Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and Me

Party Crashers, 1977

When my wife and I got married our best friends were a couple named Ralph and Kathy. Ralph and my wife and I worked at a newspaper. Kathy was the scheduler for the state’s attorney general (AG).

Kathy’s job occasionally gave us access to social and political events far beyond our normal wanderings. Besides, my wife and I were Democrats and the AG was a staunch Republican. But never ones to pass up a free meal and a party, we sometimes lined the back walls of Republican media events when a crowd was needed for the cameras and the true believers couldn’t be roused.

In those days, Virginia’s Senator John Warner was in the habit of holding “picnics” at his farm near Middleburg, Virginia. Calling Atoka a farm is sort of like calling Versailles a “hunting lodge.” It’s a sprawling estate with a massive residence at its center. People didn’t come to picnics at Atoka, though, to see the farm and its fine stone buildings. They came to see the senator’s second wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Warner’s marriage to Taylor surprised a lot of people. Warner was more than comfortably affluent, cut a wide swath in Washington and was known as a ladies’ man. But his lifestyle wasn’t the Hollywood circus parade that Elizabeth Taylor lived. She put on a good face, though, even though she had a hard time fitting into the role of a senator’s wife. She was intrigued by Washington, but found Richmond provincial. She gained a lot of weight and had other health problems.

But at the time of the Atoka picnic everyone wanted to meet her.

The whole event wouldn’t have even been on our radar had Kathy not called a couple of days before hand and invited us to attend.

The deal was this: the AG would already be at Atoka, so we were to bring his wife, a beautiful young artist and the mother of two little kids, with us from Richmond; Kathy and Ralph were to attend in her working capacity; my wife and I were to come using the tickets of the two children.

We drove up in Ralph’s old Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe, a vehicle known for its power, love of gasoline and, at its advanced age, lack of dependability and total discomfort. The AG’s wife, though, was delightful company. I know for sure she had more fun traveling with us than she would have had she been with her husband and his state trooper escorts. You’d have thought we’d taken her to some never before seen stash of Picasso drawings when we stopped in Fredericksburg for a Coke and introduced her to the delights of Wendy’s fast food.

When we arrived at Atoka, my wife and I had planned to slip into the shadows. We didn’t exactly look like the AG’s children. We’d expected the picnic to be some kind of back room political cabal where the liberal likes of us would probably be tossed into the moat. But instead it turned out that this “exclusive” event was hosting some 2,000 people.

I don’t remember much about the food and drink. As I said, people came to see Elizabeth Taylor. She didn’t disappoint, either. She was dressed in jeans and a red-checked shirt, a cross between Raggedy Ann and Marie Antoinette playing at le petit hameau. It wasn’t a flattering look for her. But her eyes were magical as ever and she appeared to be enjoying the party.

As the afternoon turned to evening, there was music from a blue grass band. A dance floor had been built on a lawn behind the main residence. I’m not much of a dancer. But at some point I was indeed on the dance floor and found myself dancing with Elizabeth Taylor. My wife swears there was a picture of me dancing with Elizabeth Taylor in the next week’s People magazine. However, I’ve never seen it, and think the whole thing was more a case of me and Taylor just being on the dance floor at the same time rather than being there together.


  1. i love that picture of you and my sister - oh, the moustache years! and i remember that you and elaine went to that picnic - i could have sworn you had some photos of liz on the dance floor or at least socializing. i can still remember that it was almost a side shot of her?? and hey, i once contacted people magazine to buy an old back issue that contained a story about the violent femmes (don't ask) - something tells me you could find that issue that came out a week after the atoka picnic.

  2. That's a wonderful story.

    When those two were married, Warner came for some event at JMU while I was teaching there. I had a friend who was in her 20's at the time and very pretty--she really very much resembled a young Elizabeth Taylor. Warner could not take his eyes off of her and he flirted with her all night. We never let Sheri forget about that.

    I think Liz Taylor did amazing work in her support of AIDS awareness/research, etc. She was a character, but I think she had a good heart.

    Love that photo of you two crashers!

  3. What a wonderfully appropriate story just now. I've often stood a little in judgment, considering all the marriages, but now I'm ashamed of myself. Her life, taking everything into consideration, was remarkable.

  4. What a great do get around!