One of the very first assignments I was given as a fledgling television field reporter was to interview eight-time Academy-Award-winning costume designer, Edith Head. This was the woman who was responsible for Audrey Hepburnʼs look in Sabrina, Grace Kelly’s style in Rear Window, and so many more incredible beauties who wound up looking even more glamorous because of Miss Headʼs extraordinary talent.
I found the diminutive but still quite austere-looking woman, dressed in her trademark tailored suit, tight bun with bangs and horn rimmed glasses backstage at Metromedia where she was currently working on a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Return Engagement. This television special was directed by Joseph Hardy, and starred Elizabeth Taylor, who portrayed a middle-aged professor of ancient history at a small California college.
Miss Head was a master of the bon mot. Considered, I believe even today, the most important and famous costume designer of all time, she was once quoted as saying, “You can have anything in life if you just dress for it.”
Grasping this idea, on the day of the interview I wore a three-piece tweed suit and low Ferragamo heels, trying desperately to look the part of a seasoned journalist. Upon being introduced, Miss Head literally looked my 5ʼ9” frame over from top to bottom, and then critiqued, “Good look for you, but needs a scarf for softness.”
To this day I ask myself – does this need a scarf?
I knew I would have only a minute thirty at most for my piece on air so I cut to the chase. “Miss Head, youʼve costumed so many glamorous women. Tell me, who was the most difficult and why?”
Without even the slightest pause she replied, “This job and Elizabeth Taylor.”
“Think about it. My job on this production is to make the most beautiful woman in the world appear to be a dowdy middle-aged college professor. Thatʼs not easy.”
Before I could say anything the door burst open and in walked, indeed, the most beautiful woman in the world. The legendary eyes? Very true. Her eyes were the most extraordinary deep lilac. Iʼve never seen anything like them before or since, and Iʼve seen many famous beauties the entire world over.
“Do you want to interview me, too?” she laughed. “Iʼm much more bawdy and fun then Edith is.”
Of course she gave me the “Edith is fabulous” quote for the story but when the camera turned off (my cue to get the hell out) she invited me to “stay here and talk with me.”
And I did. I talked with Elizabeth Taylor that day. A two way conversation. Just two women together comparing stories-only hers were colorful in every way and a lot better then mine. Cleopatra had little on this woman who had portrayed her and, I’m sure, had far fewer jewels to prove it.
When I left she kissed me on both cheeks, said she might try being a redhead someday…then laughed that famous Taylor cackle. “Live like a redhead should, honey,” was the exit line.
Throughout the subsequent years I have thought often of that day. Along with millions, I will adore Elizabeth Taylor forever. Her work with AMFAR was courageous and stemmed from a true ability to really love. To have met her was to know that she was the greatest and most valuable jewel in her collection.
She may be gone from the earth, but Iʼm damn sure sheʼs still running around somewhere, making bawdy jokes and telling it like she sees it.
Godʼs speed, most beautiful woman in the hemisphere! This world misses you.