The Passion of Elizabeth Taylor
BY Jeff Yarbrough
March 23 2011 12:30 PM ET
Early in your film career, gay content was routinely stripped out of the source material when plays or novels were made into movies: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer, for example. Do you recall any discussions of those cuts among the higher-ups working on those pictures?
I do remember one couldn’t say the word “malignant,” and you couldn’t say the word “rape,” so it wasn’t just homophobic. The whole board of censors was so stupid. They’d put an orange down your cleavage, and if the camera could see the orange, then the camera had to be moved. People didn’t take it seriously because it was all kind of daft.
I think in Boom! you were credited as the first major actress to say “fuck” on-screen.
Oh, I do hope so!
And earlier, of course, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? you challenged the censors by using words like “bastard” and “son of a bitch.”
Well, that damned Elizabeth!
Did you intentionally set out to break those barriers in terms of choosing those parts, or did they just happen to be great scripts that you wanted to do?
I’ve always believed in speaking my mind, and if it’s part of the character, like in Virginia Woolf, I would be unflinching. If it fit the role, I wouldn’t back away from it at all. I like colorful language. [Laughs]
You spoke in Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Montgomery Clift about his homosexuality.
I was 18 or 19 when I helped him realize that he was homosexual, and I barely knew what I was talking about. I was a virgin when I was married and not a world expert on sexuality. But I loved Monty with all my heart and just knew that he was unhappy. I knew that he was meant to be with a man and not a woman, and I discussed it with him. I introduced him to some really nice young guys.
Did the career aspect ever come up? Did he say he could never live openly as a gay man because…
He had a very hard time being open about being gay, and I don’t think it had to do with his career. It was more his background — a very Presbyterian, middle-class background. His mother was very uptight, and I think he was afraid of her. There was no love there at all, and it influenced his whole personal life.
It was very hard for men who wanted to come out of the closet in those days. The men that I knew — Monty and Jimmy [Dean] and Rock — if anything, I helped them get out of the closet. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I didn’t know that I was more advanced than most people in this town. It just never occurred to me.
Rock Hudson seemed to be very content, in a way, with being gay.
He was, but it took him years of pain, terrible pain. The Hollywood he had to suffer through was so horrific.
What would you say if a closeted actor came to you for advice now about coming out?
I’d say, “Come out. And embrace those you love and that love you.”
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