A smacker of a kiss from Liz Taylor

By David Eames

There's probably not many men around Auckland who have locked lips with a legend of the silver screen but John Cairney of Mt Eden is one.

Mr Cairney was an up-and-coming actor when he won a part alongside screen siren Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

"I have never seen a more perfect human female face as she was at the time," says Mr Cairney. "She was the best of the great stars. I almost dived into her eyes."

His voyage to the Cleopatra set was a rocky one, the result of a hospital stay and a bedside visit from the legendary Richard Burton. Mr Cairney - and another actor - were temporarily blinded by a stage light while shooting Jason and the Argonauts in Rome in the early 1960s. As they were recuperating in an Italian hospital - and deciding whether or not to sue the film company, Columbia - Burton came calling with a case of bubbles.

"Richard Burton fed me champagne out of a hospital tumbler."

The hangover had barely subsided before Mr Cairney was offered a part as a troubadour in Cleopatra, which was in production at the same time.

"I survived the credits but got no screen time."

But he did get a goodbye kiss from Taylor, on the eve of his return to England.

"That lovely, lovely collision" had a profound effect.

"I can feel it yet and I am 77. It was your smacker ... I think I was positively trembling."

He never saw Taylor again.

He was scheduled to attend the film's London premiere - with a studio-provided escort whom he believed was at the time "a mate" of scandal-ridden showgirl Christine Keeler - but when the then Mrs Cairney found out about the arrangement, he missed the London shindig.

Cleopatra will be screened at 7.30pm on Wednesday at the Auckland Museum as part of its Egypt: Beyond the Tomb exhibition. Entry is free with a ticket to the exhibition. Mr Cairney is yet to decide if he will go.

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