“THE LAST GREAT STAR” ON MARRIAGE, PERFUME AND THE SMALL SCREEN.
Byline: Dana Wood, February 1996
Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky professes she’s positively lousy at selling herself.
On Monday night, “the last great star” will waft through no fewer than four CBS sitcoms, including “The Nanny” and “Murphy Brown.” The basic plot: Taylor’s precious black pearl necklace has been confiscated, and it won’t make its way back to its violet-eyed owner before two full hours of laugh-a-minute television have come and gone. And while it was the network that suggested the initial story line, Taylor quickly twisted the situation to her own advantage.
“CBS suggested a running theme through their Monday comedy shows, which was supposed to be a theft of my jewelry,” says Taylor, in an interview with WWD, leaning gingerly against a mountain of pillows in the living room of her Bel Air home. “But I suggested that it be a theft of the black pearl necklace that I’m going to New York to do a photo shoot with.
“That way, I could get a plug in for Black Pearls — in prime time,” she adds, all but salivating over that last bit. “And it’s appearing during sweeps week, too.”
All this from a woman who says, “I’m a really good con artist and salesman for AIDS, but when it comes to selling myself and my product, it’s like, ‘Oh, do I have to?’ And the answer is, yes, I do have to.”
After the controversy surrounding the launch of Black Pearls, her latest fragrance venture, it’s hardly surprising that the 63-year-old actress, AIDS activist and perfume purveyor is champing at the bit for some well-orchestrated hoopla. Especially since the press has been so eager to attribute the Black Pearls delay to Taylor’s recent personal woes, namely a hip replacement and a separation and pending divorce from her seventh husband, construction worker and fellow Betty Ford alum Larry Fortensky.
But for once, just once, in her wild ride of a life, Taylor’s inner maelstrom didn’t have anything to do with throwing a multimillion-dollar project off course.
“I can’t go into all the details because it was so convoluted,” Taylor says of the aborted debut, which is back on track for spring. “There were so many ceo’s [at Elizabeth Arden, which make’s Taylor’s perfumes] coming and going. It was a real, defined mess.”
After the installation of a new ceo at Arden, Peter England, and much smoothing of ruffled feathers — including Taylor’s — the Black Pearls launch is slated for a full-scale unveiling in April, beginning with a seven-city store tour that will kick off at Macy’s Herald Square.
Taylor is fully aware of her contribution to Arden’s bottom line, both the hits and misses, and is willing to go the distance when the situation calls for it. Anyone who doubts that clearly wasn’t within a 10-mile radius of Sotheby’s on a certain steamy afternoon last June. Clutching Sugar, her beloved snow-white Maltese, with one hand, and longtime publicist Chen Sam with the other, Taylor attempted to mingle with a select group of beauty editors who had gathered at the auction house for a tea in her honor.
Having dislocated her hip performing aqua-aerobics in her swimming pool, Taylor had thrown caution to the wind and flown to New York anyway. But once there, inside the upstairs antechamber bedecked with cases and cases of sumptuous black pearls, Taylor faltered. Visibly shaken, beaded with perspiration and unable to even sit comfortably without several seat cushions piled atop her chair, it was a wholly unpretty picture.
“I can’t believe I did that,” she recalls now. “That was probably one of the dumbest things I have ever done. I don’t know why I did it. I guess I didn’t want to let Kim [Delsing, then Arden’s ceo] down. And I didn’t want to feel like a cripple. It was as if I’d made this rebellious last fling.
On a recent cloudy California day, however, Taylor was in high spirits. Padding around her cozy digs in a velour caftan and tiny leather slippers, she was chatty and warm.
As for all the catty jokes and cynicism attached to any Taylor marriage, she says simply, “I can’t live my life for what other people say.”
But for every skeptic, there are still, after all these years, plenty of fans who wish Taylor well. “It’s very sweet,” she says. “Maybe I’ve been around so long that people expect me to survive. And I guess they must want me to survive. My life has had so many ups and downs that sometimes it takes even my breath away.”