La Liz

by Jay Nordlinger

Just wanted to jot a few notes. I never met Elizabeth Taylor, and never saw her, in the flesh. Some people I know did. Pat Buckley said she was the most beautiful woman she ever saw. And Pat saw Garbo, too. Funny story.

It was in a doctor’s office. Pat found herself staring at Garbo, a little. The actress, indignant, turned her back on Pat. Thing was, the doctor’s office was mirrored. I mean, the waiting room was. So you could see Garbo anyway. Pat said to her, “Miss Garbo, I didn’t mean to stare at you. It’s just that I have always admired your beauty.”

In my column today, I mention Paul Johnson’s new book Brief Lives — fabulous read, typically Johnsonian. There is a little portrait of Taylor. Johnson saw “Liz ’n’ Dick,” Taylor and Burton, dining at La Méditerranée in Paris. This was shortly after the two made Cleopatra. Johnson writes, “Taylor was ravishing with intense violet eyes, Burton hugely handsome, but already becoming brutish with drink.”

On another occasion, Johnson encountered Burton, who told him something about Liz’s anatomy. That is for another day, not today.

Back to Garbo. Our senior editor David Pryce-Jones knew her. She came to visit him, when he was a student at Magdalen College. Funny story. Later, he played tennis with her — topless. That is, Garbo was topless. I really look forward to P-J’s memoirs. There’s a heck of lot more where those Garbo stories came from . . .

P.S. One more thing about Elizabeth Taylor. I didn’t care for George Mitchell, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate. Didn’t care for him at all. But he said one thing that was endearing to me. I was listening to him on television — C-SPAN, probably. Years ago.

He told a story about when he was new to the Senate. The senators were pulling an all-nighter, maybe because of a filibuster — I’m not sure. Mitchell’s recollection went something like this:

“Here I had been a federal judge, accustomed to a certain style. And now I was in the Senate, having to rough it, in a way. All these senators were sleeping on cots. It was 3 in the morning or something. And I was feeling kind of sorry for myself. Then I saw John Warner, sleeping on one of those cots. And I thought, ‘Well, he could be home with Elizabeth Taylor’ [whom Warner was married to at the time]. And then I didn’t feel so sorry for myself anymore. I felt sorrier for him.”