Hatchet job on star
Screen siren Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary status, cemented more by her turbulent personal life than her acting career, is the perfect fodder for a tell-all biography. David Bret, the author of more than 20 somewhat salacious celebrity biographies, was bound to get to her eventually.
Quick off the mark, Bret’s lightweight, often gossipy book, Elizabeth Taylor: The Lady, The Lover, The Legend - 1932-2011, was published within months of Taylor’s death. Not surprising then that it comes in at only 297 pages – small for a more than 60-year career. When the anecdotes constantly veer away from Taylor to focus on her costars, friends and fellow denizens of Tinsel Town, one can’t help but think it was something of a rush job. It reads as though it was put together from other biographies rather than primary sources, letters or interviews.
Perhaps it’s cynical to see the book as an attempt to capitalise on the recent death of a legend. But while Bret certainly attempts to make a case for Taylor’s beatification, his admiration for her sometimes seems forced, and his tone often bitchy and gossipy.
This is apparently his stock and trade.
Bret makes much of Taylor’s reputation with her female contemporaries – although I dispute that either Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich, the androgynous heroines of the previous generation, would have deigned to consider Taylor, let alone ‘‘walk in the shadow of her sun’’.
Likewise he dedicates pages to a verbal catfight instigated by the then-Queen of Hollywood, Joan Crawford, during the filming of Taylor’s film Rhapsody. But to be fair, Crawford hated everyone she couldn’t sleep with. It’s hardly surprising she crossed eyeliners with a young, vivacious Taylor, whom men adored.
Bret, however, turns Taylor’s relationships with men – arguably the most definitive relationships of her career – into little more than excuses to tell smutty stories.
In Bret’s hands Taylor’s unique bond with Montgomery Clift is just an opportunity to pore over Clift’s drug-and painfuelled final years.
Hardly a fair portrait of the man many would have called Taylor’s best friend and platonic soul-mate.
As an introduction to Taylor, her work, and the glittering world she lived in, Bret’s book is adequate. But surely there is a deeper, better researched, more joyful biography yet to be written about this complex woman? Only, I’m certain it won’t be by David Bret.
Elizabeth Taylor: The Lady, The Lover, The Legend - 1932-2011 By David Bret Mainstream Publishing Reviewed by Kylie Klein Nixon