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Walking in Elizabeth Taylor’s footsteps was a piece of cake

When Chris and I got back to Hollywood, returning home from New York working for Tony Martin at the Copacabana, I found a mess at my place and in my marriage with Mark.

Mark and I rented a darling little guest house behind a nice home across the street from Bob Hope in Toluca Lake, but nobody was there and the place was empty. I knocked on the landlady’s door. She said, “I’m sorry, Betty, but I had to ask Mark to move. He had drunken parties, sometimes all night, lots of noise and loud music and odd people. Here’s his phone number. I think he just moved down the street.”

I called Mark, he came to get me, took me “home” to a new apartment he had rented, and it was just down the street. We had a loving reunion, but the next day, having coffee with Chris, she pointed out the truth, that I was just treading water and ignoring the fact that I did need to leave Mark and get a divorce unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a gay man. What if we had children? What then? I wanted children.

When the smoke cleared, I did leave Mark and moved in with Chris. She had a three-bedroom home in Burbank. I took our car and left all our furniture, including our baby grand piano, and household effects, with Mark. My reasoning was that Mark could walk to work whereas I needed a car to find work and then get there.

I’d been at Chris’ home a week or so when a commotion woke me up in the middle of the night. It was Chris arriving home from working all day, and evidently then going out partying with Brian Keith. She introduced me to Brian, a tall, blond, beautiful actor. They were both a little high. I made myself scarce, and they secluded themselves in Chris’s huge master bedroom. Chris had already called around to scout out jobs and learn what was going on in the movie/dance world. She was already working as an extra on “The Westerner,” a series at Universal starring Brian and directed by Sam Peckinpah.

A week or so later, Chris told me she was now dating the director, Sam, who was divorced, instead of the star, Brian, who was married. I was getting a pretty good education in how to be a Hollywood, er, starlet.

One morning I answered the phone, told the caller Chris was working and not home. The caller said, “Too bad. I was calling with a job offer. Are you by any chance a dancer, too? Maybe you could fill the call. It’s a ‘folly’ sound job, doing footsteps.” I got the call specifics and went in to 20th Century Fox the next morning to work.

The job turned out to be replacing Elizabeth Taylor’s footsteps on “Cleopatra.” I couldn’t believe it. What luck! The sound engineers explained to me that the “marble” floors of the temple were not real but were actually painted wooden floors and that Miss Taylor was a little heavy-footed, as anybody would be on plywood, making a terrible noise on the soundtrack. They were going to erase that part of the track, and I was to memorize the foot pattern of the scenes and replace the footsteps so the sound would be normal.

They had a full-size screen set up in the studio and showed me the scene. A simple job for a dancer, a piece of cake. I put on the earphones, and we did “take one.”

The engineer said, “Betty, did you bring tights to work in? I need you to put them on. I can hear the fabric of your slacks moving.” Well, a dancer always has tights and leotards around. I did indeed have a pair out in my car, retrieved them, and went back to work.

I thought it was great fun and happily worked three days on that soundtrack. The really interesting part was when Cleopatra arrived in Rome. She exited the ship down a 12-foot stairway to the ground with her baby toddler. At the bottom of the stairs, there were 2 feet of grass, 2 feet of rock, then a wooden sidewalk. The stagehands recreated all that for me in the studio, and I put the sounds in. Just for fun, we added the baby’s steps, knowing no one would know the difference, as they were so soft. But we would know! How’s that for professionalism?

I got a great paycheck.

I can’t believe Elizabeth Taylor is gone. She was the epitome of a star, and there is no one to replace her.

Betty Bunch is a former dancer. Today, she works with the national Elderhostel Association. Contact her at bettybunch100@gmail.com.

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