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WHO WILL BE NO. 9?\ EIGHT DOWN, HOW MANY TO GO?
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WHO WILL BE NO. 9?\ EIGHT DOWN, HOW MANY TO GO?

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Liz's 8th was fittingly vulgar. The helicopters buzzed about, one parachutist tried to break in from the heavens above, and the wedding was hosted by Michael Jackson (details courtesy of Liz Smith) ``formally attired in a dinner jacket, with a large diamond pin at his throat instead of black tie. He wore another diamond medal on his chest and bright silver boots.' The father-of-the-bride who gave Liz away is almost 30 years junior to the bride, who stepped forward to marry the groom, 20 years her junior. He was in turn accompanied by best man, hairdresser Jose Eber, ``wearing his customary trademark straw hat, dyed black to match his tuxedo for the occasion.' The chimpanzee that was to have brought in the wedding ring did not turn up. Bad chimpanzee! Did he have no sense of the occasion?

Liz was dressed in a $30,000 yellow floor-length Valentino, giving her one more wedding dress to add to her swelling collection. The guests were kept waiting (a Taylor trademark) and became very nearly mutinous at an odd sign of austerity in the bacchanalia, to wit the word that went quietly: No booze until after the ceremony. I mean, it was now 6:13! Can you imagine, 6:13 and no booze at a Hollywood extravaganza? You'd think Major Barbara had arrived by parachute with a squadron from the Salvation Army. But, finally, the bride and groom were together and the officiator, ``non-denominational Minister Marianne Williamson' began the ceremony, with, understandably, carefully selected words:``Elizabeth is literally God's gift to you for your healing and her healing.' One searches for the meaning here, but perhaps the reference is to Elizabeth's having met the construction worker at Betty Ford's clinic where both were in for alcohol-drug treatment. The minister went on, ``Elizabeth and Larry and you guests understand that so much of the illusion that is happening here right now has nothing to do with the meaning of this ceremony. We invite the power of God to enter us.'

I believe in an omnipotent God, and only for that reason therefore believe He was able to penetrate the ceremony (if He were one shade less omnipotent, He would not have made it). Williamson went on, ``As you join together, from this point on nothing will be experienced alone.' Nothing has ever been experienced alone by Elizabeth. ``Through the grace of God we may love more deeply than we have ever loved before.'

That is quite a challenge, for those who remember, e.g., Elizabeth's love for Mike Todd and for others here and there in the course of her nuptial parade. There are, to be sure, those who are skeptical about the uniqueness of Larry Fortensky. One guest, Stella Barraza, commented to The New York Times' Seth Mydans: ``She is a legend and she's still around after all these years and she's still every bit as beautiful. But I don't really think this one is going to last. He's so much younger. It'll be No. 9 in no time at all, you watch.'

Fortensky is indeed only 39, and one has to conjecture that the love Elizabeth feels for him is biological, which raises the interesting question, Why was marriage necessary? They could have continued to keep house together and saved the expense of the wedding, the innocent will speculate.

But you see, the wedding was a smash economic success. ``Earnings from the access has been estimated in the press at millions of dollars,' writes Mydans, referring, one supposes, among other sources of revenue to what People mag paid for photo exclusives. How the rest was raised we don't know. One assumes that Nancy Reagan and Gerald Ford weren't charged admission at the gate, but then . . . how? ``Much of that money, the reports say, is to be donated to AIDS research, a cause to which Miss Taylor has devoted considerable effort.' Miss Taylor might have done more for AIDS if she had taken greater pains to obscure her lifestyle. After all, AIDS is communicated primarily by self-indulgence, and Elizabeth hasn't left any fingerprints in the annals of self-denial.

There is something there that repels about using hallowed ceremonies, which weddings are, as a kind of cookie-cutting assembly line for serial marriage. It is one thing when a couple discovers a deep incompatibility, and sets out again, even a third time, in search of a happy life. Elizabeth Taylor has been the model of self-indulgence. Her latest, to someone manifestly incongruous in age and background, is one more log added to the bonfire of cynicism. Perhaps I feel especially on the subject given that she and I were first married on the same day, in 1950.

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