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…”
We 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.”
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…”
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