I almost felt intimidated into believing I had an obligation to write about a subject that has had me yawning a lot lately: Libya. In fact, Libya has made it to my exclusive remote-control mute list, which consists of people and subjects that are so boring, so stupid, or so distasteful to me that I hit the mute button as soon as they appear on my TV screen. On “The O’Reilly Factor,” for example, I instantly mute out Alan Colmes, Bernard Goldberg and the so-called body language expert, Tonya Reiman.
That said, I thought I’d give you a little relief from the Moammar Gadhafi saga and share some personal memories with you.
How well I remember when I first fell in love. I was but a boy; she was a woman … the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her name was Liz. I first met her in “A Place in the Sun,” where my competition was Montgomery Clift. When it came to daydreaming, Elizabeth Taylor was the person you wanted in your dream. The romance lasted several years, until I met …
Natalie, in “Rebel without a Cause,” where my competition was James Dean. Natalie Wood was wholesomely beautiful, but she was very different from Liz. She was the girl next door, maybe the one in Neil Sedaka’s “Next Door to an Angel.” I was sure there would never be anyone to take her place, until I met …
Ina, in “From the Terrace,” where my competition got much steeper – Paul Newman! Ina Balin had a soft, sweet beauty about her that words could not describe. The closing scene in “From the Terrace,” where she and Newman walk toward each other on stepping stones across a small creek, then clasp hands at the last second to keep from falling in the water, is one of the great endings in movie history. In case you’re a hopeless romantic, here’s a short clip that includes that final scene.
Liz, Natalie and Ina … what a threesome. My puppy loves gave me the right mindset, because I ended up marrying someone even more beautiful than all three of them – and, to boot, she’s the kindest, warmest, most giving person in the world. So, thanks Liz, Natalie and Ina for embellishing my good taste in women.
It was another time, another world. But all that’s changed now. Natalie Wood died in a tragic drowning accident in 1981 at age 43. Ina Balin died in 1990 at age 52. Two cinema beauties whose lives were snuffed out much too soon. Which left only Liz on the list of all the girls I’ve loved before.
But last week, as the whole world now knows, Elizabeth Taylor made her final exit at age 79. A bit ironic, because one would have guessed that she would have been the first on the list to go, given her tragic life – eight marriages, drug abuse and alcohol addiction, and numerous major illnesses. And also a strange life – from her unlikely friendship with Michael Jackson to her 1991 marriage to construction worker Larry Fortensky, who was 21 years her junior.
Elizabeth Taylor’s death took me down memory lane, reminding me that all of my competitors are also long gone. James Dean died in a car accident at the tender age of 25, before “Rebel Without a Cause” or “Giant” (the last two of his three films) were even released. Montgomery Clift died in 1966, at age 46, of a suspected drug overdose.
But Paul Newman, an old-line liberal whom I respected for actually putting his money where his mouth was by giving millions of dollars to charity, made it to 83. Interestingly, in addition to his heart-thumping film with Ina Balin, Newman also played Elizabeth Taylor’s husband in the steamy screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
All this got me to thinking about how sad it is that over the past few decades the United States has been fundamentally transformed in virtually all aspects of life. In case you’re too young to have been there, let me tell you: Yesterday was better. There was no political correctness, no rap “music,” no sanctuary cities. Life was delightfully predictable. Love them or hate them, there were certitudes, and everyone knew exactly what they were.
What’s so interesting about films is that they depict the evolution (or devolution) of a country. In the good old days, movies were all about story line and acting. It was the most natural thing in the world for a kid to surrender his heart to Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, or Ina Balin, because brilliantly written scripts and equally brilliant acting had a way of grabbing you.
I don’t watch many new films, because most of them are nothing more than excuses for putting shock product in theaters, kind of like stocking supermarket shelves with canned goods. No plot – just a lot of cars crashing, explosions and fire, violence, obscene language and explicit sex scenes that don’t give you the opportunity to use your imagination. And even classics like “Titanic” and “Avatar” come with built-in liberal messages that soil their plots.
So who are the Liz Taylors, Natalie Woods and Ina Balins of today? Angelina Jolie? Julia Roberts? Halle Berry? Trust me, they’re not in the same class with all the girls I’ve loved before. If these are the heartthrobs of today’s young boys, it’s no wonder they die their hair orange, wear earrings, listen to rap and play violent video games hours on end.
So here’s to the Golden Age of Film and the Golden Age of America. Sorry if you weren’t around to catch it all. You would have had to have been there to appreciate it.
And here’s to my first childhood sweetheart. It was a long and painful road that you took to get home, but you finally made it. May you rest in peace, Liz … and, by the way, thanks for the memories.