Ty Burr explains what Taylor's Golden Globes fumble means for Hollywood

By Ty Burr
Updated January 24, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Was that Liz Taylor or Linda Richman’s wacky sister?

I saw the twilight of Old Hollywood the other night. You saw it too, if you watched the Golden Globe Awards all the way to the bitter end, when, to great fanfare, Elizabeth Taylor took the stage to announce the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Drama. She is, of course, pretty much the last remaining link to Hollywood’s golden age. I mean, who’s left of the major stars of the studio era?

Kate Hepburn, Bob Hope, and Ronald Reagan are in no condition to make public appearances. Mickey ”The Hardest Working Man at MGM” Rooney doesn’t have the stature of Taylor, even if he’s as much a survivor as she is. Olivia de Haviland? A class act, but lacking the sheer star wattage of La Liz. For iconic linkage to the films of yore, Taylor’s it.

If you’re young and/ or not into old movies, though, you must have been bamboozled by Taylor’s Golden Globes appearance. Here was what looked like Linda Richman’s wacky sister staggering onto the stage and ripping open the envelope without bothering to read the nominees. As the crowd below her shouted out their dismay — and dear 246 year old Dick Clark dashed onstage to assist her — Taylor looked bemused, confused, and tickled.

Finally sashaying through the nominees with plummy eccentricity, the actress returned after the commercial break to wish the assembled throng a pleasant evening in a drawl that sounded as if she’d been possessed by the spirit of Tennessee Williams. Suddenly, Al Pacino’s rambling Life Achievement Award acceptance speech seemed a model of Ciceronian oratory.

Listen, if anybody’s entitled to make a happy fool of themselves in public, it’s Liz Taylor — the woman has experienced and delivered enough drama in her lifetime to do whatever she damn well wants. And the Golden Globes, too, are a goofy industry rubber chicken event compared to the Oscars; they’re simply an excuse for Hollywood folks to show up, hang with their pals, and get pleasantly snockered. What I found mildly disquieting wasn’t Taylor’s altered state (as opposed to her usual altared state) so much as the fact that she suddenly seemed shockingly…mortal. We’re used to the legends of filmdom holding fast to their aura of invincibility, and Taylor, both in spite of and because of the messiness of her very public private life, has always seemed the essence of smart, regal stardom.

So how come I felt like I was watching my Great Aunt Vi dip into the applejack at the family picnic? Oh well, maybe it’s impossible for the stardust of the 20th century to make it into the 21st intact. Kids, if you want to know what that curious lady on the Globes was capable of, rent ”Suddenly Last Summer” or ”A Place in the Sun.” Then you might be able to appreciate that, however hard you may have been laughing at her, she was probably laughing harder.