From day one, rock star David Bowie was on legendary actor Elizabeth Taylor‘s radar. We don’t know whether it was Bowie’s music, style, or a combination of the two, coupled with Bowie’s larger-than-life attitude, that attracted Taylor. However, we do know that Taylor wanted to collaborate with Bowie in some way.
It was clearly a match made in celebrity heaven because the pair clicked in virtually the exact moment they met. That moment has been immortalized in a series of famous photos captured by Terry O’Neill.
David Bowie was late to his first meeting with Elizabeth Taylor
In 1975, Elizabeth Taylor had her friend Faye Dunaway arrange a meeting with Bowie at director George Cukor’s house in Beverly Hills. According to Refinery 29, Taylor had a master plan for Bowie. She wanted to possibly cast him in a role in her upcoming film, The Blue Bird, which was due out the following year. Unfortunately for Bowie and Taylor, the rock star didn’t get the role.
Still, the meeting did allow for the two legends to meet and seal it with a cigarette and an embrace. However, Bowie was late, and it stressed Taylor out, according to photographer Terry O’Neill.
“If there’s one person you don’t keep waiting, it’s Elizabeth Taylor,” Refinery 29 wrote. “That is unless you’re David Bowie, and it’s 1975 and you’re the most sought after musician on the planet. Still, we’d rather not have been photographer Terry O’Neill, who played the waiting game for a prickly two hours with an increasingly tense Liz.
“Liz was pretty annoyed and on the verge of leaving,” O’Neill told London’s National Portrait Gallery (per Refinery 29). “But we managed to persuade her to stay.”
It didn’t take much for the pair to break the ice once Bowie showed up.
Bowie and Taylor shared a cigarette in an embrace the moment they met
O’Neill took a series of famous photos of Bowie and Taylor in that first moment they shared. “To break the ice when Bowie finally arrived, O’Neill began casually snapping photos of the two,” Refinery 29 continued to explain. “The result? A now-iconic series of the unlikely pair sharing a cigarette.
O’Neill told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, “When I look back at my photographs of her [Elizabeth], it’s always this set that I come back to – a young David Bowie in a nervous embrace, Elizabeth in total command. In the fading light of Hollywood director George Cukor’s home, a popstar meeting a superstar.
“At Elizabeth’s request, I had arranged the whole thing. An unlikely meeting, an intoxicating pair; the shots were instantly snapped up all over the world.”
There’s a snapshot where Taylor carefully holds their shared cigarette to Bowie’s lips. Bowie’s fingers are twined together, hanging limply around Taylor’s waist. It’s strangely reminiscent of a mother carefully feeding her child. In the photos where the pair is looking into the camera, you can feel the weight of their stares.
The photos don’t seem to capture the first meeting between two legends. However, they are.
“He never got the part in that film, but they did become very good friends,” O’Neill told the Hollywood Reporter. “She was really charmed by him.
“He was probably late to meeting Liz because he had overslept. He would be up all night and then sleep during the day. We did a session when he wore this mustard-colored suit, and he looks so tired in the photos. Of course, I don’t think he was behaving himself all the time then, either.”
Taylor introduced Bowie to John Lennon
In his 1999 Berklee College of Music commencement address, Bowie explained that he couldn’t talk about popular music without mentioning “probably my greatest mentor, John Lennon.” The pair worked together on Bowie’s song “Fame” in 1975, but it was all thanks to Taylor, who introduced them to each other at a party.
“The seductive thing about John was his sense of humour. Surrealistically enough, we were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor,” Bowie explained. “Miss Taylor had been trying to get me to make a movie with her. It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold and diaphanous.
“Not terribly encouraging, really. I can’t remember what it was called — it wasn’t On the Waterfront, anyway, I know that.
“We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. I think we were polite with each other, in that kind of older-younger way. Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.
“So John was sort of [in Liverpool accent] ‘Oh, here comes another new one.’ And I was sort of, ‘It’s John Lennon! I don’t know what to say. Don’t mention the Beatles, you’ll look really stupid. ‘And he said, ‘Hello, Dave.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got everything you’ve made — except the Beatles.'”
We don’t know what became of Taylor and Bowie’s friendship, but at least we have proof that they met in O’Neill’s iconic photos.