Elizabeth Taylor led such an all encompassing public life — child star, sex symbol, home wrecker, decent actress, serial wife, lover of absurdly expansive jewelry, international headline maker, survivor of nasty illnesses, canny businesswoman — that to try to capture her magic in a single Monday Quiz would be futile.
But, but — if we concentrate on just one aspect of her extraordinary career, we might be able to pull something off. In any case, we’re going to give it a try today by narrowing the focus to just one of Taylor’s pictures, a nice little costume drama called Cleopatra.
Just to set the scene, the time is the late Fifties-early Sixties. Taylor was in her late twenties, in her physical prime. Her costar, (and future husband twice over) Richard Burton was in his mid thirties.
The Hollywood studio system (certainly including Twentieth Century Fox, which produced Cleopatra) was showing the results of severe strain both economically and artistically. Many pictures not only stunk but didn’t make much money. Tempers were short as, increasingly, were the careers of top studio execs.
Ok, enough of this. Let’s get to our questions and see how much you know about Cleopatra and its star. (Answers tomorrow.)
1) Question: Various movie actresses had played Cleopatra onscreen before Taylor. Which of the following did NOT? a) Theda Bara; b) Joan Collins; c) Claudette Colbert; or d) Vivien Leigh.
2) Question: Cleopatra was the most expensive movie ever filmed. a) True or b) False?
3) Question: Elizabeth Taylor was in widespread public disfavor when the filming of Cleopatra began. Why? a) She made remarks unflattering to the then Pope; b) Her secret investment in a European brothel was exposed in the newspapers; c) She married Eddie Fisher following the crumbling of his “America’s sweethearts” married to Debbie Reynolds; or d) TV cameras caught her verbally assaulting Fisher.
4) Question: Who was the original director of Cleopatra? a) Walter Wanger; b) Rouben Mamoulian; c) Cecil B. DeMille or d) William Wyler.
5) Question: How much was Taylor paid to play Cleopatra? a) $850,000; b) $500,000; c) $1 million; or d) 250,000.
6) Question: What was her first response when she saw the completed Cleopatra? a) She shed tears of joy; b) She shed tears of anguish; c) She broke into a profane rage; or d) She threw up.
7) Question: Taylor survived a near-death experience while Cleopatra was being filmed. Why? a) She was overwhelmed by a sexual encounter with costar Burton; b) She took a nasty spill while skiing in Switzerland during a production break; c) She contracted “Asian flu” that turned out to be pneumonia; or d) She combined heavy drinking with periodic shots of demerol.
8) Question: Burton was hired to play Mark Antony because: a) He was a hot box office property at the time; b) He was available while first-choice Marlon Brando was not; c) Burton was considered a charmer, known for erudition; or d) He was already smitten with Taylor, and offered to work with her no matter the salary.
9) Question: How long did it take to complete Cleopatra? a) 2-1/2 years; b) 5 years; c) 9 months or d) 3 years.
10) Question: When the picture finally opened in New York’s Rivoli Theatre on June 12, 1963, Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz sent a national tv audience into hysterics by some of his pre-opening night remarks. What exactly did he say? a) That Taylors acting was perfectly suitable for a Miami Beach matron; b) That the occasion made him “feel as though the guillotine were about to drop”; c) Responding to a comment about the film being a “wonderful, wonderful achievement,” the director said: “Well, you must know something I don’t” or d) Described costar Rex Harrison as “The Cunt.”
BONUS QUESTION: Cleopatra’s supporting cast included a then largely unknown actor who later became the linchpin of one of America’s most successful television series. Can you name him, and the program he popularized?