My afternoons with Pickens Klay were getting longer. Longer and better and crazier. Not only were we meeting up earlier in the day, we were staying later. By seven pm or so when the regulars began filtering into Flynn's we had taken to heading up Grand Central to Krispy Kreme.We were usually out of there by nine o'clock, only because I had a dog and a cat to feed.
Every layer of story was making it crazier. I never doubted a word of it. Now I don't claim to know much about Hollywood. Movie stars. I know a good deal less about government and public health. Oh, I did work for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission for about ten years before they got rid of me for trying to protect the environment and I did see an awful lot of movies as a kid, including all three of James Dean's pictures eight or nine times. I had a vasectomy in a free clinic run by the health department for poor folks in the early 1970's, too. Nevertheless I wouldn't be the lifeline you'd call for any expert advice if your topics were motion pictures, civics or disease control.
Pickens' words all rang true, though. I never caught him in any contradiction and the stories just flowed. I mean, here we were connecting J. Edgar Hoover and Liz Taylor; the CIA, the CDC and Sal Mineo; the Grateful Dead and Rock Hudson's talleywhacker. Every time that Pickens rattled off a date or a statistic that I knew a little something about, and it didn't happen often, it was always right on the money.
He never seemed to be making the story about him. I'm telling you that if I ever had dinner with Elizabeth Taylor, you would never hear the end of it. You'd see it on my Twitter feed and you would read about it on the banner behind the Goodyear blimp.
He never seemed to come up for air. Usually we would stop rather abruptly because we were spending more time back and forth to the bathroom than talking across the table. Beer and coffee.
So, what did Elizabeth Taylor know?
Well, here's one of the parts of this tale that surprises me more than I can explain. Pickens Klay met Ms. Taylor for dinner on a balmy California evening in late 2002 or early 2003. Her fragile health had been slipping for some time. Pickens introduced himself to her as an employee of the CIA and answered every question that she asked. At a crazy level, well above Klay, the decision had been made that either the legendary star would be silenced or that a dialogue with her would be established.
Pickens Klay doesn't kill people. As nearly as I can tell he doesn't lie. Not by government standards. I guess you could describe him as a special agent.
Taylor had co-founded the American Foundation For AIDS Research in 1985 and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991.
When Hudson died in 1985 Elizabeth was devastated. She had visited him earlier that summer at the UCLA Medical Center. They both understood that they would not see each other again. She organized the first major fundraiser for AIDS later that year, Commitment To Life, and put together a beautiful memorial service at his home following his passing.
Of course Klay knew all of this. Hey- he knew everything about Elizabeth Taylor at this point. Everything but what she kept in her head, in her heart.
The government had messed with them, all of them, during the filming of Giant. Funny thing is only Jimmy Dean believed that at the time of his death. George Stevens, the director may have known. In fact he may have been a source for the feds.
Hudson and Dean shared a small house with Chill Wills during the production. Jimmy suspected that Chill was keeping unusual tabs on the two of them. At first he was suspicious that Warner Brothers was protecting their property, keeping an eye on their two loose canons. Then he became convinced that it was George Stevens. Stevens never liked Dean and didn't think that Hudson could act. By the time that the picture was wrapping up Jimmy confided in Elizabeth that he was absolutely certain that the FBI was keeping records of all the comings and goings in the odd household.
Her only concern was her marriage to Wilding. It was sputtering but she had a reputation to uphold. She had bragged in the press frequently that she never went to bed with a man that she didn't marry. Jimmy and Liz were never going to be married.
Gentleman that he is, I gotta tell you- Pickens interrupted himself regularly with, "Man, those eyes, those tits. Man." I don't think he ever got over "Leslie Benedict."