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WIN Awards: Liz Taylor's a Legend, Bonham Carter's Red Queen a 'Freaky Bitch'

Accidental Feminist Cover

Tuesday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, the Women’s Image Network made it official: Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the two-time Academy-Award-winning actress and pioneering AIDS philanthropist, is a Living Legend.

Although Taylor was not able to receive her “Living Legend” trophy in person, she was very much present in the conversation of other award presenters and recipients. (See the winners here.) Mickey Rooney, 90, who starred with Taylor in National Velvet, her 1945 breakout movie, boasted backstage of their long friendship—67 years. And of the appropriateness to the award that he would later present: “She commands respect. And women deserve respect.” He razzed himself, however: “This show is very long and I am very short.”

Twelve-time Emmy Award winner Carl Reiner also applauded Taylor. “She’s gone through so much and come out smelling so good. I mean, with a perfume that smells good--” he added, alluding to Taylor’s scent empire, including fragrances White Diamonds and Passion. Award-presenter Andrew Sugerman, who produced Conviction, recalled that Taylor was the first actress to receive $1 million for a picture. “She raised the bar for women—or rather, for ‘female actors.’ That’s the way the Screen Actor’s Guild likes to put it,” he said.

Actress and presenter Sally Kirkland, who defiantly proclaims herself a feminist, credits Taylor with her career choice: “She was my inspiration. I saw her in National Velvet and I decided to become an actress.” Coming from Kirkland, the remark gains force. The daughter of a Vogue fashion editor, Kirkland, who grew up among models and film stars, did not suffer for inspiration.

The Women’s Image Network was founded by Phyllis Stuart in 1993 to recognize film and television produced and directed by women, as well as the achievements of women actors. For example, accepting Tuesday’s WIN best actress award on behalf of Red Queen Helena Bonham Carter, Alice in Wonderland writer Linda Woolverton said, “It’s so easy for the villain to become one note and cartoonish. She gave us a peek inside the skin of the sad pathetic heartbroken little girl inside that freaky bitch.”
WIN’s motto reflects its commitment to positive portrayals of women: “See Us in 3D Not Just Double D.” Though Double D is apparently not off limits. When Carl Reiner noticed the attractive young woman who handed trophies to presenters, he requested her to step in front of the podium: “Show your whole body,” he said. “Look at that!”

Nor were award-winners lock-step in their eagerness to declare themselves feminists. Suzanne Roberts, the 90-year-old Philadelphia philanthropist and talk-show host honored for lifetime achievement, preferred to identify as a "parent” rather than a “feminist.” The comment seemed cryptic until members of her family presented her award: her husband, Ralph Roberts, founder of Comcast Corporation, and her son, Brian, its current CEO. Roberts began hosting Seeking Solutions with Suzanne -- a cable program focused on the problems of older people -- ten years ago, when she was 80.

Recognized for producing the comedy series Glee, Alexis Martin Woodhull, one of the younger award-winners, summarized her mission in words that might serve as a motto for the Network itself:  “To be an alpha female and to be nice and classy while doing it.”

M.G. Lord is the author of The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty to Notice (Walker/Bloomsbury, Jan. 2012).