Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Behind the scenes

An evening view. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Sunny and bright, yesterday in New York with temperatures in the high 50s.

Regular readers may recall that last week I went to a booksigning for photographer Firooz Zahedi and his new book “My Elizabeth.” It’s about Elizabeth Taylor (if you didn’t already know). I knew nothing about Firoooz’s relationship with Taylor except that he had photographed some of her perfume ads. I had no idea, until recently that they were “friends.” Nor did it matter.

I didn’t know Miss Taylor but I know and knew many who knew her well throughout her life since childhood. So I imagined that this book of his photographs would in some way or another repeat the fable of a movie star.
Putting on lipstick in her dressing room on the set of A Little Night Music in Vienna, Austria, August 1976.
This is an artist’s memoir. A biography of sorts; the story of Firooz Zahedi. But it’s Firooz writing about the life of Elizabeth Taylor. And Elizabeth Taylor in the life of Firooz Zahedi. A personality study. An entirely serendipitous adventure that went on for the last forty years of Taylor’s life, and affected a man for the rest of his life thereafter.

Frankly, I was expecting astonishingly beautiful images of the great star. There they are. But what I also got was an astonishingly engaging – even at times laugh-out-loud funny – story about a great movie star and a young man that is the polar opposite of the fabled “Sunset Boulevard” of William Holden and Gloria Swanson. Taylor most definitely had the last laugh, and so did those who were friends of hers.
In her dressing room of the Martin Beck Theater where she was appearing in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, 1981.
In an Iranian tribal costume, May 1976.
Rhinestone beaded jacket designed for Elizabeth by Gianni Versace in 1992. The embroidered faces are hers in some of her most famous roles.
I loved this book. Besides the beautiful photo-images of the great star but more than that there are the photographer’s candid photos of his forty year friendship with her. Good times; that was what Elizabeth (she hated being called “Liz”) always had in mind if she didn’t have to work.

In his introduction he explains that as a professional photographer and a close friend of hers, a book seemed natural and inevitable. The thought that been with him for years but something always distracted him away from the project.
At Atoka Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, 1977.
With her beloved Maltese, Sugar, in Bel Air, 1995.
At Andy Warhol's Montauk compound in June 1976. L. to r. Elizabeth, director and producer Vincent Fremont, Susan Johnson, sister Jay and Jed Johnson who was Andy's partner; Arthur Brucke, Elizabeth's hairdresser who traveled with her; artist Claudia DeMonte; producer Bob Colesberry; and Catherine Guinness.
He wrote: After Elizabeth passed away in 2011, I was encouraged to pursue it once again. This time I decided to expand on the original concept and instead share some of the stories of our friendship – illuminating her humanity and passion. Elizabeth was a great source of internal warmth and kindness. She possessed a kindheartedness that extended well beyond her great love she felt for her children and touched many others she felt were in need of some TLC. I was lucky enough to be one of those."

Click to order My Elizabeth.
At the time of her death, I grew increasingly weary of reading obituaries that spoke only of her husbands and her jewelry. I had long ago concluded that as a young woman, in order to liberate herself from the pressure imposed by her parents and the strenuous workload she was subjected to as a child actress, Elizabeth had chosen to push her lifestyle to extremes. She balanced her wild side by giving brilliant performances in several major films, from A Place in the Sun when she was only 17, to Giant  at the age of 23, and then Suddenly Last Summer when she was 27 years old.

... (she) by middle age managed to change, first by overcoming her drug and alcohol habits, and then by establishing herself as a smart, successful businesswoman whose line of perfumes which generated millions of dollars, allowed her great independence.. Rather than sit back and enjoy the comforts of her fortune, Elizabeth established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, devoting her energy, time, and money to combat the pledge that was terrorizing the world in the 1980s.

They met serendipitously in 1976 when the young Firooz was living in Washington working in the diplomatic service for his uncle Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran’s ambassador to the US. That accidental acquaintanceship led to a lifelong friendship that is this book.
Lined up for the booksigning for photographer Firooz Zahedi and his new book “My Elizabeth.”
Firooz with Margaret Russell and Tomas Maier.
Firooz and Fran Drescher.
Firooz and Pam Marks.
Firooz and Amy Fine Collins.
Fern Mallis, Kim Cattrall, Steve Miller, and Beth DeWoody.
Marc Rosen. Marcel and Svenja Ostwald.
Andrew Preston and Tomas Maier.
Christopher Mason. Debbie Bancroft.
Beth and Firooz. Bettina Zilhka.
Geoffrey Banks and Stan Herman. Lauren Ezersky and Jamie Drake.
Frederic Fekkai, Margaret Russell, and Shirin von Wulffen.
Felicia Taylor and Pamela Johananoff. Beatrice Schlumberger and Christie Ferer.
Kim Heirston and Sharon Loeb. Linda Wells.
Firooz with Bill and Ophelia Rudin. Juliana Terian.
Scott Campbell, Ken Moore, and Keith Scott.
Nina Griscom. Paul Beirne.
Simon Doonan, Kim Cattrall, and Ralph Gibson.
Richard Mishaan. Sam Cochran and Robert Stilin.
Vincent and Shelly Fremont. Scott Nelson.

Photographs by Billy Farrell Agency.

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