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Elizabeth Taylor’ Journey Through Terror

The children were excited. For one of them to have a birthday was usually reason enough to set them off. But to have a birthday in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on this great huge spanking-new ship. . . .

“And then Luigi said—” Michael Jr., who was the spokesman for the group, started to say.

“Whoa,” Eddie Fisher said, looking over from his deck chair. “Who’s Luigi?”

“The chef man, down in the kitchen, in the big white hat,” Michael said. “And Liza and Christopher and me went to see him a little while ago”—the others nodded—“and he said that he was going to make a big birthday cake for tonight. And—”

He cleared his throat.

“Mommy?” he asked. 

“Yes?” Liz Taylor asked.



“Miss Bee?”

“Yes, Michael?” asked Bee Smith, the nurse.

“The chef man,” Michael went on, “he wanted to know if it would be all right for us to eat with you tonight. In the big dining room . . . He said since it was a birthday and I was big, he guessed it would be all right for me. But he said he wasn’t so sure about Chris” here, because he’s only six. And about Liza either, even though it’s her birthday. Because she’s only three!”

The three grown-ups looked at one another.

They pretended to be very serious about this whole thing.

“Will it be all right?” Michael asked then, tentatively, hopefully.

“It’ll be all right,” Liz said, finally, “—if you all have an extra long nap this afternoon.”

“Oh boy, said the children, and they laughed and clapped hands, still laughing as they ran off now, to the other side of the sun deck.

As the grown-ups watched them.

Laughing, too. . . .

Eddie, after a while, closed his eyes, just blissfully relaxing.

And Liz turned her head and looked ever at Bee Smith, the nurse, who never for a moment had her eyes off the children.

Bee, Liz thought to herself, Bee, it’s going to be so sad losing you. . . . She still couldn’t believe it. that the woman was going to leave them. She’d always figured that she would be with them forever. She’d come, Liz remembered, just before Michael was born. She’d taken care of Michael, then Chris, then Liza: taken care of them all, and loved them all, as if they’d been her own grandchildren. She was in her mid-sixties when she’d come, Liz remembered. And she was in her seventies now. And she’d made it clear, just before this trip, that she was getting old now and that it was time for her to go live with her own family for these years she had left, and rest. She’d tried to leave them just before the trip. But Liz had asked her. as a special favor, to stay with them, to come with them, for just a while. She and Eddie, Liz had said, would give her a bonus (they’d have given it to her anyway; they all knew that!) and would send her home from London by jet plane, just as soon as she’d helped them select another nurse, an English woman. Bee Smith had said no at first. But she’d changed her mind at the last minute. And now here she was, on her way to Italy first, then to England, to spend just a little while more with her beloved “grandchildren.”

“It’s the only thing,” Liz said, suddenly, softly, still looking over at the woman, “—the only thing that puts a crimp into this trip.”

“What is?” Bee Smith asked.

“You having to leave us.” said Liz.

“Well.” said Bee Smith, “don’t you go thinking about that now and spoiling a good time for yourself. This boat trip’s supposed to be a holiday for you. And so’s Italy. And I don’t want you worrying about anything till you get to England and have to start worrying about learning all those lines for your picture.”

She grinned.

“Right, Mr. Fisher?” she asked.

“Right.” said Eddie, his eyes still closed.

And Liz smiled a little now, too, and she reached over and took Bee Smith’s hand in hers, and she squeezed and held it for a long moment. . . .

IT COULD HAVE BEEN at that same moment when the person in London sat down to write the letter.

It arrived on Monday, August 8th, at the sprawling mansion just outside London, which Liz and Eddie had rented for their six months’ stay. Like all other mail that arrived for the Fishers, it was sent into London proper and to the Twentieth Century-Fox offices there. There, routinely, a girl in Publicity opened it in order to see whether it should be filed or, if important enough, sent on to Liz and Eddie in Italy.

As it turned out, the girl did neither. She brought it instead to Scotland Yard.

Within a few minutes’ time, four top detectives were poring over the letter, reading its strange message over and over again:

Watch out for your children.

They are beautiful, but they must be mine.

What are they worth to you?

Ten thousand Pounds? Twelve thousand?

You’ll hear from me again.

Pray I don’t do nothing drastic.

Pray for me.

I am a sinner!”

When they were through going over the letter. the detectives agreed that it was the work of a first-class crackpot, nothing more.

Still. they figured. they’d look into it.

And they should notify the Fishers.

And so one of them picked up a phone and asked to be connected with the SS. Leonardo DaVinci, at sea. . . .

Eddie, who had received ‘the call, was undecided about whether to tell Liz about the letter or not. many letters since that day they’d known they were in love, and had started going together—abusive letters, obscene letters. insulting letters. They had tried, as best they could. to ignore them. This, he knew. should be ignored too. But still. . .

HE TOLD HER ABOUT IT, FINALLY. They were walking up on the Boat Deck, alone, late that night.

Liz listened.

“Did Scotland Yard into it?” she asked, through.

“Of course.” he said.

“Then what are we worried about?” Liz said. . . .

Even in Italy, at first. Liz did not realize the impact the news of that letter had had on her. There are things we hear in life, frightening sometimes, though not immediately so, that get embedded in the brain and sleep there. small. something sudden, to awaken them. This is the way it was with Liz and the letter. . . .

It was a Sunday, their first in Rome.

They were leaving the Olympic Games—Liz. Eddie, Bee Smith and the children. They’d had a ball that day, the boys especially, and they were still all talking and laughing away as they walked from the sports palace and neared their car.

“Anybody hungry?” Eddie asked at one point, as they walked. “Anybody here ready for some more of that good Roman spaghetti?”

But before anyone could answer, a pack of photographers had spotted them and swarmed around them.

The photographers began snapping away.

“Really,” Liz said. after a few minutes, “we’ve got to go now. The children are famished. . . .”

“Just a few more . . . Un’altro . . . more round.” came the photographers’ usual cry.

Liz smiled.

“Just one more round.” she said.

IT WAS DURING THIS ROUND when the roly-poly Italian, who’d joined the gathering crowd a few minutes earlier, who’d been at the Games and who’d maybe drunk a little too much vino while watching the Games, decided to get into the act.

Ueeeeeeii.” he called out. “—me, too, I wanna get into the peetch’a.”

He rushed forward and stood along-side Michael. He grinned and brought his hands up to his ears. “I make like the monkey, eh?” he said.

The little boy laughed.

The rest of the crowd roared.

Ragazzo, boy, you look like a nice kid,” the man said to Michael then. “What you think, huh, if I take you and I buy you an ice-cream, over there? Maybe the nice men with the camera even take the peetch’a of me buying you the ice-a-cream.”

He started to take the boy’s hand.

Liz saw him.

“You,” she called out. “Don’t you touch him. Get your hands off that child.”

The crowd became silent, suddenly.

“I was going to ask the permission, Signora—” the man started to say.

“You get your hands off him,” Liz cried. “Off him!”

The roly-poly Italian let go of Michael’s hand and lowered his eyes.

“I sorry . . . mi dispiace,” he said, as he began to walk away. . . .

“Why’d you do that?” Eddie asked, after they’d gotten into their car and had begun to drive away. “The guy was having some fun. He didn’t mean any harm.”

“I don’t know,” Liz said. She breathed in deeply. “I just don’t want anybody touching my children, maybe . . . Is there anything wrong with that?”

THEN, TWO THINGS HAPPENED the day they arrived in England and the mansion near London that helped put Liz’ nerves on end.

One was a story, in the newspapers, out of Australia. It concerned a twelve-year-old boy whose father, a poor man, had recently won a quarter-of-a-million dollars in a lottery there. The son had been kidnaped. They’d found him murdered, his body dumped in some woodlands.

The other, and more important and distressing to Liz at the moment, was a letter, addressed by the same person who had written the first letter. It differed from the first only in that it asked: “Are the children worth 100,000 pounds to you?” Like the first, it ended with the words: “I am a sinner!”

“I’m sorry,” Liz said to the Scotland Yard man who’d come to see them a little while after they’d reported the letter, “—I could tell by your tone of voice, on the phone, when I called, that you don’t think this is at all serious. But,” she said, “to me it is serious.”

“Mrs. Fisher,” said the detective, “believe me. There’s nothing to this at all. Some demented, some tortured person somewhere is having him or herself a time, that’s all.”

“Have you found this demented and tortured person?” Liz asked.


“Have you been trying?”

“Yes. Naturally.”

“Then,” Liz said, “it can’t be nothing; not if you’re trying.”

“Mrs. Fisher,” the detective said again, “first, understand this. We never let these things go completely, even if we’re not terribly concerned. It’s a policy of the Yard. We follow all these matters through . . . And second,” he said, “understand this. Many such letters are received by prominent people in England every year. It’s part of the irony of being a celebrity, I guess you might say.

“Now, Mrs. Fisher, if it will make you feel any better, let me assure you of this. We have a man stationed at the gate here. And we have a man on the grounds here, twenty-four hours a day. When the boys are in school, we will have a man along with them. They won’t see him, they won’t know he is there. But he will be there. . . .

“I’M SORRY about this whole thing, you know,” the detective said. “It’s not a jolly pleasant way for us to have to receive guests in our country, now is it?”

Then he shook hands with Eddie, who had been standing by all this while, he looked over once more at Liz, and he left. . . . 

That night, some two hundred people milled around the gate of the mansion, waiting to see Elizabeth Taylor, the beautiful movie star, and her husband, Eddie Fisher, leave for a special party that was being held someplace nearby in honor of their arrival.

The crowd ooooooohed when they saw Liz at the door, as she headed for the gate and the car.

Then, just before she got into the car, the cry went up for autographs.

“Please, Miss Taylor,” one young girl said. “I go to see all your flicks. Would you just sign your name to this book?”

“Of course,” Liz said.

Liz signed about a dozen, quickly. There were at least a couple of dozen more to go, she knew. She looked up from the last book she’d signed. Suddenly she began to feel a little dizzy. The crowd, it seemed, was pushing closer and closer. They were getting out of hand; they were excited, and pushing. “Eddie . . .” Liz mumbled. He didn’t seem to hear her. He was busy, a few yards away, signing some autographs of his own. “Eddie . . .” She closed her eyes for a moment. And then she opened them. And she looked again at the faces around her.

The dizziness was getting worse; the awful feeling in her head, through her body, more intense.

Suddenly—she didn’t know why exactly—but suddenly she wanted to cry out to this mob.

“Who are you people?” cry.

“And what do you want from me, from me?”

She looked into the face of one woman who stood not more than three feet from her. The woman was big-boned and strong-looking and smiling. Liz looked at the pencil she was waving, at the sheet of paper she held.

“Is it you?” Liz wanted to ask, suddenly.

“Are you the one?”

Then she looked into another face, and another.

“Is it you?” she wanted to cry.

“Are you the one who wants to hurt my babies?”

She handed back a book she was holding.

She reached for Eddie’s hand.

Her face had turned ashen pale.

“Liz,” Eddie asked, “what’s wrong?”

“Let’s get back inside, away,” “I don’t want to go to any party.”

“Liz—” Eddie started to say.

He followed her inside. . . .

There, she shut the door, and she clung to his hand.

“Eddie,” she said, “I want us to go upstairs and pack. Right now . . . I don’t want to live here. I want to go to London, tonight, and move into a hotel. . . . It’s safe there. Do you understand what I’m talking about, Eddie? . . . It’s safer!”

LIZ SEEMED BETTER, more calm, that weekend.

They’d moved from the big place and they were in London now. They spent the Saturday sleeping late, then visiting Hampton Court, showing the children the palace where Henry the Eighth had slept, and banqueted. And, on Sunday, they walked through Hyde Park for a while, in the morning, listening to some of the fancy and long-winded speeches there, and then they took a ride up to Windsor, for a long and relaxing picnic lunch, and then they came back to London and Regent Park, to see the animals, feed them, and to laugh as Eddie made faces at the lion and as the lion, sleepily, growled back at him. . .

On Monday, however, Liz’ fears returned.

It was a strange day for her.

She began her picture that morning. The morning had gone fine.

But then, that afternoon, things seemed to be different. She seemed anxious to work, but unable to concentrate.

Since actual shooting on Cleopatra would not begin till Wednesday and today was only a rehearsal, Liz’ director was not too concerned. Even the best of the pros got jittery sometimes at the beginning of a picture, he knew.

At one point, when she had flubbed the same line a few times, the director suggested to Liz that she go to her dressing room and have a spot of tea and unwind a little, for a while.

Liz nodded, and went to the dressing room.

When, a little while later, a girl came in with her tea tray, Liz hardly looked up.

“Here’s scones and muffins and lots of jam and butter,” the girl said. “Will there be anything else?”

“No . . . thank you,” Liz said.

Liz sat for a moment, then lifted her tea.

And as she did she thought of the kidnaped Australian boy, of the letters, of other things she’d heard about kidnapings.

Suddenly, the cup slipped from her hand.

It went crashing to the floor.

Liz didn’t look down.

She stared ahead, straight ahead.

“Oh, my God,” she began to moan, after a while.

“Oh, my God. My God. . . .”

She looked out the window of their bedroom that night, looking at the heavy fog, as she waited for Eddie. He’d been recording all that day. Obviously, he’d been held up. She turned, once, to glance at a clock. It was nearly nine. She reached for a cigarette that lay on the night-table, next to their bed. She lit it. And then she went back to looking at the fog.

She didn’t turn, at first, when she heard Eddie come in.

“Can we take the children with us, to Egypt, next week?” she asked, still looking at the fog.

“We can take Liza, sure,” Eddie said.

“But not the boys?” Liz asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because it wouldn’t be right, I don’t think,” he said, “dragging them out of school like that.”


You’re not,” he said, shocked.

“I didn’t want to go in the first place,” Liz said. “I didn’t feel bad, not the least bit bad, when they made it clear that they didn’t want a Jew invading their country, they said; not even a Hollywood Jew, they said. Well good, I said, I didn’t want to go anyway . . . You remember, Eddie?”

Eddie loosened his tie.

“Do you know, Liz,” he asked, “what they went through to get permission for you to get into that country. Strings were pulled. Big strings . . .

“Do you know,” Eddie asked, “how this is going to stifle their plans? Two weeks of location, all set up? A couple of million bucks riding on those two weeks alone? A couple of hundred people with jobs riding on this?

“Liz,” Eddie said. He sat beside her on the bed. “Is it because of the children . . . those letters? Is that why you don’t want to leave all of a sudden?”

She said nothing at first.

“Liz?” he asked.

Her voice was soft when she spoke again, soft and tired-sounding. “Of course it is, Eddie,” she said. “I’m so afraid. I know everybody else is taking it as if it were nothing. But Eddie, I’m so afraid for them.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Eddie said. “They’ve got the best protection. You know that. They’ve got Scotland Yard, watching them every minute. They’ve got Bee—she’s agreed to stay longer than she’d planned, hasn’t she? She’s even stopped looking around for another girl for the time being, hasn’t she? Just so you’ll feel better . . . Why, the children, they’ve got—”

“I don’t care what you say they’ve got, Eddie,” Liz said, cutting in, her voice still soft. “We’re not going. And I want,” she said, “I want for us to tell the children that were not, first thing at breakfast. If they’ve had any worries of their own about this, if they know anything about this, I want their minds put at rest, too . . . Michael, especially—he’s old enough to hear things, to know what’s going on—”

“And what are we supposed to tell him, in case he does know?” Eddie asked. “That his Mama and Eddie are afraid?”

“Yes,” Liz said, “if that’s the right word.”

“But it’s a terrible word,” Eddie said.

“I don’t care what kind of word it is,” Liz said. “We’re going to tell them.”

Eddie shook his head.

“Honey,” he started to say, “listen, I know how you feel—”

Liz jumped up from the bed suddenly. Suddenly her voice rose. “Don’t say that,” she said, “—not that. How could you know how I feel? I’m their mother. I have my own set of feelings for them. I’m their mother.

“And you—” she started to say.

She brought her hand up to her mouth and she bit it.

“And me,” Eddie said, loudly now, too, “Ym their father . . . I am their father, Liz. They may not be of my flesh, or of my blood. But they happen to be the children I’m with every day. They happen to be my wife’s children. I happen to love them . . . And I’m concerned about them, too, as much as anybody else on this earth. Anybody!”

He paused.

AND THEN, HIS VOICE SOFT once more, he said, “Look . . . Liz. When I was a boy—I haven’t thought of this for years, but it comes back to me now—when I was a boy, there was this kid in our neighborhood. He was a normal enough kid, when he started out in life, I guess. But he had two very abnormal parents. They were afraid for him, afraid that he’d ever, once in his life, get hurt. And so, if he was out playing with us, a gang of boys, and a fight started, the way it often did, his mother would come streaking out of their house and grab her boy away from us. ‘Stay away from that lousy mob,’ she used to say, ‘or you’ll get hurt!’ . . . And in school, if this kid himself did something out of line and the teacher said something nasty to him, his father would come up and holler at the teacher and ask her how she dared to criticize their son . . . For their son must not be hurt!

“I remember,” Eddie went on, “we went to the same junior high school together, the same high school. And I remember how just after Korea the two of us were called into the Army, the same day. I’d talked to him the night before. We’d meet, we decided, on a certain corner that next morning and report in together.

“Well,” Eddie said, “that next morning, I got there, to the corner. I waited. I waited half-an-hour more than I should have, and this kid, he didn’t show. I couldn’t figure why. I didn’t learn why, in fact, till about a week after I went away. That’s when I got this letter from my mother. She told me it was terrible about this kid. A few minutes before he was supposed to leave the house to meet me, she said, he began to bawl. and weep and scream and kick. He was afraid to go into the Army. Every guy on earth, when the time comes, is a little afraid. But this kid, he was this afraid. He carried on so bad that morning that his own parents couldn’t quiet him down, and they had to come from the hospital eventually and take him.

“He stayed in that hospital a few years, Liz. Now he’s out. He’s my age, exactly, and he sits home all day now with his mother and his father. He’s a young man. He’s a broken vegetable, really. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t go out. He just sits home.

“He’s ruined, Liz—”

“It’s a different thing you’re talking about,” she said.

“But it isn’t,” Eddie said. “It’s the story of a boy and his parents and fear. It’s the story of a legacy. He was taught this fear, this kid I knew . . . They gave him a lesson. And he learned it well. . . .”

Liz began to walk towards a closet, on the other side of the room.

“Where are you going?” Eddie asked.

“To take a walk,” Liz said, reaching for a coat, putting it on. “To get lost, maybe, in the fog.”

“Why are you going?” Eddie asked.

“Because I don’t want any more talk,” Liz said.

“YOU’VE MADE UP YOUR MIND about this whole thing?” Eddie asked.

“Yes,” Liz said, picking up her handbag.

“And you want me to have a talk with the children tomorrow—with Michael and Christopher?”


“And you want me to give them their first lesson in fear?”

“Yes,” Liz said. She shouted it now. The tears came to her eyes and she shouted it.

Sobbing, she ran from the room.

She ran down the hallway.

“Mrs. Fisher,” a voice called out. It was Bee Smith, the nurse, looking out of the door of her room. “Elizabeth!”

Liz ran past her, ignoring her, ignoring everything.

When, finally, she got to the door, she put her hand on the knob, and she started to turn it.

Fear”—the word came to her mind, suddenly.

Is that what we want for them?

A legacy of fear?”

After a while—a long, a very long, while—Liz turned, and she began to walk back up the hallway, back towards the bedroom.

“Eddie,” she whispered, when she got to the door.

He was sitting on a chair, his hands clasped tightly together.

He rose from the chair and he waited as she came to him.

“Eddie,” she said . . . “Eddie? . . . as she fell into his arms, as she began to cry again, as he began to kiss her hair, and to soothe her. . . .

BACK IN HER LITTLE ROOM, meanwhile, Bee Smith smiled. She’d seen Liz walk back to her husband from that door. And this made her happy.

She guessed, from what she’d seen and heard just now, that it would be all right for her to start interviewing girls for her job again.

But tomorrow—she thought—tomorrow was probably going to be such a lovely day. And, she wondered, if maybe instead, it wouldn’t be more pleasant to go walking with her “grandchildren”, and take them to see that enormous building downtown with the big clock on it, and that pretty river called the Thames.

Well, she thought, as she sat back in her chair, she’d see about all that in the morning.

The fog was lifting now.

Everything was going to be lovely again. . . .


Eddie and Liz both star in BUTTERFIELD 8, MGM; Liz stars in TWO FOR THE SEESAW, United Artists,CLEOPATRA, for 20th-Fox.



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