Elizabeth Taylor And Me: Victor Olliver Recalls His Three Meetings With The Great Dame
The first was remote. When I worked for the late old IPC cunties’ monthly Woman’s Journal I had to ‘nogotiate’ an interview with her. She didn’t want a one-to-one it emerged but she agreed to a fax chat. The result wasn’t that interesting. The Dame rarely spoke the truth about anything, but like her pal Michael Jackson, adopted a breathless, semi-cosmic pose suggestive of a deity bothered by mundane inquiries. Her most admirable feature was a merciless contempt for the media and a shrewd wariness of the public. In one TV interview she gave a few years ago she teased a journalist with personal allusions: when asked the direct question she said with a smiling scorn you couldn’t fake: ‘Wouldn’t you like to know.’ Perfect old Hollywood.
Anyway, I’m not one easily put off. I contacted the Dame’s then agent Chén Sam in New York telling her the fax interview was crap. ‘Well, come over and I’ll talk to you,’ she said, as if I were a neighbour. So I got on a plane. Chén, an Egyptian I think, received me in her office and over 90 minutes knocked back a number of alcoholic drinks while leaving me dry. She spoke so frankly, and mostly off-the-record, that much of what she said was unusable. At one point the Dame phoned and Chén said: ‘Yes, he’s here.’ She replaced the receiver. All very unrehearsed. My eventual write-up was a masterly mish-mash of the faxed rubbish and slight betrayals of Chén. I heard that Taylor was a little displeased.
My next next meeting with the Dame was in Paris. She was launching one of her Diamonds scents and a small group of us was flown over in a shaky propellered jalopy. One seagull collision over the Channel might have finished us off. I was stunned by the sight of Taylor, for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps because of medication, her head was now pumpkin-like, quite swollen and out of proportion to the rest of her. She reminded me of a Thunderbirds puppet. At the press conference I infuriated her people by asking whether her scents and cosmetics had been tested on animals. Furious denials. I was only asking. Compliant newspaper hacks snickered behind me.
Our last encounter was in London at the Dorchester. Here again I managed to annoy her. I forget what she was pushing this time but whatever it was I wasn’t interested. Instead, I asked her why she didn’t produce her own movies to stay employed – she had moaned that she couldn’t find film work because no insurer would touch her; not with her health record. ‘What?!’ she screamed to my question. ‘Me, produce? I’m a film actress. I don’t produce.’ She expertly made the word sound like ‘shit’ or ‘clean up’.
The most beautiful Hollywood star ever? Most certainly. One of its most gifted actors? I’d say so. She understood the value of under-acting on camera. Unlike Burton.