Elizabeth Taylor was fashionably late to her own funeral last week. But an author's new book about the famously bejeweled, fabulously beautiful actress is arriving right on time.
"Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life" is the first book by Joseph Papa, a former Library of Virginia employee and society columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch who's now a publicist for HarperCollins in New York City. The book comes out April 12, and already has been named as a notable read by USA Today.
When an editor at HarperCollins proposed publishing a photo-heavy book on Taylor, Papa leaped at the chance to write it. To prepare, he watched every one of Taylor's movies in chronological order — including the 1974 oddity, "The Driver's Seat," with Andy Warhol. Papa read every Taylor biography at least twice, spoke with some of her biographers and watched her old television interviews.
Papa never got to interview Taylor (Kim Kardashian was the last to do that, he notes somewhat ruefully). If he had the chance, he says he would have loved to hear about Taylor's wild times with James Dean, Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift — "the people she never dished on." One of Papa's favorite anecdotes is about the time Taylor and Hudson, on the set of "Giant" in Texas, made chocolate martinis using hailstones as ice.
Papa never intended to write a 400-page biography, he says. "I wanted it to be just a tribute to her style, her looks, her career." And, of course, her torrid love life. Where some consider her eight marriages a joke, Papa sees them as emblematic of women's changing roles. "She married the old-fashioned way and she divorced the feminist way," he says.
Envisioned as a tribute to Taylor on her 80th birthday — Feb. 27, 2012 — the book project had to be accelerated while Taylor's health failed.
When Papa stepped out of the shower on March 23, he saw his phone lit up with 17 text messages and 40 emails. Immediately, he knew why.
"I'm sad," Papa says. "The timing, it's double-edged. I would much rather it had been her 80th birthday present than her memorial tribute."
Papa will sign books at Quirk Gallery on April 16 at 1 p.m. He'll return to Richmond May 11, when he's scheduled to speak at the Books on Broad event at the Library of Virginia at 5:30 p.m. — M.S.S.