Thursday, March 24, watching television news, and a stunning juxtaposition was presented. This was the day after Elizabeth Taylor died, and a retrospective on her life showed an incredibly beautiful woman having lived a robust and profoundly interesting life. Next up, a news report on Lindsay Lohan. No glamour here as she sat morosely in a court room learning which sentence would be imposed on her.
That is the end of the story, but the beginnings of these two acknowledged stars had a commonality that is so similar it is almost spooky. Each were child phenoms. Each had a mother that was wedded to show business. Each was a child star in major and successful movies (Taylor in National Velvet, and Lohan as a Disney regular). Each had meteoric careers, though Lohan’s star status begin to fade early on; and both added other ventures to their portfolio – each with fashion labels. Lohan mostly clothing; Taylor largely in jewelry and fragrances. Both made a huge amount of money. Both had issues with drugs or alcohol. But there, the similarity pretty much ends. And the reasons are worth exploring.
The image of Liz Taylor sitting in a courtroom ready to go to jail is incomprehensible. The woman carried herself as a star should – with grace and beauty. Lohan, on the other hand can be crude and rude. To me this is mostly emblematic of the times we live in. I grew up in the glory days of the “star system” when the studios essentially controlled a large part of their star’s lives – especially those portions relating to public relations and image. Moreover, they also had a cooperative press. Yes, affairs were often whispered, and rumors abounded (some of it contrived to peak interest in the star or perhaps a project). No longer, in our media-infused world. As the song says: “now anything goes”
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Liz had a wild marital life: 8 different husbands. From it, she got a fascinating history, not to mention a king’s ransom in magnificent jewelry. A piece from Richard Burton was reported to have been purchased for $1 million. Lohan, on the other hand, got some of hers by allegedly walking out of a well known jewelry store with a $2500 necklace. The thought of Liz Taylor doing that, to use the same word, is incomprehensible.
Taylor did have her issues with alcoholism briefly in the 80’s. She dealt with it and apparently licked it early. Lohan has also had addiction problems, and apparently has never overcome them. She has had numerous run ins with the law, including several DUIs. Somehow, I cannot imagine Liz Taylor being hauled over of driving under the influence.
Back to the similarities, both these actresses are talented, have had turbulent lives, and in their own ways are surely entertainment “stars” by whatever definition. But the differences in their outcomes are what make the comparison so interesting. I am not sure what explains it. Again, much is the times we live in now, as compared to the years that Taylor forged her career. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but the times today are much less “user friendly”. Language is cruder. Violence greater. News is too immediate. The media is too invasive. Personalities are under intense scrutiny (Lohan and others have often complained about aggressiveness of the paparazzi). There are elements among the younger set in the entertainment world that they are above obeying conventional laws, and many others have also been in court on a variety of issues. Some just got too rich too fast. Liz, on the other hand, decided she could use her fame to do something useful and good (mostly with AIDs), and that is how she invested her notoriety.
To a degree, this is really not about Liz and Lindsay. It is more a commentary on where our society is today. Are jeans better than suits? Rap better than Gershwin? CDs better than records? Casual better than elegant? Refined better than outrageous? No one can be judgmental about such questions; obviously the answers are in the eye of the beholder. But the dynamics involved are worthy of discussion. The best analysis probably comes from the incisive book by Albert Toffler, Future Shock (published in 1970). In it Toffler sums up his thesis with the comment: “to much change in too short a period of time”.
In the end, as an “old timer”, I think comparing the lives of Liz and Lindsay is a valid metaphor for the times we live in. I guess the conclusion can best be summed up by the trite but useful phrase: “they don’t make ’em like they used to!”