Icon appears onstage with James Earl Jones

“NEVER UNDERESTIMATE Elizabeth Taylor!” So say I. On Saturday night at Paramount Studios, Taylor defied naysayers and exceeded every expectation (perhaps even her own) appearing onstage with James Earl Jones to perform A.R. Gurney’s bittersweet play, “Love Letters.” Elizabeth is frail now, after years of declining health. But in what can only be described as proof plus of her fabled powers of mind over body, she appeared, dressed in a stunning orange Michael Kors gown, wrapped in fur, her ears dripping coral and diamonds — presents from Richard Burton, from way back when — and she really acted Gurney’s character. … Toward the conclusion, when her character breaks down mentally, Elizabeth made some daring choices. Even those in the audience who had prepared themselves for an endurance trial for charity — or a sudden cancellation — were moved, but more than that, impressed. There was a palpable difference in her opening and closing ovations. When she was wheeled onstage the crowd roared for her history and courage. At the end, they lauded an actress. Elizabeth has not worked on a stage for 23 years. She looked momentarily stunned by the ovation that greeted her. As the play proceeded, this instinctive performer took the bit in her teeth. She seemed to be relishing her challenge, and accepted her last bravas — standing up from her wheelchair, proudly. … Organizers were not especially interested in gathering a red-carpet packed with megastars. (David Geffen, Paul Newman, the Christie’s organization, Elton John, Hugh Hefner, Kathy Ireland, who is Elizabeth’s business partner, made significant contributions.) One of Elizabeth’s ongoing projects is the mobile AIDS units, which she spearheaded in the USA. Elizabeth wants these life-savers on wheels to be able to “roll up in front of a mud hut in Africa or India.” There was a party before the reading, decorated in accents of red, to honor the red-ribbon. Huge blowups of Firooz Zahedi’s famous 1992 Vanity Fair portrait of Elizabeth holding a condom loomed over the guests: California first lady Maria Shriver, Swoosie Kurtz, Holland Taylor, David Furnish, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. … A group of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church Religious Ministry gathered outside Paramount. They shouted terrible things and held up vile placards. Taylor responded: “Our traditions of free speech are to be revered and protected, and that extends even when a group uses this freedom to monger hatred of innocent people… this reminder that such ignorance and hatred of our fellow human beings forces us to redouble our efforts to address HIV/AIDS. Please pray for hearts which are filled with hatred… when the greatest need is God’s love.”

I’D WALK through fire for the guys I worked with on ‘CSI.’ I could never be sick of them,” says Jorja Fox who has left the popular TV series. What happens when — after several seasons of making the TV viewing public come to love and adore you, to feel they know you and, indeed, that they own you — you disappear of your own free will from their screens and their lives? I was surprised when she entered the restaurant for our chat. The star is slight, but very tall. She is soft-spoken and not much like her “CSI” self, a character always jousting with her comrades. “Well, I’m not leaving under a cloud. It is much harder for me to leave than to stay. Actually, I’ve been thinking about leaving for a year and a half. I had to get up the courage. Maybe I’m just having a mid-life crisis. Maybe this will be the worst decision I ever make. … The series worked for us because we were doing stories about new technologies happening right that moment. It made us feel smart. We wouldn’t have been able to bring it off if we hadn’t done it as a collective with the creator Anthony Zuiker and William Petersen.” She hopes to do future episodes, but is most interested in moving back to New York after almost 12 years of doing television. “Theater is one of my loves so I’m open for that. … I’ve never been to college and I think about that. But I kept putting it off and I am also thinking about having a child and that’s really important. Also, I want to do a lot of traveling and surfing — one of my hobbies. Maybe the universe will get tired of me.” She has a one-woman play about Dusty Springfield opening Feb. 2 at the Renberg Theater in Hollywood.

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