Nationality: British. Born: Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor in London of American parents, 27 February 1932. Education: Attended the Hawthorne School, Beverly Hills, California; MGM studio school; University High School, Hollywood, graduated 1950. Family: Married 1) Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, Jr., 1950 (divorced 1951); 2) the actor Michael Wilding, 1952 (divorced 1957), sons: Michael and Christopher; 3) the producer Michael Todd, 1957 (died 1958), daughter: Elizabeth Frances; 4) the singer Eddie Fisher, 1959 (divorced 1964); 5) the actor Richard Burton, 1964 (divorced 1974; remarried 1975, divorced 1976), adopted daughter: Maria; 6) the politician John Warner, 1976 (divorced); 7) Larry Fortensky, 1991 (divorced, 1996). Career: Evacuated to California at outbreak of World War II; 1942—film debut as child in There's One Born Every Minute; 1943—contract with MGM: series of successful films as child, adolescent, and adult over the next ten years; 1981—on Broadway in The Little Foxes; 1985-present—founder and National Chairman of American Foundation for AIDS Research; in TV mini-series North and South; 1987—launched own perfume line. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award for Butterfield 8, 1960; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress, New York Film Critics, and Best Actress, British Academy, for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966; Best Actress, Berlin Festival, for Hammersmith Is Out, 1972; French Légion d'honneur, 1987; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1993; Dame of British Empire, 2000. Agent: Chén Sam, 506 E 74th Street, New York, NY 10021, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
There's One Born Every Minute (Young) (as Gloria)
Lassie Come Home (Wilcox) (as Priscilla)
Jane Eyre (Stevenson) (as Helen Burns); The White Cliffs of Dover (Brown) (as Betsy, age 10); National Velvet (Brown) (as Velvet Brown)
Courage of Lassie (Wilcox) (as Kathie Merrick)
Cynthia (Leonard) (title role); Life with Father (Curtiz) (as Mary Skinner)
A Date with Judy (Thorpe) (as Carol Foster); Julia Misbehaves (Conway) (as Susan Packett)
Little Women (LeRoy) (as Amy)
Conspirator (Saville) (as Melinda Greyton); The Big Hangover (Krasna) (as Mary Belney); Father of the Bride (Minnelli) (as Kay Banks)
Father's Little Dividend (Minnelli) (as Kay Dunston); A Place in the Sun (Stevens) (as Angela Vickers); Quo Vadis (LeRoy) (cameo role); Callaway Went Thataway (Panama) (as herself)
Love Is Better Than Ever (Donen) (as Anastacia Macaboy); Ivanhoe (Thorpe) (as Rebecca)
The Girl Who Had Everything (Thorpe) (as Jean Latimer)
Rhapsody (Charles Vidor) (as Louise Durant); Elephant Walk (Dieterle) (as Ruth Wiley); Beau Brummel (Bernhardt) (as Lady Patricia); The Last Time I Saw Paris (Richard Brooks) (as Helen Ellswirth)
Giant (Stevens) (as Leslie Lynnton Benedict)
Raintree County (Dmytryk) (as Susanna Drake)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks) (as Maggie Pollitt)
Suddenly, Last Summer (Mankiewicz) (as Catherine Holly)
Scent of Mystery (Cardiff) (as Sally Kennedy); Butterfield 8 (Daniel Mann) (as Gloria Wandrous)
Cleopatra (Mankiewicz) (title role); The V.I.Ps (Asquith) (as Frances Andros)
The Sandpiper (Minnelli) (as Laura Reynolds)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols) (as Martha)
The Taming of the Shrew (Zeffirelli) (as Katharina, + pr); Reflections in a Golden Eye (Huston) (as Leonora Penderton); The Comedians (Glenville) (as Martha Pineda); Doctor Faustus (Burton) (as Helen of Troy)
Boom! (Losey) (as Flora "Sissy" Goforth); Secret Ceremony (Losey) (as Leonora)
The Only Game in Town (Stevens) (as Fran Walker)
X, Y, & Zee (Hutton) (as Zee Blakeley); Hammersmith Is Out (Ustinov) (as Jimmie Jean Jackson)
Under Milk Wood (Sinclair) (as Rosie Probert); Night Watch (Hutton) (as Ellen Wheeler); Divorce: His/Divorce: Hers (Hussein—for TV) (as Jane Reynolds); Ash Wednesday (Peerce) (as Barbara Sawyer)
That's Entertainment! (Haley—compilation) (as narrator)
The Driver's Seat (Identikit) (Patroni-Griffi) (as Lise)
The Blue Bird (Cukor) (as Mother/Witch/Light/Maternal Love)
A Little Night Music (Prince) (as Desiree Armfeldt); Victory at Entebbe (Chomsky—for TV) (as Edra Vilnosky); Winter Kills (Richert) (as Lola Comante)
Return Engagement (Hardy—for TV)
The Mirror Crack'd (Hamilton) (as Marina Rudd); Genocide (Schwartzman—doc) (as narrator)
Between Friends (Antonio—for TV) (as Deborah Shapiro)
Malice in Wonderland (Trikonis—for TV) (Louella Parsons)
There Must Be a Pony (Sargent—for TV) (as Marguerite Sydney)
Poker Alice (Seidelman—for TV) (as Alice Moffit)
Giovane Toscanini (Young Toscanini) (Zeffirelli) (as Nadina Bulicioff); Who Gets the Friends? (Lila Garrett—for TV)
Sweet Bird of Youth (Roeg—for TV)
The Flintstones (Levant) (as Pearl Slaghoople)
Happy Birthday Elizabeth: A Celebration of Life (Margolis—for TV) (as herself)
The Visit (Fasano)
By TAYLOR: books—
Elizabeth Taylor—Her Own Story, New York, 1965.
Elizabeth Takes Off on Self-Esteem and Self-Image, New York, 1988.
On TAYLOR: books—
Waterbury, Ruth, Elizabeth Taylor, New York, 1964.
Hirsch, Foster, Elizabeth Taylor, New York, 1973.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.
D'Arcy, Susan, The Films of Elizabeth Taylor, London, 1974.
Wallis, Hal, and Charles Higham, Starmaker, New York, 1980.
Kelley, Kitty, Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star, London, 1981.
Moore, Dick, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, New York, 1984.
Wickens, Christopher, Elizabeth Taylor: A Biography in Photographs, New York, 1984.
Morley, Sheridan, Elizabeth Taylor: A Celebration, London, 1988.
Tani, Marianne Robin, The New Elizabeth, New York, 1988.
Walker, Alexander, Elizabeth, London, 1990.
Latham, Caroline, All about Elizabeth: Elizabeth Taylor, Public and Private, New York, 1991.
Heymann, C. David, Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, New York, 1995.
Spoto, Donald, A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, New York, 1995.
Horner, Matina S., Elizabeth Taylor—Actress/Activist, Broomall, 1999.
Branin, Larissa, Elizabeth Taylor: A Life in Pictures, New York, 1999.
On TAYLOR: articles—
Israel, Lee, "Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Taylor," in Esquire (New York), March 1967.
Essoe, Gabe, "Elizabeth Taylor," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1970.
Schickel, Richard, "Elizabeth Taylor" in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
McGilligan, P., "Letter from Hollywood—Elizabeth Taylor," in Films and Filming (London), January 1982.
Current Biography 1985, New York, 1985.
Pendleton, Austin, "Elizabeth," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1986.
Bibby, Bruce, "Taylor Made," in Premiere (New York), Octo-ber 1992.
Spira, T., "What Happened When Elizabeth Taylor 'Slapps' Out and Fails," in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), March 1995.
Burchill, J., "Hype & Glory," in Vanity Fair, May 1995.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1995.
Diamond, Suzanne, "Who's Afraid of George and Martha's Parlour" Domestic F(r)ictions and the Stir-Crazy Gaze of Hollywood," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), October 1996.
Norman, Barry, "The Last Movie Star?" in Radio Times (London), 26 July 1997.
On TAYLOR: mini-series—
Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story, directed by Kevin Connor, 1995.
* * *
Elizabeth Taylor's star image always has overshadowed her capabilities as a performer. Public and media attention has fallen not on her achievements as an actress, but on the sensational aspects of her private life. Her passage from youth to maturity has been studded with highly publicized marriages and divorces and Lazarus-like recoveries from serious illness, all of which have sustained her reputation as one of the most celebrated products of Hollywood.
Interest in her acting skills has been further diverted by a widespread preoccupation with her appearance. When she was young, her lavender eyes and all-around beauty enthralled audiences and clouded the critical faculties of the press. Decades later, persistent weight problems attracted negative comment from all quarters. Few screen personalities have been so consistently evaluated in terms of physical criteria. Considerations of looks and celebrity aside, however, Taylor emerges as an actress of definite ability whose talents—despite several worthy screen roles in the 1950s and 1960s—have too often been exaggerated or underused.
In the early 1940s, child stars were major revenue earners at the box office. Taylor's uncommon beauty, even at the age of nine, had much to do with her being selected for stardom by MGM, but it was the warmth and freshness of her screen presence which ensured success. The luminous charm that she projected in her earliest films, especially National Velvet, struck a chord with the moviegoing public. Unlike many child actors, she made a smooth transition to adult parts, although the path was strewn with weak scripts and undemanding roles. MGM, to which she was under contract for 18 years, was apt to use her as decoration in frothy comedies or typecast her as a poor little rich girl. She received good notices for Minnelli's Father of the Bride, and provided solid evidence of acting talent in George Stevens's A Place in the Sun. Stevens, who acted as midwife to another memorable Taylor performance in Giant, induced her to display considerable emotional range and an unforgettable sensuality. Most of the films she made in the early 1950s, however, were lacking in distinction.
The years from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s represent the zenith of Taylor's career. During this period she created various portraits of women wrestling with adversity, usually of a psychological nature. As Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, she suffered intense emotional and sexual frustration at the hands of a morose, self-absorbed husband. In Raintree County and Suddenly, Last Summer, both Oscar-nominated performances, the battle was with the imminent threat of mental disintegration. As Katharina in Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, she was a fury who vigorously warded off the role of obedient wife. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (for which she won her second Best Actress Oscar, after Butterfield 8), she was a raucous harridan using drink to anaesthetize life's disappointments and verbal aggression to provide the illusion of control.
Taylor has been at her best when playing brash, shrewish women. Few actresses have better demonstrated the power of sarcasm as a weapon against the male ego. After the mid-1960s, however, she seemed increasingly unable to make effective use of her abilities. Even as regal Cleopatra, she drew critical fire for being excessively shrill in voice. For many years, too much faith was placed in her drawing power at the box office, and too little thought given to the selection of appropriate parts. Since she never attempted a transition from leading lady to character actress, the onset of middle age accelerated the decline of her film career.
In response to the dearth of suitable movie roles, she has recently diversified into theater and television. Most of these ventures have done little more than capitalize on her star status. A notable exception was Between Friends, a television movie in which she and Carol Burnett help each other confront the problems of lonely middle-aged existence in a youth-oriented society. Taylor gives a sensitive, multi-dimensional performance, distinguished by its responsiveness to her fellow actors.
Yet public attention to this day remains directed towards Taylor the legend, rather than Taylor the actress. She continues to be the quintessential star, providing a focus for the fantasies of successive generations. In recent years she has experienced more frequent hospitalizations for hip replacement surgery and a brain tumor, yet she also has managed to be at the forefront of the movie industry's campaign to raise awareness of the devastation of AIDS.
—Fiona Valentine, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg
Born: February 27, 1932
Elizabeth Taylor is one of film's most famous women, having starred in over fifty films and having won two Academy Awards. She also attracted attention because of her eight marriages and her devotion to raising money for research to fight acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS; a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection).
Began acting at nine
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London, England, on February 27, 1932, to American parents Francis and Sara Taylor. Her father was a successful art dealer who had his own gallery in London. Her mother was an actress who had been successful before marriage under the stage name Sara Sothern. Taylor has an older brother, Howard, who was born two years earlier. In 1939 the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where Taylor was encouraged and coached by her mother to seek work in the motion picture industry. Taylor was signed by Universal in 1941 for $200 a week.
Success and special treatment
In 1942 Taylor signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the biggest and best studio of the time, and landed a part in Lassie Come Home. In 1943 she was cast in National Velvet, the story of a young woman who wins a horse in the lottery and rides it in England's Grand National Steeplechase. Taylor was so determined to play the role that she exercised and dieted for four months. During filming she was thrown from a horse and suffered a broken back, but she forced herself to finish the project. National Velvet became both a critical and commercial success.
Taylor loved her work, the costumes, the makeup, and the attention. Columnist Hedda Hopper, a friend of Taylor's mother, declared that at fifteen Elizabeth was the most beautiful woman in the world. Making films such as Little Women, Father of the Bride, Cynthia, and A Place in the Sun, Taylor began to gain a reputation as a moody actress who demanded special treatment. In May 1950 she married Conrad N. Hilton Jr., whose family owned a chain of hotels, but the union lasted less than a year. After divorcing Hilton, she married British actor Michael Wilding in February 1952. They had two sons.
Between 1952 and 1956 Elizabeth Taylor played in many romantic films that did not demand great acting talent. In 1956 she played opposite James Dean (1931–1955) in Giant, followed by the powerful Raintree County (1957), for which she was nominated (put forward for consideration) for an Academy Award for the first time. In Suddenly Last Summer (1959) she received five hundred thousand dollars (the most ever earned by an actress for eight weeks of work) and another Academy Award nomination.
Movies and marriages
In 1956 Taylor and Wilding separated, and in February 1957 she married producer Mike Todd. Taylor was shaken by James Dean's death and her friend Montgomery Clift's (1920–1966) near-fatal automobile accident, which occurred when the actor was driving home from a party at her house. In March 1958 her husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash. Taylor began trying to ease her grief with pills and alcohol. Her performance in the film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) won her an Academy Award nomination and led to a relationship with singer Eddie Fisher, who had been Mike Todd's best man at their wedding. Soon after his divorce from actress Debbie Reynolds (1932–), who had been Taylor's matron of honor, Taylor and Fisher were married in May 1959.
In 1960 Taylor turned in one of her best performances in Butterfield 8, for which she won an Oscar as Best Actress. A few months later, in 1961, she signed with 20th Century-Fox for $1 million for the film Cleopatra, also starring Richard Burton (1925–1984). The two stars were soon romancing off the set as well as on, leading to criticism from the Vatican, which referred to the two stars as "adult children." Upset and confused over her tangled relationships, Taylor attempted suicide in early 1962. By 1964, however, she and Burton had each divorced their spouses and were married.
Taylor won another Oscar for her performance alongside Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Over a dozen films followed, as did a divorce from Burton. The couple remarried in October 1975 before divorcing for the second and final time in July 1976. In 1978 Taylor married for the seventh time. Her new husband was John Warner, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. According to one biographer, Taylor broke "all the rules for being a good political wife." She had also gained considerable weight, and the press attacked her about it. After Warner was elected, he and Taylor divorced.
Pain and loss
Taylor then moved to Broadway for the first time in a well-received staging of The Little Foxes. She and Richard Burton appeared together in a 1983 production of Private Lives, but critics felt that the dramatic spark between them was no longer there. In 1983 Taylor checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in California for treatment for her alcohol addiction. The death of Burton in August 1984, however, combined with back pain and general ill health, led to her return to drinking and drugs.
Taylor was also alarmed as a number of her friends, including actor Rock Hudson (1925–1985) and fashion designer Halston, became ill with AIDS. Taylor began to speak out on behalf of AIDS research. In 1985 she became the cofounder and chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). Her "Commitment to Life" benefit of that year was the first major AIDS research fundraiser staged by the Hollywood community.
Taylor returned to the Betty Ford Clinic in 1988, where she met a forty-year old construction worker named Larry Fortensky. Their friendship continued outside the clinic and they married in 1991. In 1993 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Taylor with a special humanitarian (supporter of human welfare) award for her years with AmFAR. In 1994 Taylor returned to the movies after a fourteen-year absence for a small part in The Flintstones. She then announced her retirement from films. Her marriage to Fortensky ended in 1996.
In February 1997 Taylor participated in the ABC-TV (American Broadcasting Company-television) special, "Happy Birthday Elizabeth—A Celebration of Life," which marked her sixty-fifth birthday and raised money for AIDS research. The following day she underwent an operation to remove a two-inch tumor from her brain. She also underwent operations on her hip and broke her back in 1998. In the summer of 1999 she fell and suffered a fracture to her spine.
In May 2000 Taylor was dubbed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the female version of a knight. Queen Elizabeth (1926–) presented her with the award for services to the entertainment industry and to charity. That same year she was given the Marian Anderson Award for her efforts on behalf of the AIDS community. She also returned to the hospital briefly after coming down with pneumonia. Taylor is a beautiful, much-beloved woman with a larger-than-life presence, both on and off the screen.
For More Information
Amburn, Ellis. The Most Beautiful Woman in the World: The Obsessions, Passions, and Courage of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Cliff Street Books, 2000.
Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.
Kelley, Kitty. Elizbeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Maddox, Brenda. Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor? New York: M. Evans, 1977.
Walker, Alexander. Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: G. Weidenfeld, 1991.
TAYLOR, ELIZABETH (1932– ), U.S. actress. Taylor was born in London, England, to American art dealer Francis and actress Sara Taylor (stage name Sara Sothern). The family moved to Los Angeles in 1939, where with her mother's encouragement, Elizabeth appeared in her first film, There's One Born Every Minute (1942). A year later she signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she appeared in Lassie Come Home (1943). In 1943, she starred in National Velvet with Mickey Rooney; during the filming a horse riding accident left her with a broken back and the pain would plague her for the rest of her life. Critical acclaim for the film led to roles in Little Women (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), and A Place in the Sun (1951). In 1950, she married hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr., divorcing him less than a year later in 1951. In 1952, she married British actor Michael Wilding, divorcing him in 1957. In 1956, she starred opposite James Dean in Giant, and received her first Oscar nomination for Raintree Country (1957). She married producer Michael *Todd in 1957. Taylor turned to Todd's rabbi, Max Nussbaum of Temple Israel of Hollywood, to convert her to Judaism in early 1959, taking the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel. On March 24, 1958, Todd was killed in a plane crash in New Mexico. A grief-stricken Taylor poured her emotions into playing Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which earned her a second Oscar nod. While on the set, she met Eddie *Fisher, and following Fisher's divorce from Debbie Reynolds, the two were married by Rabbi Nussbaum at Temple Beth Shalom in Las Vegas on May 12, 1959, with Mike Todd, Jr., as best man. Suddenly Last Summer (1959) earned her a third Academy Award nomination. One year later, her turn as a call girl in Butterfield 8 (1960) won Taylor her first best actress Oscar. In 1961, Taylor signed with 20th Century Fox for $1 million to star in Cleopatra (1963). Taylor had an affair with co-star Richard Burton during the shoot that the Vatican even addressed. In 1962, a distraught Taylor attempted suicide. But following a divorce from Fisher, Taylor married recently divorced Burton on March 15, 1964. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) earned Taylor her second Oscar. Taylor divorced Burton in 1974, remarried him in 1975, but divorced again a year later. She married Republican Senate hopeful John Warner in 1976, but the two divorced following media scrutiny of her weight gain. Taylor turned to Broadway, where she appeared in Little Foxes (1981) and later in Private Lives (1983) with Burton. In 1983, Taylor admitted herself to the Betty Ford Clinic for alcohol addiction. After many of her friends, including Rock Hudson, died of aids, Taylor became the first celebrity to support aids research and co-founded the American Foundation for aids Research. In 1988, she returned to the Betty Ford Clinic, where she met 40-year-old construction worker Larry Fortensky, whom she married in 1991 and divorced in 1996. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth dubbed Taylor Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
[Adam Wills (2nd ed.)]