Now Liz Taylor Poses Nude!
What makes a woman undress—altogether, completely—in public? What drives Elizabeth Taylor to take off her clothes and pose for breast-and-buttock-revealing still photographs? What term can we use to characterize Liz’ compulsion to bare herself to the camera (and to the world)? Is she “modern” or ”immoral,” is she “emancipated” or ’’exhibitionistic?” What we are solely concerned with, for the purposes of this investigation, is her stripping and posing nude for Roddy McDowall, her old-time friend and ”Cleopatra” co-star. In short, stripping and posing for photos that appeared in the January issue of PLAYBOY Magazine. Justification can be made for her nudity in the actual bathing scenes in “Cleopatra.” It can always be said that such naked and near-naked bathing scenes are part of the Hollywood “spectacle” tradition (Claudette Colbert, who played the Temptress of the Nile for the Cecil B. DeMille version, took a milk-bath on-screen). One can argue that producers, directors and scriptwriters persist in including such scenes in big-budget epics; that studio heads insist their stars appear in them; that the movie-going public demands to see them; that no European showing of an American-produced film is successful without at least one episode in which a female star swims or bathes in the altogether.
What is Central to our investigation, however, is that no one forced and no factors pressured the beautiful Miss Taylor into posing for McDowall. A superstar, more successful, more beautiful than ever, she nevertheless chose to expose her body off the screen, thereby subsequently permitting herself to be seen by the millions of men who read PLAYBOY.
There are circumstances under which a woman strips off her clothes in public to allow nude pictures to be taken—and these circumstances can be understood, if not condoned:
• An unknown starlet strives for her first “break” and is willing to undress completely to attract studio and public attention.
• Brigitte Bardot, goaded on by her then-husband Roger Vadim, reclined nude next to him under a bed sheet when he called a press conference to introduce the‘‘new star” to the world.
• Anita Ekberg, “Miss Sweden,” in an overflowing sweater, failed to win immediate recognition as an actress and instead spent seven years in Hollywood posing for cheesecake pinups and modeling for nude art works in a desperate attempt to launch her acting career.
• A plump, pleasant-looking dancer named Margarita Carmen Cansino slimmed forty pounds off her overabundant frame, raised her hairline and dyed her hair from natural black to flaming red; but it wasn’t until Miss Cansino posed kneeling on a bed in a sheer-sheer nightgown (a photo that appeared in LIFE and made her world-famous) that Rita Hayworth, sultry, sexy movie-star, was born.
• A would-be actress, in need of money to buy food and pay rent, agreed to let a photographer snap nude pictures of her. Such a need drove Marilyn Monroe to pose for that famous nude calendar (she was paid $50). Later when the calendar flooded the country, Marilyn explained: “I was a week behind in my rent. I had to have the money.” (A similar need—money—drove Stella Stevens to pose without clothes for a national magazine, but she was paid $3,000. This was before Hollywood “discovered” her, and she had to have rent and food money for herself and her infant son.)
• An established actress, consciously or unconsciously feeling that her career may be slipping or that age is beginning to creep up on her, permits naked photos of herself to be shot to boost her own morale and to rekindle public interest in her attractiveness. Is not this one of the few possible explanations for Marilyn Monroe’s statement, made shortly before her death, as she posed very saucily and scantily clad before photographer Bert Stern: “Not bad for a girl of thirty-six, huh?”
• And is not this one of the few possible explanations for Arlene Dahl’s recent posings in the nude?
When columnist Suzy of the New York Mirror chided her by writing, “But what I don’t understand is why Arlene posed this way at all. If so-called starlets and models who have no place to go but up want to go in for these “nudie” pictures, well, that’s their problem and heaven knows they have nothing to lose. But Arlene is an established actress and a syndicated columnist. Furthermore, as Mrs. Chris Holmes, wife of a Texas millionaire, and the mother of two children, she has an established place in society,” Miss Dahl sent her a letter in defense of her action, one sentence of which, at least, is as sad as it is revealing. “I was delighted to learn the magazine feels that some hope is left for those of us who have reached twenty or even thirty years,” Miss Dahl said.
But none of these special circumstances—the attempt to get a first “break,” the attempt to stave off the bill collectors, the attempt to prove herself still seductive—applies to Elizabeth Taylor. Yet she did choose to pose in the nude.
This question cannot be answered out of context—the context of Miss Taylor’s whole life, present and past. An examination of her past and her present leads us to settle on one word with which to characterize not only her posing in the nude, but also her flaunting of herself in recent years and her incessant flouting of most moral codes and conventions. That word is “exhibitionism.”
The great pioneers in psychology and psychotherapy have written volumes on this subject, but for a layman’s working definition of “exhibitionism,” let us turn to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. There we find the following entry: “The act or practice of behaving so as to attract attention to oneself; extravagant or wilfully conspicuous behavior.”
This definition, oversimplified as it is, will serve our purposes. Does not Miss Taylor’s posing in the nude fail within this classification? And her flamboyant lovemaking in public with Richard Burton on the deck of that yacht off the isle of Ischia? And her return to London at Christmas with Burton (they arrived in the same overnight sleeping train from Paris and checked into the same hotel, the Dorchester, where, incidentally, she and her husband Eddie Fisher had stayed during her previous trip—when she almost lost her life from pneumonia)? Was it not “exhibitionism”—her gallivanting with Burton in Rome’s night clubs during the filming of “Cleopatra,” despite her alleged revulsion for publicity? As one writer pointed out, she didn’t have to carry on in public, for “where there’s a villa there’s a way.” Was it not “exhibitionism”—her amatory wrestling with Burton in front of the cast and the camera crew on the set of the picture? And to go further back in her life—was it not “exhibitionism” when she appeared on Eddie Fisher’s arm in the crowded main dining room at Grossinger’s, not too many months after Mike Todd had died—while back in California, Debbie Reynolds waited for her husband to return?
Before we turn to Miss Taylor’s past to search out and find the genesis for this exhibitionism, the root causes for her need to expose her private life to the eyes of the world, we must make one further point about her compulsion: Exhibitionism is always disguised aggression. That’s a psychologist’s way of saying that the exhibitionist may think he is giving society a slap in the face by his actions (remember Miss Taylor’s significant comment, “We respect public opinion, but we can’t live by it”), I but in actuality the exhibitionist’s behavior is meant to shock and shame one person, usually a parent, close friend or relative.
Our clue to who this person might be, in Elizabeth Taylor’s life, is supplied to us by Dr. Harold Greenwald, a psychologist who, in writing in general about women who pose in the nude or near-nude before the cameras, said that such exposure can be interpreted as “an act of defiance against their mothers.” These women, he claimed, “are usually ones whose mothers have been very strict.”
Before we see if Dr. Greenwald’s notion is valid in helping us to understand Miss Taylor’s behavior, let us test it briefly on some other actresses who have become famous (and infamous) for posing in the nude or near-nude and find out what results we come up with.
Marilyn Monroe certainly seemed to have rebelled against strictness, the on-again-off-again strictness of her own mother (made even more unbearable because of the long periods during her childhood when she lost contact with her mother completely) and the rigid, unloving strictness of a whole series of foster-mothers.
This unyielding strictness—added to the fact that young Marilyn was convinced she was ugly—gave rise to a recurrent dream she first had when she was six. In this dream, to quote her own words, “I was standing up in church without any clothes on, and all the people there were lying naked at my feet on the floor of the church and I walked naked with a sense of freedom over their prostrate forms.”
A dream of rebellion against discipline, of defiance against her “mothers.” A dream that she later was to be compelled to act out in real life.
The fusing of these two factors—parental strictness and a feeling of being ugly—was also operative in the early life of Linda Christian, who later was the life- model for a much publicized nude statue. In recalling her childhood Linda says, “When I was a kid my father always said: ‘You’ll have to be very intelligent to get anywhere; you’re so ugly.’ And when he’d call ‘Blanca Rosa,’ which was my mother’s name, too, and I’d answer, he’d say: ‘Not you—the intelligent one.’ ”
Kim Novak, whose ample bosom and un- sheathed legs were later to appear in photos that left little to the imagination, was also, as a child, painfully aware of her own unattractiveness. “Not many people can understand what it is like to be four-teen and have pimples. The boys used to wait for me to show up at high school—not to make passes, just to laugh.”
Tall, skinny, withdrawn and insecure, Kim as a little girl would lock herself in her room and hide from the mocking world. Her mother, trying her best to help her daughter, took her to a Chicago psychiatric clinic for treatment.
But Kim’s revenge on those boys who laughed at her and the world that mocked her wasn’t to come until much later when her body was featured, unclothed, in a slew of magazines. This proved she was beautiful, she was alluring, she was someone to be loved. Her revenge was even sweeter: The boys, while looking at the photos, could long for her and desire her, but they could never actually have her.
Brigitte Bardot’s ugly-duckling appearance as a child was only emphasized by her beautiful mother’s attempts to transform her into a lovely swan by the use of cosmetics, hairbrushes and clothes, but nothing could conceal Brigitte’s frizzy hair, large teeth, puffy lips, thick eyeglasses and awkward body. Mother tried, but Brigitte wouldn’t cooperate.
Today, in looking back at her mother’s strictness and her own half-hearted defiance of it, Miss Bardot says, “it is true I am never really well-groomed. When I was a young girl, this made me the despair of my mother. She used to take away my dessert and forbid me to go out.”
Eventually, this defiance of her mother’s concern for grooming and clothes (significantly, Mme. Bardot owned a dress shop) was to result in Brigitte’s compulsive rejection of all clothes. On and off the screen, in a series of naked or near-naked milk-baths, strip teases, seductions and bathing scenes, Miss Bardot was able to completely shock and shame her strict mother.
The most convincing example of the validity of Dr. Greenwald’s thesis that women pose nude before the cameras in defiance of their very strict mothers—and of our own amendment to this theory: namely, that the over-disciplining of daughters by often beautiful mothers usually makes their daughters feel ugly and rejected, which adds further fuel to later rebellion—is to be found not in an actress, but in society model Christina Paolozzi.
When Miss Paolozzi’s undraped figure, as photographed by Richard Avedon, was revealed in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, the impact on her parents and on the blue- blooded world of the Four Hundred was as if an atomic bomb had been dropped on Times Square. Society with a Capital “S” struck back by dropping Miss Paolozzi’s formerly-listed name from the current edition of the Social Register.
What made this daughter of Count Lorenzo Paolozzi, a descendant of Italian royalty, and of Alice O. Spaulding, of a socially prominent Boston family, agree to strip off her clothes in public for all to see? Well, no matter what she says the reason is, the roots of her present actions can be found in her past. Miss Paolozzi exposes these roots inadvertently when she says, “Even as a child, I couldn’t do things right. once, when I was 12-years-old, I put on a nightgown that was slightly transparent. I wanted to show my mother I was growing into womanhood. She was so shocked, I’m not sure she’s gotten over it yet.”
It is not surprising, in the light of all this evidence, that Elizabeth Taylor fits into the same pattern. Heralded for years by others as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” she does not share the general estimation of herself. On the contrary, she has said many times that she does not consider herself beautiful now, nor did she feel she was beautiful as a child.
In the matter of strictness, Miss Taylor’s mother’s actions and attitudes toward her daughter took a peculiar form. A would-be actress herself, she concentrated all her energies on her daughter’s career.
From the time Elizabeth was eight, Mrs. Taylor figuratively pushed Elizabeth. Pushed her out of bed and to the studio. Pushed her to be at makeup on time. Pushed her in front of the cameras. Pushed her to turn emotions on and off on cue . . . to study her lines . . . to smile prettily for the still photographers . . . to be nice to the publicity people . . . to land bigger and better parts. Pushed her from childhood into premature adulthood.
When she tried the same tactics on Elizabeth’s two-year-older brother, Howard, he promptly pushed back. When, against his wishes, his mother arranged a screen test for him, he showed up for the appointment—but with all the hair shaved off his head. No hair, no handsomeness. No handsomeness, no test.
He had met his mother’s pushing with a counter-aggression of his own. She backed down and he won.
But Elizabeth Taylor is incapable of such spontaneous rebellion, such open hostility. Besides, her mother had a powerful ally—the studio.
As director George Stevens once told writer Bill Davidson about Miss Taylor, “In addition to the matriarchy in which she was raised, she also had an artificial patriarchy imposed on her—the studio. It took the place of her own retiring father. The studio, like a domineering parent, was alternately stern and adoring. All day long, some official was telling her what to do and what not to do. She spent all her preadolescent and adolescent days inside the walls of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She worked on the set every morning and spent three hours in the M-G-M schoolroom every afternoon. She had no time to play, no contact with other children. Between takes, she was sent to a vacant room somewhere to study.”
It was an impossible, hopeless situation. They were too strong, she was too weak. Instead of finding some way to push back, she tried to escape. Where? into daydreams (years later she said, “I used to escape to the girls’ room”); into some hidden corner of M-G-M (Stevens recalls: “The school and the studio became the same to her, and when she ran off somewhere when I was setting up a new scene, she was really trying to play hooky from school”).
But when she ran away, someone always ran after her—her mother, a vice-president in charge of keeping tabs on Elizabeth Taylor, her teacher—and pushed her back in front of the cameras.
What Elizabeth needed, of course, was to push back. Get it out of her system! Just push, as they did! But she couldn’t, she wasn’t the kind of girl who could push. So instead, her rebellion turned in on herself. Unable to punish the people who were pushing her (they were so powerful, they couldn’t be wrong, she must be the one at fault), she punished herself. Her rebellion went underground and she almost tore herself apart.
The illnesses, for instance. After her first marriage ended in a quick divorce, she contracted the first of the many diseases and ailments that were to plague her through the years. And it is noteworthy that this first illness was colitis—recognized by most doctors as resulting largely from unrelieved psychological strain and unexploded hostility.
To some extent. the pattern of illnesses worked for her. She was now catered to, watched over, given sympathy and tokens of love. When an actress—your most valuable property—is inclined to be fragile and delicate, you treat her tenderly.
And so this turning-in-upon-herself (psychologists call it “retroflective behavior”) worked for a while, all through Elizabeth’s marriage to Mike Wilding and Mike Todd. But it didn’t work well enough. The pangs and pains weren’t quite worth the results they brought. Besides, although the enemy bent, he did not break. Miss Taylor came close to self-recognition when she once said, “I’m the same as a key piece of machinery in a steel mill which is needed to make money for the mill owners. If I break down, it’s their problem, not mine. My problem is to build some kind of decent life for myself in this crazy unreal world in which make my living.” (But then she backed away from the implications of her own words: If they push you around, you must push them back.)
As George Stevens says, “What most people don’t know is that there has been a smoldering spirit of revolt in Elizabeth for a long time. I sometimes wonder if she didn’t unconsciously precipitate the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher mess deliberately because, in growing up, she finally had to give violent expression to her revolt.” This is indeed a thought.
The real enemies
The only words that are misused here are “growing up.” If Miss Taylor was really maturing, she would have confronted her actual opponents. She could have “told them off” directly, face to face. She could have pushed the studio out of her life by saying, “I’m through. I never wanted this. I don’t want it now. Get yourself another girl.”
instead, her delayed revolt burst forth in “exhibitionism,” “extravagant” and “wilfully conspicuous behavior.” She selected “dummy objects” against which to vent her spleen (“dummy” because they were not the true objects of her disdain)—Eddie Fisher, the press, public opinion, photographers, accepted morality, conventional ideas.
This same wild, pointless flailing out at authority can be seen in Brigitte Bardot’s actions and words. “For the moment we are living as crazy people,” she told one reviewer. “There is no principle or organization in our lives. Anyway, I don’t care what people think.”
To another writer who warned her that her compulsive nudity could “start a trend which would degenerate our institutions and finally destroy them,” Brigitte replied, laughing, “Good! The morals would be destroyed. That’s good!”
The same shrill, rebellious words can be heard from Christine Paolozzi. Rationallzing her true reasons for posing in the nude, she says, “I posed for that picture out of pure rebellion against the whole hypocritical society that was all around me.”
A grain of Freud
But the trained psychologist, accustomed to interpreting words with a grain of Freud (and actions with a pinch of Jung), would be quick to point out that the voices of these women are “dummy” voices and that the actions of these women are “dummy” actions, and that what they’re really doing is attempting to work out, years later, the unfinished conflicts which still plague them from their youth. “Pay attention to me,” they’re saying to their mothers. “Look at me. Isn’t there anything I can say or do that will make you know I’m really here?”
Behind Elizabeth Taylor’s present acts stands the ghost of that other Elizabeth Taylor, the little girl. It is as though she is saying. “You hurt me, Mommy, so now I’m going to make you unhappy by doing something very naughty. You made me do things I didn’t want to do, Mommy, so now I’m going to hurt you more than you hurt me. You made me cry, Mommy, so now I’m going to make you cry. Really, I really cry.”
Yet, because once again her rebellion is roundabout and indirect, it can provide no release, no fulfillment, no triumph for Elizabeth Taylor. The grown woman is able to hurt, shock and shame people, and she is able to make those closest to her cry. But the little girl deep inside her still hasn’t found a direct voice. Strangled and suffocated, its muffled, frightened sound is buried beneath Miss Taylor’s I-don’t-care words and actions.
Sometimes, for a fleeting moment, in a random gesture, an unguarded word, the little girl within Elizabeth Taylor manages to emerge. Muttering over and over again to herself (don’t say it out loud, they might not love you if you do), she seems to be saying, “Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Please, please, please—leave me alone.”
But because Elizabeth Taylor, child or woman, has never been able to say this to the studio or to her mother, and because she must either try to run away from them or attempt to arouse their sympathies through her illnesses or seek to shock and shame them by her actions, she could be doomed to a never-ending child-woman existence of striking out blindly at others and hurting only herself.
Liz is in 20th’s “Cleopatra.” Her next film is M-G-M’s, “Very Important Persons.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1963
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