A CHARMED LIFE
"I never cared whether or not I was an actress, especially when I was a very little girl. I was born in England, and we had a lodge on my godfather's estate. And I had my horse, which I had to leave behind when we came to America. The happiest days of my childhood were in England because I rode — that's where I learned to ride bareback — and took ballet lessons. I wanted to be a ballerina, so I was enrolled in the same school that the young princesses attended. At the age of three I was picked out to be in a performance for the Royal family. Every year there was a command performance. The child with the highest marks from each class was chosen to do a solo. And guess what? That year I was it! I was so enthralled by the applause that I couldn't stop doing my butterfly curtsy and taking a peek through my hair at the Royal box. They were all laughing and smiling. I would not get off the stage. After many whispered hisses of 'Elizabeth, get off,' from the wings, I eventually relinquished my place at the center of the stage and the warmth and glow of the audience that started me off I guess has never left me.
"Years later, after we had moved to America and settled in Beverly Hills, my father got me an audition for Lassie Come Home because of my English accent. So I just talked to the dog — 'Poor Lassie. Poor girl.' And I got the part. Then MGM signed me up for eighteen years. I had a great imagination, and I just slid into being an actress. It was a piece of cake. But mostly, when I was first acting, I just liked playing with the dogs and the horses. Riding a horse gave me a sense of freedom and abandon, because I was so controlled by my parents and the studio when I was a child that when I was on a horse we could do whatever we wanted. Riding a horse was my way of getting away from people telling me what to do and when to do it and how to do it. And if I was a good little girl I would be rewarded...by receiving another script. On the other hand, by the age of fifteen — or whenever this picture was taken — I really did have a new love in my life: jewelry. And I've been loyal to that love ever since."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited
My Ice Skating Rink
"By now people know about the Krupp diamond that Richard bought for me, but my darling Mike gave me a magnificent 29.4-carat ring when we got engaged. I used to call it my 'ice skating rink.' Even then, back in the late 1950s, people would stop me and ask me about my jewelry — they still do, as a matter of fact — and sometimes they've even asked to try it on, which I love.
"Toward the end of 1957, Mike and I had been on this crazy junket promoting Around the World in 80 Days, and our last stop was in Russia. We were on a tour in one of the great museums and we had this darling Russian guide with beautiful gray hair, and he was dressed in a perfectly matching gray suit. He was showing us the painting and sculpture galleries, and the jewelry, which was my main interest. When we came out of the museum, my diamond ring (which I had to sell years later) was sparkling away in the sunshine, and this dear man couldn't take his eyes off it. He looked at me and said, 'I mean no offense, madam, but a stone of that beauty should be in a museum, where everyone can see it.' 'You know,' I answered, 'I disagree with you. When I wear it, anyone can look at it, and I'll let anybody try it on. So more people have probably touched this stone, seen the beauty in the pure sunshine or when it sparkles at night. Anyone who is around me can see it up close. Isn't that better than putting it in a museum? How many people in a museum can actually take a rock of this size out of a case and put it on their finger? Besides, I take care of it. It's a part of me while I have it, and I'm there to protect it and insure it.' At that moment he finally understood what I meant. Then I asked whether he wanted to try it on."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited IT'S TUESDAY, I LOVE YOU
"I can't deny that Richard gave me some spectacular gifts on birthdays and Christmas, but in truth he was so romantic that he'd use any excuse to give me a piece of jewelry. He'd give me 'It's Tuesday, I love you' presents. 'It's a beautiful day' presents. 'Let's go for a walk, I want to buy you something' presents. Over the years I've come to think of these as my 'It's Tuesday, I love you' jewelry. And I never knew when he would come up with the most extraordinary ring or something very sweet and simple."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited
When in Rome...Go Shopping!
"Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages to working on Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari's nice little shop. I used to visit Gianni Bulgari in the afternoons and we'd sit in what he called the 'money room' and swap stories. He had a whole section of antique silver and gold samovars and huge tea sets and other bits for fine homes. And the jewelry? The exclusive crème de la crème pieces were tucked away in a small room.
"One day Richard said, 'I want to buy you a present. I feel like buying you a present.' And I said, 'Wow! What did we do today that you...that's amazing! Where? Where shall we go?' 'Bulgari, of course,' he said. 'Now Elizabeth, I am handling this and I would prefer if you would control yourself,' because I tend to get a little high-strung. 'My love,' I cooed, 'I promise whatever you give me will go straight to my heart like an arrow. Whatever you pick out for me.' Again, the Welsh baritone: 'Just be in a good mood.'
"So we went to Bulgari's back room, and Richard said to Gianni, who's now properly seated behind this rather formal desk, 'I want to buy Elizabeth a present but it cannot exceed $100,000.' Gianni smiled, went over to the safe, and brought out a pair of rather small — I mean very small — earrings. Richard and I looked at each other and sort of chuckled, 'You've got to be joking.' Gianni replied modestly, 'I thought you said $100,000.' Well, we did! 'So,' he said, with this little flourish of his hands and a shrug of his shoulders, 'that's $100,000.'
"'Try again,' Richard suggested. Gianni opened another drawer in the safe and a little chunk of green flame came out. He opened another drawer and this time a giant green flame leapt out! Then a third drawer. This time we were blinded by a blaze of white. And it was diamonds. 'Gianni,' Richard said, 'what kind of game are you playing with us?' Gianni became very apologetic: 'You are right. These are way too expensive. I am so sorry. These are over your budget and I can't let you see them.' 'Oh come on, Gianni. Be a sport.'
"Of course Gianni was playing with us. He brought out a ruby and diamond necklace. I had never seen anything like it in my life, and by that time I already had the beautiful Cartier rubies from Mike. But this necklace was huge, with the most enormous stones. 'How much?' Richard asked. I didn't even dare put it on. Again Richard asked the price. 'Over a million dollars.' Richard sort of looked down, and mumbled 'No, no, no.' 'OK, I have a lesser piece,' and this time he brought out emeralds. We simply gasped, and I thought, 'Oh my God! I've got to have the emeralds.' Gianni was so smart, because he didn't just show us one piece, he showed us two different sets to choose from. The smaller of the two necklaces had a pendant that could also be worn as a brooch. So I tried them on, the huge one, then the smaller one, then the huge one, then the smaller one — the $100,000 limit was out the window. But I reasoned with Richard, 'You see, love, you can detach the pendant and wear it as a pin, so it's really like getting two pieces for the price of one!' We saw how beautiful it was both ways. The big diamonds around the brooch were 10 carats each.
"By this time we had been joined by Bob, who was one of Richard's and my dearest friends and who had been Richard's dresser for I don't know how long. Bob was a very elegant, tall, Savile Row-dressed black man, who held himself with such perfect dignity. Richard turned to him and asked, 'Bob, what do you think?' because by now Richard was in a 'whatever you want' mood. We'd gone too far to turn back. I remember Bob looked at both necklaces and said he couldn't decide, either. Finally, I tried them each on one more time, and I said, 'Richard, you know, I think I like the smaller one.' With that, Bob turned to Richard, shot him this look of, oh boy! and said, 'Mr. B., you can't hardly get girls like that no more!'"
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited LA PEREGRINA
"I was doing a film in Las Vegas, and when Richard wasn't working he was always in a black, grouchy mood. He had just bought the Peregrina at auction, and Ward Landrigan of Sotheby's had it flown out to us from New York. It was hanging from a very beautiful, little tiny pearl-and-platinum-chain necklace. I loved putting it around my neck and feeling it dangle. The pearl was so tactile, I couldn't stop rubbing it.
"The history of this totally natural, totally real pearl is unbelievable. When we got the Peregrina we also received a booklet with the story of the pearl and its family tree and a list of all the people who had owned it. It was just incredible. It had been discovered by a slave sometime in the 1500s. He got his freedom because of it and his owner made out pretty well, too. It ended up as part of the Spanish royal jewels, and along the way Prince Philip II of Spain gave it to Mary Tudor of England as an engagement present.
"Not long after I received the pearl, we saw a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots and that's when I decided how I wanted it set. So we took pictures of the painting to Cartier to have them design a setting. The choker part was in the painting, so we took that aspect of it. Both the larger and the smaller oriental pearls came from the painting, as well as the idea for the diamond and ruby ornaments between the pearls. It was the most incredibly beautiful choker. But the little diamond bail, suspending the pearl, is original to the piece."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited
The Case of the Missing Pearl
"I had recently received the Peregrina from New York and it was on a delicate little chain, and I was touching it like a talisman and sort of walking back and forth through our room at Caesar's Palace — we had the whole top floor and the crew had about half of it. So I was dreaming and glowing and wanting to scream with joy, but Richard was in one of his Welsh moods, and his joy...well, he was a Welshman, so sometimes his joy was perverse and he would become dark. But when I'm happy I show it and scream it and yell it, and I wanted to throw myself at him and kiss him all over. But because I knew Richard very well, I had to play it by ear, and I knew that this was not the moment to become too demonstrative. Just the same, there was no one to talk to and no one to show the jewel to, and I was going out of my mind! At one point I reached down to touch the pearl — and it wasn't there! I glanced over at Richard, and thank God he wasn't looking at me, and I went into the bedroom and threw myself onto the bed, buried my head into the pillow, and screamed.
"Very slowly and very carefully, I retraced all my steps in the bedroom. I took my slippers off, took my socks off, and got down on my hands and knees, looking everywhere for the pearl. Nothing. I thought, 'It's got to be in the living room in front of Richard. What am I going to do? He'll kill me!' Because he loved that piece. Anything historic was important to him. This pearl is unique in the world of gems. It's one of the most extraordinary pieces there is. And I knew that he was proud inside, which was why he was being like this cartoon with a black cloud over his head and raindrops falling.
"So I went out and sort of started humming la la la, and I was walking back and forth in my bare feet, seeing if I could feel anything in the carpet. I was trying to be composed and look as if I had a purpose, because inside I was practically heaving I was so sick. I looked over and saw the white Pekingese, which was mine, and the orangey-brown Pekingese, which was Richard's. God, that dog worshiped him. All the puppies — it was their feeding time — were around the bowls munching. So I looked at the dogs, saying, 'Hi babies, such sweet little babies...' and I saw one chewing on a bone. And I did the longest, slowest double take in my head. I thought, 'Wait a minute. We don't give our dogs, especially the puppies, bones! What is he chewing on?' And I just wanted to put my hand over my mouth and scream again. But no, I just casually opened the puppy's mouth, and inside its mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world. And it was — thank you, God — not scratched.
"I did finally tell Richard. But I had to wait at least a week!"
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited FIRST A BROAD, NOW A DAME — THE MOST EXCITING DAY OF MY LIFE
"I've been a broad all my life, so a dame seemed a natural extension. You can be 'Damed' if you've been totally outstanding or, as in my case, for what they call 'services to acting and charity.' Honestly, I had no inkling I was receiving this honor. It came as a total surprise to me. I do not exaggerate: this was the most exciting day of my life.
"The protocol is that when the Queen pins you with your medals, you are allowed to wear them to your seat, but then you are supposed to remove them and return them to their very nice little case. So I returned to my seat, where all of my family was assembled from the four corners, feeling quite carried away by the spirit and pomp of the day. But as I was listening to the music, which really did give me goose bumps, I kept fingering my medal. By the time the ceremony was over and we were leaving, I was still wearing my medal and I thought to myself, 'This day will never happen again, so I am going to wear my new pins — forget protocol!' I simply held my head high and left Buckingham Palace, with the proof of my investiture for all to see.
"There is a nice little behind-the-scenes footnote to this day, which is that my old friend Julie Andrews was also among those being recognized by the Queen. Julie and I were glued to the hip out of pure nervousness and excitement. Julie is a lady and I'm not — I'm more of a broad, more gutsy and outgoing. As I recall, at one point while we were being 'briefed' on the ceremony, our patient instructor turned to Julie and advised her 'to look after me.' As though I would possibly misbehave! But Julie has a grand sense of humor, and I was so grateful to share that special day with her."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited I LOVE ART DECO
"In 1977, I received the Hasty Pudding Award from Harvard and I wore this wonderful hunk of emerald on a pearl necklace with onyx and coral. I had it on with a very simple suit. The necklace hits just below the navel. I was in a room and there was a bunch of young guys below, on the sidewalk. When I leaned out of the window to say hi, my necklace leaned out with me. I waved to them, kind of chatting with them, and before long I was getting pretty cold. Just as I was saying good-bye a part of the necklace caught on the windowsill, the string broke, and pearls showered through the air, spiraling down below. I could practically see them spinning in the air. All at once there was a twinkle of coral, another twinkle of onyx, and more twinkles of pearls landing on the snow. Luckily, the big piece of emerald was in my hand. Otherwise, that would have been history.
"'Oh my God,' I said, 'Hey guys — look!' And I showed them the torn string. 'Do you think you could do me a massive favor, please? Could you possibly help find some of my pearls? I see some of them on the red tile, there's some over on the snow. I think I saw some of them bounce down the stairs.' I sort of directed them which way to go. Well, these guys were on their hands and knees, scrambling around in the freezing weather. And one of them yelled up that they thought they'd found everything and could they bring it up. 'My God, yes,' I said. So they came up to the room, and you know, they had found every single pearl, every single piece of jet, every piece of coral — everything. I had the necklace restrung and I didn't have to have anything replaced. It's in perfect shape."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited
We Exchanged Elephants
"A year or two ago, Michael and I and a couple other friends decided to go to Las Vegas for my birthday. We stayed at the incredibly beautiful Bellagio, where we had dinner and watched the fountains. The whole thing was just perfect for me because I've grown tired of big-deal birthdays. At one point, I turned to Michael and said, 'All right, where's my present?' Well, he looked at the ground, he looked around the room, he looked at our friend Arnie Klein, but he didn't really say anything. So I said, 'Michael, I know they have great jewelry shops in the lobby, I can't believe you haven't noticed.' Michael and Arnie start giggling. I continued, 'This is really breaking my heart, Michael, I'm not sure I can go on.' You know, I was really hamming it up. Finally, Michael and Arnie excused themselves and returned to the table some time later with a perfectly interesting-sized box. Any box can be interesting to me! I opened it and inside was some weird padded black wrapping, protecting the most exquisite titanium elephant evening bag. A saddle of rubies and pearls was dangling from its backside, and the dear little creature had huge diamond eyes.
"'Michael! Michael! I was just kidding around!' I mean, this was the most unusual thing I'd ever seen. I was playing with the long dangling pearls, in part because I was so happy and because I was also a little embarrassed that he had actually gone and gotten me something this amazing. But Michael and I do kid around a lot, and I knew I hadn't really overstepped my place in our relationship.
"When I got home, there in my front hall was a huge box, tied with a red ribbon. It was my real birthday present from Michael, the one he had planned to give me all along — one of those superflat TV sets. Truly, the biggest one I've ever seen. I was the innocent in all this, the most happy innocent. And Michael played it totally straight.
"Years before, soon after Larry Fortensky and I got married at Michael's Neverland Valley Ranch, I couldn't think of what to give Michael to show my undying thanks. He rarely invites anyone to Neverland, and this was the first time, which was so generous, such a glamorous compliment to our friendship. I had been trying to think of a truly meaningful way to thank him. Then I got an idea: Michael has a zoo. I'll get him an elephant! That clinched it. I got him a great big Asian elephant named Gypsy. I guess you could say we exchanged elephants."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited RED IS FOR WALES — AND RICHARD BURTON
"I call this my Christmas stocking story. Richard and I had been married for I don't know how many years, and we'd had Christmas, and all the gifts and the food and wrappings had been through the cleanup. I was just about to take a shower and get ready for friends coming over when my little girl Liza came into my dressing room with her hands behind her back, clutching something, and she said, 'Mommy, Mommy!' 'What is it?' I asked. 'Daddy said to tell you that you left something important in the bottom of your Christmas stocking.' We'd stuffed the stockings with nice things, like apples and oranges and walnuts all mixed together. Cute things — Christmasy stuffing things. 'Oh my goodness,' I exclaimed, 'What is it?' 'Which hand?' she asked. I pretended to ponder very hard, and then said, 'That one!' Her face split into a smile and her eyes danced. In her hand was the smallest box I'd ever seen. By now my heart was beating and bouncing and I opened the box very, very slowly. Inside it glowed with the fire of the most perfect colored stone I'd ever seen. With the most perfect cut. I'm sure I almost fainted. I screamed, which probably echoed over the mountains, and I couldn't stop screaming. I knew I was staring at the most exquisite ruby anyone had ever seen.
"I went running to the living room where Richard was sitting in a chair reading a book — probably waiting for me to appear. I threw myself at him and covered him in kisses and hugs. I just couldn't get over it. I almost smothered him to death! He enjoyed it immensely, with a shit-eating grin on his face. Four years before, when he bought me the emeralds, he had said, 'One day I'm going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world. It's my favorite stone — red for Wales. But it has to be perfect.' It took him four years to find this. I still treasure that Christmas stocking."
Copyright © 2002 by Interplanet Productions Limited