Ark Citians recollect connections with Elizabeth Taylor - The Winfield Daily Courier: News

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Ark Citians recollect connections with Elizabeth Taylor

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Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011 12:00 am

Elizabeth Taylor’s brother and his wife returned home Wednesday night after a distressing day that included a trip to the dentist in Taos, N.M.

Howard Taylor and his wife Mara had learned earlier that day that his younger sister — the legendary actress with beautiful violet eyes — had died of congestive heart failure at age 79.

Just before bedtime, he went to his computer and googled “Elizabeth Taylor.” Eventually he found a picture and clicked on it.

It showed Elizabeth and him as young children in an outdoor setting. She was on a pedestal, holding a little kitten in her hand, and he was standing beside her with a pet dog.

“I had to be in town yesterday most of the time. I had a root canal,” Howard said in a phone interview Thursday. “By the time I got home, we were pretty confused and distraught.”

A private funeral service for Elizabeth Taylor was held Thursday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb.

Elizabeth and Howard Taylor visited Arkansas City on several occasions when they were little children, according to several sources, including Ark City residents and former residents — some living and some who have passed away.

The two children attended Roosevelt Elementary School while on one of those visits.

Ark City was their mother’s birthplace and the town where both the mother, Sara Warmbrodt, and their father, Francis Taylor, grew up.

Elizabeth and Howard’s paternal grandparents made their home in Ark City. The Taylor grandparents lived in a brick house at 310 N. A St. where the Taylor children stayed on several occasions.

In the interview Thursday, Howard Taylor confirmed that he and Elizabeth stayed in Ark City with their grandparents and went to school here. But he said he doesn’t remember much about that experience.

But in a previous phone interview with the Traveler in June 2006, Howard’s wife Mara provided a few more details.

Elizabeth attended kindergarten and Howard attended third grade for a brief time, Mara Taylor said.

“He just said that he and his family traveled there from England to visit the Taylors, and that Mrs. Taylor wasn’t well,” she said. “He thought it was really nifty that he got to wear the kind of kidney-colored long pants that boys wore then to school.”

In 1997 or 1998, Howard and Mara Taylor took a driving trip to Kansas to buy a camper shell for Howard’s pickup truck in Paola, Mara Taylor said in the 2006 interview. They also stopped at Cedar Vale but didn’t travel to Ark City, she recalled.

Howard and Elizabeth took different career paths. He said he had no interest in the movie business.

“Not at all. I did my very best to stay out of it. And that’s one of the biggest successes in my life.”

Howard Taylor, 81, pursued multiple careers, including oceanography and marine painting, according to the biography, “Liz,” by C. David Heymann. He and his family moved to Taos from Kauai, Hawaii, in 1980.

He opened a branch of the Taylor Art Gallery, a business his father Francis started, according to Heymann’s biography.

Howard Taylor’s avocations have included horseback riding and skiing, he said, but he doesn’t pursue those now that he is older, he said.

Arkansas City Friends of the Taylors

Elizabeth Taylor’s parents had a close connection to the late Mr. and Mrs. Harry Howard, former Ark City residents.

Ric Howard, of New Orleans, is the grandson of Harry and Dorothy Howard. In an email and phone interview, he provided information about his grandparents’ friendship with Francis and Sara Warmbrodt Taylor.

He said that Sara Taylor was maid of honor at his grandparents’ wedding, and the Howards were close friends with the Taylors.

“My father, Richard R. Howard (a physician), was godchild to Sara Taylor,” said Ric Howard, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from Tulane.

The Taylors — particularly Francis — corresponded with Dorothy Howard, he said, “talking about Elizabeth’s breakthrough in acting and the filming of ‘National Velvet’ at that time.”

Howard said he personally saw those letters and also a Christmas card sent to his grandparents with Elizabeth’s photo on the set of “Lassie.”

“I had possession of these letters, but regrettably they were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina,” he said.

Howard and Elizabeth also stayed at Harry and Dorothy Howard’s Ark City home on several occasions in the 1930s, when Elizabeth’s parents or grandparents were out of town, Ric Howard said.

“This was early on, I believe, before Elizabeth’s career,” he said.

Arkansas City native Barclay Howard Ross is another member of the Howard family. Ross now lives with her family in Kansas City. In a phone interview, she recalled that her mother met Elizabeth when she was a little girl.

“All she could talk about was (Elizabeth’s) beautiful violet-blue eyes,” Barclay Ross said, referring to her mother, the late Jeri Ames Howard.

Jeri Howard told her daughter about meeting Elizabeth who was only about 4 years old at the time, Barclay Ross said. That was around 1936 when Jeri was 16 years old.

The meeting took place during a visit by Jeri to her aunt, Lena Moore, who lived next door to the Taylor house on A Street, Ross said that her mother told her.

“(Elizabeth) was just next door; they were in the yard,” Ross said.

More Ark City connections

Ark City resident Bill Eikleberry lived and worked in the Los Angeles area in the mid-1980s when he met Elizabeth Taylor.

Eikleberry worked for a designer shoe and clothing store in an upscale shopping area on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Many movie stars shopped there, he said. And he waited on many of them including Harrison Ford, Goldie Hawn, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Jodi Foster, Liza Minnelli, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks.

But meeting Elizabeth Taylor was different, said Eikleberry, a Kansas native who moved to Ark City six years ago.

“She was special, an icon, even back then,” he said.

Eikleberry knew that Taylor wanted everything she bought delivered, he said. And after he sold her a pair of high-heeled dress shoes, he took it on himself to deliver them to her in person.

“I took (the shoes) to her house and didn’t get past the guard gate,” he said. “I couldn’t even see the house because the drive was so long.”

Another former Ark City resident, the late Elizabeth Asbell Hentrich, had fond memories of the Taylor house on A Street. Hentrich died five years ago at age 94 in Wichita, where she lived in her later years.

Hentrich worked as a maid for the Taylors at the A Street house. Although she never met Elizabeth Taylor or her brother Howard, she became close to some of the Taylor family members.

In a 2006 interview, Hentrich’s daughter provided the Traveler information from her ailing mother on her memories of the Taylors.

As a young, unmarried woman, Hentrich — then called by her maiden name, Asbell — worked as a housekeeper for Elizabeth’s paternal grandparents. That was sometime in the 1930s, said Hentrich’s daughter, Janice Whitaker.

Her mother did housework, cooking and tending to the Taylors’ needs, said Whitaker, also an Arkansas City native who now lives in Wichita.

The Taylors’ grandchildren lived in England at the time that Hentrich worked there, she said.

“Mom said Francis and Sara (Elizabeth Taylor’s parents) never lived in Ark City during the 1929-1941 years,” Whitaker said. “They would come from London for a visit but never to live.”

But her mother did meet Elizabeth Taylor’s father, Francis, when he visited his grandparents in Ark City.

“He never brought his family,” Whitaker said. “She couldn’t remember the years he visited. She said he was a very nice man.”

The famed actress’s grandparents, Francis M. Taylor and Elizabeth M. Taylor, were generous people, according to Whitaker’s mother. They bought their housekeeper gifts and were “exceptionally kind,” she said.

The Taylors were members of Central Christian Church before transferring their membership to the Presbyterian Church, she said. Their interests included listening to the radio and playing cards with friends.

“I did housework and cooking,” Hentrich said. “I took care of their household needs. I was allowed to sit with them to eat their meals. I was treated very well.”

Hentrich said that she worked for the Taylors for three or four years. During that time, Francis Taylor worked in insurance and his wife stayed at home.

“I know my mother quit school in her junior year in high school so she could help her family during the Depression,” Whitaker said. “I also know she worked for them when (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt closed the banks.”

Elizabeth Taylor and her brother, Howard, made another visit that has been written about.

Sara Warmbrodt — whose stage name was Sara Sothern — wrote that her daughter spent her first Christmas, when she was 10 months old, “with Mother and Daddy Taylor in Kansas.”

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