In the midst of his legendary 1984 Victory tour, Michael Jackson made time to court Elizabeth Taylor. He sent admiring notes, trying to meet her, and comped dozens of VIP concert tickets for a show at Dodgers Stadium. When he learned she’d left early—upset, because she couldn’t see the stage well—he was nearly inconsolable.
“With him, it was sort of divine worship,” says Donald Bogle, author of Elizabeth and Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop—A Love Story. “It was! It’s funny, the way he responds to her,” he says, citing a story, told by the actor Robert Wagner, of how Taylor and Jackson held up Liza Minnelli’s wedding: apparently, they were too busy enjoying their reunion to fulfill their duties as matron of honor and best man with timeliness.
“Wagner goes into this room where they are and Michael is almost kneeling before Elizabeth, talking to her,” Bogle says. “He loved her. He’s just in another world—and she is, too.”
They were born worlds—and 26 years—apart: she, in England, in 1932; he, in working-class Gary, Indiana, in 1958. But as Bogle aptly demonstrates in this thorough, thoughtful dual biography, the famous friends had much more in common than simply superstardom.
“Michael was dazzled and captivated by the career highs and lows, by the endurance, by the power of her unending fame, and perhaps by her refusal to live her life on anyone’s terms but her own,” Bogle writes in Elizabeth and Michael. “Just as important was the fact that she had been a famous child star who, having survived it all, had not retreated from the public eye just as he knew he never could.”
Bogle is an acclaimed author and film historian whose bestselling biographies include Dorothy Dandridge and Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters. Specializing in African Americans in film and television, he teaches cinema and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania and NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Elizabeth and Michael begins with chapters alternating between Taylor and Jackson’s early lives, which lays the foundation for their friendship: as megawatt child stars, each was called upon to conjure emotions beyond their years in the service of art. They maintained the focus, stamina, and professionalism required to support their families with their earnings. They were influenced by their mothers’ religions (his: Jehovah’s Witness; hers: Christian Scientist) and their fathers’ abuse.
“ ‘I can really relax with her because we’ve lived the same life and experienced the same thing,’ ” Bogle quotes Jackson saying about Taylor, whom he finally befriended in the aftermath of that fateful concert. When he called to apologize for the seats, the two ended up talking for over three hours.
“When Elizabeth finally meets Michael, it’s the right time in both of their lives,” Bogle says. “She’s still acting, but her career wasn’t what it once was. She was looking for something else, something larger than herself, and she found that really with her work for AIDS [charities] and with Michael...I think that Michael, in many ways for Elizabeth, reminded her of the actor Montgomery Clift, who she loved, and it didn’t work out....Michael, too, was this very sensitive person, vulnerable, with this great talent, in need of someone to nurture and understand him, and I think she really did.”
Over the course of their 25-year friendship, Elizabeth and Michael would support each other in sickness and in health. They exchanged gifts on the grandest scale: additions to her world-famous jewelry collection; an African elephant named “Gypsy” for him. They stood in each other’s defense in the court of public opinion.
When Jackson was accused of molestation, Taylor remained resolute: “ ‘He’s the least weird man I have ever known,’ she said emphatically,” Bogle writes.
“My hope is that the book will show readers what it was that drew her to him, as well as him to her,” Bogle says. “I hope they’ll stop and think about them in certain moments in their careers, in their lives, and what a relationship can do for two people, what their relationship gave them: a friendship where sometimes you don’t have to say anything to be understood, the pleasure of being in someone’s company and being totally accepted.”
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.