Dame Elizabeth Taylor, actress, died on March 23rd, aged 79
BESOTTED with her radiant beauty, men lined up to lay huge jewels at Elizabeth Taylor’s feet. Their size didn’t matter so much to her, she said. Though the Krupp diamond was 33.19 carat, flaming with life when the light shone through it, and the Taylor-Burton 69.42 carat, so big that it made Princess Margaret’s eyes start out of her head, what mattered more was the emotion that lay behind them.
So the $10,000 diamond and platinum ring that Nicky Hilton, the first of her seven husbands, presented to her in 1950 was the biggest thing that had so far happened to her, as marriage was. In the end it meant nothing, because he beat her. The ring of diamonds and sapphires from Michael Wilding, her second husband, which she rather than he steered to the correct finger, symbolised his caution; it soon became as dull as he was. Michael Todd, her third husband, gave her a Cartier set of rubies and diamonds and a $25,000 tiara, trinkets for the life of Hollywood extravagance to which he had introduced her. She wore the Cartier even barefoot under the lawn sprinkler. At this stage of her life, with Oscar nominations mounting up for her acting in raw, demanding parts, she began to feel that gorgeous ornaments—like lavish contracts—were only what she deserved.
It was Richard Burton’s jewels she treasured most, the wild spontaneity with which he gave them mirroring their explosive, unmanageable, on-again-off-again love. The Krupp came for beating her at ping-pong, the Taylor-Burton because, one night, he had insulted her hands. (He insulted her whole self, too, calling her a “fat little tart”, saying her legs were too short; she’d slap him, wrestle him on the ground, then make up, and so on and so on.) As the new rocks arrived during their two-decade Sturm und Drang she would parade them eagerly to friends, and sit at table silently adoring them while, with her free hand, she wolfed down steak-and-kidney pie.