All-Time Beauties: Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, Gal Gadot, and Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor (left) in 1955, and Greta Garbo in 1939 (Taylor: Dr. Macro / Wikimedia; Garbo: Clarence Bull / Wikimedia)

Impromptus today begins with a casting controversy and ends with the American vernacular. In between are the Afghan War, Donald Trump, the Detroit Lions, and plenty more. I would like to give you a footnote or two on the casting controversy.

Gal Gadot, the Israeli stunner, has been cast to play Cleopatra in a movie. Some people are upset about this, believing that the role should go to a woman “of color.” Cleopatra herself was a Greek princess, ruling in Alexandria, but leave that aside.

In 2016, I wrote an essay about identity politics and art: “Killing Aida.” Cleopatra came into play, because someone had gone after Elizabeth Taylor, saying that the actress should not have been allowed to play that ancient beauty in the 1963 movie. I said that Cleo and Liz may well have looked alike — “not that it matters much when you are talking about art.”

Well, here’s what I want to say here on the Corner. I once asked Pat Buckley (Bill’s wife), “Who is the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?” She said Elizabeth Taylor. She also told a story about Garbo.

One day, Pat went to the doctor’s office, and there was Garbo. In the waiting room. Pat stared at her a bit, as who could not? Indignant, Garbo turned her back on her. Pat apologized, saying that she was simply admiring the lady’s great beauty.

But here’s the thing: The wall toward which Garbo had turned was mirrored. So one could see Garbo regardless. She had not succeeded in being alone.

Another tidbit, regarding Garbo and National Review? Our David Pryce-Jones once played tennis with her in the nude. That is, David was clothed, but Garbo was topless. You can read about it in P-J’s memoirs, Fault Lines.

Beat that, as WFB would say.

P.S. When I was much younger, Antony and Cleopatra was my favorite Shakespeare play, more or less. I felt slightly sheepish about this, although I am confident in my opinions (all too). Then I read that A&C was also the favorite play of Samuel Schoenbaum, the venerable Shakespeare scholar (1927–96). Which made me smile.

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