I nervously stood in the jetway, waiting for the plane from Nice to arrive. Six weeks on the job and the Cannes Film festival was in full swing. The VIP hostesses were in a frenzy looking after the hottest stars as they flew to and from the festival through Paris.
There were only so many VIP hostesses to go around so when the telex came in from our LAX offices concerning a “VIP PAP” with a “WHCR” a “PETC” and 9 handbags… somehow that telex was passed on to me. I don’t know the reasoning… I’m American, she’s American… In any case, that is how I came to look after the one and only, Elizabeth Taylor.
Once I got over my excited OMG, the WTF OMG took over. This was huge. Ok, basically I just had to get her from point A in Terminal B to point B in Terminal C. But add in that she was in a wheelchair, had a lap dog, AND had 9 carry-ons, plus security and stairs… I was beginning to understand why the VIP girls were suddenly too busy.
When I headed to the arrival gate, I reassured myself that I would not be alone. I could count on the wheelchair assistant. HE would know what to do. These guys knew the airport like the back of their hands.
The first thing the assistant waiting at the gate said to me was that this was his first week on the job.
Great. I had seniority.
As I saw the plane taxiing to the gate I thought, ok, she is flying under another name…she will be incognito…no one will recognize her. We will get through the airport…no problems. I had even prepared a sign with the other name on it just in case she would slip past me unseen.
Oh, naive little me.
When the door opened, I saw an apparition in white. White pants, white shirt, white scarf, white dog. Oh good lord, and those eyes. It was Liz in all her splendor. My knees started to shake but when my beaming colleagues aboard helped her off the plane, I naturally reached out to offered her my arm.
Once we got her settled in her chair with her dog on her lap, I realized we were not alone. There was an entourage of about 5 people behind us waiting, all carrying handbags. So leading the charge, off we went as a pack to their next flight.
Heads started to turn so, brilliantly, I swiftly thought to hold up my sign so when the crowd would start to murmur excitedly “Ohhhooow.” As in “Gee look!” “It’s Liz Taylor!” A disappointed voice would ring out “No, it’s not… that is not what is written on the sign..” my ruse was foolproof!
We had been walking silently for about 5 minutes when I thought Liz might like a bit of chitchat. Really. I thought this might brighten her day.
The only question I remember asking was about Truman Capote. He had written an essay about her and I asked something along the lines of if she thought he had exaggerated. She looked me straight in the eye and then looked away while saying in a deep voice, “all writers exaggerate.”
We made it to the next terminal without a hitch. I was almost starting to relax until we hit security. I escorted her and her dog through passport control and the metal detector, we got her up a short escalator and back in her wheelchair when I noticed that the entourage was beginning to be held up by the x-rays machines. I turned back to Liz who was now surrounded by a middle aged Indian couple who had handed their camera to the wheelchair assistant for a picture.
I must say Elizabeth Taylor was full of old Hollywood poise, she acted as if this pleased her so much, she smiled beautifully and was gracious to the couple.
I, on the other hand was not smiling. I was panicking. I was busy trying to figure out how I could get her safely to the VIP lounge to avoid half the flight to Bombay coming over with their cameras.
Have you ever seen “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I have. And the idea that being surrounded by fans could awaken the Martha in her scared shit out of me.
But Liz had other worries on her mind.
I was surveying the scene in panic mode when I heard her famous voice behind me say, “could you come here please?” I turned and honest to God I thought she was talking to someone else. I looked behind me left. Then right. Two beats later I pointed to myself with a “who, me?” expression on my face.
That is when she started to gesture with her index finger “come here” very discreetly. Everytime she curled her finger, I inched closer. It was if she had me on a string and each gesture pulled me in, until I was standing right beside her. She continued luring me in until I was bent at the waist, my nose hovering above her breasts, so she could whisper in my ear “all my jewelry is in that bag” as she motioned towards the x-ray machine.
My eyes grew wide and I froze to the spot. Holy shit. She has one of the largest diamond collection in the world. In that bag. Being opened by the police. In front of everyone.
Since I was still bent over her lap, trying to process that information… I locked eyes with Sugar, her dog. Ever so helpful, Sugar leaned up and licked my nose.
I stood up suddenly and loudly gasped for air, not realizing that I had stopped breathing for a minute. The adrenaline started to kick in. “Right, I’ve got to hide Liz, get a fortune in diamonds through security…and my nose is wet….” What to do first? I went down to check on the bag and make sure it got through without being opened up in front of the crowd. Next I quickly got the entourage together to surround Liz.
At this point, a guardian angel showed up carrying a walkie talkie. To this day I don’t know who he was or who he was talking to but, bless him, he saved me. I asked if he could open a jetway for us. He did. I asked if he could order a special hydrologic bus that could reach the jetway to take us to the plane on the hardstand, he did. I rushed to our agents who check passports to beg them to break all protocol and check passports for me on a different jetway. Once I whispered her name, the agent followed me while straighting his tie.
And lastly. When Liz said, “oh Sugar” “Sugar will have to wait till he gets to Los Angeles” everyone turned to look at me, I turned and pleaded with my eyes to the angel, he sighed and kieek! He mumbled something into his walkie talkies, pushed a keyboard and opened the door leading down to the tarmac. (This was all pre 9/11)
One member of the entourage whipped out a bejeweled leash and carried Sugar down the stairs. And there we stood. Watching Sugar lift his leg and pee in the shadow of a 747.
When they came back up, I ushered everyone into the vehicle to wait until we would be taken to the aircraft. Everyone started to relax and the group started chatting. The leash master said at one point to Liz, “oh, that lipstick looks so good on you!!!” Everyone in the entourage grew silent and turned into bubble heads, bobbing and repeating ….good….so I started to bob my head and murmured “good” too. Later they asked me if Paris was polluted and we spoke about polluted cities in general, that voice said just one word… “Bangkok!” We all started bobbing our heads in unison…. Bangkok….
We finally made our way to the plane and before I introduced her to the crew, she turned to one of the entourage women and said, “but we never met ____, and she said my name. “That’s me! I’m _____!” Pointing to myself like an idiot. She boarded the plane, turned, looked at me with those fabulous eyes and said, “Thank you, ____.”
I looked after many a star since but there was something special about that lady. Just a true class act.
And I am sure she enjoyed the chitchat.