Elizabeth Taylor's life was full of delightful vulgarity.

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
March 23 2011 1:24 PM

The Bawdy and the Beautiful

Elizabeth Taylor's delightful vulgarity.

Elizabeth Taylor. Click image to expand.
Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

Elizabeth Taylor was wild and beautiful and unpretentious and insanely glamorous. When I was a kid the papers were filled with cascading images of her scandalous trials and fabulations: Liz in Capri pants clutching poodles and waving drunkenly from the deck of her yacht; Liz deathly ill; Liz back from the dead, suntanned and buying ever bigger bijoux; Liz and Eddie; Liz and Monty; and, most importantly, Liz and Dick.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the Brad and Angelina of their day, minus all that the earnest actor-ish stuff. A movie actress her entire life, she was so confident about her ability to deliver her lines that she never descended into all that gobbledygook—it's about "the craft" and "the work"—which spouts from the mouths of contemporary actors. Dick always claimed that his wife, with her just-shut-up-and-say-the-bloody-words attitude toward acting, relieved him of the burden of his Shakespearian provenance and taught him how to just do it.

Miss Taylor differed from today's actors in another way too. SHE BOUGHT ALL HER OWN DRAG! No freebies for Liz. In truth, La Taylor had an uneasy relationship with the world of fashion. Though lauded for the beauty of her face and her violet eyes—her catlike make-up in Cleopatra inspired a million girls around the world to break out the liquid eyeliner—she was always having too much fun to seek out the approval of the snootier echelons of the world of style. (In Cecil Beaton's odiously disdainful diaries he likens her to "a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru.") When, in 1998, La Taylor's fashion influence was finally acknowledged with a CFDA award, her acceptance speech consisted of one sentence: "Eat your heart out Mr. Blackwell!" That nasty old geezer had plopped Liz's name on the worst-dressed list for years, but Liz had the last laugh.

Liz always had a way with a bon mot. For someone who earned her living delivering other people's (screenwriter's) gems, she was remarkably capable of crafting her own. A few of my favorites:

"Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells."
"If someone's dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down."
"Big girls need big diamonds."
"The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues."


Liz Taylor's glorious, gorgeous, generous (she was a tireless AIDS advocate long before it became trendy), incredible life is a monument to the ultimate triumph of fun and glamour and vulgarity. Yes, vulgarity. When Diana Vreeland famously said, "Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life. A little bad taste is like nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it's hearty, it's healthy, it's physical. No taste is what I'm against," I feel she must surely have had a picture of the fabulous Elizabeth Taylor in her mind.

As we revisit the Taylor movie canon in the coming months, you will no doubt watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, BUtterfield 8 and all the greats. But don't overlook the dustier nooks and crannies of Liz-obilia. Some of the best style moments are to be found in her more obscure movies like Secret Ceremony and Reflections in a Golden Eye. My fave might just be X Y & Zee with Michael Caine. How to describe this demented movie? Imagine if Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was transposed into early '70s London and 90 percent of the characters are wearing caftans. The opening credits—a busty, boozed-up Liz plays a violent game of ping-pong with a hot-looking, bespectacled Michael Caine—are pure orgasmic joy. My hubby and I were so smitten with this movie that we installed a ping-pong table in the middle of our living room, in homage to La Taylor. Why don't you give it a whirl! What better way to remember the incredible Liz: Crack open a bottle of scotch, throw on a caftan, and grab those ping-pong paddles.

RIP, Elizabeth (as you preferred to be known). You will be horribly missed.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.