Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Hommage to Liz

An evening of ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in summer, 1981.

"Nureyev was expecting Elizabeth Taylor at his performance at the MET as his guest, and we had reason to believe she might try to cause a scene. It seems that he had gone to her play the night before, as her guest, but he arrived late. Quite late. Halfway through the second act. Since his seat was in the front row, he created a bit of a stir when he entered. Practically stopped the show! She had to restart her monologue. Needless to say, Liz Taylor wasn't too pleased. So there was concern that she might try the same stunt at the MET. I arranged a seat for her on the Parterre, where she could enter late without being seen. Also, I didn't want a fight with her either, and that's the only place latecomers are allowed to take their seats during the performance. The private boxes, you know..."
"Yeah, I know. Go on."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to explain the obvious. Anyway, I thought all was settled and relaxed. Sure enough, she arrived late, about thirty minutes late. She seemed a little disappointed that this caused no problem and looked around the lobby forlornly. No one was there to see her. She couldn't do her scene. And she was ready for one. She was playing Elizabeth Taylor: her famous purple mascara, bright red dress short enough to show off her knees, and an escort or two in tow. But she went on to her seat to watch the ballet."
"So what? That's nothing unusual. What's the big deal?"
"That was only the prologue. Then came the main act, during the first intermission. Finally, there were people around. The lobby was packed. Of course she could have remained in the Parterre's private lobby, where there's everything she or anybody could ever need. Except one thing: her public. So, she came bouncing out into the main lobby, and headed straight for the main entrance, looking for downstage center, obviously. Already I could hear the wave of whispers surging through the crowd: 'There's Elizabeth Taylor. Look, Elizabeth Taylor.' She glowed with glee. She had been noticed."
"Is that all? Every actor wants to be noticed. Or did she cause a hassle somehow?"
"You'll soon hear. Of course, she had passed countless members of the staff before reaching the entrance, but she strode straight up to one of the ticket-takers and asked him a question. Nothing ever flusters Nick, but whatever she said made him turn as red as her dress. The commotion among the spectators around him grew to a roar. He pointed out his superior, and she marched over to him. The same reaction, and even more commotion. On to his superior she pranced. I watched intently, because I would be the next, the final arbiter, if Michael couldn't handle her problem. Well, he couldn't, but he had sense enough to escort Miss Taylor over to me. The crowd was buzzing by now. Michael opened his mouth to explain the situation, but Miss Taylor launched into an oration in her newly acquired Southern drawl.
"'Hi, sweetie. Ain't you cute? I was wonderin'. I hope maybe you can help me. You see, I have to pee.'
"I'm sure my mouth must have fallen open, though she didn't seem to mind at all. Now I could understand the words whispered all around me in the crowd: 'Elizabeth Taylor has to pee. Elizabeth Taylor has to pee.'
"'You see, sweetie,' she continued, 'the thing is, I have to pee, and every time I pee in a public room, it causes such a hubbub. People sort of stand there and listen, like. So I have to pee, and I was wonderin' if there was some place private I could go to pee. Maybe you could take me?'
"To calm down the scene as quickly as possible, I gave Michael the keys and told him to take her to the bathroom in the executive office area. I also suggested that he then take her from there directly back to the Parterre, the back way. It worked.
"'Thanks, cutie,' she called back to me, as she followed Michael with a big grin on her face."
"What a hubbub!"
"Oh, but there's more. There's the epilogue."
"After the performance, she went backstage with Nureyev for some photos. I was there, too, of course, doing my duty. When she passed me to leave, she turned back and said, 'Sweetie, thanks for helping me pee. Listen here, do you ever get a night off?... Good, here's two tickets to my show next week. And if you have to pee, you tell them I said you could use my room. See you soon, honey. Tata!'"
He pulled the tickets out of his pocket. But Little Foxes had a hard time topping this night's show.
[excerpt from The Unspoken, by Richard Gardner, all rights reserved]


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