As mentioned yesterday, Elizabeth Taylor’s career was nothing if not multifaceted. And in terms of her movies, one of the most interesting facets is that nice little costume drama called Cleopatra.
The movie was, in fact, a hugely expensive production nightmare that brought low at least one major studio and set other dubious records. It’s worth taking another look at today since a production of its scope and sheer dumbwitted audacity is not likely to duplicated anytime soon.
But first, take a peek at today’s answers to our Monday Quiz about Taylor as Cleopatra. For the questions, just scroll down to yesterday’s blog. (Our questions and answers are indebted to David Kamp’s exhaustive article about the film published in Vanity Fair’s 1998 Hollywood edition.)
1) Answer: Theda Bara starred in the 1917 silent version; Claudette Colbert toplined Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 edition; while Vivien Leigh costarred with Claude Rains in the 1946 screen adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Caesar and Cleopatra.
2) Answer: b) True. Cleopatra cost $44 million to make, a humongous sum for a movie in 1963. In today’s dollars, that works out to nearly $350 million — at least.
3) Answer: c) Taylor had broken up the marriage of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which the general press considered at the time “idyllic.” She was severely taken to task as a home wrecker.
4) Answer: b) Rouben Mamoulian. Joseph L. Mankiewicz took over and finished the production. He is the director of record.
5) Answer: c) $1 million. That was more at the time than any other actress had ever been paid for one movie.
6) Answer: d) Taylor first saw Cleopatra at a London screening a few weeks after the movie’s New York City premier. She sat stoicly through the unspooling, and then hurried back to her room at the Dorchester Hotel. That is where she threw up.
7) Question: c) After “Asian flu” morphed into pneumonia, she slipped into a comatose condition in March of 1961, and was rushed to a London clinic. Doctors saved her life by performing an emergency tracheotomy. “I was pronounced dead four times,” Taylor later declared.
8) Question: b) Richard Burton was hired after Marlon Brando proved unavailable. Twentieth Century Fox brass complained; “he doesn’t mean a thing at the box office.” Director Mankiewicz lobbied hard for Burton, however, and the actor won the role. His salary was $250,000.
9) Question: a) As author Kamp wrote, it took “two Fox regimes, and two and a half years of stop-start filmmaking in England, Italy, Egypt, and Spain to get the damned thing done.”
10) Question: b and c). Cleopatra’s New York opening occasioned the pulling out of all stops in the ballyhoo department. The event was televised nationally via a live remote on the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Director Mankiewicz flummoxed interviewer Bert Parks with cryptic answers to Parks’ gushing opening night questions. Carson’s vast tv audience, as did Carson himself, found all this hilarious.
BONUS QUESTION: Carroll O’Connor, who became Archie Bunker in the All In The Family tv series. In Cleopatra, he plays Casca, who gets to knife Caesar.