Elizabeth Taylor, Queen of the Silver Screen

For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have decided to feature one of my all-time favorite actresses.   Elizabeth Taylor was an icon of Old Hollywood who starred in countless films over several decades!    She was both famous and infamous for her many romantic entanglements.    Taylor was married eight times to seven different men!   But during the last decades of her life, she was best remembered for her work as an AIDS activist and her perfume line.

Let’s first begin with her birth, she was born on February 27, 1932, in London.   Her parents were Americans who were living in England for work, so she was born with dual citizenship!    She would move to America with her parents when she was a little girl, and soon her mother would begin trying to get her into films.   This was especially true because her mother had been an aspiring actress herself, and never made it.    Elizabeth’s mother was proven correct in her assertion that her daughter had star power when people began comparing young Elizabeth’s beauty to Vivien Leigh.     This was further proven when she got her first film contract!

As a little girl, she starred in Lassie Come Home and The White Hills of Dover.   However, her star-making role was one she had to fight for, as all the young starlets in Hollywood wanted it.    Elizabeth worked hard to prove she could look mature enough to portray Velvet Brown in National Velvet, and she became famous for her work in the film!

As she grew up, she began to star in more adult roles, as MGM wanted to transition her from lovely little girl to Screen Siren!   She married for the first time to Conrad Hilton when she was only 18, and it was at this time that she starred in Father of the Bride, as it was Louis B. Mayer’s idea to capitalize on her fame and marriage.    Her marriage would not last, as Hilton was famously an abusive drunk during their union, but the film would get a sequel.    She would meet her next husband, Michael Wilding when she was filming on location in England.

The reserved and much older Wilding proved to be refreshing after her disastrous first union.   They would have two sons together, but their union would also end after a few years.    This time Elizabeth had met her match and his name was Mike Todd!    He was the first great love of her life, and they began dating prior to her divorce finalizing and married as soon as they could.    She converted to Judaism in order to marry Todd and ended up loving the faith and keeping it for the rest of her life.

The Todd Taylor marriage was known for being tempestuous, but he was one of the few men willing to tell Elizabeth when she was out of line, making him a good match.   They had a daughter together and were happy during their marriage.   Sadly, it would end when Todd died in a plane crash!    This was one of the most heart-wrenching times of Elizabeth’s life, and she was consoled by Todd’s friend Eddie Fisher.

As Elizabeth went back to work to complete filming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fisher continued to stay close to the star.    This would end in Eddie leaving his wife Debbie Reynolds in order to marry Elizabeth!   It was this event that would turn Elizabeth’s perception in the public eye from the grieving widow everyone felt sympathetic for, to the harlot who stole her old friend’s husband!   The public was not kind during this period, and in later years it was the one marriage Taylor seemed to regret, as she openly stated that she had tried to replace her deceased husband with his friend.    The sad truth was that Fisher was no Mike Todd, and Elizabeth quickly grew tired of him.    She did try to bring joy into her life by adopting a new daughter, as she was at that point unable to have any more children naturally.    This new daughter was not really accepted by Fisher, and in fact, Richard Burton would adopt her and become her father once he and Taylor married!

This brings us to one of the most important points in Elizabeth Taylor’s life, the filming of Cleopatra and falling in love with Richard Burton!   Before Elizabeth accepted 20th Century Fox’s offer of the title role, she negotiated to be the first person paid one million dollars for a film (she had said it in jest, but they agreed)!    MGM had to loan her out for the film and first forced her to complete one more film Butterfield 8, which she hated but won her first Oscar for. 

The filming of Cleopatra is infamous for setbacks.   The first attempt to film ended with Elizabeth hospitalized, and roles having to be recast.   This is how Richard Burton was hired to play Marc Antony in this film!    Sparks flew when Burton and Taylor met on set in Rome, and it was not long before they began their infamous affair.   This was just another on-set affair for Burton, who was infamous himself for bedding co-stars.   But it was totally new for Taylor, and she ended up falling hard.   Yet, so did Burton, as he would actually leave his long-suffering wife for this beautiful, brilliant, and vivacious younger woman!   

The duo became one of the first cases of paparazzi stalking famous people, and their relationship was even publically denounced by the Pope!   This was largely due to the difficulty in each obtaining a divorce, especially Elizabeth since Eddie did not want to give her a divorce out of spite.    Ultimately, they were able to marry and began a long marriage filled with travel and many films together.   This would include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which would earn both Oscar nominations, and win Elizabeth her second statuette.   

Taylor and Burton would divorce after about a decade of marriage.   But that would not be the end, as they would later remarry and divorce again!    Even after two failed attempts at marriage, Elizabeth always viewed him as the greatest love of her life.    She kept his love letters for the rest of her life, and his picture on her bedside table (even during her later marriages).   Elizabeth would state in her later years that had he not died in 1984, she believed they would have married a third time, and that one would have been for keeps!

I will bring her story to a close here.    This post ran very long, so I did not get a chance to discuss her famous friendships with Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson (who would inspire her AIDS activism) but felt I should mention it.   As I mentioned above she spent her final decades working as an AIDS activist, designing her own perfume line, and writing about her famous jewelry collection.   Elizabeth would be one of the early celebrities to go to rehab, in her case at the Betty Ford Center, in order to work through her addiction issues.   Her later marriages were not meant to last, and she would remain single from the last divorce in the 90s until her death in 2011.    At the end of the day, she was a brilliant and talented woman, who has left an incredible legacy!   I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about Elizabeth Taylor.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is three pictures of Elizabeth in her famous jewels.   I found the image on https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/gallery/elizabeth-taylor-costume-jewellery.

 Note: I would like to mention that this marks my 500th post here on White Rose of Avalon!   I want to thank all my readers for their continued support.   I want everyone to know that all of the likes, follows, and comments truly inspire me to continue my writing!

Further Reading/Watching

  • Elizabeth by J. Randy Taraborrelli
  • Liz by C. David Heymann
  • Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and The Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner & Nancy Shoenberger
  • The Accidental Feminist by M.G. Lord
  • Cleopatra (1963)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956)
  • Butterfield 8 (1960)