The death of Elizabeth Taylor marked the passing of a woman that my father’s generation made famous for her beauty. Her talent as an actor (you could call them actresses in her day) was off and on, but her talent as a personality never waned.
It seems impossible to understand, really understand, the women thought beautiful in a different generation. They aren’t all that when you meet them. You did not see them in their glory or grow old with them. They are from a different time and their foibles are unappealing. And those clothes . . .
And yet as you grow older, you realize that this chronological prejudice in your appreciation of beauty is limiting. It is, perhaps, not such an important limitation, but it may point to other, more serious, inadequacies in understanding.
Nobody wants to think fewer people, places, ideas, or things than he could are beautiful. Why limit pleasure that way?
My parents were never afraid of the new, but never stupid enough to throw out the old. They taught me to love the “Chuck Wagon Gang” and U2. They learned to appreciate their parent’s generation of films, learned to understand and tolerate different styles, and broadened me at every turn as a result.
When watching old movies as a young man, I learned to appreciate acting styles and approaches to life. I also saw ugly prejudices invisible at the time. The most beautiful woman in many scenes from older films is often the servant, but her color kept certain people from noticing this obvious fact.
Clothing styles, makeup, and “cool” changed from era to era. Did anyone look good in fifties colors? Did people once think padded shoulders looked divine on women? Is that silent star wearing whiteface or does it just look that way?
Watching your father’s generation of beautiful women, and knowing him to be a man of impeccable insight, forces the wise son to see beyond style to substance in appearance. Of course, this is superficial, but it is less superficial than admiring the wig, the costume, and the makeup artist’s work.
Elizabeth Taylor had luminous eyes. Those never changed. At every age, she seemed, at least on film, alive. She looked as if she lived. She almost seemed sad. With a good director, and script, she was capable of stunning performances, but she could mail it in when into the wrong male.
If you looked, nothing, not styles and not the years, could dim Taylor’s humanness. She was alive . . . and that meant in the image of God.
Learning to see that, because I knew my Dad’s generation had seen something was a good lesson.
My Dad and Mom taught me something better than that lesson. They never “admired” stars, but enjoyed their work. They never forgave sins, because they liked movies. They pitied fools who searched for love badly. They lived a chaste and growing romantic life as a result.
Dad knew Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful, but that did not turn his head. He could admire what was admirable without wanting it for himself or using it to excuse other faults.
Some of his friends would boycott her pictures, but Dad understood it was not her acting that was the problem: it was her sad life. This helped me know later in life that I could love a star’s work without admiring his politics.
Elizabeth Taylor is dead. She had a stormy and sad life, but she gave our family some happy memories. She is not much of an actor in “Life With Father,” but she is luminous. She is awesome and untamed in “Taming of the Shrew.” She did commendable charitable work and reached out to unlovely people in the profession when they were done.
I am thankful. May her soul rest in peace.