LOS ANGELES — Richard Burton snuggled in a booth at a Mexican food restaurant deep in conversation with his "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" co-star with eavesdroppers only able to make out a dignified "Yes, Elizabeth" on occasion. She called him "Richard."
It was the end of another day of Warner Bros. studios shooting for the role that would earn Elizabeth Taylor another Academy Award. (I'm not a monster. I'm not.")
The tabloids were splashed those days with Liz Taylor headlines: She had to put on weight for the "Virginia Woolf" role and the supermarket scandal sheets were sniping about the beauty that was: The "National Velvet" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" siren was portrayed as a bloated has-been.
That was in 1965 and those tabloid headlines were an injustice.
I was a 16-year-old bus boy at the El Chiquito Inn across the street from the Burbank studio and the first night Liz & Dick showed up I straightened my tie and brought water, chips and salsa to their table.
Elizabeth Taylor looked up at me with those famous violet eyes and whispered "Thank you." Then, it was back to speaking with Richard, conversation punctuated with her loud, bawdy laugh.
I instantly fell in love with an older woman. I was awestruck. Those violet eyes took my breath away. And that cleavage, well, it (they?) meant a lot to a 16-year-old high school kid.
They had several drinks (believe his was whiskey on the rocks and hers a vodka gimlet) and they chatted for about an hour before climbing into a limousine parked outside (I had smuggled chips and salsa to the chauffeur and the leftovers were stashed at the curb.)
They showed up again the next night and I decided this was a trend. I told friends at school the next day about my Elizabeth Taylor encounters and classmates started showing up for dinner to catch a peek of Liz & Dick. One girl from school begged for the red cloth napkin Miss Taylor used, so I snagged it for her.
These were impressionable moments for a teenager who grew up riveted by newspaper headlines about the "Cleopatra" star's near-death bout with pneumonia and her lifesaving tracheotomy.
I often served celebrities at this now-razed restaurant and bar — Natalie Wood, Johnny Mathis, Tony Curtis, Gene Autry and a variety of stars from movies shooting across the street. ("Blazing Saddles," ''The Great Race" and others.)
But the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor was in the house. She was a jaw-dropping beauty like no one else.Comment on this story
I later became a news reporter and saw her frequently. I did stories on her many hospitalizations, reported on AIDS fund-raisers and watched her from a helicopter buzzing her Neverland Ranch wedding to Larry Fortensky.
He was her eighth and last husband and I was very jealous: He was younger than me! There may have been a chance to say "Yes, Elizabeth" and hear her respond, "Now, Jeffrey."
I will miss the last of the movie stars. The last of the tabloid queens.
And those eyes. And cleavage.
Jeff Wilson is a native Southern Californian who has been an AP reporter since 1985.