Dame Elizabeth Rosemond "Liz" Taylor, DBE (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress. From her early years as a child star with MGM, she became one of the great screen actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age. As one of the world's most famous film stars, Taylor was recognized for her acting ability and for her glamorous lifestyle, beauty, and distinctive violet eyes.
National Velvet (1944) was Taylor's first success, and she starred in Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for BUtterfield 8 (1960), played the title role in Cleopatra (1963), and married her co-star Richard Burton. They appeared together in 11 films, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), for which Taylor won a second Academy Award. From the mid-1970s, she appeared less frequently in film, and made occasional appearances in television and theatre.
Her much-publicized personal life included eight marriages and several life-threatening illnesses. From the mid-1980s, Taylor championed HIV and AIDS programs; she co-founded theAmerican Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1993. She received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Legion of Honour, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, who named her seventh on their list of the "Greatest American Screen Legends". Taylor died of congestive heart failure in March 2011 at the age of 79, having suffered many years of ill health.
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born at Heathwood, her parents' home at 8 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb, a northwestern suburb of London; the younger of two children of Francis Lenn Taylor (1897–1968) and Sara Sothern (née Sara Viola Warmbrodt; 1895–1994), who were Americans residing in England. Taylor's older brother, Howard Taylor, was born in 1929. Her parents were originally from Arkansas City, Kansas. Francis Taylor was an art dealer, and Sara was a former actress whose stage name was "Sara Sothern". Sothern retired from the stage in 1926 when she married Francis in New York City. Taylor's two first names are in honor of her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mary (Rosemond) Taylor.
Colonel Victor Cazalet, one of their closest friends, had an important influence on the family. He was a rich, well-connected bachelor, a Member of Parliament and close friend of Winston Churchill. Cazalet loved both art and theater and was passionate when encouraging the Taylor family to think of England as their permanent home. Additionally, as a Christian Scientistand lay preacher, his links with the family were spiritual. He also became Elizabeth's godfather. In one instance, when she was suffering with a severe infection as a child, she was kept in her bed for weeks. She "begged" for his company: "Mother, please call Victor and ask him to come and sit with me.":14
Biographer Alexander Walker suggests that Elizabeth's conversion to Judaism at the age of 27 and her lifelong support for Israel, may have been influenced by views she heard at home. Walker notes that Cazalet actively campaigned for a Jewish homeland, and her mother also worked in various charities, which included sponsoring fundraisers for Zionism. Her mother recalls the influence that Cazalet had on Elizabeth:Victor sat on the bed and held Elizabeth in his arms and talked to her about God. Her great dark eyes searched his face, drinking in every word, believing and understanding.:14
A dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States, she was born British through her birth on British soil and an American citizen through her parents. In October 1965, 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. Taylor signed another oath without the alteration in October 1966. She applied for U.S. citizenship again in 1977 during then-husband John Warner's Senate campaign.
At the age of three, Taylor began taking ballet lessons. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. Her mother took the children first, arriving in New York in April 1939, while her father remained in London to wrap up matters in his art business, arriving in November. They settled in Los Angeles, California, where her father established a new art gallery, which included many paintings he shipped from England. The gallery would soon attract numerous Hollywood celebrities who appreciated its modern European paintings. According to Walker, the gallery "opened many doors for the Taylors, leading them directly into the society of money and prestige" within Hollywood's movie colony.
Marriages, romances, and childrenEditTaylor with daughter Liza and husbandMike Todd, 1957
Taylor was married eight times to seven husbands. When asked why she married so often, she replied, "I don't know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me," but also said that, "I was taught by my parents that if you fall in love, if you want to have a love affair, you get married. I guess I'm very old-fashioned." Taylor's husbands were:
- Conrad "Nicky" Hilton (May 6, 1950 – January 29, 1951): Taylor believed that she was in love with the young hotel heir, but also wanted to escape her mother. Hilton's "gambling, drinking, and abusive behavior", however, horrified her and her parents, caused a miscarriage, and ended the marriage in divorce after nine months.
- Michael Wilding (February 21, 1952 – January 26, 1957): The "gentle" Wilding, 20 years older than Taylor, comforted her after leaving Hilton. After their divorce Taylor admitted that "I gave him rather a rough time, sort of henpecked him and probably wasn't mature enough for him."
- Michael Todd (February 2, 1957 – March 22, 1958): Todd's death ended Taylor's only marriage not to result in divorce. Although their relationship was tumultuous, she later called him one of the three loves of her life, along with Burton and jewelry.
- Eddie Fisher (May 12, 1959 – March 6, 1964): Fisher, Todd's best friend, consoled Taylor after Todd's death. They began an affair while Fisher was still married to Debbie Reynolds, causing a scandal;:226 Reynolds eventually forgave Taylor; she voted for her when Taylor was nominated for an Oscar for BUtterfield 8, and starred with her in These Old Broads.
with husband Richard Burton in The Sandpiper (1965)*Richard Burton (March 15, 1964 – June 26, 1974): The Vatican condemned Burton and Taylor's affair, which began when both were married to others, as "erotic vagrancy". The press closely followed their relationship before, during, and after their ten years of marriage, due to great public interest in "the most famous film star in the world and the man many believed to be the finest classical actor of his generation." Taylor wanted to focus on her marriage rather than her career, and gained weight in an unsuccessful attempt to not receive film roles.
- Richard Burton (October 10, 1975 – July 29, 1976): Sixteen months after divorcing—Burton said, "You can't keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up"—they remarried in a private ceremony in Kasane, Botswana, but soon separated and redivorced in 1976.
- John Warner (December 4, 1976 – November 7, 1982): As with Burton, Taylor sought to be known as the wife of her husband, a Republican United States Senator from Virginia. Unhappy with her life in Washington, however, Taylor became depressed and entered the Betty Ford Center.
- Larry Fortensky (October 6, 1991 – October 31, 1996): Taylor and Fortensky met during another stay at the Betty Ford Center and were married at the Neverland Ranch.
Taylor had many romances outside her marriages. Before marrying Hilton, she was engaged to Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis—who did not know until the relationship ended that Taylor's mother had encouraged it to build publicity for her daughter—and also to the son of William D. Pawley, the United States Ambassador to Brazil. Howard Hughes promised Taylor's parents that if they would encourage her to marry him, the enormously wealthy industrialist and film producer would finance a movie studio for her; Sara Taylor agreed, but Taylor refused.After she left Hilton, Hughes returned, proposing to Taylor by suddenly landing a helicopter nearby and sprinkling diamonds on her. Other dates included Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, and Malcolm Forbes. In 2007 Taylor denied rumors of a ninth marriage to her partner Jason Winters, but referred to him as "one of the most wonderful men I've ever known."
Taylor had two sons, Michael Howard (born January 6, 1953) and Christopher Edward (born February 27, 1955; her own 23rd birthday), with Michael Wilding. She had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances "Liza" (born August 6, 1957), with Michael Todd. During her marriage to Eddie Fisher, Taylor started proceedings to adopt a two-year-old girl from Germany, Maria (born August 1, 1961); the adoption process was finalized in 1964 following their divorce. Richard Burton later adopted Taylor's daughters Liza and Maria.
In 1971, Taylor became a grandmother at the age of 39. At the time of her death, she was survived by her four children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Religion and identityEdit
In 1959, at age 27, after nine months of study, Taylor converted from Christian Science to Judaism, taking the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel. She stated that her conversion was something she had long considered and was not related to her marriages. After Mike Todd's death, Taylor said that she "felt a desperate need for a formalized religion", and explained that neitherCatholicism nor Christian Science were able to address many of the "questions she had about life and death".:175
Biographer Randy Taraborrelli notes that after studying the philosophy of Judaism for nine months, "she felt an immediate connection to the faith.":176 Although Taylor rarely attendedsynagogue, she stated, "I'm one of those people who think you can be close to God anywhere, not just in a place designed for worship ...":176 At the conversion ceremony, with her parents present as witnesses and in full support of her decision, Taylor repeated the words of Ruth:
... for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.:176
During an interview when she was 55, Taylor described how her inner sense of identity, when a child actress, kept her from giving in to many of the studio's demands, especially with regard to altering her appearance to fit in:God forbid you do anything individual or go against the fad. But I did. I figured this looks absurd. And I agreed with my dad: God must have had some reason for giving me bushy eyebrows and black hair. I guess I must have been pretty sure of my sense of identity. It was me. I accepted it all my life and I can't explain it. Because I've always been very aware of the inner me that has nothing to do with the physical me.
Taylor added that she began to recognize her "inner being" during her adulthood:
Eventually the inner you shapes the outer you, especially when you reach a certain age, and you have been given the same features as everybody else, God has arranged them in a certain way. But around 40 the inner you actually chisels your features ... Life is to be embraced and enveloped. Surgeons and knives have nothing to do with it. It has to do with a connection with nature, God, your inner being—whatever you want to call it—it's being in contact with yourself and allowing yourself, allowing God, to mold you.===Her impressions of career and marriage===
In 1964, at the age of 32, Taylor described herself as an actress: "The Elizabeth Taylor who's famous, the one on film, really has no depth or meaning to me. She's a totally superficial working thing, a commodity." She was also able to explain her acting skills as "minuscule—it's not technique. It's instinct and a certain ability to concentrate." Although most of her film roles during the previous decade portrayed her beauty and sexuality, Taylor claimed they merely exaggerated or contradicted who she was in real life, stating, "I am not a 'sex queen' or a 'sex symbol.' I don't think I want to be one ... If my husband thinks I'm sexy, that's good enough for me." She also implied that the reverse is also true:I can tell you what I think is sexy in a man. It has to do with warmth, a personal givingness, not self-awareness. Richard [Burton] is a very sexy man. He's got that sort of jungle essence that one can sense. It's not the way he combs his hair, not the things he wears; he doesn't think about having muscles. It's what he says and thinks.
By this point Taylor was married for the fifth time, to Richard Burton. Except for her third husband, Mike Todd, who died in a plane accident, she partly blamed her young romances and divorces on her "puritanical upbringing and beliefs":At first, I guess I didn't know what was love and what was not. I always chose to think I was in love and that love was synonymous with marriage. I couldn't just have a romance; it had to be a marriage ... When I was first divorced, I was 18 and I had only been married nine months. I was very naive and really totally crushed. It was the first divorce in my family.
Taylor credited Burton's strong relationship with their children as a factor in expecting their marriage to last, stating that he was the "absolute boss of the household and they respect him for that." She was surprised in hindsight by how they became romantically involved, recalling one of their first meetings:
The first day I saw Richard on the Cleopatra set, there was a lot of hemming and hawing, and he said hello to Joe Mankiewicz and everyone. And then he sort of sidled over to me and said, "Has anybody ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?" I said to myself, oy gevaldt, here's the great lover, the great wit, the great intellectual of Wales, and he comes out with a line like that. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't wait to go back to the dressing room where all the girls were and tell them.===Jewelry and retail===Taylor at an event honoring her life and work, 1981
Taylor had a passion for jewelry. At her death, Taylor's jewelry collection was reportedly worth $150 million.
Over the years she owned a number of well-known pieces, two of the most famous being the 33.19-carat (6.64 g) Krupp Diamond, which she wore daily, and the 69.42-carat (13.88 g) pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond; both were among many gifts from husband Richard Burton. Taylor also owned the 50-carat (10 g) La Peregrina Pearl, purchased by Burton at a Sotheby's auction for $37,000; as a Valentine's Day present in 1969, and formerly owned by Mary I of England. La Peregrina is one of the most famous pearls in the world and remains one of the largest perfectly symmetrical pear-shaped pearls in the world.
Her collection of jewelry has been documented in her book My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002).
Taylor was a fashion icon during her years as an active film star. In addition to her own purchases, MGM costumers Edith Head and Helen Rose helped Taylor choose clothes that emphasized her face, chest, and waist. Taylor helped popularize Valentino and Halston's designs, and in the 1980s Schering-Plough developed violet contact lenses, citing Taylor's eyes as inspiration.