Liz's Lessons

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales -

Growing up, it was hard to miss Elizabeth Taylor. She was everywhere, that is, if you were just paying attention. Newspapers, television, even everyday gossip. Lurid headlines trumpeted Liz’s break up from the man she had already divorced and remarried. There were the spectacular rocks. Then there was AIDS. One’s parents were always talking about her, and she seemed to be linked to the biggest names in showbiz, like Rock Hudson and Michael Jackson. And, if you analyzed her life closely enough, there managed to be a few life lessons available (at least to a gullible, impressionable child).

 Lessons such as, first: You can marry the same man again, over and over, and then split up with him, again and again. And in between, you can marry someone else, and go back to the same guy. And those guys won’t get turned off by you because you’re not a virgin. (What? Marry someone not as pure as snow?)

 This carousel of men left only befuddlement in a child raised in a Catholic school full of nuns (ok fine, they were priests, but what’s the diff?). Befuddlement, and then clarity. Hey! It’s actually not a sin to be married five times! No, six! Make that seven! And while we’re at it, why not eight? I mean, no one’s casting stones at her, right? She’s still up there, glowing, triumphant, decked in diamonds and dressed to the nines. These multiple lessons were successive blows to a faith shaped by the principle of one-man, one woman couplehood (and by the way, it’s a lifetime commitment, dears.) She was an eye-opener, a window to an alternative way of life.

 Tell us, Liz. You liked a guy and married him, and then found you couldn’t live with him, and so you divorced him, so whatever possessed you to marry him again?

 This is where the second lesson comes in (care of my speculative aunts, girlfriends, and various other women figures, abetted by gossip rags.) Diamonds are a girl’s best friends. Truly.

 This one I can never forget, the insinuation of some random news item I came across that perhaps, Richard Burton won her back by gifting her some fabulous diamond set guaranteed to make her greedy heart palpitate. From there arose the stunning idea that famous, successful and beautiful women could actually be, well, almost bought. Not with cash, but by a commodity. The very idea, that love could be won, that hearts could be turned. Was this actually possible? (Yes, naive youth, it is.)

 The next and most important lesson is that, there’s nothing wrong, at least in affairs of the heart, with admitting to a mistake. In public. Imagine, the celebrity thought she made a mistake, and she broke off with Richard. Then she found she made a mistake in divorcing him, and she announced to the world, it’s another mistake, I’m going to marry him back. Love conquers all, and you would have thought the plot ended there. But no. Tada, she breaks the news: ‘Oops, I did it again.’

 Liz showed (at least to me) that there was still a life to be led despite committing mistakes. So who cared about public opinion? So what if all around here were the rumor-mongerers and avid sensationalists that she knew would be delighted to hear news of yet another foible on her part? She made her decision and, despite the schadenfreude she probably knew her detractors would feel, she went through with it. Another messy public divorce. (And again, and again, until the eighth power.)

 But all these didn’t kill her. After she stopped appearing in movies (another hard mini-lesson of Hollywood: Legends become old, lose their beauty, and never come out in films again), she was still a figure that drew eyes and attention. And she was able to use her star power to draw attention to the important issue that is AIDS, and to bring compassion and humanity to men and women struck unaware by a virus and shunned by a homophobic world. That, perhaps, is also a good lesson. Being put out to pasture isn’t necessarily a death sentence.

 Retirement doesn’t have to mean irrelevance.


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