Elizabeth Taylor: Actress, Philanthropist, Woman, Friend

Mar 23, 2011 by

Elizabeth Taylor: Actress, Philanthropist, Woman, Friend

Elizabeth “Liz” Taylor dead at 79!!!

That headline greeted me as I awoke on Wednesday March 23, 2011. It immediately brought back memories of that wonderful lady and our short time together. She was a world renowned actress while I was a lowly journalist trying to make a living in the fledgling television news industry in Los Angeles. I was very aware of her public persona and image when I assigned myself to meet her plane. (I was Assignment Editor at KTLA Television News at the time and I had to take the assignment because I had no other reporters available.) She and Eddie Fisher had just flown home from England so she could receive further treatment for pneumonia and a throat operation undergone while filming “Cleopatra” in the U.K.

Their plane was scheduled to land at LAX in the early afternoon so my cameraman Eddie Clark and I headed to the airport in Inglewood after lunch thinking we would beat the mob of reporters that were expected to meet her. Ha, what folly! We got to the airport and joined a throng of news hungry photographers, journalists, Radio newsmen and fans. There were probably 500 people surrounding the gate where their plane was scheduled to park so she could be offloaded into a waiting ambulance and taken to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Hollywood for further treatment.

One look at the crowd and I knew it would take a super human effort to get even close enough to her to ask a question let alone get an answer. I said to Eddie, “C’mon Ed, I’ve got an idea…”

elizabeth taylorWe walked to another gate that led to the tarmac and waited away from the throng. The plane suddenly appeared taxiing up to the designated area where a line of airport police faced the waiting, screaming mob. We were fifty yards to the right of them and as the plane stopped, everyone waited for “Liz” to appear. Nothing. The doors to the plane opened and loading ramps rolled up to both the front and back doors. Everyone rushed by the police and to the front door near the cockpit. The pilot and co-pilot came out and as everyone asked them questions, Eddie Clark and I sneaked up to the back entrance to the plane and went aboard, Eddie’s camera rolling all of the time.

As we looked up the aisle we could see that there were only two people in the whole passenger compartment. I walked up to them and was amazed to see Eddie Fisher cowering in the aisle seat. He said in a throaty roar, “Stay away from us, she’s sick, can’t you see that, leave us alone…”

I answered, “Mr. Fisher I’m sorry to disturb you but I have a job to do and I will only ask a few questions then we’ll leave.”

Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the CatMiss Taylor looked at me with those amazing velvet violet eyes and said, “It’s ok, let them ask their questions and then we can get out of here…”

I didn’t hesitate and asked, “Miss Taylor, it has been reported that you have cancer. Is that true?”

She didn’t hesitate and answered testily, “No it is not true, I was operated on to relieve an obstruction from my throat, nothing more. I do not have cancer…” she said emphatically.

I asked, “What is the prognosis for your illness then and do you expect to be able to finish filming Cleopatra?”

She answered with a hoarse voice, “I am here to get well and expect to finish my contractual obligations for the film. Now I know you have a job to do, but if you don’t mind I need to get off of this airplane and to the hospital.”

I said, “Of course you do Miss Taylor and please forgive me for intruding but it is my job…”

Fisher stood up and in a menacing manner said, “It’s a lousy job, now get out of our way…”

Whereupon Elizabeth Taylor, ill and weak from her ordeal put her hand on Fisher’s arm and said, “Please, he’s just doing his job. Forgive us sir…”

Elizabeth Taylor in National VelvetI answered, “No offense taken Miss Taylor, our prayers and the prayers of the nation are for your speedy recovery…”

She smiled that smile that could illuminate an auditorium and said, “What is your name sir?”

I told her my name and she said, “Mr. Strobel, thank you for your good wishes and please tell everyone that I am a fighter and I will get well…”

With that Eddie Fisher led her to the back door and down the steps to the waiting ambulance that whisked them away from us and the other reporters who never got a glimpse of her.

The best picture from the competition that came out of that meeting was a distant shot as she and Fisher walked down the ramp and into the waiting ambulance…

Eddie Clark and I returned to KTLA with the scoop of the day…And in awe of a great lady.

Rest In Peace Miss Taylor…JWSIII

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  1. Of course, I read this John and as always a superb job of recounting your experience. I commented on Moments count Thanks for the memories!

  2. Brooke;
    For all of the fame and fortune she possessed in her lifetime I truely believe she would have made a permanent life with Richard Burton if booze and Burton’s ex hadn’t gotten in the way…Even with all of the challenges life threw at her she still responded like what she was, a STAR!!!! JWSIII

  3. My dear Eve; Thank you for those kind words about my story and especially about Elizabeth. She was an icon and will be dearly missed. I can think of no one who can ever replace her irristable looks, charm and grace. Thanks for taking the time to comment…JWSIII

  4. Dear Terri, I can’t thank you enough for that simple and yet definitive statement about my story. Elizabeth Taylor mirrored the best and the worst in all of us, I think that is why she was so adored, people were able to relate to her in their own dreamy way. Meeting her in person (there were two other times after the airport) was always a wonderful experience. Her chutzpah was amazing and she never stifled a thought if she wanted to impress you. Being in her presence was awesome. I only got that feeling with a few other people I met along the way, JFK, Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt and especially Miss Taylor…What a lady she was… Thank you again for taking the time to comment… JWSIII

  5. Terri L. Beaudin Willmott via Facebook

    Quite simple & wonderfully exquisite all at the same time! 🙂

  6. Eve forcinel

    Well John, I saw that you wrote about Elizabeth and as always anxious to read your supurb, true and amazing account of your experiences with these Icons of our memorable past. Yet again you have assuaged the Star appitite that we all have in dreaming of being up ‘close and personal’ with such famous personalities, Elizabeth Taylor being one of the most intriguing and most adored. We are sad indeed to hear of her passing but she will be with us always in our memories of her physical beauty, talent and the inner beauty of her love and kindness and bravery for her hearts causes toward humanity. We cannot forget her most radiant and beautiful Violet Eyes.. Thank you John for the tribute to our Beautiful shining Star!

  7. I would agree, Ruth. She had a very tumultuous life, even confronting spousal abuse in one of her earliest marriages. It was an intense life, intensely lived….