March
23rd 2011
Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

Posted under: American history, art, class, jobs, unhappy endings, women's history

“I hope that was an empty bottle George. You can’t afford to waste good liquor. Not on your salary–not on an Associate Professor’s salary!”

When I was an Assistant Professor about 11 or 12 years ago, Fratguy and I rented Who’s Afriad of Virginia Woolf? and laughed all the way through it (pretty much.) Now that I’m an Associate Professor, and in my 40s rather than my late 20s or early 30s, I see it differently as a “sadder but wiser girl,” as it were. And Elizabeth Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s performances seem better and richer now that I’m about their characters’ ages.

The movie brilliantly evokes small college life in the 1960s, I think. Watch carefully the opening scenes, and wait for the lingering shots of the interior of George and Martha’s house when they stumble in from the party across campus. The set designers got the cluttler and jumble of faculty life just right–the shabby-genteel older home, the African masks, the stacks of dusty books, the various curios around the house. When I was in college in the mid-1980s, some of my professors’ houses looked just like that. (They would have been new professors about Nick and Honey’s age back in the mid-1960s, I guess, although some of the Georges were still on the faculty in the 1980s.)

13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011”

  1. Cliotropic on 23 Mar 2011 at 7:05 am #

    As for the verisimilitude of the sets: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was filmed at Smith College, in Tyler Annex, which was full of humanities faculty offices when I was an undergrad a decade ago. (As I recall, some of the history faculty’s offices were scattered over campus, but none in that building. Perhaps the dean had a sense of humor.)

  2. Historiann on 23 Mar 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Cliotropic–thanks for that intel! I had no idea. (Maybe that’s why my college and George and Martha’s college look so similar–I went to Bryn Mawr!) It sounds like it looked pretty much the same when you were there, still.

  3. Roxie on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Who knows better than an Associate Professor that it’s worth spending money on good liquor? How else should one endure mid-level career stagnation? Put an olive in that sucker, sweetheart, and we’ll make a meal of a fine, dry martini!

    RIP Liz. The associate professors of the world forgive you for that remark and wish you a booze-soaked bon voyage.

  4. Historiann on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:23 am #

    BWAHAhahahahaha, Roxie! I’m rolling on the floor wiggling my paws and tail laughing at that one.

    Cheers, darlings. My bet is that the bottle George broke was an empty one. Richard Burton knew better than to make a point with a full bottle. And of all of the actors who might sympathize with the Stalled Associates among us, it’s gotta be Richard Burton, he of the tremendous promise who got busy in midlife with bad movies, Liz, some good movies, divorce, Liz again, divorce again. . . and then Bluebeard? Srsly?

  5. Z on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I worked for an elite SLAC much more recently and it was full of that kind kind of unhappiness and intrigue, including among the undergraduates. It was very depressing.

    “When I was in college in the mid-1980s, some of my professors’ houses looked just like that.”

    Mine looks like that minus the dust and clutter. It’s what I can afford. Yes, people in engineering/medicine have newer houses and furniture sets, and people with double incomes have modern ranch style houses or super cool Victorian and Edwardian mansions, and people with more kids live in cheaper tract homes way out of town, but … hey, one does what one can, oder nicht? Or am I totally behind the times?

    I mean: it can be worse. I also have a couple of tenure track colleagues in mobile homes and rooming houses, because they have research and materials expenses and can’t get any more loans. Suddenly I feel apologetic, which isn’t how I usually feel about these situations.

  6. Historiann on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Z–no need to apologize! I have a feeling that the George and Martha asethetic will look familiar to most of us, and not just because of historical observations. I just thought a shout-out to the set designers was in order because of the verisimilitude.

    We don’t buy new furniture–all of our stuff is junk store/yard sale/flea market/castoffs from family. I draw the line at mattresses, but that’s about the only stick of furniture I’ll buy new. This started because of poverty, but then it became something of a principle in my home. It’s greener as well as usually cheaper, and you get better stuff than you might be able to afford new. (And I had fun sanding down and refinishing a lot of the stuff myself.)

    My 1951 house would have looked like a “new”-ish house in 1966 when the movie was filmed, but by now it’s positively vintage.

  7. Roxie on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:35 am #

    Why hasn’t somebody thought of doing a re-make of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In the 21st-century version, they’d be a dual-career academic couple, both Stalled Associates. He’s bitter because no one’s interested in publishing his second book on Sir Philip Sidney, and she’s worried that child-rearing and program-building and blogging have permanently derailed her scholarly ambitions. They spend long nights drinking, fighting, and gossiping viciously about their colleagues.

    Wait, I did say “He,” didn’t I? Right. Yes. Absolutely no resemblance to anyone living or dead in Roxie’s World. None, I tell you. I never read Sir Philip Sidney. Couldn’t pick the guy out a line-up, I swear.

  8. Indyanna on 23 Mar 2011 at 9:54 am #

    “Reading” the story as it was “breaking” on the monitors at the gym this morning–and looking at the (bounding-dates) of her lifespan–I couldn’t believe she was as young as she was when I was much younger than she was and we were moving for the first time in my life and her career started to go from ingenue to spectacle (with the addition of Burton to it). You sort of project back with the later ages of people you still either know or get updated on electronically or otherwise, while you do the opposite with people who you once knew and then anticipate meeting at a reunion. Well, with my eighteenth century historical subjects, you just sort of make up how you think they may have looked. Then it’s always shocking to find an image.

    In my first job, a one-year, I lived in a rented house that sort of didn’t actually have any furniture in it, or at least not much. A mentor brightened my day and yearby describing a great-aunt of hers in Brooklyn whose life long vision was to have one piece of furniture in each room.

  9. Historiann on 23 Mar 2011 at 10:30 am #

    She was very young to be playing middle-aged (33 or 34!) I think she was famous in this role for gaining weight to play middle-aged better–one of the first times IIRC, and notable for a non-method actor to use a “method” like that.

    Now that you mention it, Roxie: George and Martha have a pretty queer marriage, IMHO.

    I agree that a remake is in order. Except, my bet is that they’ll make it a hetero couple again, and cast a dumpy male actor for George (Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti, for example) and then ask Nicole Kidman or Renee Zellweger or some implausibly gorgeous person to play Martha. If they make a straight version, I’d go with someone like Hugh Jackman/Guy Pearce and Kate Winslet/Maggie Gyllenhall. They’re all gorgeous but not untouchable, and they all have a few miles on ‘em by now. (But why not a gay version starriing Winslet as Martha and Gyllenhall as George, like the George in Nancy Drew?)

  10. koshem bos on 23 Mar 2011 at 11:09 am #

    The rumor has it that “Who is..” was originally written for two gay couples. From that perspective, the play becomes more complicated, deeper and more cutting. When I watched the movie then, I watched with several LBGT (didn’t exist then); they had a ball.

    Since, I attended only large cities schools and am teaching at one as well, I know little about small town colleges or small colleges. Isn’t the “small” totally beside the point?

  11. cgeye on 23 Mar 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    off-topic: NCLB grader tells all:
    http://www.citypages.com/content/printVersion/1782234/

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