Lives of the Unsinkable Liz

Carrying the old stars into the new millennium

W.C. Fields described Mae West as "a plumber's dream of Cleopatra."

It was Elizabeth Taylor, though, who became the most famous, and the silliest, Cleopatra, long ago in the early '60s, in an apocalyptically awful movie that was at the time the most expensive ever made--much of the expense being run up in the care and feeding of Elizabeth Taylor and her dipsomaniacal Welsh Antony, Richard Burton.

In the actuality of Egyptian history, Cleopatra was never so violet-eyed and opulently creamy. In American popular culture, just emerging from the Eisenhower '50s, such gaudy shamelessness was still a surprise. Taylor evicted her...

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