by Penny Proddow, Debra Healy and Marlon Fasel
Princess Margaret, asking to try on Elizabeth Taylor’s infamous 33.19-carat Krupp diamond ring, had only one, blunt reaction: “How very vulgar.” Taylor’s feelings remained unharmed. “Yeah,” she replied, “ain’t it great!” Great indeed, and the very spirit of old Hollywood, which was nothing if not bejeweled.
Filled with splashy color close-ups and classic, vampy stills, this coffee-table tome has trouble matching its prose to the brilliance of the gems. The writing style is flat, the history long-winded, and the book too often veers from the important topic at hand (and on neck, arms and ears). Patient readers, though, will be rewarded with high-fashion facts and solid-gold anecdotes. When Irving Thalberg proposed to Norma Shearer in his office, for example, he opened a desk drawer to give her a choice of engagement rings. (She went for the marquise-cut diamond.) The silent sexpot Theda Bara, no matter how elaborate her scripted gems, wore her own self-described “talisman,” an oval turquoise ring, through 40 of her films. Paulette Goddard—a legendary collector—bristled when the House Committee on Un-American Activities made noises about investigating her: “If anyone accuses me of being a Communist, I’ll hit them with my diamond bracelets.”
Hollywood Jewels reveals that Marilyn, in her movie-stopping number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” wore fakes. Indeed, things have been going downhill in the star jewelry department for quite a while, with many celebs opting for imitations, or nothing at all. If Taylor is the Last Movie Star, she also may be the last of the great self-decorators. Who else could match the panache of Taylor, who frantically searched for her missing 37th-birth-day present from Richard Burton—the 203.84-grain, pear-shaped La Peregrina pearl—only to discover it in the mouth of her Pekingese pup? (Abrams, $49.50)