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"Elizabeth Taylor and Lindsay Lohan have a lot more in common than you think,” I tell the people who ask me about this Sunday’s hotly anticipated Lifetime movie “Liz & Dick." Indeed, since the 26-year-old troubled starlet has been chosen to portray America's most famous, most beloved actress, there has been a lot of brouhaha over her selection.
But let’s look at the many similarities between the two women before dismissing Lindsay entirely. As everyone knows, they were both childhood "stars" at 10 years old (with incredibly ambitious stage mothers -– which is not easy, let me tell you). Both mesmerized the screen and the nation, rather than being simply childhood actors waiting for parts. Eventually, both became polarizing paparazzi heroines since their early teens as the public loved to follow their every move and watched them literally grow up in the tabloids.
Both women radiate a once-in-a-lifetime iconic beauty, with huge piercing eyes and high foreheads. They both are definitely not white T-shirts and blue jeans type of girls. They are high maintenance, high fashion and high heels “girly girls.”
And while Elizabeth never succumbed to the depths of addiction Lindsay seems to have battled, she did do her stints in rehabs and battled a Demerol and alcohol addiction. The times were different then, of course. We didn’t realize that smoking and drinking were dangerous. Indeed, when I was in the hospital as a new mother in 1975 in Paris, they were serving us champagne, and I smoked cigarettes, too. All the other mothers joined right in with me. I also think it's important to note that when Elizabeth finally did do rehab, she was one of the first stars to publicly announce it, and many others followed suit (and she even came away with a husband!). That successful rehab she completed was when she was well into her forties. Another similarity: Both women have done time at the same famed Betty Ford Center in California. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take that long for Lindsay to achieve lasting sobriety once and for all.
The swinging '60s were in full play when I met Elizabeth Taylor in 1964. I was a recent graduate of the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Along with my design partner Mia Fonssagrives, we were credited with “inventing” the miniskirt in Paris. We were causing a fuss with our skirts made of leather, rising 4 inches above the knee, paired with bras made of snakeskin worn as tops capped with slippers adorned with marabou puffs for footwear.
At the time, I was dating Woody Allen whom I met on the very first film I ever costume-designed for, “What’s New Pussycat?”. I’m not ashamed to admit that my reputation at the time was as a “bad girl.” (Not a “mean girl,” mind you, but a bad one.) This was one of the reasons I developed a kinship with Taylor, who had also been behaving badly -– by society’s standards -– having stolen Eddie Fisher and then dropped him quite publicly for the debonair actor Richard Burton. At the time, Burton and Taylor were the original “Brangelina,” with a level of tabloid scrutiny that, in many ways, topped even Lindsay Lohan’s level of infamyt. Yes, Lindsay has been on the cover of all the tabloids, but has she ever been publicly condemned by the Vatican (which came out proclaiming her “erotic vagrancy”)? Now, that’s scrutiny.
Like Lindsay, Elizabeth never cared what people thought of her personal iconic style. Lindsay has fashioned herself a blonde, a raven-haired temptress and of course, what she’s known for most: being an unabashed party girl. Now Elizabeth was initially channeling Jackie-O meets Audrey Hepburn with knee-length dresses, double-stitching and very over-the-top brooches on her chest. Of course, I impacted her style dramatically when Richard Burton introduced me to Liz on the set of “Pussycat,” and he came by to chat with Peter O’Toole who formally introduced us. Richard told me that he adored the outfit I was wearing –- particularly my black lace stockings –- and proceeded to purchase one of my mini-dresses complete with the lace undergarments for his then bride of just one year. He told me, “November 4th is our one year wedding anniversary. Elizabeth presumes I find her knees quite ugly, so I want a very mini mini-dress to show off her magnificent ugly knees."
Like Lindsay, despite the public image, Elizabeth was an insecure young woman underneath all of her bluster and bravado.
Richard famously was so deeply in love with Elizabeth that he wrote in his diaries in 1968, "She is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and wilful, she is clement and loving. She is Sunday's child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her and she loves me."
At Richard’s request, I proceeded to create my dream mini for Elizabeth, which consisted of a crepe dress all in cream silk with quarter-inch pearls on the sleeve and accompanying panty hose, made of cream lace.
Now Lindsay, who has experimented with Miu Miu and Ungaro and Philipp Plein, has also been a fashion trendsetter obsessed with the leg -- with leggings taking off directly from her pushing them in her personal style (and fashion line). Lindsay has also worn my vintage dresses for red carpet events, long before she was hired to play Elizabeth.
Once Elizabeth wore the dress I created for her at Richard's request, complete with gold Chanel pumps, a photo of her and her “ugly knees” splashed across the French press, and the article in the Tribune proclaimed: “Fabulous Elizabeth Taylor wears the mini.” And so a lifelong friendship was born.
The very last dress I made for Elizabeth was a corset top in white lace, adorned with a draped jersey skirt. It was for her marriage to Larry Fortensky (and was the same dress that Martha Stewart wears in her book “Entertaining,” except Martha’s was black). This is the quintessential power-position dress for a woman.
Speaking of power and careers, another thing the two actresses had in common was their own love for designing. Why Elizabeth would sometimes actually take the pen from my hand and demand, “No, like this, Vicky.” Together the two of us even created “Elizabeth’s caftan,” which is perhaps her most iconic outfit that worked very well for a life mostly spent in and out of hotels.
One difference -– but perhaps a similarity in some way –- was the jewelry fetish. Lindsay, who infamously was suspected in a $100,000 jewelry heist, has reputation for pursuing sparkly baubles in a way that Elizabeth I’m sure could relate to. However, Elizabeth obviously never had any mix-ups with the law and received many of her gifts from Richard, who took great pride in placing the most expensive jewelry in the world on the most beautiful woman in the world.
There was also Elizabeth's outrageousness, just like Lindsay. When the two of us designed swimsuits together we created string bikinis with totally bare bottoms, and Elizabeth even personally called Harry Winston to bring us one million dollars of diamond brooches, which placed in the hot spots, like the crotch and buttocks. I can’t help but think of Lindsay’s most infamous photos of her leaving a limousine in 2009. Neither woman was a stranger to scandal or exposure, despite the extremes of the spectrum in which it happened.
Lindsay, who has been notoriously competitive with Scarlett Johansson in the past (the two vied for the same role in “The Parent Trap,” which Lindsay won, a child star victory that Elizabeth would no doubt applaud), once actually scrawled on a New York bathroom stall a naughty word about her competitor in 2005. Obviously, Liz never resorted to such amateur antics, but she did have her own rivalries. For instance, she would never wear Chanel No. 5, as this was Marilyn Monroe’s signature scent. Even she was not immune to a little healthy competition. Incidentally, Elizabeth’s favorite perfume was Bal à Versailles in a round bottle and sometimes she wore “White Shoulders” as a girl. (They still sell Bal à Versailles at Bergdorfs for anyone eager to smell the scent.)
Both stars also felt drawn to incredibly controversial figures in their personal lives. Elizabeth became friends with another man who was denied a childhood, Michael Jackson. Lindsay has had a highly documented and tumultuous relationship with her girlfriend Samantha Ronson. In that way, too, like Liz’s AIDS activism, neither woman shied away from embracing the gay and lesbian community, no matter what anyone close to them might think.
Interestingly, Elizabeth and Lindsay have both secluded and sequestered themselves from the public spotlight at times, too, with Elizabeth hiding away with Richard Burton on a yacht to escape the paparazzi in 1967. (The two were then notoriously photographed in a passionate embrace while they were both married -– to other people.) Of course today’s paparazzi hiding place is far more realistic and practical. Many shots of Lindsay today are of her simply hiding in every day life -– by holding up her purse to her face.
I have often said that Elizabeth Taylor was not just a movie star, but rather an entire galaxy of stars in one package. The energy she gave wherever she went caused people to freeze and stutter and stammer. Witness any interaction with Lindsay throughout the years, and it’s apparent that she has a magnetic, sometimes paralyzing effect on anyone who encounters her, too. Both actresses were always over the top and never gave a damn what anyone thought of them.
Earlier Elizabeth biopics bandied about the names of starlets Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman to bring the legacy of my dear friend to life. But I think that Lindsay’s fragility as a child star who broke out in a huge way in a feminist film –- both “National Velvet” and “Mean Girls” offered intelligent, brave depictions of young women fighting against stereotypes -– is fascinating and important.
As for the differences, many of them are era-specific. Elizabeth was a young woman when evening parties were at the Copacabana in New York and Ciro's in Hollywood, where women wore jewels with sumptuous gowns and men wore black tie. Lindsay is living in another century of tattoos and beaded T-shirts and leather shorts where club DJ's are stars and recreation drugs have replaced champagne.
Most importantly the biggest difference was Elizabeth married at 21 and was the mother of two baby boys at 26 (Lindsay's age today). Nowadays, marriage is delayed so woman have years to experiment and mate and have more time to develop careers that allow them to be independent from their men.
I have been asked what Elizabeth Taylor would have thought of Lindsay playing herself and my answer has been that Elizabeth was the most generous actress I ever met. She never put down another actor on set even while shooting "Boom" in Sardinia when the little person Michael Dunn (who played her bodyguard) had lost control of his two great Danes while the dogs were on leashes and dragged his body over the hills surrounding our set. Notably, dear Elizabeth never laughed like the rest of the crew. She simply ran to his aid. This was Elizabeth.
She also never batted an eye when co-stars Sophia Loren, Genevieve Bujold, Mia Farrow or Raquel Welch flirted with Richard. She purred, "He's mine.” Lindsay on the other hand, has been reported having temper tantrums in many of her romances, but judging from the TMZ culture we live in, who knows how many of these incidents are true.
Of course, the saddest similarity between the two stars is something they have in common that has occurred to them both -– except it was half a century in age difference apart. In 2006, Elizabeth took to Larry King to speak out against deathwatch rumors, saying, “Oh my God. Am I dead? Am I alive?” As many people know, Lindsay is one of the few young starlets for which it has been rumored news outlets already have a pre-written obituary. I, along with anyone who appreciate Lindsay’s talent, hope it won’t be used for many decades to come.
On a hopeful note, as Lindsay has revealed about Elizabeth being a role model to her who also went through hell in the public eye, she desperately does want to make it through. Lindsay has said: “I look to her –- because she got through it.”
Indeed, Elizabeth did. They are women from different eras, but they are perhaps not as worlds apart as media detractors might be saying. Both women suffered the weight of paparazzi in a way that is completely unimaginable to the average person.
So what advice do I think Elizabeth would give Lindsay? Well to me, this is obvious. "Get a driver," she would say. And: "Get a man who adores you and gives you diamonds.”
"Liz & Dick" premieres Sunday, Nov. 25, at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.
Vicky Tiel's memoir "It’s All About the Dress” is available through St. Martin’s Press.