Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

In 1992, David Isaacs and I wrote the episode of CHEERS where Cliff writes a joke that gets on THE TONIGHT SHOW.  Miraculously, Johnny Carson agreed to do it.  The plan was to tape our segments on the TONIGHT SHOW set following a taping.  The audience was invited to just stick around and I don't think a single member left. 

You're saying, "Yeah yeah, isn't this supposed to be about Elizabeth Taylor?  This isn't one of those posts where you try to sucker us into buying your book?"  No.  Ms. Taylor is coming.  Hang on. 

David was out of town that night so I went alone, making myself available for any last-minute rewrites.  Before the taping I introduced myself to Mr. Carson and offered to make any changes he felt necessary.  He said, "No, this is fine.  I'll do it just like this."   I could have kissed him.

"Elizabeth Taylor?  Where's Elizabeth Taylor?"

Okay, okay!  I'm getting to that.

During the taping I was escorted into the Green Room, and there, sitting alone, was -- you guessed it -- Elizabeth Taylor.   She was a guest that night.

I didn't know what to do.  This wasn't just a movie star, this was Hollywood Royalty.  It's like, what's the correct procedure for addressing the queen? 

She must've sensed my discomfort because she said hello to me.  I sat down and tentively began a conversation.  I broke the ice by saying my father starred in a movie with her?   Well... not exactly "starred".   My dad was an extra one day on NATIONAL VELVET.   She laughed and within minutes we were chatting like friends.  Elizabeth Taylor could not have been more charming and disarming.  And funny.   She talked about her recent birthday party held at Disneyland.  The woman could tell a story.   I was enthralled.  It was an almost out-of-body experience.  I couldn't stop thinking, "What the hell am I doing here with ELIZABETH TAYLOR?"

Moments later it was time for her to go on the show.  We said goodbye, and I never saw her again.  That's it.  Not much of a story really.  Just one brief encounter.  But over the next few days I'm sure you'll see and hear many tributes to this true show business legend.  I just want you to know she was also a kick.  


Elspeth Antonelli said...

Thanks for this! I had a friend who was a guest on the yacht she and Burton owned. My friend always said no picture did justice to Elizabeth Taylor's beauty and she loved a good laugh (and a good drink!).


This has got nothing to do with Elizabeth Taylor, except on a peripheral bumping into a legend level, so apologies in advance...

I stood behind Diana Ross in the customs queue at Bologna airport once. She was tiny, kind of freakish looking [this was 1995, by the way] and whined. A lot.

She reads Marie Claire, but that's not much of an endorsement bearing in mind all the above.

Phillip B said...

Juxtaposed with your other post on funerals, this seems even more touching.

What a great thing to say - that because she was here, everyone's life was better - if only just a bit..

Anita Bonita said...

Miss Taylor, God rest her beautiful soul, had that effect on people. I first heard the story of my uncle riding up in an elevator with her -- and almost having to turn away from the force of her beauty -- sometime in the mid-1960's. I just found out yesterday that it actually had happened well before I was born (and at Loew's in the Bronx, no less). She truly was the melody that lingered on.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

That is a pretty cool story. I wish I had a unique experience like that one.

Anonymous said...

My ten-year-old niece has a small part in an A-list movie playing the daughter of the lead actor. She would love to become a professional actress. She has an agent. Do you have any advice for her?

James Miller

rc said...

Ken many years ago when I was a young ABC announcer doing dancer band remotes form the Palm Terrace Room, Beverly Hills Hotel I met Lizbeth Taylor and Nicky Hilton. I would announcer a number and stand on the dance floor next to the guests tables. Taylor and Hilton would come in often this was before they were married. One evening Elizabeth asked if I would like to sit at their table rather then stand during Phil Ohman's long medleys which he wrote all those terrible songs.
She was very beautiful and soft spoken Hilton was very pleasant. They came in often sat at the same table always said hello and asked after the broadcast if I would join them for a drink, Thank You but I am now off to the Coconut Grove for another broadcast.

Mike Barer said...

Neat story.

Janet T said...

ahh Ken- you've lived such a charmed life

Anonymous said...

Ken, we were passing each other in the halls. That was the only time she ever did The Tonight Show. That night she was wearing a kind of biker/studded jacket. She was with Larry Fortensky and Jose Eber. Michael Douglas was the only other guest that night. He was there to plug "Radio Flyer".

Anyway, Michael was supposed to go on first but he insisted that Elizabeth be first chair on the show. I thought that was cool.

Afterward I was standing on the stage floor as people were milling about when I heard, "And who might you be?"

There, was Elizabeth Taylor with those violet eyes shaking my hand.

I was a mere 25 at the time so you can imagine how mind blowing that was.

Mark Bennett

Mac said...

That's a very cool tribute.

Anonymous said...

This would go with your is this funny comedy sketches from Friends and Honeymooners. How many people here haven't seen an Elizabeth Taylor movie?

Jeff C. said...

Stumbled upon your blog, Really enjoy reading it. I'll be checking in often. Thanks,

John Alfenito said...

Funny how the true super-stars are often very nice people...even when they don't have to be.
Great story, Ken.

Rick said...

As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, I will always remember the kind and lovely comment Elizabeth Taylor released the night of Audrey's death about her passing:

"Tonight God has the most beautiful new angel."

This week He does again, Elizabeth.
(I mean, if He existed...)

analee said...

What a nice experience... you're always a great writer.

Naz said...

Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story.

Rest in peace Elizabeth.

VP81955 said...

As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, I will always remember the kind and lovely comment Elizabeth Taylor released the night of Audrey's death about her passing:

"Tonight God has the most beautiful new angel."

This week He does again, Elizabeth.
(I mean, if He existed...)

At the very least, the lady in my avatar has a new (and welcome) afterlife neighbor at the Great Mausoleum neighborhood of Forest Lawn Glendale, to accompany Gable, Harlow, Thalberg, etc. I'm sure Carole and Liz's ghosts are exchanging some bawdy jokes even as we speak.

wv: "reers" -- where everybody knows your posterior.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to her for standing up for Israel. She condemned the anti-Zionism resolution at the UN way back in 1975.

Jeff said...

Roger Ebert got two chances to talk to her, and was so starstruck that he couldn't bring himself to do so. Way to go, Ken.

Mary Stella said...

Not much of a story really. Just one brief encounter.

Not much of a story? You gave us more of a sense of the heart of the woman in a snapshot than most of the overblown, dramatic tributes will accomplish.

Thanks, Ken.

George Vreeland Hill said...

Always loved Elizabeth.
Thank you.

George Vreeland Hill