FILM STAR, SEX BOMB ... FEMINIST? A New Book Argues That Liz Taylor Was Really a Women's Libber at Heart; FILM

Article excerpt

Byline: JANE SHILLING

THE ACCIDENTAL FEMINIST

BY M.G. LORD (Walker [pounds sterling]16.99)

FOR successive generations of cinema-goers, Elizabeth Taylor represented a dazzling variety of enviable qualities. There was her extraordinary beauty - the astonishing body and the notorious violet eyes with their thick row of lashes.

Soon more ambiguous characteristics would emerge: a prodigious appetite for jewellery, food and alcohol; a cavalier way with other people's husbands, and an endearing blowsiness.

She was wayward, but brave enough to stand up to the Hollywood studio system, and to offer personal and practical support to AIDS sufferers when that was a very unfashionable thing to do.

Mike Nichols, who directed her in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, praised her 'democratic soul'. She was a great star. But you probably wouldn't think of her as a feminist icon. That, however, is the role claimed for her by the American journalist M. G. Lord.

'Feminism,' Lord writes, 'may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Elizabeth Taylor. But it might if you share your definition with writer Rebecca West: "I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."'

This is a definition broad enough to include almost anyone who isn't a fully paid-up surrendered wife, but Lord admits that when she first met Taylor, 'no link between her and feminism had yet crossed my mind.

'I did see a vast disconnect between her shallow tabloid persona and the seeming depths of her real-life self. Intelligence flickered behind those lilac eyes.'

Soon afterwards, the connection between Taylor and feminism dawned on her and the idea was born. 'Early in her career,' Lord speculates, 'Taylor may not have noticed the feminist content that undergirded some of her roles. Somewhere along the line, though, I think [she] woke up.'

In support of her theory, Lord argues that 'Taylor's 1987 diet book, Elizabeth Takes Off, repeatedly makes feminist points -- exploring ideas about women and body image that English therapist Susie Orbach first brought to widespread attention in her groundbreaking 1978 book, Fat Is A Feminist Issue'. …