Thursday Mashup: Burton, Taylor, Sophia Loren, Doris Day and...the Scandalous June Allyson?

"I DON'T think much about myself as a beauty. Bosom too big, arms too big, short legs, nose a bit crooked, double chin, big hands, big feet. My best features are my gray hairs. I've named them all Burton." So wrote Elizabeth Taylor in her 1965 "autobiography."

•I WAS absolutely blown away by ace writer John McPhee and his comments on interviewing stars in his long professional life and working for Time in the good old, bad old days.

His piece under "The Writing Life," entitled "Elicitation," is in The New Yorker for April 7th.

Mr. McPhee has written about "them" all -- Jackie Gleason, Maggie Smith, Alan Jay Lerner, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Richard Burton, hundreds of others.

Here, for instance is his take in a Time cover story on Sophia Loren, which is priceless:
"Her feet are too big. Her nose is too long. Her teeth are uneven. She has the neck, as one of her rivals has put it, of 'a Neapolitan giraffe.' Her waist seems to begin in the middle of her thighs, and she has big, half bushel hips. She runs like a fullback. Her hands are huge. Her forehead is low. Her mouth is too large. And, mamma mia, she is absolutely gorgeous."

•However it was McPhee's comments about Elizabeth Taylor that astonished me. This appeared as a small P.S. to a big story he was doing on Richard Burton when he and Elizabeth were filming The V.I.P.'s in London in 1963.

In a virtual aside, writer McPhee manages to capture Elizabeth like nobody else has and I don't negate my own reporting on the most famous movie star in the world in her heyday.

Here is what he wrote:

"Burton was even easier to interview than Woody Allen because he interviewed himself. You just listened and wrote down what he said. At the studio, most of that happened in Elizabeth Taylor's dressing room, which was not a cramped space. There was a couch, a coffee table, plenty of room for walking around. She feigned irritation that I was all but completely concentrating on Burton. I'm sure she understood what I was doing and did not seriously care. But she kept interrupting us. She was having fun."

"And so was I, for sure. In comparison with a great many of the actresses I had met in my years of writing about show business, she was not even half full of herself. She seemed curious, sophisticated, and unpretentious and compared with people I have known in universities she seemed to have been particularly well educated. From childhood forward, she was tutored in the cafeteria at MGM."

"One day, she interrupted us with the news that a pair of British journalists were about to arrive for a scheduled interview with her and Burton. It was all right if I wanted to stay and listen, but my own interview had to be suspended. Sure. Thanks. This would be interesting. Both were men. Both were tall and, as I remember, oddly diffident. Sitting side by side on the couch they asked chatty questions and made occasional chatty comments. They recorded nothing, and made no notes. Taylor gave them tea. The teacups rested on their knees -- easy to maintain, since the writers were not writing. On the following day, their update on the world's preeminent scandal appeared on the front page of their newspaper. The piece was full of quotes -- long quotes, short quotes, hyper-sensational quotes. But the writers seemed to lack the mnemonic skills of Truman Capote. At any rate, I couldn't recall hearing Taylor or Burton say any of the skeins of words attributed to them within quotation marks."

• After that, McPhee returns to his interview which focused on Richard Burton. But in just a few words about Elizabeth, he offered up her entire essence. I don't ever remember reading anything about my good friend Elizabeth that wasn't summed up in his ..."she was not even half full of herself..."

•DORIS DAY is perhaps reclusive when it comes to show biz events, but the great star put aside her cherished privacy last week at the special dinner celebrating her 90th birthday. Three hundred friends and fans gathered at the restaurant in Carmel, CA, not really expecting DD to appear. But she did, dazzling and delighting them. She stayed the entire evening, which included a film compilation of her career, and interacted with every guest. (When a clip from her rowdy "Calamity Jane" came on, Day lifted a celebratory fist in the air!)

•ENDQUOTE: "June Allyson epitomized the kind of homespun girl that the boys in the military were fighting for in World War II. But the truth is this undeniable cutie was more accurately quite a femme fatale in the Lana-Ava mode in real life."

That's Robert Osborne writing about Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month for May, June Allyson.

Robert not only chronicles her known romances, but he blazes a blind item about a "wild weekend" in Las Vegas with "two famed comedians" and "another secret MGM kept covered up."

Oh, do tell us, Robert. The "other" could have been an abortion, her heavy drinking (which she
acknowledged later) or some sexual ambivalence? Kay Thompson MGM's great vocal coach and stylist declared of June, "Never trust a woman in a Peter Pan collar!" I'd say, "Never underestimate a woman in a Peter Pan collar."

P.S. Judy Garland, who was constantly being threatened by June Allyson, via the front office -- "if you don't behave..." -- had a similar wholesome image in her early studio years. She too, didn't miss a trick when it came "romance." Despite -- or perhaps because -- of her insecurities, no man could resist Judy.