|Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Studio publicity photo
|Born||Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor
February 27, 1932
London, England, UK
|Died||March 23, 2011
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California|
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, DBE (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress, businesswoman and humanitarian. She began as a child actress in the early 1940s, and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1950s. She continued her career successfully into the 1960s, and remained a well-known public figure for the rest of her life. The American Film Institute named her the seventh greatest female screen legend in 1999.
Born in London to American parents, Taylor and her family moved from England to Los Angeles in 1939. She was noted for her beauty already as a child, and was given a film contract by Universal Pictures in 1941. Her screen debut was in a minor role in There's One Born Every Minute (1942), but Universal terminated her contract after a year. Taylor was then signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and had her breakthrough role in National Velvet (1944), becoming one of the studio's most popular teenage stars. She made the transition to adult roles in the early 1950s, when she starred in the comedy Father of the Bride (1950) and received critical acclaim for her performance in the tragic drama A Place in the Sun (1951).
Despite being one of MGM's most bankable stars, Taylor wished to end her career in the early 1950s, as she resented the studio's control and disliked many of the films she was assigned to. She began receiving better roles in the mid-1950s, beginning with the epic drama Giant (1956), and starred in several critically and commercially successful films in the following years. These included two film adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959); Taylor won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for the latter. Although she disliked her role in BUtterfield 8 (1960), her last film for MGM, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Taylor was next paid a record-breaking $1 million to play the title role in the historical epic Cleopatra (1963), which was the most expensive film made up to that point. During the filming, Taylor began an extramarital affair with co-star Richard Burton, which caused a scandal. Despite public disapproval, she and Burton continued their relationship and were married in 1964. Dubbed "Liz and Dick" by the media, they starred in eleven films together, including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Taylor received the best reviews of her career for Woolf, winning her second Academy Award and several other awards for her performance.
Taylor's acting career began to decline in the late 1960s, although she continued starring in films until the mid-1970s, after which she focused on supporting the career of her sixth husband, Senator John Warner. In the 1980s, she acted in her first substantial stage roles and in several television films and series, and became the first celebrity to launch a perfume brand. Taylor was also one of the first celebrities to take part in HIV/AIDS activism. She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) in 1985 and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. From the early 1990s until her death, she dedicated her time to philanthropy. She received several accolades for it, including the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Taylor's personal life was subject to constant media attention throughout her life. She was married eight times to seven men, endured serious illnesses, and led a jet set lifestyle, including collecting one of the most expensive private collections of jewelry. After many years of ill health, Taylor died from congestive heart failure at the age of 79 in 2011.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Acting career
- 2.1 Career beginnings (1941–1943)
- 2.2 Adolescent star (1944–1949)
- 2.3 Transition to adult roles (1950–1951)
- 2.4 Continued success at MGM (1952–1955)
- 2.5 Critical acclaim (1956–1960)
- 2.6 Cleopatra and success with Richard Burton (1961–1967)
- 2.7 Career decline (1968–1979)
- 2.8 Stage and television roles; retirement (1980–2007)
- 3 Other ventures
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Filmography
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 External links
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27, 1932 at Heathwood, her family's home on 8 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. She received dual citizenship at birth, as her parents, art dealer Francis Lenn Taylor (1897–1968) and retired stage actress Sara Sothern (née Sara Viola Warmbrodt, 1895–1994), were United States citizens, both originally from Arkansas City, Kansas.[lower-alpha 1] They moved to London in 1929 and opened a gallery on Bond Street; their first child, a son named Howard, was born the same year.
The Taylors' privileged life in London was little affected by the Great Depression. Taylor was enrolled in Byron House, a Montessori school in Highgate. The family's friends included artists such as Augustus John and Laura Knight, and MP Colonel Victor Cazalet. Cazalet was Taylor's unofficial godfather and an important influence in her early life. He and Sara Taylor were both Christian Scientists and Elizabeth was raised in the Christian Scientist faith.
Although the Taylors had wished to make England their permanent home, they returned to the United States in the spring of 1939 after they were warned about the coming war against Germany by Cazalet, who had been informed about the situation by Winston Churchill. American ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy also contacted Francis Taylor and strongly encouraged him to return to the U.S. with his family. Sara Taylor and the children left first in April 1939, while Francis stayed behind to close the gallery and to prepare the shipping of its art works to the U.S.
After arriving in the U.S., Sara and the children temporarily moved in with Taylor's maternal grandfather in Pasadena, California. Francis arrived in California in December, and opened an art gallery in Los Angeles in early 1940, first at the Château Élysée Hotel, and some months later moving it to the The Beverly Hills Hotel. After briefly living in Pacific Palisades, the family settled in Beverly Hills, where Taylor and her brother were enrolled in Hawthorne School.
Career beginnings (1941–1943)
In Los Angeles, Taylor's mother was frequently told that her "beautiful" daughter should audition for film roles. Taylor's eyes in particular drew attention; they were deep blue to the extent of appearing violet, and were rimmed by dark double eyelashes, caused by a genetic mutation. Sara was initially opposed to Taylor appearing in films, but after the outbreak of war in Europe, began to view the film industry as a way of assimilating to American society. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, a friend of the Cazalets, attended the opening of Francis Taylor's gallery, and subsequently wrote about it in her column. Her endorsement brought the gallery film industry clients. One of them, Andrea Berens, was engaged to Universal Pictures' head executive John Cheever Cowdin, and arranged for Taylor to audition for the studio in early 1941. Taylor also received an audition with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer through one of her school friends, whose father was a studio producer.
Both studios offered Taylor a contract. While she preferred MGM, her mother decided to accept Universal's offer, and Taylor signed a seven-year contract with the studio in April 1941. She appeared in a small role in There's One Born Every Minute (1942), but was not cast in other films and her contract was terminated in March 1942. While the exact reason for the termination is unknown, the studio's casting director allegedly disliked her, stating that "the kid has nothing ... her eyes are too old, she doesn't have the face of a child". Biographer Alexander Walker agrees that Taylor appeared older than her age, and looked different from the era's child stars, such as Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. Taylor later stated that "apparently I used to frighten grown ups, because I was totally direct."
Taylor received another opportunity in October 1942, when her father's acquaintance, MGM producer Samuel Marx, arranged an audition for a minor role in Lassie Come Home (1943). It required an actress with a British accent; while Taylor had soon learned an American accent following the move, she could still easily switch back. The audition was successful and she was given a three-month "test option" contract, which was upgraded to a standard seven-year contract in January 1943. After Lassie, she appeared in minor uncredited roles in two other films set in Britain, Jane Eyre (1943) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944).
Adolescent star (1944–1949)
Taylor had her first starring role aged twelve, when she was cast in National Velvet (1944) as a girl who wants to compete in the Grand National despite its ban on female jockeys. She later called it "the most exciting film" of her career. MGM had been looking for a suitable actress with a British accent and the ability to ride horses since 1937. Taylor was cast at the recommendation of director Clarence Brown, who had previously worked with her in White Cliffs and knew she had the required skills. As she was deemed too short, filming was pushed back several months to allow her to grow; she spent the time practising riding. In developing Taylor into a leading actress, MGM made changes to her looks; according to Walker, the experience marked the beginning of her years as MGM's "chattel". She had to wear braces to correct her teeth, and had two of her baby teeth pulled out. The studio also wanted to dye her hair and change the shape of her eyebrows, and proposed that she use the screen name "Virginia", but Taylor and her parents refused.
National Velvet became a box office success upon its release on Christmas 1944. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that "her whole manner in this picture is one of refreshing grace", while James Agee of The Nation wrote that she "is rapturously beautiful ... I hardly know or care whether she can act or not." While she appeared in no new films in 1945, Taylor signed a new seven-year contract with MGM, with a weekly salary of $750, in January 1946. Following the success of National Velvet, the studio decided that her public image should be constructed around her adoration of animals, and next cast her in a minor role in the third film of the Lassie series, Courage of Lassie (1946). The studio also published a book of Taylor's writings about her pet chipmunk, Nibbles and Me (1946), and had paper dolls and coloring books made after her.
During her teenage years, the studio controlled every aspect of Taylor's life; according to Walker, she had "no freedom outside the studio gates; or even inside them." Taylor followed a strict daily schedule. During the day, she attended school and filmed scenes on the MGM lot, and her evenings were spent in dancing and singing classes and in practising the following day's scenes. Taylor later described MGM as a "big extended factory" that "promoted [her] for their pockets" and stated that she had "no real childhood" after becoming a star.
MGM began to construct a more mature image for Taylor after she turned fifteen in 1947. The studio organized public appearances, interviews and photo shoots which portrayed her at parties and on dates. Life called her "Hollywood's most accomplished junior actress" for her two film appearances in 1947. The first was the drama Cynthia, which starred her as a frail girl who defies her overprotective parents to go to prom. The second was Michael Curtiz's critically and commercially successful period film Life with Father, in which she appeared opposite William Powell and Irene Dunne. She was loaned to Warner Bros. for the film; the studio paid her $3,500 per week, several times her regular MGM salary.
As Taylor developed into a young woman, film magazines and gossip columnists began comparing her to older actresses such as Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. MGM next cast her in A Date with Judy (1948) as a teenage "man-stealer" who seduces her peer's date to a high school dance. Her other film role that year was as a bride in Julia Misbehaves (1948), which starred Greer Garson and became a commercial success upon its release in August, grossing over $4 million. Taylor's last adolescent role was as Amy March in Mervyn LeRoy's Little Women (1949). While it did not match the popularity of the previous 1933 film adaptation of Louisa M. Alcott's novel, it was a box office success.
Transition to adult roles (1950–1951)
Taylor made the transition to adult roles in 1950, the year she turned eighteen. Already in 1949, Time had featured her on its cover and called her the leader among Hollywood's next generation of stars, "a jewel of great price, a true sapphire". Her first mature role was in the thriller Conspirator (1950), in which she played a wife who begins to suspect that her husband is a Soviet spy. It was filmed in England when Taylor was sixteen, but its release was delayed until March 1950, as MGM disliked it, and feared it could cause diplomatic problems. Taylor's second film of 1950 was the comedy The Big Hangover (1950), co-starring Van Johnson. It was released in May, and the same month, Taylor married hotel-chain heir Conrad Hilton, Jr. in a highly publicized ceremony. The event was organized by MGM, and used as part of the publicity campaign for Taylor's next film, Vincente Minelli's comedy Father of the Bride (1950), in which she appeared opposite Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett as a bride preparing for her wedding. The film became a box office success upon its release in June, grossing $6 million worldwide, and was followed by a successful sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951), ten months later.
Taylor's next film release, George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951), marked a departure from her earlier films. According to Taylor, it was the first film in which she had been asked to act instead of simply being herself, and it brought her critical acclaim for the first time since National Velvet. Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy (1925), it featured Taylor as a spoiled socialite who comes between a poor factory worker (Montgomery Clift) and his girlfriend (Shelley Winters). Stevens cast Taylor as she was "the only one ... who could create this illusion" of being "not so much a real girl as the girl on the candy-box cover, the beautiful girl in the yellow Cadillac convertible that every American boy sometime or other thinks he can marry."
A Place in the Sun was a critical and commercial success, grossing $3 million. Herb Golden of Variety stated that Taylor's "the histrionics are of a quality so far beyond anything she has done previously, that Stevens' skilled hands on the reins must be credited with a minor miracle" and A.H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote that she gives "a shaded, tender performance and one in which her passionate and genuine romance avoids the bathos common to young love as it sometimes comes to the screen."
Continued success at MGM (1952–1955)
Taylor next starred in the romantic comedy Love Is Better Than Ever (1952). According to Walker, she was cast in the "B-picture" as a reprimand for causing a scandal when she divorced Hilton after only nine months of marriage. She was then sent to Britain to take part in the historical epic Ivanhoe (1952), one of MGM's most expensive projects. Taylor disliked the film; she thought it superficial and her role as Rebecca too small. Regardless, Ivanhoe became one of MGM's biggest commercial successes, earning $11 million in worldwide rentals. Taylor's last film made under her old contract was The Girl Who Had Everything (1953), a remake of the pre-code drama A Free Soul (1931). She signed a new seven-year contract with MGM in the summer of 1952, after several months of deliberation. Although she wanted more interesting roles, the decisive factor in continuing with the studio was her financial need; she had recently married British actor Michael Wilding and was pregnant with her first child. In addition to granting her a weekly salary of $4,700, MGM agreed to give the couple a loan for a house and signed Wilding for a three-year contract. Due to her financial dependency, the studio now had even more control over her than previously.
Taylor's first two films made under her new contract were released ten days apart in spring 1954. The first was Rhapsody, a romantic film starring her as a woman caught in a love triangle with two musicians. The second was Elephant Walk, a drama in which she played a British woman struggling to adapt to life on her husband's tea plantation in Ceylon. She had been loaned to Paramount Pictures for the film after its original star, Vivien Leigh, fell ill.
In the fall, Taylor starred in two more film releases. Beau Brummell was a Regency era period film, another project in which she was cast against her will. Taylor disliked historical films, as their elaborate costumes and make-up required her to wake up earlier than usual to prepare. She later stated that she gave one of the worst performances of her career. The second film was Richard Brooks' The Last Time I Saw Paris, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story. Although she had wanted to be cast in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) instead, Taylor liked the film, and later stated that it "convinced me I wanted to be an actress instead of yawning my way through parts". While it was not as profitable as many other MGM films, it garnered positive reviews. Taylor became pregnant again during the production, and had to agree to add another year to her contract.
Critical acclaim (1956–1960)
By the mid-1950s, film studios were beginning to lose revenue due to television. In order to bring audiences back to the cinemas, they began concentrating on making fewer films of better quality; the change benefited Taylor, who finally began to get roles she found interesting. She lobbied to play the female lead in George Stevens' Giant (1956), an epic about a Texas ranching dynasty, which co-starred Rock Hudson and James Dean. She was cast after MGM refused to loan Stevens his initial favorite, Grace Kelly. The film was one of the most demanding Taylor had participated in. Stevens wanted to break her will to make her easier to direct, and his provocations led to clashes between them. She was also often ill, which caused delays in the production. Then, days after completing his part of the filming in September 1955, Dean died in a car crash; Taylor still had to complete reaction shots to their joint scenes. Upon its release in October 1956, Giant earned praise from the critics and became a box office success. Variety stated that Taylor gave "a surprisingly clever performance" and The Guardian called her one of the film's strongest assets, lauding her performance as "an astonishing revelation of unsuspected gifts".
MGM next reunited Taylor with Montgomery Clift in Raintree County (1957), a Civil War drama it hoped would replicate the success of Gone with the Wind (1939). Taylor found her role as a mentally disturbed Southern belle fascinating, but overall disliked the film.[lower-alpha 2] Although the film failed to become the type of success MGM had planned, Taylor was nominated for the first time for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Taylor considered her next performance as Maggie the Cat in the Tennessee Williams adaptation Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) a career "high point", although it coincided with one of the most difficult periods in her personal life. She had divorced Wilding after completing Raintree County and married producer Mike Todd. In March 1958, she had completed two weeks of filming on Cat when Todd was killed in an airplane crash. Despite her loss, MGM pressurized Taylor to return to work only three weeks later. She later stated that she "in a way ... became Maggie" and that acting "was the only time I could function" during that time.
Taylor's personal life drew further public attention when it became known that she was having an affair with singer Eddie Fisher. Fisher decided to divorce his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, and marry Taylor. MGM used the scandal to promote the film by featuring Taylor in a négligée on a bed in the film's posters. Although the Fisher affair made her subject to public hatred, it did not affect the film negatively: it grossed $10 million in American cinemas alone and made Taylor the year's second most profitable star. She received positive reviews for her performance, with Crowther of The New York Times calling her "terrific" and Variety praising her for "a well-accented, perceptive interpretation". Taylor was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA.
Taylor's next film, Joseph L. Mankiewicz' Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), was also an adaptation from a Tennessee Williams play, and co-starred Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn. The independent production earned Taylor $500,000 for playing the role of a severely traumatized patient in a mental institution. Although the film was a drama about mental illness, childhood traumas and homosexuality, it was again promoted with Taylor's sex appeal; both its trailer and poster featured her in a white swimsuit. The strategy worked, as Suddenly became a financial success. Taylor received her third Academy Award nomination and her first Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance.
By 1959, Taylor owed one more film for MGM, which it decided should be BUtterfield 8 (1960), a drama about a high-class prostitute. The studio correctly calculated that Taylor's public image as a "homewrecker" would make it easy for audiences to associate her with the role. She hated the film for the same reason, but had no choice in the matter, although the studio agreed to her demands of filming in New York and casting Eddie Fisher in a sympathetic role. As predicted, BUtterfield 8 was a major commercial success, grossing $18 million in world rentals. Crowther wrote that Taylor "looks like a million dollars, in mink or in negligée", while Variety stated that she gives "a torrid, stinging portrayal with one or two brilliantly executed passages within". Taylor also won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Cleopatra and success with Richard Burton (1961–1967)
Taylor's first film after completing her MGM contract was 20th Century-Fox's historical epic Cleopatra (1963), in which she played the title role. According to film scholar Alexander Doty, she "emerged from the experience even more famous than she had been going into the project". She became the first actress to be paid $1 million for a film role, and Fox also granted her ten per cent of the film's profits as well as shot it in Todd-AO, a widescreen format which rights she had inherited from Mike Todd. The film's production —characterized by costly sets and costumes, constant delays, and a scandal caused by Taylor's extramarital affair with her co-star Richard Burton— was closely followed by the media, with Life proclaiming it the "Most Talked About Movie Ever Made". Filming first began in England in 1960, but had to be halted several times due to bad weather and Taylor's ill health. In March 1961, she developed nearly fatal pneumonia, which necessitated a tracheotomy to be performed; one news agency even erroneously reported that she had died. Once she had recovered, Fox discarded the already filmed material and moved the production to Rome, also changing its director to Joseph Mankiewicz and the actor playing Mark Antony to Burton. Filming was finally completed in July 1962. In the end, Cleopatra cost Fox $62 million, and thus became the most expensive film made up to that point.
Cleopatra premiered June 1963, and became the biggest commercial success of the year in the United States by grossing $15.7 million. Regardless, it took several years for the film to earn back its production costs and drove Fox near bankruptcy. The studio, which publicly blamed Taylor for the production's troubles, unsuccessfully sued her and Burton for allegedly damaging the film with their behavior. The film's reviews were mixed to negative, with critics finding Taylor overweight and her voice too thin, and unfavorably comparing her with her classically-trained British co-stars. In retrospect, Taylor called Cleopatra a "low point" in her career and stated that the studio cut out the scenes which provided the "core of the characterization".
Film producers were eager to profit from the scandal surrounding Taylor and Burton, and after completing Cleopatra, they starred together in Anthony Asquith's The V.I.P.s (1963), which mirrored the headlines about them. Taylor played a famous model attempting to leave her husband for a lover, and Burton her estranged millionaire husband. Released soon after Cleopatra, it became a box office success. Taylor was also paid $500,000 to appear in a CBS television special, Elizabeth Taylor in London.
After completing The V.I.P.s, Taylor took a two-year hiatus from films, during which she and Burton divorced their spouses and married each other. The supercouple continued starring together in films in the mid-1960s, earning a combined $88 million over the next decade; Burton stated that "they say we generate more business activity than one of the smaller African nations". Walker has compared these films to "illustrated gossip columns", as their film roles often reflected their public personas, while Doty has noted that the majority of her post-hiatus films seemed to "conform to, and reinforce, the image of an indulgent, raucous, immoral or amoral, and appetitive (in many senses of the word) "Elizabeth Taylor"". Taylor and Burton's first joint project following her hiatus was Vincente Minelli's romantic drama The Sandpiper (1965), about an illicit love affair between a bohemian artist and a clergyman in the Big Sur. Its reviews were largely negative, but it grossed a successful $14 million.
Their next project, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), features the most critically acclaimed performance of Taylor's career. She and Burton starred as Martha and George, a middle-aged couple going through a marital crisis. To convincingly play 50-year-old Martha, Taylor gained weight, wore a wig, and used make-up to make herself look old and tired — a stark contrast to her public image as a glamorous film star. It was her idea to hire Mike Nichols to direct, although he had never made a film before. The production differed from everything Taylor had done previously, as Nichols, whose previous experience was from the stage, wanted to first thoroughly rehearse before filming. The film was considered groundbreaking for its adult themes and uncensored language. It opened to "glorious" reviews, and became one of the biggest commercial successes of the year. Variety wrote that Taylor's "chacterization is at once sensual, spiteful, cynical, pitiable, loathsome, lustful and tender" and Stanley Kauffman of The New York Times stated that she "does the best work of her career, sustained and urgent". Taylor received her second Academy Award, a BAFTA, a National Board of Review and a New York City Film Critics Circle awards for her performance.
The same year, Taylor and Burton also performed Doctor Faustus for a week in Oxford to benefit the Oxford University Dramatic Society; he starred and she appeared in her first stage role as Helen of Troy, a part which required no speaking. Although it received generally negative reviews, Burton then produced it into a film, Doctor Faustus (1967), with the same cast. It was also panned by critics and grossed only $600,000 in the box office. Their next project, Franco Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew (1967), which they also co-produced, was more successful. It posed another challenge for Taylor, as she was the only actor in the project with no previous experience of performing Shakespeare; Zeffirelli later stated that this made her performance interesting, as she "invented the part from scratch". Critics found the play to be fitting material for the couple, and it became a box office success by grossing $12 million.
Taylor's third film released in 1967, John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye, was her first without Burton since Cleopatra. It was a drama about a repressed homosexual and his unfaithful wife, and was originally slated to co-star Taylor's old friend Montgomery Clift. His career had been in decline for several years due to his addictions, but Taylor was determined to secure his involvement in the project, even offering to pay for his insurance. However, Clift died from a heart attack before filming began; he was replaced by Marlon Brando. The film was a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release. Taylor and Burton's last film of the year was the Graham Greene adaptation The Comedians, which received mixed reviews and was a box office failure.
Career decline (1968–1979)
By the late 1960s, Taylor's career was in decline. She had gained weight and was nearing middle age, and did not fit in with the new generation of actresses, such as Jane Fonda and Julie Christie. After several years of nearly constant media attention, the public was also tiring of her and Burton, and criticized their jet set lifestyle.
In 1968, Taylor starred in two films directed by Joseph Losey, Boom! and Secret Ceremony. The former was based on a Tennessee Williams play, and featured her as an aging, serial-marrying millionaire and Burton as a younger man who turns up on the Mediterranean island on which she has retired. It was panned by the critics, and failed in the box office. Secret Ceremony, a psychological drama in which Taylor starred opposite Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum, had a similar fate. Taylor's third film with George Stevens, The Only Game in Town (1970), in which she played a Las Vegas showgirl who has an affair with a compulsive gambler, played by Warren Beatty, was another failure.
Taylor appeared in three films in 1972. Zee and Co. (1972), which portrayed her and Michael Caine as a troubled married couple, won her the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress. She then appeared with Burton in Under Milk Wood (1972); although her role was small, its producers decided to give her top-billing to profit from her fame. Her third film role that year was playing a blonde diner waitress in Peter Ustinov's Faust parody Hammersmith Is Out (1972), her tenth collaboration with Burton. Although it was overall not successful, Taylor received some good reviews, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times writing that she has "a certain vulgar, ratty charm", and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stating that "the spectacle of Elizabeth Taylor growing older and more beautiful continues to amaze the population". Her performance won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival.
Taylor and Burton's last film together was the Harlech Television film Divorce His, Divorce Hers (1973), fittingly named as they divorced the following year. Her other films released in 1973 were the British thriller Night Watch (1973), and the American drama Ash Wednesday (1973). For the latter, in which she starred as a woman who undergoes multiple plastic surgeries in an attempt to save her marriage, she received a Golden Globe nomination. Her only film released in 1974, the Italian Muriel Spark adaptation The Driver's Seat (1974) was another failure.
Taylor took fewer roles after the mid-1970s and focused on supporting the career of her sixth husband, Republican politician John Warner. In 1976, she participated in the Soviet-American fantasy film The Blue Bird (1976) and had a small role in the television film Victory at Entebbe (1976), and in 1977 sang in the critically panned film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music (1977).
Stage and television roles; retirement (1980–2007)
After five years of semi-retirement from films, Taylor starred in The Mirror Crack'd (1980), adapted from an Agatha Christie mystery novel and featuring an ensemble cast of actors from the studio era, such as Angela Lansbury, Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis. Wanting to challenge herself, she then appeared in her first substantial stage role, playing Regina Giddens in a Broadway production of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. Instead of portraying Giddens in negative light as had often been the case in previous productions, Taylor's idea was to show her as a victim of circumstance, explaining "She's a killer, but she's saying 'Sorry fellas, you put me in this position'". The production premiered in May 1981, and had a sold out six-month run despite mixed reviews. Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote that Taylor's performance as "Regina Giddens, that malignant Southern bitch-goddess ... begins gingerly, soon gathers steam and then explodes into a black and thunderous storm that may just knock you out of your seat", while Dan Sullivan of the Los Angeles Times stated that "Taylor presents a possible Regina Giddens, as seen through the persona of Elizabeth Taylor. There's some acting in it, as well as some personal display." In November 1981, Taylor also appeared as evil socialite Helena Cassadine in the daytime soap opera General Hospital, one of her favorite television shows. The following spring, she continued performing The Little Foxes in London's West End, received largely negative reviews from the British press.
Encouraged by the success of The Little Foxes, Taylor and producer Zev Bufman founded the Elizabeth Taylor Repertory Company. Its first and only production was a revival of Noël Coward's comedy Private Lives, starring Taylor and Richard Burton. It premiered in Boston in spring 1983, and although commercially successful, received generally negative reviews, with critics noting that both stars were in noticeably poor health — Taylor was struggling with substance abuse and went to rehab after the play's run ended, and Burton died the following year. After the failure of Private Lives, Taylor dissolved her theater company. Her only other project that year was television film Between Friends.
Following her stage projects, Taylor acted mostly in television. She made cameos in the soap operas Hotel and All My Children in 1984, and the following year played gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the television film Malice in Wonderland and a brothel keeper in the historical miniseries North and South. Taylor was awarded two honorary awards in the 1980s, the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1985, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award in 1986. She then starred in two more television movies, the drama There Must Be a Pony (1986), and the Western Poker Alice (1987). She reunited with director Franco Zeffirelli to appear in his French-Italian biopic Young Toscanini (1988), and had the last starring role of her career in a television version of Sweet Bird of Youth (1989), her fourth Tennessee Williams adaptation.
Taylor took on few acting projects in the 1990s, preferring to instead focus her time on HIV/AIDS activism. She appeared in the television series Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1992) and The Simpsons (1992, 1993), and made cameos in four CBS series —The Nanny, Can't Hurry Love, Murphy Brown, and High Society— in one night in February 1996 to promote her new fragrance. Her last theatrically released film was The Flintstones (1994), in which she played Pearl Slaghoople, earning a Golden Raspberry nomination for her performance. She was awarded American Film Institute's AFI Life Achievement Award in 1993, and the Screen Actors Guild honorary award in 1997. Taylor was also honored in the United Kingdom: she received a BAFTA Fellowship in 1999, and was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. Her final acting roles were in the television film These Old Broads and in the animated sitcom God, the Devil and Bob, both in 2001. Taylor announced in 2003 that she was retiring from acting to focus on philanthropy. She gave one last public performance in 2007, when she and James Earl Jones performed the play Love Letters at an AIDS benefit at the Paramount Studios.
From the mid-1980s until her death, Taylor devoted much of her time to HIV/AIDS activism and fundraising, becoming one of the first celebrities to do so at a time when few acknowledged the disease, and helping to raise more than $270 million for the cause. Taylor started her philanthropic work in 1984, after becoming frustrated with the disease being talked about in the media, but "nobody was doing anything about it". She began by helping to organize and by hosting the first AIDS fundraiser to benefit the AIDS Project Los Angeles.
In July 1985, Taylor's longtime friend and former co-star Rock Hudson announced that he was dying of AIDS. Together with Hudson's physician, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, Taylor founded the National AIDS Research Foundation in California the following month. In September 1985, the organization merged with Dr. Mathilde Krim's New York-based AIDS foundation to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). As amfAR focuses on funding research, Taylor founded The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991 to raise awareness and to provide support services for people with HIV/AIDS. She paid for its overhead costs herself; her trust has continued to do so after her death. She also arranged for 25% of her image and likeness royalties, including those from her fragrance and jewelry brands, to go to ETAF. In addition to her work for people affected by HIV/AIDS in the United States, Taylor was instrumental in expanding amfAR's operations to other countries; ETAF also operates internationally.
Taylor testified before the Senate and Congress for the Ryan White Care Act in 1986, 1990 and 1992. She also persuaded President Ronald Reagan to acknowledge the disease for the first time in a speech in 1987, and publicly criticized presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for what she perceived as their lack of interest in combatting the disease. Taylor's other efforts included founding the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to offer free HIV/AIDS testing and care at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., and The Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center in Los Angeles. Taylor's business partner Kathy Ireland stated in 2015 that Taylor also ran an illegal "underground network" that distributed medications to Americans suffering from HIV/AIDS during the 1980s, when the Food and Drug Administration had not yet approved their use in the United States. Ireland did not cite any corroborating evidence for her claim, and it was challenged by several people, including amfAR's former vice-president for development and external affairs, Taylor's former publicist, and activists who were involved in the Project Inform in the 1980s and 1990s.
Taylor was honored with several awards for her philanthropic work. She was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1987 and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, the Screen Actors' Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanitarian service in 1997, the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2000 and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.
Fragrance and jewelry brands
Taylor was the first celebrity to create her own collection of fragrances. In collaboration with Elizabeth Arden, Inc., she began by launching two best-selling perfumes, Passion in 1987 and White Diamonds in 1991. Taylor personally supervised the creation and production of each of the eleven fragrances marketed in her name. According to biographers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, she earned more money through the fragrance collection than during her entire acting career, and upon her death, the British newspaper The Guardian estimated that majority of her estimated $600 million–$1 billion estate consisted of revenue from fragrances. In 2005, Taylor also founded a jewelry company, House of Taylor, in collaboration with Kathy Ireland and Jack and Monty Abramov.
Marriages, relationships and children
Taylor's personal life and especially her eight marriages drew a large amount of media attention and public disapproval throughout her adult life. According to Walker, "whether she liked it or not ... marriage is the matrix of the myth that began surrounding Elizabeth Taylor from [when she was sixteen]". In 1948, MGM organized her to date football champion Glenn Davis, and the following year she was briefly engaged to William Pawley Jr., son of U.S. ambassador William D. Pawley. Film tycoon Howard Hughes also wanted to marry her, and offered to pay her parents a six-figure sum of money if she were to become his wife. Taylor declined the offer, but was otherwise eager to marry young, as her "rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs" made her believe that "love was synonymous with marriage". Taylor later described herself as being "emotionally immature" during this time due to her sheltered childhood, and believed that she could gain independence from her parents and MGM through marriage.
Taylor was eighteen when she married Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr., heir to the Hilton Hotels chain, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills on May 6, 1950. MGM organized the large and expensive wedding, which became a major media event. In the weeks after their wedding, Taylor realised that she had made a mistake; not only did she and Hilton have few common interests, but he was also abusive and a heavy drinker. She was granted a divorce in January 1951, nine months after their wedding.
Taylor's second husband was British actor Michael Wilding, 20 years her senior, whom she married in a low-key ceremony at Caxton Hall in London on February 21, 1952. She had first met him while filming The Conspirator in England in 1948, and their relationship began when she returned to film Ivanhoe in 1951. Taylor found their age gap appealing as she wanted "the calm and quiet and security of friendship" from their relationship; he hoped that the marriage would aid his career in Hollywood. She still wished to retire from acting, but the financial needs of their growing family prevented it. They had two sons, Michael Howard (born January 6, 1953) and Christopher Edward (born February 27, 1955). As Taylor grew older and more confident in herself, she began to drift apart from Wilding, whose failing career was also a source of marital strife. When she was away filming Giant in 1955, gossip magazine Confidential caused a scandal by claiming that he had entertained strippers at their home. Taylor and Wilding separated in July 1956, and were divorced in January 1957.
Taylor married her third husband, theater and film producer Mike Todd, in Acapulco, Mexico on February 2, 1957. They had one child, daughter Elizabeth "Liza" Frances (born August 6, 1957). Todd, known for publicity stunts, encouraged the media attention to their marriage; for example, in June 1957, he threw a birthday party at Madison Square Garden, which was attended by 18,000 guests and broadcast on CBS. His death in a plane crash on March 22, 1958 left Taylor devastated. She was comforted by her and Todd's friend, singer Eddie Fisher, with whom she soon began an affair. It resulted in a public scandal, as Fisher was still married to actress Debbie Reynolds. Although their marriage had largely been an arrangement for publicity, Reynolds also contributed to the negative press accounts, and Taylor was branded a "homewrecker". Taylor and Fisher were married at the Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas on May 12, 1959. She later stated that she only married him due to her grief.
While filming Cleopatra in Italy in 1962, Taylor began an affair with her co-star, Welsh actor Richard Burton, although both of them were married. Rumors about the affair soon began to circulate in the press and were confirmed by a paparazzi shot of them on a yacht in Ischia. According to sociologist Ellis Cashmore, the publication of the photograph was a "turning point", beginning a new era in which it became difficult for celebrities to keep their personal lives separate from their public images. The scandal caused Taylor and Burton to be condemned for "erotic vagrancy" by the Vatican, with calls also in the U.S. Congress to bar them from re-entering the country. Taylor was granted divorce from Fisher on March 6, 1964, and married Burton ten days later in a private ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal, Canada. Burton subsequently adopted Liza Todd and Maria Burton (born August 1, 1961), a German orphan whose adoption process Taylor had begun while married to Fisher.
Dubbed "Liz and Dick" by the media, Taylor and Burton starred together in eleven films and led a jet set lifestyle, spending millions on "furs, diamonds, paintings, designer clothes, travel, food, liquor, a yacht, and a jet". Sociologist Karen Sternheimer states that they "became a cottage industry of speculation about their alleged life of excess. From reports of massive spending ... affairs, and even an open marriage, the couple came to represent a new era of "gotcha" celebrity coverage, where the more personal the story, the better." They divorced for the first time in June 1974, but reconciled and re-married in Kasane, Botswana on October 10, 1975. Their second marriage lasted less than a year, ending in divorce in July 1976. Their relationship was often referred to as the "marriage of the century" by the media, and Taylor later stated that "after Richard, the men in my life were just there to hold the coat, to open the door. All the men after Richard were really just company."
Soon after her final divorce from Burton, Taylor met her sixth husband, John Warner, a Republican politician from Virginia. They were married on December 4, 1976, after which Taylor concentrated on working for his electoral campaign. Once Warner had been elected to the Senate, she started to find her life as a politician's wife in Washington D.C. boring and lonely. She became depressed, gained a large amount of weight and increasingly abused prescription medications and alcohol. Taylor and Warner separated in December 1981, and divorced a year later in November 1982.
After the divorce from Warner, Taylor was engaged to Mexican lawyer Victor Luna in 1983–1984, and dated publisher Malcolm Forbes. She met her seventh and last husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, at the Betty Ford Center in 1988. They were married at the Neverland Ranch of her longtime friend Michael Jackson on October 6, 1991. The wedding was again subject to intense media attention, with one photographer parachuting to the ranch and Taylor selling the wedding pictures to People for $1 million, which she used to start her AIDS foundation. They divorced in October 1996.
Conversion to Judaism and support for Israeli causes
Taylor was raised as a Christian Scientist, but converted to Judaism in 1959, taking the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel. Although her conversion took place a year after the death of Mike Todd, who was Jewish, and just before her marriage to Jewish Eddie Fisher, Taylor stated that she did not convert because of her husbands, but had wanted to do so "for a long time". Both her godfather, Victor Cazalet, and her mother, were active supporters of Zionism while Taylor was growing up, a fact which Walker believes influenced Taylor's decision. In an interview with Look, she said there was "comfort and dignity and hope for me in this ancient religion that [has] survived for four thousand years ... I feel as if I have been a Jew all my life."
Following her conversion, Taylor became an active supporter of Jewish and Zionist causes. In 1959, she purchased $100,000 worth of Israeli Bonds, which led to her films being banned by Muslim countries throughout the Middle East and Africa. She was also barred from entering Egypt to film Cleopatra in 1962, but the ban was lifted two years later after the Egyptian officials deemed that the film brought positive publicity for the country. In addition to purchasing bonds, Taylor helped to raise money for organizations such as the Jewish National Fund and sat on the board of trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the 1980s. She also advocated for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel, canceled a visit to the USSR because of its condemnation of Israel due to the Six-Day War, and signed a letter protesting the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975. In 1976, she offered herself as a replacement hostage after more than 100 Israeli civilians were taken hostage in the Entebbe skyjacking. She had a small role in the television film made about the incident, Victory at Entebbe (1976), and narrated Genocide (1981), an Academy Award-winning documentary about the Holocaust.
Style and jewelry collection
Taylor is considered a fashion icon for both her film costumes and personal style. During her years at MGM, costume designers Helen Rose and Edith Head were largely responsible for both her on and off-screen wardrobes. Her most famous film costumes from this period include a white ball gown in A Place in the Sun (1951), a Grecian dress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and a slip and a fur coat in BUtterfield 8 (1960). Her costumes were usually simple and emphasized her face, chest and waist; according to fashion historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis, "because she had these extraordinary features ... you didn't have to put much on her. It was actually hard for costume designers. It took a lot for them to not gild the lily." In the 1960s, Taylor's film costumes were often designed by Irene Sharaff. Her make-up look in Cleopatra (1963) started a trend for "cat-eye" make-up done with black eyeliner. Despite her popularity as a style icon, fashion critics preferred stars such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, as her style was associated more with Hollywood glamour than high fashion.
In contrast to her simple film costumes, Taylor's off-screen style was characterized by "excess"; according to Emili Vesilind of The Los Angeles Times, "her famous love of jewelry – kumquat-sized diamonds and emeralds in particular – paired with a penchant for flowing, dramatic dresses and elaborate up-dos practically set the template for modern movie star glamour." Taylor collected jewelry throughout her life, even publishing a book, My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002), about it. Her most famous pieces included the 33.19-carat (6.638 g) Krupp Diamond, the 69.42-carat (13.884 g) Taylor-Burton Diamond and the 50-carat (10 g) La Peregrina Pearl, formerly owned by Mary I of England — all three pieces were gifts from husband Richard Burton. In addition to jewelry, Taylor often wore clothing by designers such as Christian Dior, Gianni Versace, Valentino Garavani and Halston. Garavani stated that Taylor was one of the first celebrities to take interest in his fashion house in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she also helped to popularize Halston's designs, often wearing them to public events and appearing on the cover of People with him and Liza Minnelli in 1977. In 1997, Taylor received a Lifetime of Glamour Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). After her death, her jewelry and fashion collections were auctioned by Christie's to benefit her AIDS foundation, ETAF. The jewelry was sold for a record-breaking sum of $156,8 million, and the clothes and accessories for a further $5,5 million.
Health problems and death
Taylor struggled with health problems for most of her life. She was born with scoliosis, and broke her back while filming National Velvet in 1944. The fracture went undetected for several years, although it caused her chronic back problems. In 1956, she underwent an operation in which some of her spinal discs were removed and replaced with donated bone. Taylor was also prone to other illnesses and injuries, which often necessitated surgery, and came close to death due to a bout of pneumonia in 1961. In addition, she was addicted to alcohol and prescription medications. She was treated at the Betty Ford Center for seven weeks from December 1983 to January 1984, becoming the first celebrity to openly admit herself to the clinic. She relapsed later in the decade, and entered rehab again in 1988. Taylor also struggled with her weight, becoming overweight during her marriage to Senator John Warner. She published a diet book on her experiences, Elizabeth Takes Off, in 1988.
In the last two decades of her life, Taylor's health increasingly declined, and she rarely attended public events in the 2000s. She had serious bouts of pneumonia in 1990 and 2000, underwent hip replacement surgery in the mid-1990s, underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor in 1997, was successfully treated for skin cancer in 2002, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2004. Due to scoliosis and osteoporosis, she had to use a wheelchair. She commented on her health in 2004, stating: "My body's a real mess ... I've become one of those poor little women who's bent sideways. I feel so stupid and feeble that I can't do the work I was meant to do because of my bloody body." She underwent cardiac surgery to replace a leaky valve in 2009.
Taylor was again hospitalized due to complications from heart failure at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in February 2011. She remained there until her death at age 79 on March 23, 2011, surrounded by her four children. Her funeral took place the day after she died at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. It was a private Jewish ceremony presided over by Rabbi Jerome Cutler, and at Taylor's request began 15 minutes behind schedule, as according to her representative, "she even wanted to be late for her own funeral". She is entombed in the Great Mausoleum at the cemetery.
Taylor was both one of the last stars of classical Hollywood cinema, and one of the first modern celebrities. During the era of the studio system, she exemplified the classic film star; portrayed as different from "ordinary" people, and with a public image carefully constructed and controlled by MGM. When the era of classical Hollywood ended in the 1960s and paparazzi photography became a normal feature in media culture, Taylor came to define a new type of celebrity, whose real private life was the focus of public interest. According to Adam Bernstein of The Washington Post, "more than for any film role, she became famous for being famous, setting a media template for later generations of entertainers, models and all variety of semi-somebodies."
Regardless of the acting awards she won during her career, Taylor's film performances were often overlooked by contemporary critics; according to film historian Jeanine Basinger, "No actress ever had a more difficult job in getting critics to accept her onscreen as someone other than Elizabeth Taylor ... Her persona ate her alive." Her film roles often mirrored her personal life, and many critics continue to regard her as always playing herself rather than acting. In contrast, Mel Gussow of The New York Times stated that "the range of [Taylor's] acting was surprisingly wide", despite the fact that she never received any professional training. Film critic Peter Bradshaw called her "an actress of such sexiness it was an incitement to riot – sultry and queenly at the same time" and "a shrewd, intelligent, intuitive acting presence in her later years". David Thomson stated that "she had the range, nerve and instinct that only Bette Davis had had before — and like Davis, Taylor was monster and empress, sweetheart and scold, idiot and wise woman." Three films in which she starred, National Velvet, Giant and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have been preserved in the National Film Registry, and the American Film Institute has named her the seventh greatest female screen legend of classical Hollywood cinema.
Taylor has also been discussed by journalists and scholars interested in the role of women in Western society. Camille Paglia writes that Taylor was a "pre-feminist woman" who "wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy." In contrast, cultural critic M.G. Lord calls Taylor an "accidental feminist", stating that while she did not identify as a feminist, many of her films had feminist themes and "introduced a broad audience to feminist ideas".[lower-alpha 3] Similarly, Ben W. Heineman Jr. and Cristine Russell write in The Atlantic that her role in Giant "dismantled stereotypes about women and minorities".
Taylor is considered a gay icon and received widespread recognition for her HIV/AIDS activism. After her death, GLAAD issued a statement saying that she "was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve", and Sir Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins Trust called her "the first major star to publicly fight fear and prejudice towards AIDS". According to Paul Flynn of The Guardian, she was "a new type of gay icon, one whose position is based not on tragedy but on her work for the LGBTQ community". Speaking of her charity work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, "Elizabeth's legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired."
- In October 1965, as her then-husband Richard Burton was British, she signed an oath of renunciation at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, but with the phrase "abjure all allegiance and fidelity to the United States" struck out. U.S. State Department officials declared that her renunciation was invalid due to the alteration and Taylor signed another oath, this time without alteration, in October 1966. She applied for restoration of U.S. citizenship in 1977, during then-husband John Warner's Senate campaign, stating she planned to remain in America for the rest of her life.
- During the production, Clift got into a serious car accident after leaving a dinner party at Taylor's house one night. It necessitated the production being halted for several weeks, caused permanent scarring on his face, and worsened his substance abuse problems.
- For example, National Velvet (1944) was about a girl attempting to compete in the Grand National despite gender discrimination; A Place in the Sun (1951) is "a cautionary tale from a time before women had ready access to birth control"; her character in BUtterfield 8 (1960) is shown in control of her sexuality; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) "depicts the anguish that befalls a woman when the only way she can express herself is through her husband's stalled career and children".
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