Following today's sad announcement of Elizabeth Taylor's death, I went into the Strib archive and found this story, written by Jean Harmetz and published in the Variety section on March 3, 1988, on the occasion of the release of her diet and wellness book, "Elizabeth Takes Off."
I was hoping for a recipe (the book contains several dozen), but, alas, none.
Slimmed-down Liz Taylor cultivating gray, shunning extremes
Elizabeth Taylor swirled a carrot stick in a gray-colored dip made of yogurt, Roquefort cheese and spices.
In " Elizabeth Takes Off," the diet book published last month by G. P. Putnam's Sons, the actress recounts her five-year battle with fried chicken and fancy desserts, observing that her life has been perceived as black or white. At the age of 55, she said she is now trying to cultivate gray.
"My life has always been lived at the extremes," she said, "but it's fairly moderate at the moment."
Sitting at dusk in the living room of her mansion in Bel Air, Calif., Taylor looked smashing. She was wearing blue jeans and high-heeled black ankle-length boots; her black hair was delicately spiked, her mouth a heart-shaped ribbon of crimson.
After seven marriages, she said she is "enjoying being single.""I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them."
" Elizabeth Takes Off" deals with doors she did not want to open: how the beautiful violet-eyed child - a movie star at age 11 in "National Velvet" (at right) became a boozing, pill-taking, 180-pound 50-year-old woman. But the doors are only opened partway. The alcohol and pills are discreetly left untouched.
"I was almost 50 when for the first time in my life I lost my sense of self-worth," she writes of her "gluttonous rampage." She was lonely and bored; she felt that her husband, John W. Warner, a Republican U.S. Senator from Virginia, didn't need her. Nibbling on raw zucchini, she said: "We hadn't been married to each other long enough for him to go off and get married to the Senate. Always before, I had had work. I couldn't stay in bed."
At the worst moment of her life, when her husband Mike Todd died in an airplane crash, she had had "children to raise, work to do, and I had to stay alive." But in Washington, she said, "I was in a house with books, a television set and two maids who loved to spoil me. And no friends."
When she reached 180 pounds she stopped weighing herself, but she didn't start dieting.
"I was searching for a replacement for all the things that were making me lonely," she said, then added, "But I don't want to get too specific. My privacy is mine to protect. The media try to take everything away from you, but you don't have to give it away."
She shudders at the idea of writing an autobiography.
"The past is past. Doing an autobiography would bring up so many toads and worms and snakes and horrors."
The present holds no such creatures of the night. At Christmas, Taylor returned from Italy where she starred as a Russian opera singer in a new movie about the life of Arturo Toscanini. The director, Franco Zefferelli, insisted that she gain 10 pounds to play the role.
"At first I said, `No, absolutely not.' But in 1875, women were very ample." "Ample is so much nicer a word than fat," she continued with a laugh, displaying her healthy sense of self-mockery. "I tried on some of the costumes from museums, and I would have looked like Twiggy."
She agreed to Zefferelli's request and went from 122 pounds to 132 by eating exquisite Italian food while on location, including mozarella cheese made from cream. This time, however, gaining weight did not mean a loss of self-worth, she said, "because I knew I would lose the weight again."
Taylor began her diet in 1982 after she stood naked in front of a full-length mirror. Several months later and thirty pounds lighter, she turned to the theater, starring in "The Little Foxes."
"Losing 30 pounds to go on Broadway was my first attempt at survival," she said. But she gained the weight back
during a disastrous tour in Noel Coward's "Private Lives," in which she starred opposite her ex-husband Richard Burton.
"When I had pneumonia and the play closed down for two days, he went off and got married," she said; the pain in her voice seemed fresh. She had been sober on stage, but a bottle of Jack Daniel's whisky was waiting in her dressing room. She stared out at the lights of Los Angeles, visible beyond her kidney-shaped swimming pool.
The room smelled of cinnamon bark, and her 3-year-old grandson, Andrew Wilding, ran around in red corduroy pants. Her son Christopher Wilding, Andrew and his brother, Caleb, 5, are staying in the rambling 10,000-foot house, which Taylor bought a few years ago.
"It took me a couple of weeks of being at the Betty Ford Center to realize I was an alcoholic, because I never got drunk," she said. "I could drink enormous quantities of booze, because I have the constitution of a horse."
Her children bullied her into entering the center, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., which treats people with drug and alcohol dependency. She said she lost "11 pounds of bloat" and, after leaving the clinic, gained back "15 pounds of solid fat."
"I craved the sugar the alcohol had been supplying," she said. "I'm not an elitist. I ate Mars bars, Snickers and Godiva chocolates. At the center, they don't encourage you to diet or give up smoking or stop drinking coffee; only to get off the addictions that brought you there. I got myself cleaned up inside, but my outsides didn't match my insides. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, `I have the wrong slipcover on.' "
She waited three months - "to make sure my addiction to booze was over" - before starting to diet again. Although her book recommends sane and sensible dieting over a long period, she lost 60 pounds in about two months.
"For somebody like me who is obsessive, it's amazing I was never a gambler," she said. "I could have become anorexic. I got to a size 4 and said, `Why not a size 2?' Then I slapped myself and went from 118 to 122, which is the right weight for me."
Her eyes are as luminous as ever.
"I really do hope that the book helps people," she said. On her way out to dinner, she paused and added, "But maintaining your weight is the pits!"
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