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Category: one of a kind

Elizabeth Taylor: donations and memorial

Publicists for Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday at 79, said a memorial service will be announced later, after a private family funeral this week.

Her family has requested that instead of flowers contributions can be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, c/o Derrick Lee, Reback Lee & Co., Inc., 12400 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1275, Los Angeles, CA 90025, or online at

Personal messages can be posted on a Facebook tribute page.

--Elaine Woo


Elizabeth Taylor's obituary: outtakes from a 12-year work in progress

Elizabeth Taylor's death Wednesday moved me in an odd way. Although I never met or spoke to her, I had a "relationship" with her that spanned a dozen years: Hers was the first advance obituary I ever wrote for The Times. The assignment, which I received in 1999, probably was precipitated by one of Taylor's nearly annual brushes with death. I read a mountain of articles and books over a three-month period before writing a lengthy piece. And nearly every year since then I updated the article, adding a worthwhile quote or details about her latest illness. I felt I had come to know her and, unlike many of my subjects, I liked her.

ET More recently, I revisited the obit to shorten it. Some pithy quotes had to go, such as this one from writer Truman Capote, who once said: "Her legs are too short for the torso, the head too bulky for the figure in toto; but the face with those lilac eyes is a prisoner's dream, a secretary's self-fantasy."

And this one from Paul Newman, her co-star in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He called her "a functioning voluptuary."

Elizabeth Taylor: A life in pictures

One of my favorite anecdotes that didn't make the final cut concerned Howard Hughes, the nutty billionaire who tried to run a movie studio after making a fortune building planes. After Taylor separated from her first husband, Conrad Hilton Jr. of the Hilton hotel chain, she was lying by a pool in Palm Springs when Hughes landed a helicopter next to her. "Come on, get your clothes on, we are getting married," he told the raven-haired beauty. She told him he was mad, whereupon he dipped his hand into a coat pocket and scooped out a handful of diamonds, which he then proceeded to sprinkle on her. Taylor roared with laughter and ran into her friends' house, scattering the diamonds behind her.

The diamonds from Richard Burton, the Welsh actor who accounted for two of her eight marriages, were another matter: She kept most of those. I loved his recollection of his desire for a $1.1-million, 69-carat diamond ring from Cartier in New York, which he acquired for Taylor after outbidding Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. "I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely," Burton said. "And it should be on the loveliest woman in the world. I would have had a fit if it went to Jackie Kennedy or Sophia Loren or Mrs. Huntingdon Misfit of Dallas, Texas." 

I noticed that when Taylor spoke about herself, she rarely took herself too seriously, a quality that made her appealing. "People have called me accident-prone," she told Life magazine in 1997. "That really pissed Richard Burton off. He'd say, no, you're incident-prone."

You can read the obituary here.


The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Paul Newman on Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor on "What's My Line"

 -- Elaine Woo

Photo: Elizabeth Taylor in 2009.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Thirty years ago: John Lennon

Lennon pageTimes staff writer John J. Goldman began his breaking news story on the death of John Lennon outside the now-famous Dakota apartment building by writing:

"NEW YORK -- Former Beatle John Lennon, 40, who led a revolution in popular music that captured the imagination of an entire generation, was shot to death Monday night outside his exclusive Manhattan apartment house."

The banner headline declared “Beatle John Lennon Slain,” although in later editions it was amended to say “Ex-Beatle.”

The 30th anniversary of Lennon's death is being marked with a number of tributes and reflections, including a wistful New York Times piece on what it was like for residents of the Dakota to share the historic co-op with Lennon. (He was obsessed with raising his young son, Sean, and  brought a sushi platter to a potluck.)

On Friday, Rolling Stone will publish what the magazine is calling “The Lost Lennon Tapes,” a transcription of a nine-hour interview Lennon gave three days before he died. After excerpts from the tapes ran in the magazine in early 1981, writer Jonathan Cott said he tossed them in a closet and only rediscovered them earlier this year.

On the tapes, Lennon complains about his critics -- saying that they were just interested in “dead heroes” –- and talked optimistically about his family and future, musing that he had “plenty of time” to accomplish some of his goals, according to the Associated Press. The tapes were released to the wire service on Wednesday. 

In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, Jon Wiener, a UC Irvine history professor and author of the 2000 book “Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files,” analyzes “Imagine,” the song that was Lennon’s most celebrated work. Released in 1971, the work is “a hymn to idealism” that still provokes controversy today, Wiener writes. He points out that Christians have condemned the song, schools have banned it and students have been suspended over it. 

Times blogs also examine some of the history behind the songs Lennon wrote and report on a National Public Radio segment that features another 1980 interview with Lennon, who was then a stay-at-home dad who fancied himself a baker.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

One year ago: Lester Glassner

Glassner It all started with a Mickey Mouse lamp.

Lester Glassner, who died a year ago at 70, was a collector of vintage movie memorabilia, dime-store merchandise and other pieces of pop culture.

Over nearly 50 years, he collected hundreds of thousands of items that filled his home on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

"He just started building collections of all sorts from his 20s forward, and he never stopped," said his sister, Freda Honig.

"It was just part of Lester," she said. "It was who he was."

Glassner's obituary appeared Aug. 30, 2009, in The Times.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Lester Glassner, surrounded by some of his collection. Credit: Brownie Harris


Reginald Levy, pilot praised for bravery in 1972 hijacking, dies at 88

Levy Reginald Levy, a pilot praised for his cool-headed bravery during a 1972 hijacking by Palestinian militants, has died. He was 88.

Levy died Sunday in Dover, England, of a suspected heart attack or blood clot, said his daughter, Linda Lipschitz

Levy was a pilot for the Belgian airline Sabena when he took off from Brussels bound for Tel Aviv on May 8, 1972 — his 50th birthday — with 90 passengers on board. Mid-journey, the Boeing 707 was hijacked by four armed members of the group Black September, who ordered Levy to land at Israel's Lod — now Ben Gurion — airport and threatened to blow up the plane if Israel did not release more than 300 Palestinian prisoners.

Levy's response was admirably calm, even though one of the passengers was his wife, Dora.

Sent to convey messages from the militants to Israeli authorities led by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Levy gave the Israelis detailed descriptions of the attackers' numbers, weapons and positions.

After almost 24 hours, commandos disguised as airplane mechanics stormed the plane, killing two of the hijackers and capturing the other two.

Among the commandos were Ehud Barak, now Israel's defense minister, and the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Several passengers were injured, but none was killed.

"Every one of us is lucky to be alive," Levy said after the attack. "I have had some tough times, but this was my toughest."

-- Associated Press

Photo: Reginald Levy in 1972. Credit: Associated Press

The eternal travels of Ralph B. White

 Ralph ashes 

Just consider the travel itinerary of Ralph B. White sort of an Afterword Adventure.

Instead of a bucket list, White has an ash log that’s six pages long, Christopher Reynolds writes in a story on the front page of today’s Times.

After White died at 66 on Feb. 4, 2008, his fellow adventurers decided to honor him by taking tiny portions of his cremated remains around the world.

“Rather than have people mourn him, he wanted to give people incentive to go have adventures,” said Rosaly Lopes, who was engaged to White when he died and is the keeper of his ashes.

Read about White’s posthumous travels here.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Rosaly Lopes spreads some of Ralph White's ashes at the Colosseum in Rome.

Tom Runyon, Ali MacGraw and the end of an era

Runyon Tom Runyon ran a restaurant-saloon called the Old Place in an Agoura canyon that was known for its ramshackle Western character, the Hollywood crowd who frequented it — and the character who ran it for 40 years with his wife.

Runyon, 89, died of cancer July 17 at his Malibu home.

Actress Ali MacGraw shared her memories of Runyon and the Old Place, which she frequented with Steve McQueen when they were a married couple in the 1970s. There was room in the story only for snippets of the colorful commentary by MacGraw, who now lives in Santa Fe.

Here’s most of what MacGraw had to say on July 29, 2009, about Runyon and a slice of life that she lamented as "long gone":

"It was such an important place. I loved the Runyons and Tom. Of course, I worked with him in 'The Getaway.' He was so remarkable. Steve and I went up there all the time when we lived in Trancas. Because it was just sort of 10 minutes up the canyon from where we lived.

"He had this most extraordinary collection of people — Robert Mitchum, Bob Dylan, Steve McQueen types and bikers.

"He was adored, and he was a total character.

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