Elizabeth Taylor’s Dress

Sometimes we see our craziness only in retrospect. Ah, hell, not sometimes. Pretty much always; I mean, if we realized how off kilter we were at the time, we’d probably tame our wilder impulses.

Right, Britney?

My most recent crazy decision occurred in mid-December, when I agreed to teach a class this upcoming semester that is entirely new to my pedagogical repertoire: English Literature: 18th Century to the Present. Sure, it trips off the tongue nicely and all–but the truth is that I haven’t even thought about this stuff (things like the Romantic poets, the Victorians, the poets of World War I) for 22 years, since I was a freshman in college. And even then? When I was still impressionable and unformed and sopping up the world?

I didn’t so much like it. In fact, I trace my longstanding poetry ambivalence to that year, when I found myself worn out with trying to parse meaning out of meter. In the intervening years, I’ve amused myself by reading everything but Good English Major works.

So now I find myself, crazily, spending my winter break between semesters trying to reteach myself a ton of material that I never mastered, even way back when Reagan was president. Hence, I’m in a tizzy. A panic. A whirlwind of lyrical ballads and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writings about the abolition of the slave trade and Marxist manifestos and me pulling my armhairs out with a tweezers.

In short, even though a part of me is glad that I get to meet all of these authors again from a point of more maturity, I’m gasping a bit.

And isn’t it at just such moments that friends kick in? As I plot how to stay just one damn day ahead of my students this semester, I find relief: my pal Jim (known in the comments section of this blog as iJim) has stepped up as guest blogger for me this week so that I can begin to ferret out the mysteries of the attraction between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Although the jury is out on the Brownings, I yuv Jim.

While he lived in Duluth for the last three years (serving as my dean, no less!), he now has moved to hotter, drier, sexier (if a culture NOT based on fleece clothing can ever be sexy) climes in Southern California. His two guest posts, starting with the one below, give us a peek into his current Gilded Age:

“Elizabeth Taylor’s Dress”

I have been a fan of Elizabeth Taylor for about 20 years. That’s a comparatively short time for a gay man in his forties. But when I was growing up, Elizabeth Taylor was an old woman with her best work behind her. Who’s this and what’s all the fuss about? I wondered. After all, I was born in 1964, and ET is two years older than my mother.

My views changed around 1985 when I saw the film of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer. I thought the movie was dreadful, but ET was gorgeous. I understood her appeal then. Later, I saw ET’s other major Williams screen role, as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and I was hooked.

By 1990, I was a graduate student, studying Williams’s plays, and I wanted to write a paper about ET and her relationship to the gay community. The paper would note her friendships with Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson but would focus on ET’s identification with Williams’s screen heroines. I would focus on imagery and iconography, and there was no image more powerful to me than Elizabeth Taylor wearing a white dress with Paul Newman in the background. It wasn’t the slip she sauntered around in, by the way. I never wrote the paper, but I did come up with a good title: “Elizabeth Taylor’s Dress.”

My fascination has ebbed and flowed over the years as ET has limited her film and television appearances, introduced fragrances and jewelry, and become the first lady of AIDS fundraising and activism. For her 75th birthday last year (February 27), I threw a party at my home in Duluth, asking guests to contribute money to AmFar, which ET helped found in 1985. (Okay, so the birthday and fundraising were tie-ins; the party was for me and my friends.)

Then I moved to southern California, and I figured it was only a matter of time before I was able to meet Elizabeth in person. After all, I’d been visiting LA for years and had a social network there. I had met or at least seen many celebrities on my visits. (Assistant Director Skinner IS hot. Who knew?)

So I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was offered a ticket to see Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones in a one-time-only performance of Love Letters on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2007. A friend of a friend—okay, a fabulously wealthy friend of a very thoughtful friend—had an extra ticket: Tom invited Chris, and Chris deferred to me. Score!

Next: “The Night Elizabeth Taylor Didn’t Kiss Me”

This is Jim, our guest blogger. He took this photo with his cell phone after he got a new haircut and I begged him for a glimpse. I am glad he lives in California now, or else he’d come to my house right now for posting this photo and shove his cell phone down my throat. And then he’d have the temerity to ask me to make him a martini.






33 responses to “Elizabeth Taylor’s Dress”

  1. oreneta Avatar

    Hi Jim, nice haircut! As for ET, what do you think about her in Cleopatra? Jocelyn, this should be a fun semester, do you have a curriculum from previous years so you know what to read up on or are you coming up with that as well????

    Good luck, should be exciting.

  2. Jocelyn Avatar

    Hey, Oroneta–

    I have no curriculum for this new class…no previous years of teaching it to draw from (this has never phased me in the past, but something about this particular material has got me thinking, “How WILL we fill the class periods?”).

    In comparison, I’m positively looking foward to the dry work required in my Research Writing sections.

    That’s a sad, sad day.

  3. liv Avatar

    Wow. This was a great day to make a first visit to the land of Crisis (es?)! Loved Jim’s post and can’t wait to read part deux.

  4. Claire Avatar

    Well good luck with that Jocelyn. I’m sure you will know how to make it interesting!
    Liz Taylor had a timeless beauty and those eyes! They are a most unusual shade. The camera loved her.

  5. susan Avatar

    Ugh…I never got into poetry. Maybe I should see if it’s any better to me in my um…mature state. 🙂

    Jim, nice to “meet” you. I can’t wait to find out what happened.

  6. Glamourpuss Avatar

    Yes, I only recently ‘got’ ET. Does that make me a friend of Dorothy, too?

    J – good luck with the course.


  7. Franki Avatar


    Lovely to meet you. I would still be interested in reading about the gay community’s ties to ET…and Liza, and Dorothy, and Barbara. I’ve always been curious.


    I was getting ready to send you a photo of myself, but I don’t think so! 😉

  8. chelle Avatar

    Good luck with your class prep, I am so excited that my husband has arrived at his own craziness and scrambling to prepare for his first semester teaching!

    I fell hard for Marylin Monroe at one point then I witnessed Elizabeth … truly amazing.

  9. Her Grace Avatar
    Her Grace

    Welcome, Jim! Can’t wait to read more.

    Jocelyn…good luck!

  10. Karen MEG Avatar
    Karen MEG

    Good luck with the new course, Jocelyn. I’m sure you’ll be fab. Now hit the books!

    And hello Jim! I can easily understand the fascination with ET. And she was breathtakingly gorgeous when she was young. Breathtaking. Nice haircut, BTW.

  11. lime Avatar

    as an antidote to the poets you are not so fond of may i prescribe regular doses of dorothy parker and ogden nash?

    nice to meet you jim. i think you should forgive jocelyn the posting of your picture but she still ought to provide you with a martini for your services.

  12. jen Avatar

    jim’s cute. and you. look how smart you are – i’d never be able to pull something like that off and yet in weeks, you will. you are.

    you smarty, you.

  13. Claudia Avatar

    When I was born, (1970, though you can’t tell anyone or I might be forced to get Ninja on someone) my mother claims I had blue/violet eyes ‘Like Elizabeth Taylor’. Hand to God, she tells this story to ANYONE who will listen. So you can imagine, anytime I saw ET I would run to the TV screen, press my face against it and try to see what she meant. The fact that I have green eyes, aside. 😉

    They don’t make DIVAs like they used, that’s all I have to say.

  14. August Avatar

    I salute you for taking on the Victorians and Romantic Poets. Maybe now they’ll find some tiny place in your heart. Maybe not, but hell, you gave it a whirl. Unfortunately it is because of this period that most people hate poetry.

    I’m a lifetime fan of Maggie the Cat. I once wore a slip-dress an entire summer as a silent homage. Only gay men got the message.

    P.S. Jim’s a cutie.


  15. furiousBall Avatar

    Liz Taylor in her prime… there was no prettier woman (well except my daughter, but that’s not fair).

  16. Em Avatar

    Wow, that’s the class that almost made me change my minor from English to Roller Skating. Or anything! Best of luck!!

  17. CS Avatar

    Oh man, you gave us a guest blogger who wrote a cliff-hanger! And now I will have to wait to find out why Elizabteh Taylor didn’t kiss him!

    By the way, when I was a senior in HS we had to read Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and I have to say it was the only time in my life when I felt suicidal.

  18. ana Avatar

    Nice haircut. and a great post, waiting for part two.

  19. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    Buh. I have so little knowledge of poetry I can’t even cobble together a good, sarcastic comment.

    As for ET … did Michael Jackson show up at the show? And was this Tom guy short? With a fake girlfriend? Sputtering on about Dianetics?

  20. choochoo Avatar

    I used to wanna be Elizabeth Taylor when I was a kid. I’m very grateful to my mum for not letting me out of the house with my eyebrows painted black…

  21. Dave Avatar

    Now that’s what a call DEDICATED!!! LOL A guest blogger … That’s a first for me. Classy and professional I might add. 😉

    Your experience reminds me of when I started teaching grade 11 advanced math … At that time I couldn’t even remember grade 9 general math! Finally got the hang of it and pulled it off just in time for Semester one to start. You can do it Jocelyn! 🙂

  22. Mary Avatar

    Jim: You look adorable! And now I have a new blog to envy.

  23. Voyager Avatar

    18th century to the present? Ambitious or crazy? Either way, you rock!

  24. Diana Avatar

    ET was breathtaking, was she not?

    Skinner has always been hot.

    Looks like we agree at least two important things. Terribly nice to meet you.

    (J- very good luck and WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING–ruining your break like that. You are the one who needs a martini. That and a lobotomy–can’t hurt, might help.)

  25. My Reflecting Pool Avatar
    My Reflecting Pool

    Hi Jim! I have always adored ET too. My fave was her in Butterfield 8.

    I barely eked out of the poetry section in Eng 102. I couldn’t tell you a pentameter from a hairdryer. I’m glad you can make rhyme to reason, I couldn’t.

  26. Shari Avatar

    Joceyln-I am sure you will figure out something to add to the cirriculum for your new class. Maybe a skit? Make the class write poems or a short story with a theme from those days.

    Jim-Nice debut. ET. I had to re-read your post. I thought ET came out in 1982-2 years older than your mom?-oh, Liz T. Okay. Got it. She’s got violet eyes.

    That must have been fun to see her LIVE in action. Cool.

  27. charlotta-love Avatar

    Thanks for the encouraging words on my post. Now that the first day is over, I feel MUCH better about this whole “going back to school” bit. My professor didn’t seem so nervous. Hopefully your first day goes just as well. :o)

  28. Diesel Avatar

    I’m completely tonedeaf when it comes to poetry. Liz Taylor was a babe back in the day.

    That’s as close as I can come to an insightful comment right now.

  29. actonbell Avatar

    1. That’s a very nice picture, Jim!
    2. How nice of you to do guest-writing service for a friend. You sound like a great guy.
    3. Jocelyn, I kinda envy your studying. I wish I’d majored in English. Of course, not having a precedent, or template for a curriculum, is stressful, but somehow,I know you’ll be great.
    4. I never noticed that her initials were ET, LOL! I loved Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

  30. Claudia Avatar

    You know, can I add that I feel a little LITTLE bit bad for Britney? 🙁

  31. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    Oooohhhh… a cliffhanger.
    (I’ll wait a few minutes before scrolling up to get the full suspense effect)

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