Goodbye Liz, Hello Pearl
The death of the famous thespian shadows with doubts the future of the most famous Spanish Royal jewel
Elisabeth Taylor died yesterday at 79 from a cardiac congestion. The star of nearly a 100 films began her career when she was 10 conquering the heart of millions for over six decades. The artist first shared the screen with Lassie and later continued playing in films such as Little Women and other stereotyped roles of young girls so common then at Metro.
Her transition into adulthood was fast both in life and on the screen. The simultaneity of her marriage to Nicky Clinton, heir to the Hilton hotel chain, and the premiere of the film Father of the bride catapulted her to stardom. Her part in some of the most controversial and exciting love scandals and films of the fifties and sixties soon made her be known as the queen of the United States, leaving behind a stable of stars, including the first lady Jackie Kennedy.
An unending list of memorable titles, some of which have aged better than others, is her legacy to an audience that has always been faithful. Her unfortunate portrayal of the lead character in Butterfield 8 has seen better days. But others continue to cast the same enchanting spell as they did back in their day. Such is the case of the films Cat on a hot tin roof or the still thrilling screenplay by Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, which launched Mike Nichols career as a director. In it life seemed to imitate art with Taylor and Burton reliving the same battles and rages for which their stormy legendary double marriage was known for.
Terenci Moix once wrote"..She is really a world queen... or should be if we take into account her popularity, the space she covered in the papers day after day, year after year, the number of people that saw her movies, the number of conversations she was subject to, the privileged spot where she placed her husband Richard Burton or the jewels she wore". It was actually Burton who bid up to 37.000 dollars in a New York auction house to present her with the jewel of the Spanish crown, the pilgrim pearl for her thirty seventh birthday.
The pilgrimage of this pearl is almost as legendary as the career of the English actress. Upon being discovered in Panama it was acquired by Philip II and passed on to the royal collection. Thereafter by descent until the arrival of the Borbón dinasty. We lose its trail with Philip V and the war of succesion and it is believed it was used to finance the enormous millitary expenses. Around 1750 it is again in possession of the Royal family in spite of rumors which linked its disappearance to the fire of the Royal Alcazar in Madrid. The peninsular war triggers the loss of the pearl with Joseph Bonaparte as the new owner, until Napoleon III is pressed to sell it to the marquis of Albercorn. After which it comes in and out of the market until it reappears in the previously mentioned auction of 1969.
The pilgrim pearl has inspired hundreds of writers and the death of its owner will probably present the Spanish state with a unique opportunity, as the offer once presented by London jewellers R.G Hennel & Son to Alfonso XIII in 1914 undoubtedly was, to reacquire the prized gem. Will the Spanish state act with the same lack of enthusiasm as Alfonso XIII? or will Elisabeth Taylor take it to her grave along with thousands of unsolved mysteries? There are now rumors that the pearl will be the subject of an important exhibition recounting its risky and adventerous provenance throughout history. With a little bit of luck the death of its owner will provide the public the first opportunity to see the famous jewel.
* Fernando Rayón, Las joyas de las reinas de España: la desconocida historia de las alhajas reales. Planeta, 2004