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Elizabeth Taylor Up in the Air

For nearly all of her adult life Elizabeth Taylor traveled in style and always with piles and piles of luggage. Not very practical, but I guess it didn’t matter to her since the only bag she personally handled was maybe a makeup case or handbag. She typified Hollywood glamour, extravagance and sometimes not-so-quiet chic, traveling the world always in First Class, or in the 1950s on her private plane The Liz (with husband #3) and on her yacht The Kalizma (with husband #5 and #6). I have always been a giant Elizabeth Taylor fan, as much for her acting career as for her over-the-top lifestyle, her fearless approach to life, her generosity and her role as one of the earliest crusaders against AIDS.

Her recent passing renewed my curiosity about her life. I recently read How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William J. Mann, have studied the photographs in Architectural Digest of her Bel Air house and have re-watched some favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies. One obscure film, The V.I.P.s, is a very stylish snapshot of First Class travel in the ’60s. The drama follows a handful of privileged passengers who have been stranded by fog delays at London Heathrow for one day and one night.

The story is a little thin, but Hollywood’s portrayal of high-end travel in the early ’60s is stunning. The interiors of the BOAC Royal Lounge and even the airport hotel are luxurious and smart: coral-colored silk lampshades, grass cloth wall coverings, Scandinavian furniture, Impressionist landscapes in gilt frames, Barcelona chairs, cutout decorative motifs that surely must have inspired Jonathan Adler, silk taffeta drapes with giant brass and platinum-colored horizontal stripes. Wow. Layer the lush set decoration with Givenchy clothes, double-vented English tailored suits, skinny ties, Rod Taylor, snow leopard pillbox hats, cigarettes, Richard Burton, deeply suntanned skin and toned-down Cleopatra eyes and it is almost too much to handle. In one scene Elizabeth Taylor carries what appears to be an Hermès handbag and is served Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Product placement anyone?

For the worldly and privileged Elizabeth Taylor, this role must have been film imitating life. For a view into chic airline travel before full body scans and Chex Mix in the airport lounge, watch The V.I.P.s and weep for bygone days.


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