Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor is written by C. David Heymann and tells the life story of the smoldering actress, said to be the last of the iconic actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The title claims that it is an intimate biography and the book lives up to that promise. Elizabeth Taylor had a number of husbands over her life and many romances. These are all detailed here, including details about the sizes of various lovers’ organs, and although it doesn’t go into explicit detail it is quite salacious and at times it threatens to veer into tawdriness. The focus on this book is on her relationships with various men through the years, although I was hoping for more of a balance with her work.
I think if you want to know about Elizabeth Taylor the actress then this might not be the book for you. It doesn’t go into great detail on her films, they are merely passing events that happen around her relationships. Even Cleopatra, one of the most ambitious films in history, is only given a brief overview.
There’s a fair amount of detail about her childhood and relationship with her parents, although as the book continues her parents are barely mentioned. But the book is largely taken up with a breathless run through of her lovers, with barely a pause in between. It’s interesting to get the behind the scenes gossip, but I do think there was too much emphasis given on the details (not that I’m a prude by any means, but they soon became repetitive). It also touches on her love of jewelry, her activism with promoting the awareness of AIDS and her later years, along with her dependency on drugs and her weight fluctuations.
It was an easy read and Heymann captures the different relationships, suggesting why they did or didn’t work and what proved to be their undoing. I do think it was light on insight about what made Elizabeth Taylor tick though. By the end of reading it I don’t feel that I know her much better than I did going in. I certainly know more about her life and her relationships, but she seems to be a simply ordinary person that had fame thrust upon her. In the end the book is basically about a famous woman who slept with a lot of men. Other than that there didn’t seem to be much to her life, and she doesn’t come across as a particularly nice person either (as even the AIDS stuff only comes in the last couple of chapters).
Heymann maintained an objective stance throughout however, and perhaps it’s just that the subject didn’t offer him much scope. I did like when it touched on Taylor’s opinions of herself and her standing in Hollywood, for example when she showed her jealously of Marilyn Monroe. I would have liked to have seen more of that in the book because as it stands, from reading the book, I wouldn’t understand why she is such an icon and has such an iconic status as an actress.
The last couple of chapters are sparse too. The back of the blurb mentions that it will reveal the truth about her relationships and friendships with people like Rock Hudson, James Dean, Montgomery Clift etc, but I imagine a lot of people will also buy this book to learn about her friendship with a more modern icon – Michael Jackson. However, her friendship with him is contained to the last couple of chapters as well and this last portion of the book feels rushed and crammed in.
Overall I think it’s a decent biography. I certainly know a lot more about Elizabeth Taylor than I did going in, but I do think it could have looked a little deeper and focused more on her work. It feels objective and well-researched so I can’t fault it on that, so I think if you were like me before I read this and you don’t know that much about Elizabeth Taylor this is a good book, if you are already a fan and you want to get deeper into her psyche then this probably won’t offer anything new to you.