day, I'll curl up in front of a fireplace with a lap robe, and write instead of knitting. Maybe I'll do that."