La vera anima di Elizabeth Taylor, l'ultima grande diva di Hollywood, in una biografia intima piena di rivelazioni.
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By J. Randy Taraborrelli
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Rose Books, Inc.
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Chapter OneSara and Francis
Sara Viola Warmbrodt was born on August 21, 1896, in the mill town of Arkansas City, Kansas. For all of her time on this earth, she would be quite a character, a memorable presence not only in her daughter, Elizabeth's, life but in those of nearly every person she would touch over the years. Through it all, good times and bad, she and Elizabeth would remain inseparable. Even during times of estrangement-for they did have their disagreements-they knew to whom to turn for unwavering support: each other. "My mother was my best friend," Elizabeth would later say, "my guide, my mentor, and my constant companion." Indeed, mother and daughter were life and breath to each other, and thus it would remain until Sara's death in 1994, just one month short of her ninety-ninth birthday.
Historically, Sara has been portrayed as a negative influence on Elizabeth's life, mostly because of her steely determination to mold her daughter into a star; indeed, so-called "stage mothers" are seldom viewed in a positive light. Like many parents who encourage their children into show business, Sara had once been an entertainer. In 1922, she had changed her name to Sara Sothern after relocating to Los Angeles from Arkansas City to pursueher dream career. Her mother-Elizabeth's grandmother-was a talented singer and musician who played both piano and violin. She was very encouraging of Sara's goals and didn't mind her dropping out of high school to pursue them and also study acting in Kansas City. After appearing in a number of small productions in the Midwest, Sara found herself in Los Angeles. There, she was cast in a supporting role in a theatrical revival of Channing Pollock's The Sign on the Door. (The silent movie released a year prior had starred Norma Talmadge.) After Pollock saw her in that show, he cast her in a key role-a crippled girl, miraculously healed-in his play The Fool, based on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. The plot, a faith-healing concept, was very much in alignment with Sara's own spiritual belief as a Christian Scientist-that unwavering faith in a higher power could result in physical healing far beyond the reach and understanding of the medical profession.
The Fool first opened in Los Angeles to weak reviews but eventually made its way east to New York, where it opened on Broadway at the Times Square Theater in October 1922. There it played to full houses for nearly a year, even though the show continued to receive generally poor notices-except for Sara, who was singled out for her performance by some reviewers. She was faintly praised by the New York Times critic, who said, "In the final scene of the third act, a little cripple, well played by Sara Sothern, falls on her knees in prayer and rises to find that she can walk." When the show went to London in September 1924, Sara went with it, and caused quite a bit of pandemonium there. After the opening night, at least according to an interview Channing Pollock once gave, she even had to be extricated from a mob scene, with fans "clamoring for bits of her frock and locks of her hair as souvenirs. Later," Pollock recalled, "the Prince Royal went to her dressing room to present her with a diamond brooch the size of a belt buckle."
Margaret DeForest was the daughter of a friend of Sara's from Palm Springs, California, where Sara spent her elder years. She recalls of the Taylor matriarch, "Though she was a slight woman, Sara had a magnetic personality. People gravitated toward her, as they would one day her daughter. She was funny, smart and nobody's pushover. I knew her when she was much older, but I saw many pictures of her as a young woman. She had wonderful scrapbooks of her show business days, and loved to show them to me and my mother. She told us that Elizabeth had gathered the clippings for her, compiled them herself, and then gave her the scrapbooks one year as a birthday gift. With her dark hair and blue eyes, Sara was a real beauty. She was funny, too. She had a biting sense of humor which, sometimes, people didn't know how to take. In her later years, she used to be frustrated by Elizabeth's life. 'It seems that someone forgot to teach that young lady manners,' she used to say. Then she would add with a wink, 'And I guess that would have been me.' I loved her. I just thought she was great, I really did."
After The Sign on the Door closed, four more less successful theatrical productions in New York followed for Sara Sothern. By the time she was thirty, she began reconsidering her options. It was at just that time that Francis Taylor-a man whom she had dated only casually back in Arkansas City-came back into her life.
The handsome and charming Francis Lenn Taylor was born on December 28, 1897, also in Arkansas City, of Scotch-Irish descent. He had dropped out of high school and worked as an apprentice in an art gallery owned by his beloved, if also demanding, uncle, Howard Young, in St. Louis. When Francis turned twenty-one, his uncle gave him the opportunity to move to New York and work at a gallery Howard opened there, the Howard Young Gallery, which specialized in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European paintings.
Sarah and Francis became reacquainted one evening quite by happenstance at the El Morocco nightclub in New York. Afterward, they began to enjoy each other's company on a regular basis. She found him to be quiet and unassuming, so different in character and temperament from the many show business types she'd known in recent years. True, he didn't have the kind of spark that she usually required to stay interested in a man, but still, she couldn't help but be fascinated by him. He'd been to Europe with his uncle, had a wealth of interesting anecdotes to share about his travels, understood art and could talk about it for hours, so there was seldom a dull moment between them.
Francis Taylor was soft-spoken and easygoing. Tall and lean, with an aristocratic and refined bone structure, he had piercing blue eyes and light brown wavy hair, which was combed straight back. His was a scholarly air with his horn-rimmed glasses and natty three-piece suits, in which he always looked great. He was always dressed for presentation, never casually. He accepted life as it was and had little interest in changing things. He was whimsical and artistic in nature, not practical. Don't get the wrong impression of him, though: He wasn't exactly carefree. Quite the contrary-he was a contemplative person who often seemed uneasy and distracted. Elizabeth once said that as a young girl she would sit and stare at her father as he sat in his easy chair, his eyes closed and brow furrowed as if attempting to solve a complex, troubling problem. A gentle man, he shied away from confrontation and would do anything in his power to avoid an argument. Later in life, at the end of any conflict his fiery and decisive wife, Sara, would always be the victor. In fact, it's safe to say, at least based on the recollections of those who knew the Taylors well, that Francis never won an argument with her in their entire marriage. "She's the boss," he would say. "What she says goes, and that's fine with me." Indeed, he had great respect for Sara, thought her to be savvy and smart as well as talented, and never felt that he didn't have a place in her life. He knew his place.
Sara's zest for life had led Francis to lose all sense in her presence when he first met her. Inexplicably drawn to her, he confided to friends that he couldn't stop thinking about the ball of fire called "Sassy" by those who only spoke of her and not with her. He loved her unquenchable spirit, her joyous soul. In fact, Francis saw in Sara many qualities he had wanted for himself, such as charisma, a quick wit, and an ability to point a finger in someone's face and say-as she would quite often-"I know what the problem with you is, and here's how to fix it." It was when that finger was finally wagged in his face, as he would recall it, that he felt somehow reborn. Indeed, the first sign that he and Sara were perfect for each other was when she agreed with him about his faults. She could see right away that he lacked focus and confidence, that he thought of himself as somewhat of a social misfit. He was foggy and scattered and didn't "finish his sentences with strength," as she noted. "We can all change, darling," she would tell him, "and for you, that will prove to be a godsend." Her brash manner may have proved a sticking point for previous suitors, but Francis found it refreshing, even enlivening. He was filled with an intense inquisitiveness about her, and to be so fascinated by anyone was, for him, a unique experience.
Many people who knew Francis before he met Sara were dumbfounded by the changes they soon began to see in him. Her coaching led him to address many of his behavioral deficiencies, at least as she saw them. Under her influence, he began to walk with purpose and at a quicker pace. He shook the hand of every person he met with strength. He made firm eye contact. He spoke highly of himself to others; Sara loathed the British tradition of self-deprecating humor and wouldn't stand for it in her suitor. He took all of her advice seriously-and it worked for him. His transformation profound after just a few months, he knew he had one woman-Sara Warmbrodt-to thank for all of it. Indeed, he felt like a new man.
Francis and Sara were married in 1926. Then, after one more show in New York, The Little Spitfire, Sara Taylor made the fateful decision to leave show business.
Marrying and eventually raising children rather than having the career in show business she had originally planned was a decision Sara Taylor made for herself, not something she ever felt had been foisted upon her. "I gave up my career when I married Daddy," she once said (referring to Francis), "and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't have made me take it up again." As a Christian Scientist, she believed at a core, spiritual level that she could have her life exactly as she wanted if only she approached it with a positive and affirmative attitude. "Divine love always has met, and always will meet, every human need," she would say. Therefore, she rarely complained about her life or about her decisions. Rather, she felt empowered to handle anything that came her way, and she hoped to pass the same kind of belief system on to the children she might one day bear.
At this same time, a new branch of the Howard Young Gallery was about to open in London at 35 Old Bond Street in the heart of the British art center, and it was Howard's idea that Francis manage the new establishment. He absolutely insisted upon it, in fact, for Howard was an assertive man who almost always had his way. Francis and his new wife moved to London and settled into a suite at the luxurious Carlton Hotel, paid for, of course, by Howard Young.
Now that Sara had given up her career as an actress to be a wife, the rest of the world seemed to slip out of her view. Francis was her passion. For his part, he was just as devoted to her. While previously not a particularly effusive man, he now made an art out of romancing his wife. For instance, knowing Sara's favorite chocolatier was Fortnum and Mason, Francis would regularly stop at the high-class grocer's in search of the ultimate confection. He might surprise her with a bag of caramelized ginger, a tin of sweetmeats, or the traditional box of chocolates. He went to great lengths to show his devotion to her.
For the next two years, Francis and Sara would travel all over Europe in first-class style-London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest-thanks to Howard Young's generous underwriting of such excursions, many of which were business-related. In the process, they would traffic with the powerful and affluent of the art world and acquire from them old masters for the Young Gallery. It was a heady time, but it wasn't to last, because when Sara became pregnant at the end of 1928, the couple decided to take root in London. Howard leased a lovely nineteenth-century cottage for them at 11 Hampstead Way. With its beautifully manicured gardens and pathways and its gorgeous views of the verdant Hampstead Heath, it was an enchanted place.
In June 1929, Sara gave birth to their first child, a son named Howard (after his great-uncle). With the addition of the baby, the Taylors' home was suddenly too cramped with just two bedrooms. The couple did have a nurse, a cook, and a driver, after all. It would make sense, Sara decided, if at very least the nurse and cook could live at the house. Howard quickly accommodated her and solved the domestic problem by purchasing nearby-with cash-a larger eighteenth-century home (with Tudor and Victorian influences in its architecture) known as Heathwood, at 8 Wildwood Road, again overlooking the Heath. Delightfully landscaped with aged trees and colorful wildflowers, the redbrick home came complete with a large kitchen, stately dining and living rooms, pool and tennis court, and live-in accommodations for all of the help.
Howard was a stunning baby who, his mother once proclaimed, "looked like a Botticelli angel." He really did, with large, expressive blue eyes, wavy blond hair, and perfectly placed features. He was his daddy's boy, though. Sara believed a father and son should share a special bond. Therefore, while she was an affectionate and effective mother, she would often abdicate parental duties to Francis. It was as if she saw the raising of her firstborn as an opportunity to further shape her husband into an even fuller, more responsible man. However, such devotion to Francis's betterment would not last forever. Things would change dramatically, beginning on February 27, 1932-the day Sara gave birth to a daughter, a baby she and Francis would name Elizabeth.
Excerpted from Elizabeth by J. Randy Taraborrelli Copyright © 2006 by Rose Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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