The death of Elizabeth Taylor this week rang a bell in my memory of a close, although brief, encounter with the great actress and legendary beauty.
The Chamber of Commerce in my hometown, Tomahawk, WI, for years billed the community as the “Gateway to the Great North Woods” as it sought to establish the place as a tourist mecca. We had many nice resorts in our locale and lots of visitors from the Milwaukee and Chicago areas who returned year after year, but ours was somewhat of a minor- league resort area. The big-time was farther up Highway 51, about 30 miles due north, in the Minocqua area.
In summer, Minocqua went from a sleepy little burg of about 1,000 souls to a booming place where the wealthy and near-wealthy escaped city heat and responsibilities in favor of boating, fishing, or just relaxing in an informal environment. Elizabeth Taylor spent some ten summer vacations at a lodge called Cedar Gates on Lake Minocqua.
Minocqua was pretty much a family vacation spot. Mom and Dad brought the kids along, and that meant an influx of teenage girls. This fact was not lost upon young men who lived a half-hour drive away. My friends and I made several forays to Minocqua, convinced we were just the guys to entertain any bored young ladies who were seeking companionship. I don’t, however, remember that we ever found any girls who shared our high opinion of ourselves.
One sunny day in the early 1950s, three of us were strolling down the small Minocqua main street. Ms. Taylor, arm-in-arm with a handsome man wearing a yachting cap, approached from the opposite direction. The man probably was Michael Wilding, the second of eight Taylor husbands. We came nearly face-to-face with the pair, and, as I recall, even had to step aside for them to pass.
We all probably wonder sometimes if those beautiful people on the silver screen get that way largely because of the attentions of expert makeup professionals and artistry by lighting and camera wizards. Anyone who has seen Robert Redford in the flesh knows he magically grows taller for his movie roles.
The day we saw Elizabeth Taylor she was making no attempt to enhance her appearance. She was wearing jeans—the old-fashioned kind, not the skin-tight variety we see today—a nondescript windbreaker, and a scarf over much of her jet-black hair. Nevertheless, there was no doubt about her identity.
She was absolutely gorgeous.
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