As fate would have it, one of the movies I received from Netflix on the day of Elizabeth Taylor‘s passing was the original Father of the Bride with her in one of the title roles. And in honor of her passing, I watched it.
And this movie really does hold up. Not just because of the solid direction and smart script, portraying a situation which helps define a man’s relationship to his daughter (and hers to him), but also because of the players. Joan Bennett as the mother is one of those underappreciated character actors who more than pulls her weight. But, it’s Spencer Tracy and Dame Elizabeth who really steal the show, he as the archetypal father and she as the archetypal daughter who has Daddy wrapped around each of her little fingers.
When she calls at the end to tell him she loves him, she knows that expression will make him melt. And just watching her we know it too.
It’s odd to see a film, particularly today where she has third billing. Given the way she looked in this film and the way she played an all-American girl getting married, it’s no wonder this role will help catapult her to superstardom. She looked as Tracy’s Stanley Banks says upon seeing her in her wedding dress, “like a princess in a fairy tale.” Indeed.
There is, to be sure, a bit of irony in the seminal nature of this particular role to her career. She would have many weddings in her life.
In watching the extras, I realized yet again how closely her personal life was tied to her public image — and wondered if that could explain the brevity of her marriages; no man could live up to her fairy tale expectations. She married Conrad Hilton Jr when she was just 18, the ceremony taking place one month before the release of the film featuring her as a bride.
The extras after the film include newsreel footage of that first wedding, with a passel of paparazzi and ropes holding back the crowds. From her adolescence and her earliest adulthood, Elizabeth Taylor was always in the limelight.
In the twilight of her life, she used that limelight to good end, as our reader Jim Michaud noted: “Her work on behalf of AIDS was incredible as well as valued at the time (ignorance and discrimination of victims was still rampant during the mid-80s).” You could honor this great lady by sponsoring one of our readers who’ll be riding in the AIDS ride this June.
Over at the LA Weekly, Patrick Range McDonald reported that many HIV/AIDS activists in Los Angeles are mourning Dame Elizabeth’s passing, with Richard Zaldivar, president of The Wall-Las Memorias Project in Los Angeles, saying:
“Elizabeth Taylor was the first great actress to fight on behalf of the AIDS movement and brought the illness from a taboo to a reality. She was the cause’s leading advocate and became one of the world’s most celebrated activists. She is leaving a great legacy for us all and a new challenge to fight AIDS for this new generation.”
She did good work, both on screen and off. A titan has truly fallen. And while we’re better for having had her, we feel somewhat diminished now that she is gone.
But, her image will live with us forever and not just the incredible beauty of her youth, but the talent she showed in numerous motion pictures, how we could see in her screen relationships those in our lives. And those we aspired to enjoy.