It’s just over a year since legendary Liz Taylor passed away. But The Starfish retains a personal connection to this beautiful screen legend.
Writer Jacqueline Lang’s great-aunt, Yvonne Lang was lucky enough to become great friends with Elizabeth Taylor, thanks to her love of children.
Yvonne, a Melbourne nurse, met Elizabeth in London, where she had gone in 1953 to see the Queen’s coronation. Deciding to stay on, Yvonne registered with an agency to work as a nanny.
One day she was asked, would she care to mind Elizabeth Taylor’s baby boy?
Yvonne said, Yes. So taken with her were Liz, and then-hubby number two Michael Wilding, that they soon asked her to move in with them and mind baby Michael full-time.
This meant living all over the world, alongside the world’s most glamorous couple, including six months at London’s luxurious Dorchester Hotel, where Liz was based while making the movie Beau Brummel.
Anybody Liz met, Yvonne met too: from Aristotle Onassis (whose boat she stayed on) to Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracey and Errol Flynn.
Here’s an excerpt from Yvonne’s 1953 diary recording that time:
Hotel d’Angleterre, Copenhagen, Denmark, September 28, 1953
“This is the most wonderfully exciting life anyone could ever imagine. Friday morning, 1am, the Wildings telephoned me in London, from this hotel, and asked would I fly over here with the baby. Would I?!!! Well, I was hardly ever off the telephone Friday and Saturday before we left.
“Newspapers by the dozens, all day long they rang, ‘How old are you?’ I wouldn’t tell them. ‘Well, are you old or young?’ ‘Reasonably young,’ I said. ‘Fair or dark?’ What on earth could that have to do with anything?
“Really, it was fantastic. I have never been so thoroughly interviewed before. Women and men came up to the flat to interview me and wanted to photograph me. I must have talked with 25 newspaper people on the telephone and so many came up to the flat, I’ve lost count. Elizabeth just had a bad cold, got a bit run down, and was told she must rest two weeks in Copenhagen before continuing her European trip.
“Naturally, she wanted the baby with her. But the media said she had had a heart attack and the baby was being flown to her bedside! It’s all a lot of nonsense really and the Wildings are most upset at all the publicity and lies. But it has been wonderful for me! The agency – the Beauchamp Nursery Bureau in London, said an English nanny would have refused to become uprooted at such short notice, so I’m happy to be an Australian.
“We left the flat 1.30pm Saturday, young Michael and I, in a blaze of publicity – about 20 photographers snapping us as we got into the MGM car and when we arrived at the airport, more newspaper reporters and photographers.
“ When the MGM escorts left us, there was a terrific holdup with an over-zealous immigration officer who wanted to know had I a letter of authorization to take the baby out of the country. This happened just as we were to board the plane and of course I had no such letter. The man practically accused me of stealing young Michael. I retorted, “Well, does he look like anything stolen?” He certainly didn’t, he was laughing and gooing all over me. The man had to let us through as the plane was ready to take off.
“It was a beautifully smooth flight and the baby was so good – slept most of the time. The photographers were still snapping away as I walked up the steps of the aircraft with my celebrity bundle. When we arrived, Michael and Elizabeth were there to meet us as well as ALL Copenhagen’s photographers and press. A quite good picture of the baby and me waving out of the plane window was in the papers here.
“This hotel is superb and we are occupying the Royal Suite, so you can imagine what it is like. Our suite is on the first floor. The drawing room is magnificent, gold trimmings everywhere and wonderful crystal chandeliers. Everything so, so elegant but luxuriously comfortable too.
“All I have to do is feed and bath the baby, there are plenty of hotel staff begging to do this, but I like to do SOMETHING! He has cut two teeth since I have been with him, without any trouble at all. He’s been given the most wonderful nursery equipment from all the leading shops here. It was all waiting for us: cot, play pen, bathing table, high chair, clothes, toys, etc. and the most magnificent grey pram, complete with everything.
“The fans wait outside all day long and hundreds are there at night waiting for a glimpse. I thoroughly enjoy taking young Michael out on the royal balcony – you step out our windows on to it – and showing him to the crowds. He loves them and waves to them and when I take him out in the grey pram in the afternoons, they mob us and he smiles at them all. The just love him. They send him dear little posies, some from florists, expensively done up in Cellophane boxes and be-ribboned, others from home gardens, tied up with ribbon or wool. Some have sent him toys. Today the children were even asking for my autograph.
“We are supposed to stay at this hotel for two weeks but there is talk of us going to some exclusive hotel out in the country, next to the Royal country palace. However, I hear so many rumours here, I just wait and see which one turns out to be right. After wonderful Copenhagen, there is talk of us going to Belgium, then Rome for a few weeks, then a week in Paris.
“This really is a superb job – a wonderful holiday and all paid for. Michael even says I’m not to spend any of my money here; anything I want is to be booked up to the suite – all my letters, etc. My only complaint – hardly a complaint really – is that we eat so late at night. The first night we arrived it came to 11.30pm before we ordered food. But I’d had SEVEN glasses of champagne. Elizabeth kept giving me different glasses. We drink it every night, but I really don’t appreciate it – would just as soon have iced lemonade.
“I really must say that I adore both E and M, and of course love the baby and he loves me. They, E and M, are simply marvelous to me, and won’t allow me to be left out of anything. I have to be included in all the celebrations, etc, and they discuss all their plans with me and ask my advice on different things. Every day, practically, I am asked to go to California. I wonder will I?”
Yvonne did end up joining the Wildings in California, but after a few months she returned home to Australia, feeling homesick.
Not remotely starstruck, she resisted Elizabeth’s cajoling and begging for her to remain with the family.
But for the rest of her life, Yvonne treasured the memories of her time with one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Elizabeth, she said, was kind, generous and unpretentious, “a great mother and a loyal friend.”
When Yvonne died several years ago, she was wearing the gold St Christopher medallion necklace Elizabeth had given her half a century earlier, engraved with the words: “Dearest Yvonne, safe journeys always – God bless – Love, Elizabeth.”