Monday, February 22, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Up Close and Very Personal With La Liz

La Liz in repose. Photograph by Firooz Zahedi.
by Liz Smith

"My Elizabeth" — Up Close and Very Personal With La Liz, by her friend, Firooz Zahedi.  Also: The Strand Bookstore and BookHampton — Places in the heart of book-lovers.

"MARC ANTONY, you come before me as a suppliant."
"If you choose to regard me as such."
"I do! Therefore you will assume the position of a suppliant before this throne; you will kneel."
"I will what?"
"On. Your. Knees."
"You dare ask the pro-counsel of Rome ..."
"I asked it of Julius Caesar. I demand it of you!"

"On. Your. Knees."
So it went between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in a little movie titled "Cleopatra" that was supposed to chronicle the life of Egypt's last queen, but was really All About Liz. (Director Joseph Mankiewicz fashioned a script that paid homage to Taylor's already royal life as a movie star and femme fatale, and one which was also eerily prescient in the matter of the Taylor/Burton romance and eventual marriage.)

On Saturday, February 27th, Elizabeth Taylor would have celebrated her 84th birthday (She died March 23, 2011.) And although she is gone, we all remain her suppliants, gladly.

Coming any second from Glitterati Incorporated is photographer Firooz Zahedi's lavish and loving "My Elizabeth," packed with gorgeous, mostly never-seen photos of La Liz, along with a series of essays by Firooz about his long friendship with Taylor. (They met in 1976, while Taylor dallied with Firooz's uncle, Ardeshir Zahedi, the ambassador to Iran.) Firooz's tales and pictures reveal a great deal about the personal, intimate, side of Taylor. That bawdy, earthy, generous woman her friends and family adored.
Glamour Liz.. Photograph by Firooz Zahedi.
Liz with The Lincoln Monument! Photograph by Firooz Zahedi.
Taylor knew how to "play" the movie queen, for those who expected that, but the real woman was quite a different plate of bangers and mash. (Or fried chicken, which she is shown cooking up at home in Virginia, during her marriage to John Warner.) Firooz has done his friend proud with this affectionate and often quite amusing, peek behind the near-mythological Legend of Liz. We get glamour Liz ... candid, camping-it-up Liz ... brunette and blonde Liz ... shaved-head Liz (brain surgery!) ... Liz busting a few dance moves ... Liz in Iran, Montauk, New York, Washington, Cannes, L.A. ... Liz with presidents ... Liz with pets ... Liz with grandchildren ... Liz with Christmas trees ... Liz with The Lincoln Monument!
Liz in Iran. Photograph by Firooz Zahedi.
Liz Aid. Photograph by Firooz Zahedi.
The book contains a letter from Elizabeth about the images (Firooz was working on the project at the time of her death), a foreword by Bob Colacello and a preface by our fearless leader, Liz Smith, who knew ET very well.

On February 24th, Christie's will sponsor an auction at Spago in L.A., benefiting The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Firooz will donate a limited edition of 5 portfolios, consisting of 10 portraits of Elizabeth. Bruce Weber is offering a rare portrait of David Bowie. Others goodies will also be up for high-bidders.
Actor Joseph Bottoms, her co-star in "Return Engagement," and Bottoms' father. Photograph by Firooz Zahedi, 1978.
On February 28th, Firooz will be joined by Kate Burton (Richard's daughter, and ET's stepchild) and director Charles Shyer at the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a conversation about Taylor, also a slideshow and a book signing.

On March 3rd, Zahedi will be back in New York autographing his tribute at the Tomas Maier store on Madison Avenue, and he'll do it again on March 5th at Leila Heller gallery in Chelsea. People magazine is also doing a big spread on "My Elizabeth." As well they should. Taylor appeared on People's cover about 14 times, bested only by Princess Diana.
Maybe when the photos and home movies and letters of Taylor's childhood friend Roddy McDowall are finally released, Firooz Zahedi's book might be bested. Until then, "My Elizabeth" is a rare, touching, genuinely felt collection of memories and pictures of a rare and shining star — who was also the most human of human beings. (A woman who finally found a great cause that put her enduring fame in perspective, especially to the lady herself. Taylor could never quite grasp why she remained famous. When AIDS swept the world, when nobody seemed to care, she looked at her fame and said, "Yes, now I see why!" And then she got to work.)

P.S. All of Zahedi's proceeds from his book will be donated to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
Click to pre-order Firooz Zahedi's "My Elizabeth."
LET'S talk more about books. Readers who like to read from an actual book despair at the number of bookstores folding. But many people in publishing tell me bookstores are coming back.

I hope so. But for book-mad Manhattanites there is always the marvelous Strand, the epic spot at Broadway and 12th Street run by the Bass family. Here, you can browse, finding rare treasures — a perfect gift for the person who doesn't need anything. The Strand has special books in spades. And all the best sellers and everything else readable at realistic prices. Frankly, if I hadn't had the Strand in my life, I couldn't have worked effectively for the past 45 years.
Strand owners Fred and Nancy Bass.
I was delighted when a friend who lives in East Hampton year-round brought me a new "thriller" from BookHampton on East Hampton's Main Street.

I wish the people who saturate the Hamptons of Long Island in the summer would give a thought to this wonderful bookstore, which will ship anywhere. Its phone number is 631-324-4939 and they are online, too: This place has much to offer and is always threatening to close.
BookHampton in East Hampton.
James, the dearly beloved resident cat at BookHampton, who went to cat heaven last year.
So, I opened a new mystery/thriller suggested by friends who are doing all they can for BookHampton.

I approached Matt Marinovich's "The Winter Girl" with anticipation because the mise en scene is Bridgehampton, right in the middle of all the Hamptons, where I spent so many happy times for so many years, with my beloved friend, Lee Bailey.

Click to order "The Winter Girl."
I read "The Winter Girl" to the end. It is full of dastardly characters that are hard to care about. (Quotes extolling the book appear on the back cover, comparing it to James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith.) The protagonist, a failed wedding photographer, and his wife, are wintering in the Hamptons, waiting for a rich, horrid father to die. The characters break the law in ways that are unattractively criminal. (As opposed to attractively criminal — it can happen, especially in fiction!)

I leave the dénouement to the reader if they care to persevere. I was a bit disappointed, myself. I guess when you're expecting James M. Cain ...

However, if you like thoughtless characters behaving at their worst, maybe you'll appreciate it. (After all, I do understand that one doesn't have to like the characters in a book or movie or a TV show, for the work itself to be good or at least interesting. Perhaps it was my mood, the day I read it? Was I looking for more relatable "bad" people?!)

Anyway, I hope BookHampton continues to be unique and successful. We must all support bookstores everywhere.
What should be an everyday occurrence at BookHampton.
Contact Liz here.