Backstage Stories: Elizabeth Taylor
Yes, that’s right, Dame Elizabeth Taylor!
I have to start with the WOW factor. I worked on a show for almost twenty years called Passport put on by Macy’s, American Express and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). It was an AIDS fundraiser, a fashion show, a dinner gala, an education, a who’s who, a unique production to say the least! The media coverage was so extensive celebrities and designers were begging to be a part of it for the publicity.
The show ticked all my creative boxes, fashion, staging, production, lighting, glamor, philanthropy with a touch of risqué pushing the envelopes only a San Francisco based show could do. They coined the phrase “fashion and compassion.” I too begged to be part of it and started at the front of house directing the masses to their seats then eventually moving backstage. We did several shows in San Francisco and then took it on the road to Los Angeles.
Often times celebrities lend their notoriety to platforms for a do-gooder image. It’s not always the case but during the eighties and nineties AIDS was a hot topic in Hollywood and many celebs felt the pressure to be associated with the cause. If you think Elizabeth Taylor’s role in the fight to cure AIDS was a facile one you would be greatly mistaken. She had genuine conviction for finding a cure and humanizing the affected. Together ETAF, amfAR and Passport raised millions of dollars, educated youth and contributed to research that has advanced medical breakthroughs. ETAF has continued Elizabeth Taylor's mission of an AIDs-free world.
Elizabeth Taylor would arrive with an entourage of approximately twenty people. They would block her walkway from the side entrance to her stage door. No one backstage could touch her, get close to her and especially not get a picture. I was one of the lucky few who was able to interact with her because I gave her stage cues. She was always nice to me, I believe it was because I wasn’t nervous, I was professional and I recognized her dog by name, Sugar. I would always allow Sugar, usually held by Jose Eber (the hairdresser to the stars) to stand near me on stage because she had to have her in her sight at all times.
She never missed an opening show unless she was gravely ill and always looked luminous in dark hair, grey hair or in her wheelchair. One year she missed her flight because her frail body had tripped getting into the limo and she rolled down her inclined driveway. Poor thing! Later Sharon Stone stepped in to take her place.
Elizabeth Taylor is a legend as her many Oscars, accolades, diamonds and husbands prove, but for me her star power lies in her compassion and true commitment to the fight against global HIV/AIDS. The show took on a whole new meaning for me, the glam was an added bonus to the real work that needed to be done. Since Passport's inception in the eighties it is now possible to live a healthy and full life with the disease instead of a death sentence.
I am honored to have been part of the Passport team.