Hollywood in 1956 was a tamer world. No rude mobs of paparazzi camped out at homes and restaurants, no shameless stars parading drug addictions on TV, no out-of-wedlock births, no Internet tweeting and bedroom scandals. Studio bosses controlled the public image of stars.
So, it wasn't unusual 55 years ago for a press agent to call The Miami Herald and casually invite a reporter to ride along in a limo with the flamboyant movie producer Michael Todd and his fiancee, Elizabeth Taylor, from Miami International Airport to Miami Beach's splendiferous new Fontainebleau Hotel. Press agents preferred newspapers then, before TV developed its suffocating milieu of gossip shows where stars flock to reveal all.
With no special background in Hollywood personalities, why me for this assignment? I was available and it was a late night job others declined.
There the three of us were. I faced them on the limo's back seat. Todd, 47. Taylor, 24. I was 27.
As the limo left the airport, Taylor struggled out of her large mink coat—thereupon revealing a white, skintight knit dress that certainly had the illusion of being see-through. The actress forever known as the world's most beautiful had me pop-eyed and tongue-tied at that moment.
Although by the time she was 24 Taylor had already made 22 of her 50 lifetime movies, she wasn't the purpose of this interview. Todd was.
He was in town for another "premiere" of his majestic film "Around the World in 80 Days." His reputation as the glib, Ziegfeld impresario of his time made him more of a celebrity than Taylor was. Witty, wisecracking, charming, extravagant, Todd was such a spellbinder that world-class, top-income actors willingly signed on for bit appearances lasting only seconds on screen. Dangling a cigarette from his mouth, Frank Sinatra was a saloon piano player with no lines.
My questions were inane. Taylor clung adoringly to Todd. He did most of the talking. He asked her to flash a diamond ring he'd just given her. Oh, my. Large and blinding, befitting Todd showmanship.
No scandals, no real news. My story covered essentials about the film with a few of Todd's quips, and, of course, mentions of Taylor's stunning beauty, her penetrating violet eyes, her dress, the ring.
A few months later in 1957, she married Todd, one of seven husbands; 13 months later in 1958, Todd was killed in the crash of his airplane.
Shadowing Taylor's spectacular fame and fortune after those idyllic months with Todd were the grim wraiths of grief, tragedy and poor health. Such a price.