Monday, May 03, 2010

MM@M: Liz Taylor and BUtterfield 8

Mad Men at the Movies. Season 3 is hopefully in your DVD player and Season 4 debuts on Sunday July 25th, so we have a lot of catching up to do. We return to that movie-loving 1960s based series. If you're just joining us, the idea and personal motivation behind this series are explained here and you can also visit the season 1 recap in case you'd like to refresh your memory. Even if you've never seen the show, enjoy the movie history!

Now... back to Season 2 of Mad Men which kicks off on Valentine's Day, 1962.

2.01 "For Those Who Think Young"
In the first half of the episode, Don and Betty Draper (Jon Hamm & January Jones) are at the Savoy for the holiday when they run into an old roommate of Betty's, Juanita (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) out with a much older man. They exchange small talk and Betty asks for Juanita's phone number. Awkwardness ensues. Don has to inform his wife, inscrutably naive about sexuality as ever, that her old friend is "a party girl".

Betty, who loves to gossip, embellishes this encounter for her best friend Francine (the wonderful Anne Dudek) the next day.
Betty: ...she was in the lounge of the Savoy. She didn't look cheap except for this two carat stone. But she wasn't with a date. She was with... a companion.
Francine: I don't understand.
Betty: Don agreed with me. He was an old man. She's a call girl.
Francine: Really?! BUtterfield 8. I wonder what that's like?
True to form the Mad Men writers don't explain the time capsule reference but for movie buffs and Elizabeth Taylor devotees this particular movie note is well detailed.

BUtterfield 8 as a movie title refers to the phone number of call girl Gloria (La Liz). It's fitting then, that this subplot begins with an inappropriate phone number request. The sexually scandalous hit film opened in November 1960. Famously La Liz wears only a fur coat in one scene and what is Betty Draper's valentine's gift from husband Don but a fur coat. During their girl time gossip session, Francine teases that if prostitution means fur coats from Don than sign her up!

BUtterfield 8 may have been pop culture shorthand for "prostitute" in the 1960s but if people recognize the title today it's usually only as an Oscar footnote. Though the film isn't anything like a "respected" classic, its enduring infamy is as a major chapter in the career of one of the all time great stars. By the time BUtterfield 8 premiered, Liz Taylor was already more scandalous than her character Gloria "the slut of all time!" would ever be and in 1962 when this episode takes place she was still the subject of endless headlines. In our 2010 tabloid culture this is the norm but none of our modern stars can match Liz Taylor for sheer sustained bang for tabloid buck.

Consider just five years in her life and try to imagine how mammoth she'd be today given the 24 hour news cycle. I bet she'd dwarf any other star including Angelina Jolie (who is occasionally compared to her)
  • 1957 Liz marries producer Mike Todd and turns 25 years old. She's already been famous for more than a decade and this is her third husband. The newlyweds attend the Oscars where he wins Best Picture for Around the World in Eighty Days (pictured left). In the summer she gives birth to a baby girl, her third child.
  • 1958 She receives her first Oscar nomination for Raintree County. Four days before the ceremony, Todd is killed in a plane crash. Later that year she begins an affair with Eddie Fisher (also a huge star at the time), Todd's friend and the husband of her friend and fellow movie star Debbie Reynolds. As if that weren't enough drama for one year, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hits movie theaters.
  • 1959 She marries Eddie Fisher.
  • 1960 Liz becomes the highest paid actress in Hollywood history signing on to Cleopatra for a cool million (the salary will balloon). BUtterfield 8, in which she co-stars with Eddie Fisher, is released but production on Cleopatra shuts down when she becomes ill.
  • 1961 She receives her fourth consecutive Oscar nomination for BUtterfield 8 and during the Oscar voting period she has life threatening health complications. She is even pronounced dead at one point. She wins Best Actress while still in the hospital prompting Shirley Maclaine's famous quip "I lost the Oscar to a tracheotomy". Filming on Cleopatra resumes.
As you can imagine, the scandals and high-drama lifestyle didn't stop there.

Enter Richard Burton....

There never was a star like La Liz and there never will be again.

Suggested related post
78 Appropriate Ways to Celebrate Liz Taylor

Other cultural references in this Mad Men episode

Cinema: Pinocchio, Gone With the Wind | Books: Meditations in an Emergency | Celebrities: Jackie Kennedy | Special thanks, as always, to Mad Men fansite "Basket of Kisses" for goading this series into being.


NicksFlickPicks said...

1) Thanks for the link!
2) (Pssstt..... B8 was her fourth consecutive nod, not her second)

3) VERY WEIRD: Having not seen BUtterfield 8 in a decade and after having my interest re-piqued by Raintree County, I just watched it this morning while I caught up on very errandy e-mails and other chores. Just finished watching it before clicking over here. I know we are often on the same frequency, but wow.

Mirko said...

Liz received her second nomination for CAT ON HOT TIN ROOF and the fourth for BUtterfield 8, her winning role. as everybody says, it was not well deserved victory (I'd have preferred MacLaine, Mercouri, Kerr and unonominated Simmons as Best Actress that year) but when you're a star like Liz it's strange that you're oscarless
she won again in 1967 thanks to her fifth (and last) nomination. this time many more people agreed with her winning role...but Liz noshowed at ceremony.
IMHO she could have received another one for her role in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW...but Academy felt it was suffisent what she had received...and after that Liz received many years later a prize for her humanitarian achievemente I'm sure she has been very proud of


oops. ugh. i don't know how i botched that. but anyway. factual error aside... THE POST.

isn't it crazy how gargantuan her life was/is?

James T said...

I think one of the reasons I love her is that I watched a biopic of hers (don't remember the name of the film or the actress's) before I had watched many (or any) of her films and I was touched. That, of course, is not the only reason :)

ShoNuff Lives said...

"she's like catnip to every cat in town."
"NO SALE" all in lipstick on the living room mirror

liz was and still is quite amazing. as a performer, she held the screen and had tremendous dramatic range. as a celebrity, well, she created a new mold (one that's familiar today).

i love how she signed up for B8 to act with eddie fisher and then all but dumped him throughout shooting. i mean, who does that? doesn't it usually work the other way around?

anyway, everytime i think of this movie, i think of the lipsticked mirror and liz's crazy flying car. both make me laugh. and she won for the same reason sandra bullock & jeff bridges won this year: it's time.

Andrew K. said...

I always a little bit weird when BUtterfield 8 comes up. I saw it once and thought it was fine, good even but everyone seems to hate it. I should probably rewatch it.

I second. Mirko's comment that she should have been nominated for The Taming of the Shrew, it's sheer brilliance and even better considering shed displays so much vitality as Katherine AFTER the train wreck (I use the word loosely, of course) that was Martha.

jimmy said...

i guess in real life she was also the slut of all times. that's OK. slut with a heart of gold though. indeed, the last remaining BIG star.

billybil said...

It's true - Elizabeth Taylor was and is the most outrageous movie star of all time! Her life was (is) just epic! I hope Hollywood closes down for a day when Ms. Taylor passes on. No one - but on one will ever rival her again - and, you're right - can you imagine the coverage nowadays! God what a legend!