By Ed Blair
“I don’t entirely approve of some of the things I have done, or am, or have been. But I’m me. God knows, I’m me.”
Iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor’s self-appraisal references a life that ranged from the sensation of stardom to the sensationalism of tabloids. She was one of the last superstars of the Hollywood studio tradition, and her life and career, both on and off screen, were a source of entertainment for decades.
Audiences can listen to the legendary actress’ tale as the Ward Melville Heritage Organization presents “The Elizabeth Taylor Story” May 9 through June 17 at its Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook. The popular musical theater and high-tea luncheon series returns to the center with a tribute to the enduring screen idol. The 1963 setting for the St. George Productions finds singer Eydie Gorme (played by Rosie Flore) headlining a musical comedy spring spectacular, with Taylor (portrayed by Lisa Mondy) as the her guest. Along with her faithful domestic, Rosie (played by Kim Dufrenoy), Gorme will talk with her glamorous visitor and delve into the roller coaster ride that marked both a distinguished acting career and an often turbulent personal life. A light lunch of finger sandwiches will follow the show.
The cast members weighed in with their thoughts about the star of the show.
“I think people will walk away with a different perception of Elizabeth Taylor. As she tells her story, you realize that she herself never took her stardom seriously. She felt fabricated by the movie studios, which staged her look as well as with whom she was seen. She never really wanted all the hoopla and drama that went with being a celebrity,” said Dufrenoy.
Added Rosie Flore, “Celebrities and icons are people too. They live, love, laugh and hurt just the way we all do.”
Portraying the former movie idol, Monde said, “Elizabeth Taylor represented glamour. She represented style; she represented Hollywood stardom. At times her personal life overshadowed her screen accomplishments, but in the end, after eight marriages and numerous life-threatening illnesses, Elizabeth Taylor was a survivor.”
Born in London in 1932 to American parents who took their St. Louis art dealership abroad, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor returned with them to the United States at age 7, as the family fled the impending war in Europe. The Taylors resettled in Los Angeles, where a family friend suggested that the arrestingly attractive Elizabeth be given a screen test at a movie studio. Her radiant good looks and charisma captivated the camera lens, and, by the time she was 10, the fledgling actress was appearing in films at Universal, MGM and 20th Century Fox. After playing several small parts, she rocketed to stardom, playing opposite Mickey Rooney, in the 1944 hit “National Velvet.” Now a child star with a contract with MGM, young Elizabeth scored another big success for her role in “Little Women” in 1949.
Blossoming into a voluptuous-figured, violet-eyed beauty as she entered her twenties, Taylor soon found herself playing opposite some of Hollywood’s top leading men. She received Academy Award nominations for her roles in “A Place in the Sun” (1951), “Raintree County” (1957), “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “Suddenly Last Summer” (1959) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967). She garnered two Oscars for her role as a call girl in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) and for her definitive roll as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966.
She also appeared famously in “Giant” with James Dean (1956) and with Richard Burton in “Cleopatra” in 1963 for which she was paid the then-stunning sum of one million dollars. Taylor became an international star and appeared solo on the cover of People Magazine 14 times.
Taylor was a significant voice in the battle against AIDS, helping to raise funds for research and playing a major role in focusing public opinion on the epidemic. For her tireless efforts, she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.
“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS,” she said, “but no one should die of ignorance.”
Performances of “The Elizabeth Taylor Story” will run from May 9 through July 17 and take place on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and select Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required. Tickets are $48 general admission, $45 seniors. For more information or to make a reservation, call 631-689-5888 or visit www.wmho.org.