Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption
Bloomsbury Academic, 2016
Most people go to the movies to watch characters do things they could never dream of doing themselves, let alone living with the consequences. Elizabeth Taylor behaved that way in real life; the drama she created often more outrageous than any role she ever played. In his new book, Ellis Cashmore explores the actress' effect on her public: how a life with little privacy affected her, how public life evolved throughout her lifetime and the way her bold approach to living changed the role of women in society and the way we view celebrities.
|Taylor as Cleopatra, 1963
Having spent a life in the public eye, Elizabeth Taylor never had to make the adjustment from private life to the heavy scrutiny of fame. Unlike many actresses, she was consistently in control of her own exploitation. Rather than finding it oppressive, she ensured she got maximum personal benefit from the exposure. She is also the rare star who continued to mesmerize her audience long past her screen career, and her ability to manage life in the spotlight has much to do with that enduring appeal.
|Taylor and Richard Burton
As Cashmore notes, "she was not just breaking rules; she was disputing their legitimacy." It's impossible to know how aware Taylor was of her influence, but in the screen roles she chose and the way she responded to the press, she seemed at least somewhat aware how intently people were listening and determined to make her intentions known.
The book is dense with compelling research and juicy gossip, as titillating as it is thought provoking. Sometimes the rush of facts and incidents can collapse into a confused jumble, and occasionally Cashmore goes off on bizarre tangents that derail the narrative flow, but for the most part he moves confidently through Taylor's history, the changing face of stardom and publicity, and how she influenced the nature of public life. It's an entertaining and thought-provoking read with fascinating observations about Taylor, feminism and the role of women in society in addition to its analysis of public life.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Academic for providing a copy of the book for review.