Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

by Tom Lee

Today the world mourns the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, a movie icon who possessed a rare combination of extraordinary beauty, Hollywood glamour and true acting chops. Richly deserving of a 1966 Academy Award for her bravura performance as Martha in Mike Nichols's film of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she also impressed critics and audiences with her rare stage appearances, especially as the rapacious Regina Giddens in a 1981 Broadway revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes.

In 1977, Taylor was honored by Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals as Woman of the Year. Pleased to be recognized, she nonetheless stipulated that, in addition to attending the ceremony, she conduct a small seminar for students interested in acting. Sponsored by the Office for the Arts' Learning From Performers program, Taylor met with 30 students on February 15, 1977, and held forth on her career and creative process, discussing everything from learning lines ("I have a photographic memory; I read my lines three times for the next day's filming and sleep on it. I'm known as one-take Liz...") to playing Albee's Martha ("I love parts that aren't me, where I can scream and tear up the scenery").

Taylor also talked about her own education: "I've never had an acting lesson in my life, but I've learned by experience and by working with some wonderful professionals. I learned the most from Spencer Tracy. He had a marvelous way of underplaying a character and taught me how to concentrate so I could work intensely." She also mentioned Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn as two others who most helped her.

And asked by one student if she ever has stage fright, Taylor opined: "Everything makes me nervous, except making movies." For those of us who are among her legions of fans, we're glad her nerves held up.

[Caption: Elizabeth Taylor and students, 1977. Photo by Rick Stafford.]

[Caption: Elizabeth Taylor, 1977. Photo by Rick Stafford.]