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His Elizabeth Taylor: ‘A Scheming Charmer’

Elizabeth tries to be a shrew, wants to be an autocrat and unsuccessfully attempts tyranny in little things. She often tells me off in front of people when I upset her. She is also very jealous and doesn’t fancy my taking two looks at the same pretty girl. She gives me hard kicks under the table, but I go on looking because it does her good to feel a little uncertain at times.

In our menage, love is all right; honor is still intact but we don’t always obey. We never had any questions of who was the boss. She always realized I was to run the show. I do this by talking, talking, talking. My little shrew is inevitably tamed after a bit of talking.

We nag each other a bit. As a housewife, Elizabeth is highly naggable and limited. She’s a good cook and makes marvelous breakfasts but she cannot brush a floor, for instance. I doubt if she can make a bed. When she cooks for an hour, it takes me four hours to clean up afterward. I’m always cleaning up after her. I’m fantastically neat and tidy. The ash trays must lie square, straight and be clean. She just tears through all he rooms, leaving a shambles behind her.

Lavishly endowed, with a few flaws in the masterpiece’

I think we were and still are very good for each other. My smattering of scholarship has darted off onto her and a smattering of her honesty onto me. The quality in her that appealed, and still appeals, to me most is her total blazing honesty. She cannot tell a lie.

The most important thing of our marriage is this continuous excitement, this wonderful creature called Elizabeth who fills me with spiritual and physical joy every time I see her. Her spirit bubbles with an inner force like life itself and not like champagne which goes flat after a while.

She never uses tears to wheedle things out of me or cries if we have strong words. She uses her charm to seduce me into a particular action. It took her 10 days to get a black rabbit she and the children wanted. It was a wearing-down process using Kate and Liza to say how darling the rabbit was every time we saw it.

Elizabeth is a very funny girl and though it may be hard for an outsider to believe this, she has a roaring sense of humor that tends toward the ironic and satirical. This comic side also attracted me, especially her impersonations of people which she presents in a series of lightning sketches—sort of puns in movement. We exchange names for fun. She calls me Harriet or Agatha and I call her Sam, Fred or Maxie. But this is just camping around.

Elizabeth is extremely intelligent though she lacks in formal education—how can you possibly be educated at M-G-M? I tried her out with I.Q. tests and she is well above the average. The only thing I can credit myself with is increasing her awareness of the world. She has an extraordinary interest in poetry and I thought she just read to make me happy. Now I know that she enjoys it for herself. She grew up with art, has a great knowledge of painting and is herself a considerable painter. We have contributed to each other: I dismissed paintings as bad photography before I met Elizabeth.

We both have feelings of insecurity. I think one of the reasons is the uncertainty of how long it will last and also because an artist must feel insecure to act well. We feel particularly unsure of ourselves when we are in front of lots of people or at a party because no one really wants to know us. They simply stare as if we are prize animals. What we do when we go to parties is drink to kill the feeling of icy isolation and wait for the attacks to begin. People of inferior intellect who try to get at us don’t worry me—one can fix them with a few well-chosen words; it’s the nasty ones that upset me.

I first met Elizabeth when she was 19. I thought she was the most beautiful and sullen creature I had ever met: difficult, unreachable, unmanageable, unobtainable, impenetrable and—again—difficult. Now, at 34, she is an extremely beautiful woman, lavishly endowed by nature with but a few flaws in the masterpiece: she has an insipid double chin, her legs are too short and she has a slight pot-belly. She has a wonderful bosom, though.

She’s one of those women who thinks if she is 15 minutes late she is actually being half an hour early. I scold her about this. She nags me about being stuffy and using long words. When we scream at one another about something, I accuse her of being scatterlogical and having an inspissated mind. This generally amuses her so much she breaks up completely.

There’s no guile known to woman she won’t employ’

She is a great charmer, cajoling, flattering and crafty—there is no guile or hideous scheme known to women that she is unable to employ. For instance, I adore soup of every kind and when she wakes me up in the morning with a bowl of soup for breakfast I know she wants something. Sometimes it takes two or even three bowls of soup for her to get what she wants.

We made The Taming of the Shrew because I wanted to act a rough role as far away as possible from those Rex Harrison parts with nice suits and freshly laundered shirts, and my wife because she wanted to talk English for a change. In Shrew she shows definite Shakespearean feeling, the only difficulties being some of the Bard’s words that are alien to her. For instance, “how durst thou” is not common talk in California.

Acting is a kind of showing off and the best person to show off to is your wife. I find it very embarrassing to work with any other actress after Elizabeth—as gifted as I think other actresses are. This doesn’t mean we don’t have our little professional problems. I refused to accept her as my leading lady in a film I will be making because I don’t consider it a good part for her. I told her that if we go on making films together we will become like Laurel and Hardy. Her reply was, “What’s wrong with Laurel and Hardy?”

People are awfully catty about our getting nearly $3 million a film between us. But in fact all this money is fairy wealth—it doesn’t really exist. Seventy-five percent goes before we see it. We need so many people to help us who have to be paid. For example, we need at least four guards to watch the villa or someone will try crawling over the wall to photograph us in the lavatory.

I have an inferiority complex about Elizabeth getting $2 million and I only $1 million. The trouble with a 40-year-old actor and a 34-year-old actress after 20 years of career is that one loses normal ambition. My sole ambition now is to earn $2 million a film and Elizabeth’s only ambition is to play Hamlet.



It is a quote. LIFE MAGAZINE JUNE 1967

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