Love, friendship found as Liz's stand-in

When Sydney Mack heard the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, her memories of the star started flooding back.

For a full year Mack, formerly known as Patricia Beattie, emulated Taylor's every move. After all, she was a stand-in on the set of the 1963 classic "Cleopatra."

"Everything she did, I did first," Mack said with a laugh. "I sat on the throne for three days. She came in for 15 minutes."

A Laguna Beach resident since 1972, British-born Mack traveled the world in her 20s, always managing to find the film studios — and jobs.

It was during the 1959 film "Suddenly Last Summer" that Mack met Taylor. Fluent in four languages, Mack acted as an interpreter for unit manager Ted Sturgis while the film was shot in Northern Spain.

A year or so later, after working on "Lawrence of Arabia," Mack ended up in Rome. It was on a fluke, she said, because it was the farthest she could go with the meager money in her pocket.

She stepped in the studios and got a gig working on set and trying on costumes. Then she got hired full-time as Taylor's stand-in.

"From that day on, I saw her every day," Mack said.

Before shooting with the actors, as a stand-in Mack served as a marker as to how Taylor would look in the scene in terms of placement, lighting and costume.

The Taylor she remembers was kind, generous and a good mother.

"From the first time I saw her, I liked her," Mack said. "The actress is fine, but I like the person behind the actress."

Mack said Taylor had her two sons on set and was always on top of their whereabouts.

She remembered when Eddie Fisher told her that one of the boys almost drowned while swimming nearby. He told Mack to promise not to tell Taylor. She never did.

Taylor was always concerned about people, Mack said.

She recalled Taylor footing the bill when one of the cast members was in the hospital.

"She was terribly loved by everybody that worked for her," she said.

Mack went out in Rome with the actress, who was then the talk of the tabloids for her affair with co-star Richard Burton.

"She was so sick of the paparazzi," Mack said. "She would wear big dark glasses and blonde wigs whenever we went out."

She saw Taylor and Burton on set, obviously in love. "Cut" was called numerous times during the more intimate scenes, Mack said, revealing some genuine feelings while filming.

Although Mack enjoyed the two as a couple, she said Taylor's relationship with Burton changed Taylor. She stopped arriving late to the set, and he seemed to influence her behavior.

"He certainly dominated Elizabeth, and she wasn't used to being dominated," she said.

While out with Burton and Taylor one day, Mack said she experienced a more vulnerable side of the actress. Taylor had walked away and Burton asked her to go check on her.

"She was crying," Mack said. "I said, 'What's the matter?' and she said, 'He'll never marry me.' I said, 'Of course he'll marry you.'"

Mack was right. In fact, Taylor wed Burton twice, in 1964, and in 1975.

The former stagehand said her experience with Taylor changed her life. It was on the set of "Cleopatra" that Mack met her husband, John Mack, who worked in the sound department.

They wed while in Rome on June 2, 1962, within months of meeting. Taylor sent them a big bottle of champagne. There would be no second marriage. They've been together ever since.

After they settled in Laguna, a decade after their year in Rome, she focused on being a mother for her two children — Antony and Nina — and he continued working in the studios, earning an Emmy and an Oscar nomination. John Mack worked on a number of sets, including a long run on the hit series, "The Wonder Years." He retired in 1993.

Now 82, when she wants to remember those years, she pulls out a photo album, each page chronicling days on set and nights out with the cast.

She pointed at one picture, Mack and Taylor side by side, the only picture she can find of just the two of them.

"I loved that person," she said. "She changed my life — absolutely, totally and completely."

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