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June 9, 2011, 7:00 AMJAMES BARRON
At times she called the other one “someone,” as in: “By 1986-7, someone had gone to Betty Ford. Someone had lost — let’s say, 80 pounds. Someone had a new fiancé, a strapping construction worker named Larry Fortensky. Someone was friends with Michael Jackson, and someone released a perfume called Passion.”
Elizabeth Taylor was talking about Elizabeth Taylor.
This could get confusing, couldn’t it?
The Elizabeth Taylor who was doing the talking is an actress, and not the onewho died in March.
That was three years before “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” — the Elizabeth Taylor movie that Elizabeth Taylor said she admires the most.
But it’s a small world after all, so it’s not surprising that this Elizabeth Taylor’s brushes with greatness had to do with “someone.” As an usher at the Walter Kerr Theater, this Elizabeth Taylor introduced herself to Mike Nichols, who directed “someone” in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
She also did her breathiest “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Taylor” to Edward Albee, the playwright of “Virginia Woolf.” She said that he suggested a vowel change, to assert her uniqueness: “What about Tailor?”
She thought better of that idea. She had already tried Elizabeth Bennett, adopting the name from the street on which she had grown up in Long Beach, Calif. She went back to Taylor after someone — no, not “someone” — said, “Like in ‘Pride and Prejudice’?”
“I said, Oh, no,’ ” Ms. Taylor recalled. Of course the Jane Austen character was a one-T Bennet, as Mr. Darcy well knew.
Not anticipating what’s in a name seems to run in Ms. Taylor’s family. In late 1979 — when “someone” was, as Ms. Taylor put it, “married to her seventh husband, John Warner, and not happy” — Ms. Taylor’s mother was pregnant. Ms. Taylor said the story her parents told was: “My mother says: ‘What about the name? What about Elizabeth?’ My father says, ‘I have an Aunt Elizabeth on my mother’s side. It’s a beautiful name.’ ”
“In the delivery room, my Aunt Donna looks at my mother and says, ‘Now Susie, you know if you name her Elizabeth, that will make her Elizabeth Taylor.’ My mother turns to my dad and says, ‘Ron?’ He says, ‘Well, who’s going to care about Elizabeth Taylor in 20 years?’ ”
Their daughter, that’s who, but first she had to endure the snickering in school, and the snide questions about, say, Michael Jackson. She said she knew people whose names really were Jim Jones, Milton Bradley and James Carter. Not one was a cult leader, a board-game pioneer or a president.
Now here she was talking to a reporter who was supremely well qualified for this assignment. He once wrote about the “other” guy with his name. Later he invited the “other” guy to dinner with two Mike Wallaces — the “60 Minutes” correspondent and a co-author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.” Also, he has at least two colleagues who have written about same-name misadventures. (Look here and here.)
Ms. Taylor has also done some writing about being a doppelgänger. She wrote a one-person show, “Finding Elizabeth Taylor.” It is being staged as part of the Planet Connections Theater Festivity at the Gene Frankel Theater at 24 Bond Street. It opens on Wednesday. “What does it feel like to be the most beautiful woman in the world?” the press release announcing the production said. “This Elizabeth Taylor certainly doesn’t know.”
That is because she never met “someone.” She came close. The actress Camryn Manheim, a mentor of Ms. Taylor’s who calls her “a firecracker,” tried. After all, Ms. Manheim went to the same Hollywood dentist as “someone.”
So Ms. Taylor wrote a letter to “someone,” and Ms. Manheim dropped it off at the dentist’s office with careful instructions to the dentist’s receptionist: The next time “someone” came in, the receptionist was to give the note to someone’s assistant, and the assistant was to read it to someone. Aloud.
“This is Elizabeth, older, in the wheelchair,” Ms. Taylor said.
The scene played out like something from a movie. The receptionist handed over the note. The assistant read it to “someone.” Aloud.
“Someone” said, “Oh, this is lovely,’” according to what Ms. Taylor was told, “and then she went in to get her teeth checked.”
“Finding Elizabeth Taylor” mentions that “someone” had a perfume line. But it also touches on Ms. Taylor’s struggle with weight and body image, and with anorexia. In an hourlong conversation. she talked about gaining and losing and gaining the same 50 pounds before realizing that she could do well as a plus-size model. “Turns out I have the perfect size 16 body,” she said, mentioning fashion names like Elie Tahari and J. Crew.
Then she was off to another plus-size appointment in the Garment District, but not before she said she had her next solo show in mind. “It’s ‘Looking for Richard,’ or ‘Looking for My Richard,’” she said. “What do you think? I mean, they were married twice.”