Fashion & Lifestyle August 2020

Elizabeth’s Core Values: The “5 Cs”

The entity that manages Elizabeth Taylor’s estate and businesses, House of Taylor, is the official custodian of her overall brand and public image. House of Taylor protects and preserves Elizabeth Taylor’s legacy through content, partnerships, and products that support her vision for a kinder, braver, more beautiful world. The responsibility of administering and sustaining Elizabeth’s legacy is a charge carried out particularly by House of Taylor’s three Trustees, Barbara Berkowitz (Elizabeth’s long-time attorney), Tim Mendelson (Elizabeth’s personal assistant of 20 years) and Quinn Tivey (Elizabeth’s grandson). The Trustees, selected by Elizabeth, lead House of Taylor and serve as the chief authorities on how she continues to live on in the world. They each spent many years by Elizabeth’s side, as she lived out her values every day.

The Trustees identified the “5 Cs” to represent the five core values that Elizabeth embodied throughout her extraordinary life and those encompassed by the work of House of Taylor: Courage, Conviction, Compassion, Confidence and Celebration. These core values were intrinsic components of Elizabeth’s character. As a result of adopting the “5 C’s,” House of Taylor operates as a living, breathing brand that reflects Elizabeth in an authentic way as we continue to foster and build upon her legacy.

From her childhood until her final years, Elizabeth’s courageous spirit never faltered. An early example of her innate courage took place while she was under contract as a child star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM). Elizabeth stood up to Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of MGM, who was widely considered to be the most powerful man in Hollywood at the time, when he berated her mother one day. During the episode, Mayer shouted and cursed, using words that Elizabeth had never heard before. When describing the encounter during an interview years later, Elizabeth said that she yelled back at him, “You can’t speak to my mother that way! You and your studio can go straight to hell!” Elizabeth assumed that, by saying such a thing to the head of the studio, she would be fired immediately. However, putting her entire career on the line in that instant did not even warrant a second thought from Elizabeth, because doing what was right and standing up for her mother were far more important to her. In the days following the dispute, Elizabeth realized that she had not, in fact, been fired. This situation further proved to her the importance of defending what she felt was right, regardless of the threat of consequences.

All too often, people don’t speak their minds because they are fearful of the consequences, but not Elizabeth; she stood up to bullies throughout her life. At the age of 19, after suffering physical and emotional abuse from her first husband, Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, Elizabeth stood up to her family and Hilton’s, as well as the studio, who had all pressured her to stay in the toxic marriage - and she left him.

As an adult, it took courage for Elizabeth to be so candid and open publicly about her personal issues, discussing her addictions, stints in rehab and weight problems. However, she knew that by sharing her experiences and her truth, she may be able to help others going through similar situations. As the ultimate Hollywood icon and glamour-girl, being so vulnerable and revealing her struggles in such a raw way took real guts. It was that same boldness and bravery that allowed Elizabeth to advocate and fight for those suffering from HIV/AIDS later on in her life.

Another instance in which Elizabeth exhibited immense courage took place in 1997, when she was diagnosed with a golf ball-sized brain tumor. The tumor had grown on the dura, a thin piece of tissue that holds the brain in place, thus squeezing brain cells and interfering with their function. Prior to her diagnosis, Elizabeth was scheduled to appear in a televised 65th birthday tribute in her honor, with proceeds going to support the fight against AIDS. Rather than cancelling the show in order to undergo emergency brain surgery, as her doctors had advised her to do, she chose to proceed with the event and delay her surgery until afterward so that the funds would not be lost for the cause that she championed so passionately. The television special (which aired on ABC) was a success, and, thankfully, so was her subsequent operation. House of Taylor Trustee Tim Mendelson said, “When people call Elizabeth fearless, that isn’t necessarily the truth. She did have fear, but she was courageous because she acted in spite of her fear.” ⁣

A lesser known example of Elizabeth’s fierce conviction came in 1976, during the hostage crisis in Entebbe, Uganda. On June 27 of that year, an Air France jetliner, with 248 passengers on-board, took off from Tel-Aviv, bound for Paris. The plane was hijacked and rerouted to Entebbe International Airport, where all of the Israeli and Jewish passengers were separated and held captive, while the remaining 148 non-Israeli hostages were released. Elizabeth, a Jewish convert, felt strongly that she must take some sort of action to help the hostages. Without involving the press or making a public spectacle, she offered to exchange herself for the remaining 100-plus Jewish and Israeli passengers. However, Elizabeth never wound up trading places because, approximately one week later, Israeli commandos were able to free the hostages during Operation Entebbe. The Israeli ambassador to the United States at the time, Simcha Dinitz, said, “The Jewish people will always remember Taylor’s offer.”

In the 1980s, when Elizabeth became aware of the HIV/AIDS crisis, she realized that no one was doing anything to help. So, she took it upon herself to use her platform to force people to pay attention. With great conviction, Elizabeth became the first major public figure to stand up and speak out for those with AIDS in the early years of the pandemic. She went on to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the cause, stand up to government leaders, co-found amfAR, establish The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, and champion the fight against AIDS for the rest of her life. Elizabeth exemplified conviction and courage because she acted on what she believed in, even when it was not the popular thing to do, and continued to fight for causes that she knew were important until her final days.

As Elizabeth once said, “Without passion, you can’t have compassion.” So, as the extremely passionate woman that she was, Elizabeth personified compassion throughout her life. She kept an open heart, which helped her to identify with people who were the most marginalized in society. Whenever Elizabeth felt that someone was in trouble or in a time of crisis, she would drop everything to help them. This generosity and selflessness is one of the reasons why so many people who knew Elizabeth continue to be so loyal to her, with many now volunteering for or serving as ambassadors to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Tim Mendelson remembers one example, in particular, of Elizabeth’s abounding compassion, even towards a perfect stranger. He recalled, “Late one night when we were in her living room, the phone rang and the caller said that a young boy had just died from AIDS, but his family didn’t have the money for a proper burial.” Tim continued, “The family needed $5,000. So, Elizabeth instructed me to contact her accountant immediately and have the funds transferred right away. When I reminded her that it was the middle of the night and her accountant was likely at home asleep, she replied, “I’m not going to let that poor boy lay on a cold, hard slab in the morgue through the weekend. Let’s get the accountant on the phone right now and make sure he sends the money tonight.”

Many people who knew Elizabeth remember her extraordinary ability to empathize with others and to feel their pain. As she became more and more famous in life, Elizabeth refused to shut down or block out the suffering that real people face, each and every day. She did not cocoon herself inside of a bubble, like so many other celebrities, but, rather, took it upon herself to help people who were going through a hard time. Elizabeth never put up a wall between herself and the real world, but instead used her fame to help disadvantaged people all over the world.

Elizabeth’s lifelong motto was a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” She believed that every single person is uniquely valuable in their own special way. Elizabeth realized that you can only be truly confident when you know exactly who you are and what you stand for in life. From a young age, she understood this and refused to pay attention to the negative things that some people said about her. She chose not to listen to what was written in the press, since most of it wasn’t true anyway. Elizabeth knew that you can’t believe your own press - good or bad - because it could undermine one’s confidence, either underinflating it or overinflating it.

An example of Elizabeth’s confidence was when she asked Fox Studios for $1 million to star in Cleopatra. Although she never expected them to grant her request, Elizabeth knew her worth and her value to the studio as a leading lady, so she asked anyway. That’s how Elizabeth became the first actor in Hollywood history to make $1 million for starring in a motion picture ($1 million was an exorbitant amount of money in the early 1960s). To put this in perspective, at the same time that Elizabeth inked this contract for Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe was making $125K per picture.

Elizabeth also exuded confidence in her sense of style, with her bold jewelry and her sometimes risky fashion choices. Elizabeth never apologized for wearing big jewels, bright lipstick or daring outfits. She lived every day confidently and in technicolor!

Elizabeth loved life and lived it out loud. She understood how much life has to offer and sought to make the most out of each and every day. Her passion for life emanated through her relationship with jewelry. Elizabeth endured so many ups and downs, so many tragic times; for her, jewelry represented joyfulness and the happy occasions. To her, getting dressed up and putting on sparkly jewels was a form of celebrating life. To some, things like hair, makeup, clothes and jewelry might be viewed as shallow or superficial, but Elizabeth saw them as a reflection of how life can and should be fun.

Even in her later years, Elizabeth refused to rest on her laurels or spend that time living off of her past achievements. Everything that she did was a form of celebrating and making the most out of her life. She took every possible opportunity to celebrate not just herself, but her family and friends, pets, achievements, holidays, birthdays and so on. She always found things to look forward to, and it was these special occasions that kept her going and fed her childlike spirit. She would get excited about even the smallest excuse to celebrate. Nothing got her down for long, because, regardless of the tragedies, ailments, or heartaches that she endured, Elizabeth never took life for granted and always remembered how lucky she was. She constantly sought to enjoy her life and to bring joy to others. Elizabeth was the most jubilant and fulfilled when she was able to help people, since she believed that the greatest way to celebrate life was to do good for others.

All of these examples of Elizabeth’s courage, conviction and compassion, as well as her unwavering confidence and love of celebration, continue to inspire us today as we, at House of Taylor, work to preserve and share her story with the world.