What becomes a legend most? For Elizabeth Taylor, at 59, it is neither furs nor gems nor exotic perfumes (though she possesses them all in abundance) but the elusive adornment of marital happiness.
No matter that she has tried marriage eight times now with seven men. From her first flashbulb-popping nuptials to hotel heir Nicky Hilton in 1950 to her helicopter-bedeviled wedding to construction worker Larry Fortensky last Oct. 6, Taylor’s most enchanting role has always been as the glowing bride.
This time Taylor topped even herself. Host Michael Jackson gave her away, friend and former First Lady Nancy Reagan was among the guests, and an estimated 250 morsel-starved members of the media salivated outside the gates of Jackson’s Santa Ynez, Calif., estate.
Taylor played her part to perfection. It should come as no surprise that the ecru Cartier thank-you notes dispatched to her guests are gold-engraved “Mr. and Mrs. Larry Fortensky.” It’s an affectionate nod to her new husband, who, Taylor says, gives her “laughter and security.”
As her soul mate in carefully maintained sobriety, Fortensky, 39, also provides Taylor with a rejuvenating reminder of her own ceaseless ability to rebound from blows to her health and well-being. Together they struggled against drug dependencies in 1988. He saw her through a critical case of pneumonia in 1990; she saw him through the death of his mother last summer. Taylor says she found the silver lining to those clouds in the gazebo-framed wedding moment “when Larry and I decided to forget all about the helicopters and noise and looked into each other’s eyes and quietly spoke our vows.”
The bride seems to revel in the mystery cloaking her prince. “Larry is very, very shy,” says Taylor, back home in L.A. after their month-long honeymoon in Morocco, Gstaad and London. “He is not gregarious in front of the cameras. So naturally the public cannot know Larry.” But mark her words, he is no boor. “He’s a genuinely good man. Compassionate. Very funny. Instinctively very smart. And we just love being together.”
Taylor says her four children and eight grandchildren have welcomed Fortensky avidly into the family. “The day of the wedding,” she recalls, laughing, “my two granddaughters [Leyla Wilding, 20, and Naomi Wilding, 16] came over and said, ‘Hi, Grandpa.’ ”
Certainly few grandcouples have looked less ready for the golden years than the Fortenskys, who are often decked out in leather jackets and boots and always sport hip hairdos. Fitter than she has been in years, Taylor watches her diet and burns calories by riding her stationary bike and walking. “I enjoy eating too much,” she admits. “But as long as I don’t go insane with food, I can enjoy myself with no deprivation.”
Paradoxically, though Liz is the quintessential public figure, she is no longer primarily an actress—her last role was in the 1989 TV remake of Sweet Bird of Youth—and her time spent in public is limited. Apart from periodic forays in support of her new fragrance, White Diamonds, it is the urgent need for AIDS research and patient care that is most likely to persuade her to make an appearance. Her former daughter-in-law Aileen Getty, 32, ex-wife of Christopher Wilding, 36, recently revealed on TV that she is afflicted. (Christopher, who divorced Aileen three years ago, has tested HIV negative.) Taylor, who this fall founded her own AIDS fund, says drumming up dollars has become more difficult lately—and not just because of the recession. “I have heard people say, ‘Oh, it’s become a society disease, an excuse to have dinners,’ ” she says. “I have heard reactions that have made me want to slap people.”
When such impulses arise, her husband is her balm. Their marriage, in fact, would make a heart-warming ending for a new set of memoirs (she published an autobiography in 1964), but Taylor insists she is not ready to put her full life story on paper yet. “I’m still living chapters,” she declares.