On the Urgent Matter of the Child, Elizabeth Taylor

To see her as a child, already in full bloom, is quite, quite surreal

Here is our Elizabeth as the doomed Helen in Jane Eyre. The role is uncredited, she’s on screen for under five minutes, but wow!

It’s like seeing the head of the full-grown Elizabeth Taylor on the body of a child. Already there is nothing minor about the intensity of the effect. The blue eyes, the black brows, the dark hair framing the glowing face leave a vivid afterimage. The level of beauty here is magisterial. This is the face of a queen, not a princess.

The year is 1943. The next year, she stars in National Velvet and completely discombobulates the famed novelist James Agee, who at that time is writing movie reviews for The Nation.

“Frankly, I doubt I am qualified to arrive at any sensible assessment of Miss Elizabeth Taylor. Ever since I first saw the child, two or three years ago, in I forget what minor role in what movie, I have been choked with the peculiar sort of adoration I might have felt if we were both in the same grade of primary school.”

He continues:

“I wouldn’t say she is particularly gifted as an actress. She seems, rather, to turn things off and on, as much as she is told, with perhaps a fair amount of grace and of a natural-born female’s sleep-walking sort of guile…

She strikes me, however, if I may resort to conservative statement, as being rapturously beautiful.

I think she also has a talent, of a sort, in the particular things she can turn on: a mock-pastoral kind of simplicity…two or three speeds of semi-hysterical emotion…an odd sort of pre-specific erotic sentience… and the anguish of overstrained hope, imagination and faith.”

Yes, our Elizabeth. We recognize the grown actress in this assessment.

Yours truly,

Screencaps from Jayne Eyre, 1943; Lassie Come Home, 1943. Publicity photo, MGM.

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