Hand color tinted photo of Elizabeth Taylor from the 1953 movie, The Girl Who Had Everything
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, DBE (born 27 February 1932), also known as Liz Taylor, is an English-born British-American actress. She is known for her acting skills and beauty, as well as her Hollywood lifestyle, including many marriages. Taylor is considered one of the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden years, as well as a larger-than-life celebrity.
The American Film Institute named Taylor seventh on its Female Legends list.
Early years (1932–1942)
Taylor was born in Hampstead, a wealthy district of north-west London, the second child of Francis Lenn Taylor (1897–1968) and Sara Viola Warmbrodt (1895–1994), who were Americans residing in England. Taylor’s older brother, Howard Taylor, was born in 1929. Both of her American parents were originally from Arkansas City, Kansas. Her father was an art dealer and her mother a former actress whose stage name was Sara Sothern. Sara retired from the stage when she and Francis Taylor married in 1926 in New York City.
Taylor’s two first names are in honour of her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mary (Rosemond) Taylor. Taylor was born both a British subject and an American citizen, the former by being born on British soil under the principle of jus soli, and the latter through her parents under the principle of jus sanguinis.
At the age of three, Taylor began taking ballet lessons with Vaccani. Shortly after the beginning of World War II, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. Her mother took the children first, while her father remained in London to wrap up matters in the art business. They settled in Los Angeles, California, where Sara’s family, the Warmbrodts, were then living.
The Taylors climbed the proverbial social ladder with far greater ease in Hollywood than they had in London. Among some of Francis Taylor’s earliest clientele in his Beverly Hills Hotel art gallery were some of Hollywood’s leading stars, among them Howard Duff, Vincent Price, James Mason, Alan Ladd and Greta Garbo. Another high visibility client was Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Hopper’s initial interest in visiting the gallery stemmed from a longstanding friendship she enjoyed with Thelma Cazalet-Keir. Cazalet-Keir who hosted Hopper whenever the latter visited London, wrote to her and asked if she wouldn’t mind boosting the new gallery in her widely read newspaper column. In her column she not only plugged the gallery as a new must-see in the Los Angeles art world she also drew attention to Sara Taylor’s ill-fated stage career as well as to her “beautiful eight-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.” The columnist noted that producer David O. Selznick had not yet cast all the minor roles in his new picture Gone With The Wind, the most talked about motion picture epic in pre-production at that time. According to Hopper, although Taylor had never acted professionally, she seemed an excellent choice to play Bonnie Blue, the daughter of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. The idea was straight away squelched by Francis Taylor who had no interest in letting his seven-year-old daughter pursue an acting career.
Through Hopper, the Taylors were introduced to Andrea Berens, a wealthy English socialite and also fiancée of Cheever Cowden, chairman and major stockholder of Universal Pictures in Hollywood. Berens insisted that Sara bring Elizabeth to see Cowden, who she was adamant would be taken away by Elizabeth’s breathtaking dark beauty. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer soon took interest in the British youngster as well but she failed to secure a contract with them after an informal audition with producer John Considine proved that she couldn’t sing. However, on 18 September 1941, Universal Pictures signed Elizabeth to a six-month renewable contract at $100 a week.
Taylor appeared in her first motion picture at the age of nine in There’s One Born Every Minute, her first and only film for Universal Pictures. Less than six months after she signed with Universal, her contract was reviewed by Edward Muhl, the studio’s production chief. Muhl met with Taylor’s agent, Myron Selznick (brother of David) and with Cheever Cowden. Muhl challenged Selznick’s and Cowden’s constant support of Taylor: “She can’t sing, she can’t dance, she can’t perform. What’s more, her mother has to be one of the most unbearable women it has been my displeasure to meet.” Universal cancelled Taylor’s contract just short of her tenth birthday in February 1942. Nevertheless on 15 October 1942, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed Taylor to $100 a week for up to three months to appear as Priscilla in Lassie Come Home.
Lassie Come Home starred child star Roddy McDowall, with whom Taylor would share a lifelong friendship. Upon its release in 1943, the film received favorable attention for both McDowall and Taylor. On the basis for her performance in Lassie Come Home MGM signed Taylor to a conventional seven-year contract at $100 a week but increasing at regular intervals until it reached a hefty $750 during the seventh year. Her first assignment under her new contract at MGM was a loan-out to 20th Century Fox for the character of Helen Burrows in a film version of the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre (1944). During this period she also returned to England to appear in another Roddy McDowall picture for MGM, The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). But it was Taylor’s persistence in campaigning for the role of Velvet Brown in MGM’s National Velvet that skyrocketed Taylor to stardom at the tender age of 12. Taylor’s character, Velvet Brown, is a young girl who trains her beloved horse to win the Grand National. National Velvet, which also costarred beloved American favorite Mickey Rooney and English newcomer Angela Lansbury, became an overwhelming success upon its release in December 1944 and altered Taylor’s life forever. Also, many of her back problems have been traced to when she hurt her back falling off a horse during the filming of National Velvet.
National Velvet grossed over US$4 million at the box office and Taylor was signed to a new long-term contract that raised her salary to $30,000 per year. To capitalize on the box office success of Velvet, Taylor was shoved into another animal opus, Courage of Lassie, in which the popular canine, cast as an Allied combatant in World War II , regularly outsmarts the Nazis, with Taylor going through another outdoors role. The 1946 success of Courage of Lassie led to another contract drawn up for Taylor earning her $750 per week, her mother $250, as well as a $1,500 bonus. Her roles as Mary Skinner in a loan-out to Warner Brothers’ Life With Father (1947), Cynthia Bishop in Cynthia (1947), Carol Pringle in A Date with Judy (1948) and Susan Prackett in Julia Misbehaves (1948) all proved to be successful. Her reputation as a bankable adolescent star and nickname of “One-Shot Liz” (referring to her ability to shoot a scene in one take) promised her a full and bright career with Metro. Taylor’s portrayal as Amy, in the American classic Little Women (1949) would prove to be her last adolescent role. In October 1948, she sailed aboard the RMS Queen Mary travelling to England where she would begin filming on Conspirator, where she would play her first adult role.
Transition into adult roles
When released in 1949, Conspirator bombed at the box office, but Taylor’s portrayal of 21-year-old debutante Melinda Grayton (keeping in mind that Taylor was only 16 at the time of filming) who unknowingly marries a communist spy (played by 38-year-old Robert Taylor), was praised by critics for her first adult lead in a film, even though the public didn’t seem ready to accept her in adult roles. Taylor’s first picture under her new salary of $2,000 per week was The Big Hangover (1950), both a critical and box office failure, that paired her with screen idol Van Johnson. The picture also failed to present Taylor with an opportunity to exhibit her newly-realized sensuality. Her first box office success in an adult role came as Kay Banks in the romantic comedy Father of the Bride (1950), alongside Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. The film spawned a sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951), which Taylor’s costar Spencer Tracy summarised with “boring…boring…boring.” The film was received well at the box office but it would be Taylor’s next picture that would set the course for her career as a dramatic actress.
In late 1949, Taylor had begun filming George Stevens’ A Place In The Sun. Upon its release in 1951, Taylor was hailed for her performance as Angela Vickers, a spoilt socialite who comes between George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) and his poor, pregnant factory-working girlfriend Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters).
The film became the pivotal performance of Taylor’s career as critics acclaimed it as a classic, a reputation it sustained throughout the next 50 years of cinema history. The New York Times’ A.H. Weiler wrote, “Elizabeth’s delineation of the rich and beauteous Angela is the top effort of her career,” and the Boxoffice reviewer unequivocally stated “Miss Taylor deserves an Academy Award.” “If you were considered pretty, you might as well have been a waitress trying to act – you were treated with no respect at all”, she later bitterly reflected.
Even with such critical success as an actress, Taylor was increasingly unsatisfied with the roles being offered to her at the time. While she wanted to play the leads in The Barefoot Contessa and I’ll Cry Tomorrow, MGM continued to restrict her to mindless and somewhat forgettable films such as: a cameo as herself in Callaway Went Thataway (1951), Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), Ivanhoe (1952), The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) and Beau Brummel (1954).
Taylor had made it perfectly clear that she wanted to play the role of Lady Rowena in Ivanhoe, but the part had already been given to Joan Fontaine and she was handed the thankless role of Rebecca. When she became pregnant with her first child, MGM forced her through The Girl Who Had Everything (even adding two hours to her daily work schedule) so as to get one more film out of her before she became too heavily pregnant. Taylor lamented that she needed the money, as she had just bought a new house with second husband Michael Wilding and with a child on the way things would be pretty tight. Taylor had been forced by her pregnancy to turn down Elephant Walk (1954), though the role had been designed for her. Vivien Leigh, to whom Taylor bore a striking resemblance, got the part and went to Ceylon to shoot on location. Leigh had a nervous breakdown during filming, and Taylor finally reclaimed the role after the birth of her child Michael Wilding, Jr. in January 1953.
Taylor’s next screen endeavor, Rhapsody (1954), another tedious romantic drama, proved equally frustrating. Taylor portrayed Louise Durant, a beautiful rich girl in love with a temperamental violinist (Vittorio Gassman) and an earnest young pianist (John Ericson). A film critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote: “There is beauty in the picture all right, with Miss Taylor glowing into the camera from every angle…but the dramatic pretenses are weak, despite the lofty sentences and handsome manikin poses.”
Taylor’s fourth period picture, Beau Brummell, made just after Elephant Walk and Rhapsody, cast her as the elaborately costumed Lady Patricia, which many felt was only a screen prop—a ravishing beauty whose sole purpose was to lend romantic support to the film’s title star, Stewart Granger.
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) fared only slightly better than her previous pictures, with Taylor being reunited with The Big Hangover costar Van Johnson. The role of Helen Ellsworth Willis was based on that of Zelda Fitzgerald and, although pregnant with her second child, Taylor went ahead with the film, her fourth in twelve months. Although proving somewhat successful at the box office, she still yearned for meatier roles.
Following a more substantial role opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean in George Stevens’ epic Giant (1956), Taylor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the following films: Raintree County (1957) opposite Montgomery Clift; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) opposite Paul Newman; and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) with Montgomery Clift, Katharine Hepburn and Mercedes McCambridge.
In 1960, Taylor became the highest paid actress up to that time when she signed a one million dollar contract to play the title role in 20th Century Fox’s lavish production of Cleopatra, which would eventually be released in 1963. During the filming, she began a romance with her future husband Richard Burton, who played Mark Antony in the film. The romance received much attention from the tabloid press, as both were married to other spouses at the time.
Taylor won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performances in BUtterfield 8 (1960), which costarred then husband Eddie Fisher, and again for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), which costarred then husband Richard Burton and winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for that film, Sandy Dennis.
Burton and Taylor would star together in several films during the decade, including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), and in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Following her second Oscar win, Taylor continued to appear in major films such as John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) opposite Marlon Brando (replacing Montgomery Clift, who died before production began) and The Comedians (with Burton again, also 1967). However, by the end of the decade her box-office drawing power had considerably diminished, as evidenced by the failure of The Only Game in Town (1970), with Warren Beatty.
After her Hollywood heyday, Taylor appeared in occasional films, such as Ash Wednesday. She has also appeared a number of times on television, including the 1973 made-for-TV movie with then husband Richard Burton, titled Divorce His, Divorce Hers. In 1985, she played movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the TV film Malice in Wonderland opposite Jane Alexander, who played Hedda Hopper; and also appeared in the miniseries North and South. In 2001, she played an agent in the TV film These Old Broads. She has also appeared on a number television series, including the soap operas General Hospital and All My Children, as well as the animated series The Simpsons—once as herself, and once as the voice of Maggie Simpson.
Taylor has also acted on the stage, making her Broadway and West End debuts in 1982 with a revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. She was then in a production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives (1983), in which she starred with her former husband, Richard Burton. The student-run Burton Taylor Theatre in Oxford was named for the famous couple after Burton appeared as Doctor Faustus in the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) production of the Marlowe play. Taylor played the ghostly, wordless Helen of Troy, who is entreated by Faustus to ‘make [him] immortal with a kiss’.
In November 2004, Taylor announced that she had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a progressive condition in which the heart is too weak to pump sufficient blood throughout the body, particularly to the lower extremities: the ankles and feet. She has broken her back five times, had both her hips replaced, survived a benign brain tumor operation, skin cancer, and has faced life-threatening bouts with pneumonia twice. She is reclusive and sometimes fails to make scheduled appearances due to illness or other personal reasons. She now uses a wheelchair and when asked about it she said that she has osteoporosis and was born with scoliosis.
In 2005, Taylor was a vocal supporter of her friend Michael Jackson in his trial in California on charges of sexually abusing a child. He was acquitted.
On 30 May 2006, Taylor appeared on Larry King Live to refute the claims that she has been ill, and denied the allegations that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was close to death.
In late August 2006, Taylor decided to take a boating trip to help prove that she was not even close to death. She also decided to make Christie’s auction house the primary place where she will sell her jewelry, artwork, clothing, furniture and memorabilia (September 2006).
The February 2007 issue of Interview magazine was devoted entirely to Taylor. It celebrated her life, career and her upcoming 75th birthday.
On 5 December 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Taylor into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
Taylor was in the news recently for a rumoured ninth marriage to her constant companion Jason Winters. This has been dismissed as a rumour. However, she was quoted as saying, “Jason Winters is one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever known and that’s why I love him. He bought us the most beautiful house in Hawaii and we visit it as often as possible,” to questionable gossip columnist Liz Smith. Winters accompanied Taylor to Macy’s Passport HIV/AIDS 2007 gala, where Taylor was honoured with a humanitarian award. In 2008, Taylor and Winters were spotted celebrating the 4th of July on a yacht in Santa Monica, California. The couple attended the Macy’s Passport HIV/AIDS gala again in 2008.
On 1 December 2007, Taylor acted onstage again, appearing opposite James Earl Jones in a benefit performance of the A. R. Gurney play Love Letters. The event’s goal was to raise $1 million for Taylor’s AIDS foundation. Tickets for the show were priced at $2,500, and more than 500 people attended. The event happened to coincide with the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike and, rather than cross the picket line, Taylor requested a “one night dispensation.” The Writers Guild agreed not to picket the Paramount Pictures lot that night to allow for the performance.
In October 2008, Taylor and Winters took a trip overseas to England. They spent time visiting friends, family and shopping.
Taylor has a passion for jewelry. She is a client of well-known jewelry designer, Shlomo Moussaieff. Over the years she has owned a number of well-known pieces, two of the most talked-about being the 33.19-carat (6.64 g) Krupp Diamond and the 69.42-carat (13.88 g) pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond, which were among many gifts from husband Richard Burton. Taylor also owns the 50-carat (10 g) La Peregrina Pearl, purchased by Burton as a Valentine’s Day present in 1969. The pearl was formerly owned by Mary I of England, and Burton sought a portrait of Queen Mary wearing the pearl. Upon the purchase of the painting, the Burtons discovered that the British National Portrait Gallery did not have an original painting of Mary, so they donated the painting to the Gallery. Her enduring collection of jewelry has been documented in her book My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002) with photographs by the New York photographer John Bigelow Taylor (no relation).
Taylor started designing jewels for the The Elizabeth Collection, creating fine jewelry with elegance and flair. The Elizabeth Taylor collection by Piranesi is sold at Christie’s. She has also launched three perfumes, “Passion,” “White Diamonds,” and “Black Pearls,” that together earn an estimated US$200 million in annual sales. In fall 2006, Taylor celebrated the 15th anniversary of her White Diamonds perfume, one of the top 10 best selling fragrances for more than the past decade.
Taylor has devoted much time and energy to AIDS-related charities and fundraising. She helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) after the death of her former costar and friend, Rock Hudson. She also created her own AIDS foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF). By 1999, she had helped to raise an estimated US$50 million to fight the disease.
In 2006, Taylor commissioned a 37-foot (11 m) “Care Van” equipped with examination tables and X Ray equipment and also donated US$40,000 to the New Orleans Aids task force, a charity designed for the New Orleans population with AIDS and HIV. The donation of the van was made by the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation and Macy’s.
In the early 1980s, Taylor moved to Bel Air, California, which is her current home. She also owns homes in Palm Springs, London and Hawaii. The fenced and gated property is on tour maps sold at street corners and is frequently passed by tour guides.
Taylor was also a fan of the soap opera General Hospital. In fact, she was cast as the first Helena Cassadine, matriarch of the Cassadine family.
Taylor is a supporter of Kabbalah and member of the Kabbalah Centre. She encouraged long-time friend Michael Jackson to wear a red string as protection from the evil-eye during his 2005 trial for molestation, where he was eventually cleared of all charges. On October 6, 1991, Taylor had married construction worker Larry Fortensky at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. In 1997, Jackson presented Taylor with the exclusively written-for-her epic song “Elizabeth, I Love You”, performed on the day of her 65th birthday celebration.
In October 2007, Taylor won a legal battle, over a Vincent van Gogh painting in her possession, when the US Supreme Court refused to reconsider a legal suit filed by four persons claiming that the artwork belongs to one of their Jewish ancestors, regardless of any statute of limitations.
Taylor went to the Hollywood Bowl June 8, 2009, to hear Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in concert, her first night out in months. Taylor, bound to a wheelchair by scoliosis, said her mind and soul “were transported by his beauty, his voice, his inner being.” The actress posted online messages through the Twitter social network after the Italian tenor’s concert Monday night. “I went to see Andrea Bocelli last night. The first time I’ve been out in months. The Hollywood Bowl allowed me to use my wheelchair,” she said.
Taylor has been married eight times to seven husbands:
Conrad “Nicky” Hilton (6 May 1950 – 29 January 1951) (divorced)
Michael Wilding (21 February 1952 – 26 January 1957) (divorced)
Michael Todd (2 February 1957 – 22 March 1958) (widowed)
Eddie Fisher (12 May 1959 – 6 March 1964) (divorced)
Richard Burton (15 March 1964 – 26 June 1974) (divorced)
Richard Burton (again) (10 October 1975 – 29 July 1976) (divorced)
John Warner (4 December 1976 – 7 November 1982) (divorced)
Larry Fortensky (6 October 1991 – 31 October 1996) (divorced)
Taylor and Wilding had two sons, Michael Howard Wilding (born 6 January 1953), and Christopher Edward Wilding (born 27 February 1955). She and Todd had one daughter, Elizabeth Frances Todd, called “Liza” (born 6 August 1957). In 1964 she and Fisher started adoption proceedings for a daughter, whom Burton later adopted, Maria Burton (born 1 August, 1961). She became a grandmother on 25 August 1971, at age 39.