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24 Frames per Second
The Star With the Violet Eyes: Elizabeth Taylor in LPA Cinema Series
Noted always for her beauty, sometimes for her acting, and equally frequently for her scandalous romances and charitable acts, Elizabeth Taylor was the epitome of a star right up to her passing earlier this year at age 79.
Over an eight-part salute in July and August, LPA Cinema Series traces Taylor's career from MGM child actress to Hollywood icon. Along the way, the series offers generous helpings of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Shakespeare, and Agatha Christie, but the focus is always on the star, whose luster was only enhanced by numerous marriages and near-death experiences. All of the films in "The Star With the Violet Eyes: A Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor" will be held Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. in the Bruno Walter Auditorium of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center. Admission to all programs is free and on a first come, first served basis.
The series opens Tuesday, July 12, 2011 with National Velvet, starring a 12-year-old Taylor as Velvet Brown, an English girl who enters her steed Pie in the Grand National race. Mickey Rooney co-stars as the jockey who trains Pie in this beloved 1944 MGM adaptation of Enid Bagnold's novel, directed by Clarence Brown. On July 19, Father of the Bride features the actress as Ellie Banks, the young betrothed whose nuptials drive father Stanley (a great Spencer Tracy) to distraction and beyond. Vincente Minnelli directed the 1950 comedy, which is far better thing than the 1991 remake. As Taylor proved eight times in real life, she did indeed make a beautiful bride.
A Place in the Sun, screening July 26, presents Taylor in her first truly adult role. She plays Angela Vickers, the love object of social climber George Eastman (Montgomery Clift); Shelley Winters is the pregnant working-class girlfriend who gets thrown over (and not just figuratively). This free adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy won six Oscars in 1951, including one for director George Stevens.
Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof provided the vehicle for one of Taylor's most iconic performances in Richard Brooks' 1958 movie version, screening August 2. The material is watered down, but the actress, slinking around in perhaps cinema's most memorable white slip as Maggie the Cat, is decidedly not. Paul Newman is Maggie's indifferent, alcoholic husband Brick, while Burl Ives has a roaring good time repeating his stage role of Big Daddy.
Taylor didn't think much of BUtterfield 8 (showing August 9), her last film under contract to MGM in 1960. But her performance as model / call girl Gloria Wandrous famously won her the Best Actress Oscar just a month after an emergency tracheotomy saved the pneumonia-stricken star's life. In this Daniel Mann-directed adaptation of the John O'Hara novel, Laurence Harvey plays the wealthy married man Taylor's character dallies with, and then-husband Eddie Fisher takes on a supporting role.
Once Taylor met Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra, of course, Fisher was left in the dust. The traveling alcohol, diamond, and tabloid act that was Taylor and Burton did also result in a number of movies, none more acclaimed or popular than Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, screening August 16. Edward Albee's groundbreaking play about battling couple George and Martha became a groundbreaking movie in Mike Nichols's 1966 version, bursting the Production Code's bounds of appropriate language and behavior. Taylor, who was in her early 30s, packed on the pounds and the deglamorizing makeup to play the 50-something Martha, and won her second Oscar in the process. Up next for Taylor and Burton, and almost as popular, was Franco Zeffirelli's bawdy and extremely colorful movie version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Taylor is the shrewish Kate and Burton does the taming as Petruchio in this 1967 comedy, which screens August 23. (Those who can't get enough of the original super-couple might want to check out Furious Love, the latest book about them.)
"The Star With the Violet Eyes" ends Tuesday, August 30 with The Mirror Crack'd, a 1980 version (directed by Guy Hamilton) of Agatha Christie's mystery. Angela Lansbury, warming up for Murder, She Wrote, plays Miss Marple, and the rest of the cast is like a last-gasp gathering of old Hollywood, including Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Taylor, who plays movie star Marina Rudd. Of course she does.