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Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was willing to do almost anything to get her seventh husband, Virginia lawyer John Warner, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To woo voters and the Republican Party leaders, Elizabeth had to prove to be an asset to the campaign. She had to make the transformation from movie queen to political wife. (Readers: For how they got together, read the previous post.)

During their brief courtship, Warner was given cause to worry that she could not make the leap. He recalled inviting Elizabeth to lunch with him in Washington, D.C.. Looking forward to showing her off, he was embarrassed when she appeared at the Bicentennial office (where he was director)

wearing a flowing black silk pajama outfit with a low-cut neckline.” (1)

Then there were her showy jewels, for example, an “eye-popping necklace of…egg-sized canary diamonds and amethysts as big as her fist.” Elizabeth promised her husband she would dress down, cutting down on the diamonds and the décolletage, opulence that would not go over big with plain Southern Virginia folk.

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor's famous jewels: the Bulgari Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels: the Bulgari Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

Besides sacrificing her fashion sense, Elizabeth would set her career aside during this period, appearing in only a handful of films and, then, mostly in cameo roles, requiring only a short stint away from the campaign.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Then there were her friends of the moment, the hard-partying, cocaine-sniffing crowd of the notorious New York disco Studio 54: Liza Minnelli, fashion designer Halston, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger. Warner steered her away from hanging out with them at the club (although she did install a discotheque at the farm for entertaining them).

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Self-restraint, too, was called into play, if Elizabeth was going to help Warner hit a home run, for Elizabeth was a hot-blooded woman, prone to hard-drinking, cursing, and screaming at photographers trying to shoot her from uncomplimentary angles.

In January, 1977, weeks after returning from honeymooning in Switzerland, Elizabeth and John hit the campaign trail with an appearance at the Hearts of Gold Ball in Richmond, which they reached by Greyhound bus. From here on out, for Elizabeth, it would be a 23-month slog of kissing babies, speechifying, ribbon-cutting, riding in parades, chairing galas, raising funds, eating corn-on-the cob at county fairs, signing autographs, hurling cream pies, and pinning Warner buttons on Democrats. If a college campus had a drama department, she held a seminar for the students and allowed friendly question and answer sessions, unscripted, with no retakes, to which she was accustomed on a movie set. Toward the end of the race, she and Warner put in 12-15 hour days, riding in planes, buses, cars, and trains to reach their destinations.

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to see Elizabeth, accessible to them, no longer protected by bodyguards, as  in her movie stardom days. She shook so many hands that, one day, two blood vessels broke in her hand. That did not slow her down. She continued to shake hands, though her hand was swollen and protected by an elastic bandage. Elizabeth’s bursitis flared up in her shoulder from such rigorous handshaking. She received cortisone injections to help with the pain. Sometimes she campaigned in a wheelchair. But she kept going. She did it because

‘They come to see my wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t disappoint them, do I?’ she laughed. ‘This face has been around a lot of years. People want to see if my eyes really are violet or bloodshot or both. Once they check me out, they can go home and say, ‘I saw Liz Taylor and you know what? She ain’t so hot!'” (1)

At almost every campaign stop, Elizabeth Taylor look-alikes would show up, in big wigs and evening gowns.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people who showed up at rallies came to see if Elizabeth was as obese as it was being reported in the press. The strain of the campaign was beginning to take its toll on her. Her weight had ballooned and she was drinking booze in excess and eating way too much. Joan Rivers was regularly lampooning her with fat jokes on  “The Tonight Show“:

Every time Liz Taylor goes into McDonald’s, the numbers on the sign outside start changing. When she looks up and see five billion, she thinks it’s her weight.”

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

Elizabeth was affected by such cruel commentary. Nevertheless, she continued eating and drinking herself into oblivion. Dinner guests reported seeing her eat, in one sitting, mounds of mashed potatoes drowned in gravy, followed by five rich desserts and countless bottles of champagne. (2) In her defense, she remarked:

‘I am not a monument that pigeons can doo-doo on. I am a living human being, and if I want to eat fried chicken six times a day and can still function, that’s up to me!'” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. June 2, 1978

In August, 1978, John Warner became the Republic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, when the original nominee was suddenly killed.

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain's funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain’s funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

The general election was on November 7; there were three months to go. The strain of the long and grueling campaign trail was apparent in both of them; tempers frayed and Elizabeth kept eating, eating, and then eating some more. Some campaign leaders worried that Elizabeth’s star appeal was overshadowing the candidate. They considered removing her from the campaign.

On October 12, 1978, three weeks before the election, Elizabeth was to suffer one of the many freak accidents for which she was known. She appeared at a rally at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The whole countryside was in a dither to see her.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her purple silk Halston pantsuit accessorized with a sumptuous gold necklace studded with amethyst stones the size of cookies and matching drop earrings encrusted with pearls. She had tucked a small bouquet of fresh violets behind one ear. She posed for photo after photo with a smile that was genuine.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978. Note the purple Halston pantsuit Elizabeth is wearing.

Later that evening, John and Elizabeth stopped for a chicken dinner at Fraley’s Coach House, where Elizabeth took a bite of a fried chicken breast and accidentally swallowed a two-and-a-half inch bone. The bone lodged in her throat. She clutched her neck, barely able to breathe. She tried to cough it up, but in vain. She stuffed some rolls into her mouth to try to push the bone down her throat but it didn’t work. It was clear that she was choking to death. (3) She was rushed to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where a thoracic surgeon inserted a rubber hose down her throat and stuffed the bone down where it dissolved in digestion. She was overnight in the hospital. The next day, she made the headlines:

‘ACTRESS NEARLY CHOKES AT CAMPAIGN RALLY,’ screamed The Washington Star.

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted from an airplane by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Strangely, it was about this time that a delegation of women who ran the Warner campaign chose to approach Elizabeth and inform her that she could no longer wear purple to John’s rallies. Everyone knows that purple was her signature color. Her legendary eyes were violet. In a 1997 interview with Kevin Sessums, Elizabeth recalled:

‘If the woman is the politician, then it might be quite different. But if you’re wedded to the politician, it’s like your lips are sealed. You are a robot. They even tell you what you can wear. You can imagine how that sat with me! I was told that I—me!—was not allowed to wear purple because it smacked of royalty.’ 

She told Harper’s Bazaar:

‘The Republican women told me, ‘You simply cannot wear the purple pantsuit you’ve been campaigning in anymore.’ I ended up in a tweed suit. Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.'”

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va.  Oct. 26, 1978.

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va. Oct. 26, 1978.

On November 7, John Warner squeaked to victory. Out of 1.2 million votes, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia by only 4,271 votes.  He could not have done it without Elizabeth. Some say that the chicken bone incident moved the public to sympathy for her, swinging the vote in Warner’s favor. Elizabeth joked later

‘I seem to have at least 4, 271 fans in Virginia, so at least I know I pulled my own weight!'” (2)

After the election, the Republican women threw Elizabeth a luncheon in her honor, for all she had done in the campaign. In her Kevin Sessums interview, Elizabeth said she

…put on my purplest Halston pantsuit. I told them the story that the women who ran John Warner’s campaign had forbid me to wear purple. I got up and pointed out one specific woman. I said, ‘That one! Right there!'”

The subjugation of her own ego to John’s for two full years damaged Elizabeth’s self-esteem. There were few movie roles for an aging beauty, especially a puffy one. Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, had lost her self-identity.

John and Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C., where, on January 16, 1979 in the gallery of the U.S. Senate, John was sworn in with Elizabeth and her mother in attendance. Things looked rosy for the couple at that moment. John and Elizabeth threw each other big Hollywood kisses, but John immediately became consumed by his new job, declaring he would never miss a roll call. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time in their Washington home or Virginia farmhouse, consoling herself with massive quantities of Jack Daniels and chili dogs. She resorted to trips to New York to hang out at Studio 54. Elizabeth liked to have a man around and John wasn’t there for her. Whereas John may have loved Elizabeth, he loved work more.

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth had married John Warner in the hopes that he would give her the roots (and a private life) that she had longed for so much in her hurried life. Instead, she had spent the first two years of their marriage on the campaign trail and in the public eye more than before, if that is possible. Her life was more stressful than ever. As a star, she was used to crushingly cruel movie reviews but nothing could have been as brutal as the punishing ridicule she had received from the media for her weight gain.

Though these years were painful for Elizabeth – she and John Warner would divorce after six years of marriage – her worsening addiction to alcohol, pain pills and food would put her feet firmly on a path that led, in 1983, to a life-changing stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. A new Elizabeth Taylor would emerge from the famous rehab: a savvy and respected politician who would use her high profile celebrity to raise mega millions to combat the deadly disease, AIDS, by creating AMFAR.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth Taylor. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1995.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth – insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is moving ahead with plans to change succession laws so that if Will and Kate have a daughter, she will be able to ascend to the throne. Under existing rules, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‘s first child is a girl but their second child is a boy, the son would pass over his sister and inherit the throne. Cameron wrote,

We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life, and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public officer we continue to enshrine male superiority.”

Read more at People.

For more on this blog about Will & Kate, click here.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, took a preview tour of Buckingham Palace’s royal wedding exhibit on Friday. 

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her grandmother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, are on their way to view Buckingham Palace's royal wedding exhibit, July 22, 2011. Uncharacterically, the Queen is not carrying her trusty handbag.

The Royal Collection show, called “The Royal Wedding Dress: A Story of Great British Design,” opened to the public today. It brings together the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen white and ivory Irish lace wedding dress, shoes, tiara, earrings, and a replica bouquet for the public to view up close.

Among the items displayed at the Queen's London residence include the Cartier Halo tiara, worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day. The understated headpiece was made in 1936 and purchased by the Duke of York (later King George VI) for his wife, Elizabeth's mother (also Elizabeth). Queen Elizabeth received it as an 18th-birthday present, at which time she was Princess Elizabeth. The delicate diamond tiara was lent to Kate by the Queen.

The Palace expects over 500,000 people to buy tickets to the ten-week exhibit. Both at home and abroad, Prince William and Kate are wildly popular, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly warm reception they received earlier this summer on their 2011 Royal Tour of Canada with a detour to Hollywood.

Kate Middleton's bridal shoes will be on display at Buckingham Palace this summer. Custom made by Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton to match her wedding dress, Kate's elegant pumps are made of ivory duchesse satin with lace hand-embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

Kate and William’s wedding cake was a fruit cake designed by Fiona Cairns. It was covered in cream and white icing, decorated with over 900 sugar paste flowers and elaborate scrollwork. Fiona Cairns’ cakes are in huge demand; Sir Paul McCartney orders one every Christmas.

Kate designed her wedding cake to match its surroundings. She took into account that her wedding reception was to be held in the Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace. The room has high ceilings so she chose a cake that towered but was not too tall or thin. She wanted something with presence. Architectural elements in the room, for instance, garlands on the walls, were reproduced loosely on the fourth tier piping: roses, acorns, ivy leaves, apple blossom and bridal roses. The cakemaker would not reveal her exact recipe but did disclose that she used a range of produce from dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas to walnuts, cherries, grated oranges and lemon, French brandy and free-range eggs and flour to create her historic confection.

Of course, the centerpiece of the exhibit was Kate’s wedding dress and veil. An ongoing tradition, viewing royal wedding gowns has wide public appeal. For instance, Princess Diana‘s 1981 Elizabeth Emanuel wedding gown continues to be viewed and is currently part of a travelling exhibition. 

Kate and the Queen view Kate's wedding gown display in Buckingham Palace. July 20, 2011.

Upon viewing the installation of Kate’s wedding dress and veil, the Queen was heard to exclaim, 

“Horrid, isn’t it? Horrid and dreadful!”

 

The Queen is not amused.

The ivory and white Alexander McQueen gown is displayed in a dark and gloomy fashion with the veil and tiara hovering eerily above. 

The Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown is displayed without a mannequin.

It appeared the mannequin’s lack of a head may have upset the Queen.

Source: HuffStyle 

Readers: For more on Lisa’s History Room about the British Royal Family, click here.

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Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, braved temperatures in the nineties as they continue their Royal Tour of Canada at a stop in Ottawa. Kate wore a striking red hat adorned with the Canadian maple leaf as well as a brooch loaned from the Queen. In his speech, Prince William referred to his grandmother as the “Queen of Canada.” Queen Elizabeth II remains Canada’s head-of-state.Prince William waves to the Ottawa crowd as Catherine steps out in a striking red hat adorned with red maple leaves, a symbol found on the Canadian flag. July 2011  

Kate flashes a smile as we get a close-up of her red hot fascinator by Sylvia Fletcher for Lock and Co.

Kate wears a family heirloom loaned to her by Queen Elizabeth II: a diamond brooch of a maple leaf, Canada's national emblem.

Queen Elizabeth II wore the maple brooch when she toured Canada 60 years earlier, in 1951.

The flag of Canada features a red, 11-tipped maple leaf against a white field, flanked by vertical red bands. Canada is a federal state that is governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. It is a bilingual nation with both English and French as official languages at the federal level.

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family here on Lisa’s History Room, click here

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Landing in Ottawa, Canada, Prince William and Catherine begin the Royal Tour of 2011, their first tour as husband and wife.

Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are in Canada today, the first leg of the Royal Tour 2011 of North America. For more, click here.

For more about the British Royal Family on this blog, Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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This week's current Newsweek cover featuring a fantasy image of what Princess Diana, had she lived, might have looked like at age 50. The image has sparked tremendous backlash.

The Daily Beast has provided a photo gallery of Princess Diana over the years. Had she lived, she would have turned 50 today, July 1, 2011: “Princess Diana’s 50th Birthday.”

Newsweek’s Tina Brown has written a really strange futuristic look at what Diana might have been like at 50: “Diana at 50.”

For other posts on Diana on this blog, Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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