Where Have You Gone, Elizabeth Taylor?

The day the glamour died

Amid all of the tributes and photo retrospectives that filled the media last week with the passing of Liz Taylor, a small handful of Taylor-related stories reported that the last interview Liz gave was to Kim Kardashian. “One glamour queen to another,” blathered one of the TV reporters.

So first: Kim Kardashian is to Liz Taylor as cubic zirconia is to the Crown Jewels. And second: Since when did any semi-celebrity with a materialistic zest get to be crowned “glamorous?”

Look, I don’t pretend that Hollywood matters in comparison to pretty much anything else in the world right now, but watching the parade of photos of a young Liz Taylor struck me hard with a sort of nostalgia for a unique type of American glamour that I barely know, and that my kids will probably never know. Glamour, after all—real Hollywood glamour, the type that once made Philadelphia stop in its tracks to watch our own Grace Kelly marry a prince—seems to rely on some restraint. A level of mystery. A little holding back. And since that is clearly a lost art, since the world today runs on Tweets and Facebook and “connecting to the fans”, then the sort of glamour Liz and Grace and Marilyn and even Jackie embodied has become a lost art, too. And I think it’s gone forever.

I don’t think I’m alone in my nostalgia. Just try to find a woman my age—much less a celebrity—who doesn’t still cite one of those women as an inspiration or an icon. We understand that they had something special that set them apart. The dictionary defines it, actually: a compelling charm, a magic spell, enchantment. Magic.

I’m happy to cop to the fact that I over-romanticize eras passed and the women who reigned in them, that I probably downplay that fact that women—even gorgeous Hollywood types—were much more confined to fit certain ideas of womanhood than they are now. I realize that in being able to be who we really are today, certain fallacies and myths about our entire gender have dropped away and certain truths have been allowed out. But aren’t there just some truths that needn’t be public domain? How magical can someone be after they’ve discussed their favorite sexual positions on television? Or Tweeted about their trip to Walgreens for Xanax? Or shared their political views on Facebook? Or dished about bikini waxing tips in a magazine article, which was then blogged around the world?

Nothing proves my point about a hunger for real, old-time, awe-inspiring glamour like the clamor over the royal wedding. Sure, the Prince and future princess are restrained because they’re British. And British royals. But it works. You can barely open a paper or flip on a TV in this country without seeing some dreamy little piece about the upcoming nuptials, while the people in question—Kate and William—smile and wave and … that’s it. No blogs, no Tweets, no over-sharing from anyone. On this side of the Atlantic, that’s all but unheard of. Here, the era of glamour is over, because the era of mystique is over: After all, you can’t get magic like that over your iPhone.