Elizabeth Taylor: A Hollywood Icon
It seemed Elizabeth Rosamond Taylor, who was born to wealthy American parents in London, was destined to be a star and began her career as an actress at the young age of seven after moving to Los Angeles with her parents. Her parents were wealthy enough so their lives changed little during the Great Depression. However, when war broke out in Europe in 1939, they moved from London back to the United States at the urging of friends.
After moving back, Taylor’s mother was encouraged to have her audition for the movies due to her beauty. Many people were taken by her eyes, which appeared to be violet and were framed by dark eyebrows and dark hair. Although her mother was reluctant to do so at first, she finally relented and young Elizabeth was signed to a Hollywood film contract with Universal Studios and appeared in her first film, There’s One Born Every Minute in 1942.
Although Universal ended their contract with her after a year, she was quickly signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1944, she had her big breakthrough in National Velvet co-starring with Mickey Rooney. Taylor quickly became one of MGM’s most popular young stars at the expense of her childhood since the studio basically controlled her life. She also appeared in films like Lassie Come Home (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), Courage of Lassie (1946), and Life with Father (1947) with William Powell and Irene Dunne.
In 1950 at age 18, Taylor transitioned to her first adult role in Father of the Bride, co-starring alongside Spencer Tracy. The film was well received and earned $6 million dollars worldwide, so a sequel was made and released 11 months later, Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Taylor began to contemplate marriage and got engaged to William Pawley, Jr. who was the son of a US Ambassador, but they never married.
Howard Hughes wanted to marry the young star and even offered to pay her parents six-figures for the opportunity, but he was turned down. Taylor did marry in 1950 to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, heir to the Hilton Hotels, but their marriage only survived eight months. It became a scandal when Taylor requested a divorce, saying she made a mistake and Hilton was an abusive heavy drinker.
Becoming a Legend
She began to earn praise for her work with A Place in the Sun, made in 1951. Taylor was sent to London to film Ivanhoe (1952), where she met her second husband, a man 20 years her senior, Michael Wilding. They married in early 1952 in London and had two sons together, but due to her continuing rising stardom and the failure of his career, they drifted apart and eventually divorced in 1957.
Although she hadn’t been thrilled with several films she was cast in and wanted to stop working for MGM, she signed another seven-year contract with them. She would begin filming iconic Elizabeth Taylor movies like Giant (1956), which also starred James Dean and Rock Hudson. She next starred in Raintree County (1957) with friend Montgomery Clift, receiving her first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. She earned her second nomination with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).
About a month after divorcing Wilding, Taylor married her third husband, a film producer Mike Todd, and they soon had a daughter, the youngest of the three biological Elizabeth Taylor kids. During that time, she was shaken by the death of friend James Dean in 1956 and the near fatal crash of Montgomery Clift, who had been driving home after a party at her house. Tragically, Todd was in plane crash and subsequently died in March of 1958, shattering Taylor.
She began an affair with singer Eddie Fisher, who had been Todd’s best man at his wedding to Taylor. The affair caused a scandal because Fisher was still married to actress Debbie Reynolds, who was very popular and who had been Taylor’s matron of honor when she married Todd. After Fisher divorced, he and Taylor married in 1959.
The early 60’s saw Taylor play some of her most memorable roles, such as Butterfield 8 (1960), in which she played a prostitute and earned her first Oscar. After working for them for 18 years and receiving many Elizabeth Taylor film awards, Butterfield 8 was her last film with MGM. She would go to Italy to film what is probably her most iconic role Cleopatra (1963), for which she became the first actress to make $1 million for a film role.
It was on the set of Cleopatra that once of the most famous Hollywood romances began when Elizabeth met co-star Richard Burton and began an affair. She divorced Todd in March 1964 and nine days later married Burton. They would go on to co-star in several films, including The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), which would earn Taylor her second Academy Award.
Taking on New Roles
After her film career began to falter in the late 60’s and 1970’s, Taylor would go on to do live theater and take on television roles during the 1980’s, including roles in soap operas General Hospital and All My Children. During the mid-80’s, she took on the role of activist and helped raise money to fund HIV/AIDS charities, raising more than $270 million during her lifetime. She also co-founded The National AIDS Foundation after hearing her friend, Rock Hudson, announce he was dying from the disease.
She would find business success as well as she became the first celebrity to have their own fragrance collections with Passion in 1987 and, another Elizabeth Taylor perfume, White Diamonds in 1991, both with Elizabeth Arden. She would also start a jewelry company, the House of Taylor, in 2005.
Elizabeth Taylor became a Hollywood icon and led a full life, starring in more than 60 films, doing dozens to television appearances, eight marriages and succeeding in business. Learn more about her life with Joseph Papas’ ‘Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life’. In 2011, at 79 years old, she passed away from complications due to congestive heart failure.