Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, 1951. (Photofest)
The closest that I ever got to meeting Elizabeth Taylor was when I was working at a chic boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street (Beantown’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive) just two years out of college. Liz was staying across the street at the Ritz-Carlton with her longtime hairdresser Jose Eber (among many other handlers, I’m sure). Jose called the store asking if we had any shoes that we thought Liz might like—and it was implied that I could bring them up to her suite(s) myself. Sadly, I didn’t actually make it past the hotel’s concierge but I was excited nonetheless to have come this close to meeting the icon herself (and, yes, she bought three pairs of Stephane Kelian high heels and she did not ask for a discount).
Joseph Papa (a publicist and writer living in New York City) never got a chance to actually meet Liz either—but that didn’t stop him from affectionately penning Elizabeth Taylor, A Passion For Life: The Wit and Wisdom of a Legend (published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins). The book (Joseph’s first) is a beautiful homage (illustrated with over 30 images) to one of the greatest Hollywood stars of all time—it provides an insightful and candid look at the legend in her very own words.
Joseph Papa. (Milan Bozic)
Wanting to hear more from Joseph (in his very own words), the Style Guyde was tickled pink to get the chance to ask him a few questions…
Quotes! Why quotes?
Because who better to give you a glimpse into Liz’s life than Liz herself? She never wrote a full-scale memoir, so her fans didn’t really have a tome in her words.
Which is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote in the book is one that hasn’t seemed to resonate with everyone else as much as it has with me. But you didn’t ask everyone else; you asked me. The quote is, “So much to do, so little done, such things to be.” Taylor often chose practicality of speech over being poetic. I think this is an exception and a beautiful and somewhat sad one.
Liz and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, 1951. (Photofest)
What surprised you about Elizabeth Taylor while writing this book? What didn't surprise you?
I was surprised by how much she disliked many of the films she made including BUtterfield 8, which won her the Oscar. I wasn’t surprise that no one—not even Debbie Reynolds—really has anything bad to say about her. She rebuilt any bridges that she burned.
What's your earliest Elizabeth Taylor memory?
As a child I watched the mini-series North and South at least once a week. It’s 12 hours long, so you can image what my social life was like. Taylor played the madame of a house of ill-repute. She knew a secret about Madeline Fabray LaMotte’s (Lesley-Anne Down) mother. This series pretty much defined my early years.
Liz and Eddie Fisher on the set of Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959. (Photofest)
Elizabeth Taylor hadn't had a significant movie role since 1977 (A Little Night Music). Why do you think the public was so fascinated with her right up until her death this past March (and beyond)?
Though she was often larger than life, there was something very accessible about Taylor. I think that despite being one of the biggest stars in the word she was always very human. The fallibility of celebrities always draws us close to them. I also don’t think it hurt that you couldn’t take your eyes of her.
Do you think in 40-plus years that people will be holding Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston in the same high regard?
I don’t know that we’ll ever have another Elizabeth Taylor. Same goes for Marilyn Monroe. They came of age when access to such beauty and talent was limited to movies theaters. Angelina Jolie might be this generation’s closest thing to an Elizabeth Taylor. Like Taylor, she’s had a very diverse career, made some really great films and had plenty of scandal. She’s also done a great deal for humanitarian efforts. Jennifer Aniston is going to have to step up her game if she wants to be in the same category.
Liz with James Dean and Rock Hudson on the set of Giant, 1956. (Photofest)
What is your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie?
It’s probably Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She’s playing so off type—it’s just haunting and brilliant.
Which "Liz" was your favorite: "Child Actor Liz," "Movie Goddess Liz," "Femme Fatale Liz," "AIDS Activist Liz," etc. ?
I’d have to say Activist Liz—and not just because of the obvious reasons. This was a great time in her life not only because of her truly tireless work for HIV/AIDS patients but also I think it was when she was the most comfortable in her own skin. That said, I would have given anything to be on the set of Giant…with her, Rock Hudson and James Dean using hail balls as ice for their martinis!
Back to the question of quotes—is there any other celebrity that could fill an entire book of quotes?
There are probably hundreds of them, but I can’t think of any who has a narrative as compelling as Taylor’s life. If only Zac Efron were more quotable.
Any thoughts for your next book?
I’d love to do a modern day etiquette book.
Liz and Richard Burton, 1965. (Photofest)
P.S. I am totally loving that you were a former society page columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I was obsessed with reading about Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley and Susan Gutfruend as kid back in the ’80s. What was that job like?
It was sadly short-lived. I got that job just a few months before moving to New York. I’ve always loved a cocktail party or a gala or any nonprofit function with passed hors d'oeuvres and getting to go and write about it…what a dream.They only let me say about 10 percent of what I wanted to, but it was still fun.
Who is your favorite living socialite and who is your favorite dead socialite?
Well, speaking of Richmond, my favorite living socialite is Richmonder Pamela Reynolds. Google Image her. She’s famous in the south (and beyond) for her positively fabulous outfits and generosity. Her clothing is unreal, original and inspired. I was honored to be able to borrow a piece from her collection for a Chinese New Year party a few years ago. It was life changing. And I’m with you on the Nan Kempner front. Anyone who can have their closet on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for four months is beyond socialite status.
Whether you are die-hard fan or just remotely interested in Elizabeth Taylor, you need a copy of Elizabeth Taylor, A Passion For Life: The Wit and Wisdom of a Legend for yourself—so, Instinct and the generous people at Harper Design are going to help make that happen.
E-mail us at
with “Elizabeth Taylor” in the subject line and tell us in 100 words or less what your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie is and why (the Style Guyde’s fave is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). The first 10 entries (with a valid e-mail, home address and telephone number) will win a copy of Elizabeth Taylor, A Passion For Life: The Wit and Wisdom of a Legend—which retails for $16.99. Only one entry/winner per household please.
For more information about other exciting titles from Harper Design, go to www.harperdesignbooks.com.