Elizabeth Taylor…Where to start? The films? The marriages? The well-documented health problems? The well-documented personal problems? The intensely loyal friendship with Michael Jackson or the intensely loyal commitment to helping people with AIDS? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Because Liz Taylor led a life. And her movies are as inextricable from that life as Mark Antony is from Cleopatra.
Elizabeth Rosemand Taylor was born February 27, 1932 in London, England. During her entire career there has been confusion as to whether she is English or American. Well, she’s a bit of both. Her parents were American. Her father was an art dealer who had moved to London to work as a buyer for his uncle’s art business; her mother was an American actress from Kansas who encouraged Elizabeth to pursue a showbiz career. As a girl, she took dancing and riding lessons, both of which she continued when her family moved to California just before the start of World War II. Settling in Los Angeles, she had an early exposure to Hollywood and gained her first big break when Sam Marx, a friend of her father’s and a producer at MGM, cast her as the granddaughter of an English lord in Lassie Come Home (1943). Things happened quickly for Elizabeth after that.
Her English accent served her well in Jane Eyre (1944), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), and her breakout role: Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944). She worked steadily through her teens and unlike many child stars, made a smooth transition into adult roles, starting with Conspirator (1950).
The 1950’s were marked by marriages and movies. The former included hotel heir Conrad Hilton, Jr. (1950-51), British actor Michael Wilding (1952-57), producer Michael Todd (1957-58), and singer Eddie Fisher (1959-64); the latter included A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Butterfield 8 (1960), for which she won an Academy Award. She played the title role opposite Richard Burton’s Mark Antony in Cleopatra (1963), a collaboration that would continue through two marriages and two divorces, as well as films like The Sandpiper (1965) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), for which she received her second Oscar®. She and Burton also appeared on stage together in a revival of Noel Coward’s comedy Private Lives (1983) and there was a rumored romantic revival as well that lingered until his death soon after.
Elizabeth Taylor continued to work, albeit with less frequency, up to her final appearance in 2001’s These Old Broads. Taylor was confined to a wheelchair in 2004 and died in 2011 of congestive heart failure. She had to battle numerous health problems, including an addiction to alcohol and painkillers, as well as ulcers and back problems. Remarkably, despite personal setbacks, she worked tirelessly for friends and charity and becoming a passionate spokesperson for people with AIDS.
One of the true Hollywood icons Taylor’s incredible beauty remains as popular as ever.