December 18, 2012

The Queen & I: Meeting Elizabeth Taylor

By Chris Varaste

Barbie Collector’s new White Diamonds Elizabeth Taylor Silkstone® doll, dazzling in her white dress, reminds me of working with the actress during the summer of ‘86. I was a production coordinator for Liberty Weekend, a four-day celebration of the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty.

To say the show was a star-studded affair would be an understatement — everyone from President Reagan to Whitney Houston took part in the live telecast. Rehearsals at Giants Stadium were chaotic and packed with cast and crew — there was Liza Minnelli belting, “New York, New York,” and Shirley MacLaine practicing high kicks for her production number — not to mention countless extras striving to meet their cues. An extravaganza of such magnitude required an introduction from someone regal and larger than life. Enter Queen Elizabeth (Taylor, that is) — reigning Hollywood royalty!

In the throes of a humid summer, Taylor remained cool and funny, cracking jokes with stagehands and fellow showbiz pals with equal candor. At one point, she caught me staring (I’m such a fanboy). Clearly, she was accustomed to being ogled, and as I looked away red-faced, she came over, glanced at my nametag and asked, “Varastea? How do you pronounce that?”

I’d forgotten that the production assistant in charge of tags misspelled my last name by adding an extra “a.” I explained the error, and clarified by stating, “It’s Varaste…kinda like Doris Day.”

She laughed that great familiar laugh and replied in jest, “The resemblance is striking!”

Finally, after weeks of rehearsals, the July 4th holiday was upon us, and it was time for Taylor’s commencement speech. Spellbinding in her sparkling white gown, she took command of the immense arena and reminded the audience of the privilege of free speech. Her words came at a time when she was one of only a handful of public figures who spoke out against AIDS. The embodiment of her legacy, the stunning White Diamonds Elizabeth Taylor doll is a perfect tribute — not only does she capture Taylor’s astonishing beauty, but she also honors her pioneering spirit by wearing a symbolic red satin ribbon on her full-skirted retro-dress.

What’s YOUR favorite Liz Taylor moment – in film or from her personal appearances? Share them in the comments!

Chris Varaste started out at ABC-TV, producing segments for the Emmys, Tonys & Grammys. A fascination with fashion and pop culture led to his first published book, Barbie: Face of the American Dream – and an appreciation for all things Barbie! His insights on collectibles/brand success have been published in the New York Times, The Economist, and Spotlight Cinema Networks.

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