the sex lives of dead people: elizabeth taylor + everyone edition

come, let us look at this closely.

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and let us begin by noting that, thanks to the oddities of the daily mail‘s online layout, no, this is not liz taylor at 16. it is a marks & spencer’s conspiracy to get us to buy cashmere.

this is the image they reference.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.20.38 AM

it is located four paragraphs down and it is, indeed, an image of the actress elizabeth taylor at age 16.

so, ET has had a busy few weeks for someone who has been dead for four years. as you may recall, she was recently romantically linked to mickey rooney, because someone who knew rooney’s former wife said rooney’s former wife once told her that she once saw them engaged in what- were it the 1970s and were this jfk’s sex life- we would call hanky-panky. you can read my unpacking of that rumor here.

i am particularly interested in this more recent installment for what it teaches us about the coalescence of such stories. because it appears WE ARE IN AN AMAZING HISTORICAL MOMENT, YO!

a fact is being born.

as you may or may not and do not have to remember, the rooney stories were dated october 10th and 11th. this next story is october 17th. look at how it has altered.

this is the headline from the taylor version of the rooney story:

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and this is the new liz story:

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it’s worth noting that none of these men (lawford, flynn, reagan, kennedy, stack) were mentioned in the preceding article, which was all about rooney.

and that is where this article picks up… with rooney:

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there is, you will note, in this passage, no questioning of this source’s claims. “the affair” is exposed as having been “revealed.” the fact of its occurrence seems here not to be in doubt.

this is insidious.

that’s a strong word, but an appropriate one, because the insidiousness of this claim and its statement as fact is that it seems to validate further insidiousness, compounding the initial insidiousness, so that what we wind up with is a string of self-perpetuating insidiousnesses.

seriously. dear famous person, heaven help you if you die. you will posthumously be made to sleep with everyone you ever knew.

especially if you are a woman.

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the pronouns are hard to follow here. the she of the first paragraph is rooney’s ex-wife betty jane BAKER (whose last name the daily mail appear still not have identified). the her of the second paragraph is taylor.

and note how it is the “revelation” regarding taylor, taken from this biography about mickey rooney, that is “far more shocking” than rooney having been involved with taylor. in rooney’s involvement with taylor, it is taylor’s involvement that is shocking.

note also how rooney is a passive bystander here rather than a predator. it is taylor who is on a “sexual conquest.” it is taylor who is shocking though, as we are told, this episode is allegedly occurring in june 1946, when taylor was 14.

but this is an article about taylor not rooney, and so this episode from the rooney book is really just an excuse to go dig back in the archives and excavate some old claims about taylor. #dailymailbookclub

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from a “RECENT” book published in 2012:

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full disclosure: i have not read this book. i am familiar with the authors because i have not read their other books, one of which is on the life of jackie onassis and another of which was on the lives of gore vidal, truman capote, and tennessee williams- a book about which i have written here.

fyi, if you write about the sex lives of mid-20th century dead people, you will frequently encounter the work of these authors. if you read gossip on the daily mail about the sex lives of mid-20th century dead people, you will frequently encounter them there as well.

in the daily mail, the fact that these are rumors printed in a book, legitimizes them. a legitimacy undercut by the fact that they are in a book published by blood moon productions. which, well, doesn’t that sound like the cullens got into publishing?

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when it comes to celebrity biography, blood moon productions is clearly occupying a lower rung than the daily mail‘s reports would suggest.

i say this as someone who repeatedly and avidly advocates for the importance of the lower rungs of entertainment. but one of the tensions within my advocation is my awareness of the latent sexism within these stories (see above) and their gradual institutionalization as Biographical Fact. precisely through their recounting in more mainstream newspapers and magazines.

i stopped reading. let’s continue.

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HA.ZZAH.

the thing is: how many people get this far? how many people who aren’t me get to this point in the article? true story: i- in writing about this article- wrote all of the above before reading through to this point.

let’s be real: the mail‘s admission about these claims is more jaw-dropping than the claims themselves.

that it comes after an oral sex scene, the loss of taylor’s virginity, the suggestion of a possible rape, two flings and a threesome with a president and a GIANT visual jump of two photographs and a video…

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which i had to zoom out on 9 times to get it into a single frame, means there is an enormo space in which we can conclude the article is over and click away. which means we would miss the crazy beautiful Birth of a Fact which is to come.

so the claims “were unsourced, involved only people who were dead, and were frankly too outrageous for many to credit.” BUT LO.

exhibit a:

1

exhibit b:

2

which, well, um… i truly do not understand the claim being made about biography here. someone, please interpret.

exhibit c:

3

the combination of exhibits a and c seems to suggest that b means that, because there was no evidence, biographers were left with a less racy story. which is apparently an untenable circumstance we cannot let stand.

ahhhhhhhhhhhem:

4

DO YOU SEE WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE??!

oh the distance we have traversed between unsourced claims involving dead people which were too outrageous to accept to a story from someone about what someone else said now providing credence to those same claims.

this is gossip transmogrifying into institutionalized fact.

i see it time and again in jackie’s story, but it is hardly ever so blatant as it is here. so god bless the daily mail for providing elizabeth taylor’s future biographers with a nearly precise tipping point of factualization.

the next 16 paragraphs are committed to vivid description of elizabeth taylor’s adolescent sexuality.

5 6 7 8 9

i’mma skip the details of the various relationships as printed here, because those paragraphs above just made me very sad. basically puberty, nail polish and peasant blouses = slut, all of which brings us here:

10

i keep coming back to the sex lives of dead people not because i particularly care about the details of the sex lives of dead people. (though i realize it is probably rather hard to take that claim seriously given just how often i have written about them here.) i keep coming back to them because they keep coming up, and because they are very pronounced instances of the violence we inflict upon the stories of others.

again, a strong word, but one which seems apt. particularly because of the casual way in which it occurs in the stories of women.

look at the number of times the daily mail‘s reporter has noted that these claims are kind of crazy. look at how, despite unconvincing biographical evidence, taylor’s body and sexuality are continually deployed to justify and validate these claims.

11

riddle me this: what would constitute a half-truth of that story? especially given the entirety of this article has been premised on the idea that it is true.

the headline blared that “a new book raises extraordinary questions,” a thoroughly inaccurate statement of what this article is trying to do.

in reality, it is leveraging the new book to talk about an old book (the porter/prince 2012 book) that was so fantabulous that it couldn’t be taken seriously. and, using the new book, it is legitimizing the old book’s claims. since i imagine .002% of readers made it to the part of the article where that aim becomes transparent, presumably it has been a success.

the majority of readers will see the headline, collect the name-checks, and elizabeth taylor will be assumed to have slept with these men. Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.24.57 AM

i don’t know that this changes anyone’s lives, but i do think it adds up.

and you can argue that we do this to men too, but i would argue right back that we do not do it in the same way. even in the initial article on rooney, the women in his life were disproportionately punished. it is made very clear that this is a circumstance in which women pay a significantly higher price than men.

sex is, in these stories, something men get to have, in addition to their lives and careers. for the women, it is all too often the only story they get.

i write about the sex lives of dead people because, for dead women, it seems your sex life is often the only story anyone wants to tell.

i write about it because that is boring and i do not think she was.

et dog

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