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Vaguely Wonderful—Elizabeth Taylor & Michael Wilding

If you had been cruising in your car on the hilltops near Beverly Hills one midnight last Spring, you would have been in for an eerie experience. From a lone ranch house nuzzling the stars on top of the highest hill you would have heard eerie strains of music. There’s nothing strange about music coming from a house at any hour of the day or night when there are people living in it! But this house was obviously empty. It was dark, the windows were opened but curtainless. No one could be living there. Yet music played.

If your curiosity was strong enough to conquer your gooseflesh you might have ventured nearer to the house. Glancing through the open windows you would have seen hand in hand, the motionless figures of a girl and a man seated on the living room floor.

Creeping still closer you would have recognized the bodies as belonging to Elizabeth and Michael Wilding . . . Their explanation would have been simple.

This was their new home and they were going to move into it presently. They had come up after work to have a look around. It was so beautiful there that Liz dropped to the floor, pulling Michael down with her. “Let’s stay awhile,” she begged. “Let’s just sit here on the floor and play music.” So they turned on the recording machine which has speakers in every room in the house and just sat there, and the music played, and the hours went by.

You might ask, “Why would anybody do a thing like that?” It’s really quite simple. Elizabeth is in love with her new house!

“Liz has very little of the housewife in her,” Michael confides. “She’s vague about household things. Forgets to order dinner. The dinner hour strikes, ‘Oh, mi-gosh,’ she groans, ‘we haven’t anything to eat!’ She has no time for, and is not interested in domestic details, that’s the whole of it. Not one to go in and whip up something in the kitchen. She never learned to cook and I have no reason to believe she’s going to learn now. Exception: She does do bacon and eggs and she thinks they are the best in the world. But she never remembers to warm the plates—result, cold eggs!

“In addition to her lack in the domestic arts which I, being fairly undomestic myself, do not consider a fault, Liz does have two genuine faults. One is being untidy; the other is being unpunctual. She hangs her things up on the floor. Any floor. She can make a room look more like a typhoon hit it than a typhoon would. Any room. It’s kind of a disease with her. So is her total inability to be on time. Her intentions are pure gold. She always starts in time, then idles, does her nails, puts a long playing record on the record player, dreams while you—and I—wait.

“She’s inclined to be rather generally vague. If I know a date has been made for us to dine or lunch, I usually check in the night before. She just forgets; it doesn’t register.

“No, not domestic, nor eye on the clock, a bit absent-minded, shall we say but as a home-lover and lover of home life, Elizabeth is second to none.

“This new home of ours is a house designed by an architect with Elizabeth in mind (he had seen her only in pictures). I heard about it when we were in Florida. As soon as we got back, I showed Elizabeth the house. Not wanting to commit myself in any way, I didn’t check with the architect or realtor, we just climbed the wall and trespassed. Liz was enchanted by the place. The architect couldn’t have built it nearer to her heart’s desire if he and she had drawn the blueprints together. It’s built on two and a half acres of land atop a cliffside so sheer you have to use a rope to get down. When Liz saw it she said, ‘This is our land!’

“The house is modern and made of buff aged-brick construction, with a shingle roof. The living room is entirely oak-paneled (with the exception of one wall, which is fieldstone) and roofed with massive oak beams. At one end the large sliding glass doors open onto the pool. The entire house is built, in fact, in a semi-circle around the pool. One of the most interesting features is the wall of solid bark planted with moss and ferns which divides the living room from the dining room.

“There are three bedrooms in the house, each with it’s own fireplace, one of which we have converted into a library. On the side of the swimming pool, opposite the house, there’s a small cottage which is our secretary’s office.

“As far as the interior decorating and furnishings go, we haven’t reached much beyond the talking stage. We haven’t had time. Ever since we bought the place, we’ve both been working every day—Liz in M-G-M’s ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris,’ with Van Johnson; I, in 20th Century-Fox’s ‘The Egyptian’ and then, with Leslie Caron, in M-G-M’s ‘The Glass Slipper.’

“It’s often said that you can spot married couples in a restaurant by the glazed expression in their eyes—I’m afraid we would be hard to spot if that’s true. Anything glazed in our eyes isn’t due to marriage. It’s due to hard work.

“But back to the house. Even in the talking stage, I can visualize the house as it will be when Liz gets through with it. She has a flair for interior decoration. In our previous house she used a periwinkle blue material, which she’d had around for ages, on the couch (Liz hangs onto things!). Two big purple chairs. One bright green chair. Vivid decor, to say the least. But now she’s going in for quieter colors. ‘The outdoors which comes indoors will supply all the color, that’s needed here,’ Liz says. Off-whites are what, I believe, she has in mind to use. Beiges, and so on.

“We’ve also done a bit of extra building, such as the car port at one end of the house which we need because we’ve taken the garage and made it into a nursery with two children’s rooms and baths. Our hope is that there will be two children (preferably more than two) to occupy them. Liz can’t wait, she says, to have more children.

“She’s a wonderful She is absolutely mad for young Michael Howard Wilding. She won’t have a nurse who is what she calls, ‘One of those nurses’—meaning, I assume, one of the real pros who believes that wherever a parent’s place may be it is not in the nursery! When we’re at home, the baby is with us and what is done with him, and for him, Liz does.

“As a mother, she’s wise, too. Strict about schedules and things. When the baby is napping she won’t wake him up no matter what VIP comes to call. His meals, his bath hour, his playtime and bedtime are on the tick—the only thing Liz does on time.

“Liz doesn’t sell discipline short, either. Now at the grabby stage, when he picks up everything in sight and makes a game of handing them to Liz, she takes it just so long, then she takes measures. But he’s a very good little boy, I must say, has Elizabeth’s eyes and my hair, poor little wretch, straight as a die! Matter of fact, he looks a bit like pictures of me at his age. He may, being very young, grow out of it.

“I think that some time in the near future Liz would like to retire. Especially if we have more children.

“ ‘Husband, home and children are purpose enough in any woman’s life,’ I’ve heard her say. ‘If she does it well.’

“As long as she is in pictures, however, Liz wants to do that well, too. Very well, indeed. She’s like that. I suspect, too, that although she pretends not to have much feeling for the career, she really has.

“Whether or not, she is certainly as casual a career girl as it is possible for a career girl to be. The star-complex is not in her. We never have any shoptalk at home. When we meet after work in the studio, or at home, we may ask ‘How did it go today?’

“Oh, all right we say—and let it go at that.

“Or if I ask Liz a question, as I do occasionally, about some especially important scene I know she’s done that day, what I get is a noncommittal, ‘Mmmm . . .’

“I’m the same. I learn my lines as well as I can and get out. Acting-wise, I’m not selfish. No altruism on my part, however, simply that I hate the camera, the proof of this being that I became famous for the back of my head! I enjoy doing the job of acting as well as I possibly can, but if I had been a better artist than I am (I used to draw for my living) I would have been very happy. I’d much rather be a good artist than a good actor.

“Acting-wise, Liz is also unselfish—completely. She’s always throwing a line, a scene, a close-up to somebody else. Elizabeth’s unselfishness, however, is rooted in finer soil than mine—in her natural generosity of spirit; in her astonishing lack of ego. The star-complex is simply not in her.

“I suppose we should both be more conscious of career than we are. Yet I’m glad we’re not. Careers, when they become too important, can foul up a marriage. If you take them in stride, don’t pay too much heed to them, ordinary living has a better chance.

“When you begin describing how pretty Liz is, it gets corny. You can’t describe her. She is beyond description. You have to see her. Yet she is seemingly unaware, certainly unselfconscious of her looks. Never carries make-up around with her. You never see her using a mirror. She was extravagant, at one time, about clothes. She isn’t now. The Finance Department has taken care of that! Besides, there are other things she wants. One of them is security. So she’s enjoying for the first time dresses, coats that don’t cost very much.

“Even so, when she’s dressed to go out if I don’t notice what she’s wearing (and I usually do) she calls my attention to it! She loves these great big hoop earrings that hang and jangle and distract you. I must say I dislike them and do a little coaxing for her to take them off.

“Around the house we both love to wear old clothes. We like to get in the car with the baby and take long drives. We both read a lot. And Liz adores all the mysteries on radio. I don’t, I like the fights. But we have just about everything else in common. Our friends are mutual friends—the Stewart Grangers, the Dick Burtons, Deborah Kerr and her husband Tony, Janie Powell and Pat, and others. We both love animals and we’ll pick up a stray anything, number of legs no consideration. Liz, as is well known, has magic with animals. She is the girl that talks to horses. Someday she hopes to raise prize horses. Life with Liz is never shared with less than five pets. We now have four dogs—all poodles—and four cats. The cats are strays. Liz loves to adopt them, especially if they’re scrawny, and build them back to health. We also have a duck. The duck lives on Elizabeth’s shoulder. When she leaves the room without him, he shrieks. The duck, when young, was put in the baby’s playpen. He has now outgrown this and is given the run of the house.

“I would hate to go on an African safari with Liz. She would literally Bring Them Back Alive—and turn the house into an informal zoo.

“We both paint, have a great interest in art and love to browse around galleries. We had a ball in Europe. We’d love to travel more than we do, but when we’re not working and can get away, we always seem to have a house to buy or a baby coming! With the result that I have never been to San Francisco, have flown across the country eight times and only know the Chicago Airport and although we’re both dying to go to the Hawaiian Islands, if only to say Aloha, and return, we haven’t been.

“A pity, too. Because whenever we do get away, it’s almost like a honeymoon. When Liz was in London, a year or so ago, making ‘Beau Brummell’ I could only stay in England briefly since I had to be in Paris. Liz came over every weekend. On the morning of her arrival I’d rush out to a restaurant, a small cafe and order the dinner, the wines. Late at night we’d go to a little place we know where they play violin music. As dawn was breaking we’d go out to Sacre Coeur to church and then to the market for onion soup.

“Temperamentally we’re very much alike, too. Both lazy. We love just sitting and playing records or watching TV. Hate big parties. Are not the athletic types. Never go winging our way around a tennis court, just fall in and out of our pool.

“Liz is not, of course, listless-lazy. There’s a sparkle about her laziness.

“Lately, we’ve been on a new kick, playing poker. Usually with the chap who built our house and his wife. But we’ll play with anyone foolish enough to sit down with us. Liz, being more crafty than I am, is the better player. But this too will pass, I daresay. And we will revert to the state of utter passivity which is Heaven to us.

“I am sentimental and, in a somewhat different way, so is Liz. Generally speaking, we’re both pretty moved by things. We both react emotionally, that is, to laughter and tears. We hang onto things, too. Old letters, clothes, odds and ends. We’re hoarders. I must admit that, though I don’t remember birthdays, anniversaries and the like. Like Mother’s Day for instance. Last Mother’s Day, Liz suggested I go out to buy a present:

“ ‘For what?’ I wanted to know.

“ ‘For Mother’s Day,’ said Liz.

“ ‘For whom?’ I asked.

“ ‘For me,’ said Liz.

“‘ ‘From whom?’ I persisted. ‘Not from me, certainly—you’re not my mother!’

“ ‘From my son’ Liz said, rather patiently considering the circumstances. ‘Who else?’

“In the present-giving department, however, I now have a good excuse: The house is costing so much, I send Liz flowers. Violets, usually. Liz loves violets. In clothes, too, shades of violet are her favorite colors. Star sapphires are her favorite jewel—but we won’t go into that!

“To me, I think the most important thing about Elizabeth is that she is very brave. Brave about actual physical things, afraid of no person and no animal, nor of any illness that may affect her person. And apart from physical dangers, illnesses and such, she is undismayed by life.

“Last year when she got a steel splinter in her eyeball and nearly lost the eye, I’d spend every noon hour at the hospital with her, take her little things, perfume and such and, with both eyes bandaged, she’d show off for me, how she could find the little gadgets in the dark, manipulate them, how it wouldn’t matter too much, even if . . .

“Liz is not only very beautiful without but brave within which gives her a very fine—a very splendid kind of beauty.

“I may be prejudiced but, they broke the mold when they made my Elizabeth.”