Farwell to a screen legend

March 25, 2011 – This week we said goodbye to one the most glamorous Hollywood stars ever when Elizabeth Taylor was buried on Thursday.

The actress, who passed away Wednesday at age 79 from congestive heart failure, was famous for her striking beauty, stunning violet eyes and many marriages. Her life off-screen was often just as compelling as the roles she played, but she said her proudest role was that of an AIDS outreach activist, a cause she took on in the mid 80’s when the subject was taboo, and after her close friend, Rock Hudson, became the first known celebrity victim of the disease.

Taylor began acting at age 10 and made 70 films. While I can’t claim to have seen them all, in her honor, I’ve compiled a top five list of my favorites from those that I have enjoyed:

5. BUtterfield 8: Taylor plays part-time model and full-time call girl in this 1960 movie, which was probably considered quite racy at the time. It was the first movie I can remember seeing as a kid that didn’t have the typical Hollywood “happily ever after” ending. The juicy role earned Taylor her fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination, and her first win.

4. Father of the Bride: Who better to play a sweet bride-to-be in a fun, family style comedy than the lovely Taylor? The 1950 film has a strong cast, including the terrific Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett (who will always be Elizabeth Collins from Dark Shadows to me). The updated Steve Martin version may be funnier, but the original does an excellent job of tugging at the heartstrings.

3. Little Women: I love this story and I’ll watch any version of it on film, whether it’s from 1933, 1949 or 1994. In the 1949 version, Taylor plays Amy, the youngest of the March sisters. She looks a bit strange as a blond, but still beautiful, and when she had to show the character’s spoiled and selfish side, Taylor almost reminds me of another great, yet superficial heroine, Scarlett O’Hara.

2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: I watched this gem for the first time in February, during Turner Classic Movie’s 31 Days of Oscar salute, and I don’t know where I’ve been all of it’s life. The performances of Taylor and Richard Burton more than astounded me, playing a bitter, self-destructive middle-aged couple that psychologically torture each other for fun and games. The 1966 movie takes place during one drunken evening, and highlights Taylor’s acting ability to the nines, and rightly earned her a second Oscar for Best Actress.

1. A Place in the Sun: It may not be Taylor’s best performance, especially after seeing her in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it’s my favorite Taylor movie by far. In the 1951 classic, she plays the wealthy and innocent Angela Vickers, who falls in love with a blue collar man from the wrong side of the tracks, played by the wonderful Montgomery Clift, who steals this movie. His character is far from perfect — he will do anything to stay with the lovely Angela, even plot murder — and he has me cheering for him all the way.

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