`The most desirable girl in town is the easiest to find. Just call Butterfield-8!’ So trumpeted the posters of this, Elizabeth Taylor’s first Oscar winning performance. The film is a modernization of the 1935 novel by John O’Hara, which was based on the real life of the 1920’s New York City call girl Starr Faithful.
Miss Taylor was dead set against playing Gloria Wandrous. She felt was a deliberate play by M.G.M. to capitalize on her recent notoriety in the Liz-Eddie-Debbie scandal. Also, she was anxious to move on to her first ever million-dollar role in Fox’s Cleopatra. She was told by M.G.M that if she did not fulfill her contractual obligation to her home studio for one final film on her eighteen year contract that she would be kept off the screen for two years and miss making Cleopatra all together. She swore to the producer Pandro S. Berman that she would not learn her lines, not be prepared and in fact not give anything more and a walk through. Mr. Berman knew her better than she suspected. In the end Elizabeth Taylor turned in a professional, classic old style Hollywood performance that ranks at the top with the best of her work. She brings a savage rage to live to her searing portrait of a lost girl soaked through with sex and gin. A woman hoping against all hope to find salvation in yet one last man.
Weston Leggett, a man who is worse off than she is in the self-esteem department. In her frantic quest for a clean new life Gloria finds that the male establishment will not allow her to step out of her role as a high priced party girl. She is pigeon holed by her past and the narrow mores of the late 50’s are not about to let her fly free. Not the bar-buzzards of Wall Street, not her best friend Steve who abandons her at his girlfriend’s insistence. Not even her shrink Dr. Treadman believes in her. The three women in her life are blind to who she really is. Her mother will not admit what Gloria has become. Mrs. Thurber will not believe she can ever change and Happy, the motel proprietor is too self involved in her own past to care who Gloria is She is the dark Holly Golightly and this is the lurid red jelled Metro-Color Manhattan that is the flip side of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (also 1960). Wilder’s New York is cynical. Liz’s tony East Side phone exchange rings only one way, the hard way. This New York is dammed. The film concludes in a melodramatic blaze that Douglas Sirk might have envied in place of his usually unsettling, unconvincing happy endings. In the end we have a bravura performance by the last true star of the old system. Yes she deserved the Oscar more for `Cat’. Yes it was given to welcome her back from the brink of death in London. And even Shirley MacLaine’s lament on Oscar night, `I lost the Oscar to a tracheotomy.’ can not diminish this must see performance by Miss Taylor.
In what one could call a perfect example of what an `Oscar scene’ is all about she says it all. `I loved it! Every awful moment of it I loved. That’s your Gloria, Steve. That’s your precious Gloria!’ She gave it to us with both barrels blazing, and M.G.M., and Berman be dammed.
What perfume did Gloria wear? Elizabeth may have favored Bal A Versailles at the time but in the opening scene of the film she wanders into Dina Merrill’s dressing room and samples a few perfumes on the vanity. Gloria finally settles on one. She liberally applies it thoroughly enjoying the sensual act of perfume meeting skin. The perfume was Caron’s Tabac Blonde. Created in 1919 by Ernest Daltrof this Leather perfume’s notes are: leather, carnation, lime blossom, iris, vetiver, ylang-ylang, cedar, patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, musk. Tabac Blonde, a smokey leather scent perfect for Gloria’s walk of shame in nothing but a silk slip and a mink as she hails a cab at dawn on 5th avenue.
(On the left an Amphora of Tabac Blond at Caron in Paris)
The beautiful Gloria’s Theme From Butterfield 8 (Played by the composer of the score Bronislaw Kaper)