Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1932. So was I. In 1956, Elizabeth was 24 years old. So was I. In August 1956, Elizabeth was in Danville. So was I. On a hot August afternoon, she was at the corner of Third Street and Lexington Avenue. So was I.
The beginning of an afternoon’s work accomplished by actors making the movie “Raintree County” promised to be an easy and short-lived episode that used the front door of the Rodes House. Montgomery Cliff was scheduled to dismount from the horse he had ostensibly been riding and rush to the front door.
Having done that, he was to ask for information that concerned the whereabouts of his love, played by Elizabeth Taylor. On a scale of 10, rating the difficulty of the work, this should have been an easy one — certainly no more than a two.
The horse, pre-lathered to make it appear it had been running for some time, stood quietly to the side, and when the lighting — yes, contrary to popular belief, bright sunlight was not good enough for this endeavor and artificial lights were directed to cancel shadow effects — was in place, the director called for silence.
I was standing on the sidewalk across the street from the house, watching this “new to Danville” operation take place. The always present crowd shushed when directed to do so, and Montgomery mounted the placid horse. Suddenly, the director shouted, “Action,” and as if shot from the saddle, the erstwhile Mr. Cliff leaped from the horse and started running toward the porch. His attempt was delayed when he tripped on something and fell to the ground. The crew laughed, and the crowd followed suit, with some hesitation.
The simple task began again. This time, when the call for action came, the horse, for reasons only ever known by horses, jumped to the side, and Montgomery, no doubt startled and unprepared, slid from the saddle. The director, this time, was not pleased and said so.
As preparations began anew for the third attempt the crowd, seeing a car stop just outside the barriers, espied Elizabeth.
She was not working that day, but had come to join the cast members and crew and to watch the proceedings. The director smiled but was plainly aggravated that more time was being lost as this lovely young woman, 24, and in the absolute prime of her physical development, strolled across the street. She wore a white blouse and yellow slacks and became the center of attention.
As the horse was put back in place. Elizabeth spotted the table that held tall glasses of lemonade and sashayed over the grass to get one. Instead of drinking it, she sauntered over to the ladder where one of the technicians was aiming the lights.
In a flash, she reached up, pulled the pants of the grip toward her and dumped the lemonade down into his hinterland of repose. She squealed, started to run, and the grip was off the ladder and right behind her. They passed the table of lemonade and grabbed one. She was entertaining the crowd, and he caught her in the fenced in southeast corner. There, unceremoniously, he pulled her blouse open and poured down the liquid.
The plan to film a simple scene was now in rout. The noise and laughter were uncontrollable. The horse, still lathered but not exercised, stood quietly in place and awaited the next mounting that may or may not be the last. The crew members were involved in the fun, and the lemonade was both swallowed and flung in directions of other crew members and cast.
With the exception of some eight years, I have lived in Danville all of my life. I grew up with the Rodes house standing in place on this corner. But, until that day I had never been aware that the air surrounding the front yard actually was blue.
And then it dawned upon me that it was the coloration of language used by the now sitting director that sucked all the oxygen out of it and left the hue of staleness as he announced there would be no further attempt with this scene that day.
She was stunning.
Edward Clark is a Danville businessman and community columnist for The Advocate.