Elizabeth Taylor Biography

photo: Elizabeth Taylor

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Elizabeth Taylor Special on Friday 25 March at 8am and 4pm

Renowned for her legendary beauty and startling violet eyes, Oscar-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor has mesmerized audiences as much with her private life as with her dramatic performances on the silver screen.

Elizabeth Taylor was the Queen of Hollywood, with a career spanning six decades. She was as famous for her colourful personal life, which included eight marriages and seven husbands, as she was for her acting career.

Although Taylor was born in England, her parents were American art dealers. Her mother had been an actress on the stage until she married, and the family relocated to Los Angeles when she was seven.

A family friend suggested Taylor be taken for a screen test, and she signed a contract with Universal Studios. Her first foray onto the silver screen was in the short, ‘There’s One Born Every Minute’, when she was ten.

Taylor was then signed by MGM to make ‘Lassie Come Home’. Her next two films were minuscule parts, but then came the film that made Taylor a star, ‘National Velvet’, in 1944. The film was a smash hit, grossing over $4 million.

Throughout the 1940s and into the early 1950s, Taylor appeared in film after film, with mostly good results. 1954 proved her busiest year to date, with roles in ‘Rhapsody’, ‘Beau Brummell’, ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ and ‘Elephant Walk’.

1957 saw Taylor star in ‘Raintree County’, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1958, she starred in ‘Cat On a Hot Tin Roof’. The film received rave reviews from the critics and Taylor was nominated again for another Academy Award. She finally won an Oscar in 1960 for ‘Butterfield 8’.

In 1963, she starred in ‘Cleopatra’, which was the most expensive production up to that time, and her enormous salary of $1,000,000 made her the highest paid woman in Hollywood and the first ever million dollar actress.

After her second Oscar win for ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, her films never again reached the same heights. However, she maintained her place in the limelight by the sheer quantity of her work, appearing in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’, ‘The Only Game in Town’ and ‘Hammersmith is Out’ between 1967 and 1972.

In 1974, Taylor starred in ‘Victory at Entebbe’, a made-for-television movie based on an actual event, which involved Israeli hostages being freed from Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Over the next decade, she went on to have roles in productions including ‘A Little Night Music’, ‘The Mirror Crack’d’, ‘All My Children’, ‘Malice in Wonderland’ and the miniseries ‘North and South’.

With her appearances largely restricted to television and voice roles, Taylor continued entertaining fans in the late 80s through to the 90s with roles in ‘Young Toscanini’, ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘The Flintstones’. Her most recent work includes 2001’s ‘These Old Broads’ and 2003’s ‘God, the Devil and Bob’, an animated sitcom.

Taylor’s personal life has been as colourful as her acting career, having gone through seven husbands and eight marriages over the years. Her most famous union was with seven-time Academy Award nominee Richard Burton, whom she married and divorced twice.

Her first marriage was to Conrad 'Nicky' Hilton, the young hotel chain heir. They wed on 6 May 1950. Taylor believed she was in love and also wanted to escape her mother who was quite controlling over the young actress. Hilton's drinking and abusive behaviour led to Taylor having a miscarriage and they divorced after nine months.

She then wed Michael Wilding who was 20 years older in 1952 and they divorced in 1957, with Taylor stating she wasn't mature enough for him. She had two sons with Wilding.

In February 1957, she married Michael Todd, with whom she had daughter Liza. On 22 March 1958, Michael died, meaning this was her only marriage not to end in divorce. Taylor claimed he was one of the three loves of her life, along with Burton and jewellery.

She married Eddie Fisher in 1959. He was Todd's best friend and was already married to Debbie Reynolds when the pair started an affair, which was condemned. This partnership ended in 1964.

Taylor then married Burton in 1964, which the Vatican condemned as they were both married when they started seeing each other. The marriage lasted ten years before they divorced. After being apart for 16 months, they married again but redivorced in 1975.

She married Republican senator John Warner in 1976 and they divorced in 1982. This was followed by a five year marriage to Larry Fortensky.

In February 1997, she was hospitalised for the removal of a brain tumour and, although the operation was successful, her health remained an ongoing concern. Taylor had a wide range of other medical issues over the years and in February 2011, at the age of 78, she was admitted into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for treatment related to congestive heart failure, which she disclosed in 2004.

She passed away on 23 March 2011 at the age of 79 from congestive heart failure. A statement announcing Taylor's death said that "she was surrounded by her children - Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd and Maria Burton" and left behind ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Paying tribute to his mother, son Michael said in a statement: "We will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world. My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humour, and love."

On her death, her jewellery collection was worth a reported $150 million as she loved collecting pieces and was seen as a fashion icon throughout her career.

Christie's auction house will be selling some of this collection on 13 and 14 December in New York following a three-month worldwide tour.

She earned £12 million in the year after her death.



Revisit a classic
- Cleopatra

Still the most expensive movie ever made, Cleopatra nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. It also scandalised the world with the very public affair of its two major stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But Joseph L Mankiewicz's 1963 awe-inspiring epic deserves to be remembered for more than just its off-screen troubles.

Hollywood's first couple - Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

A tough Welshman, he was softened by the affections of a breathtakingly beautiful woman: she was a modern-day Cleopatra madly in love with her own Mark Antony. For quarter of a century, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the king and queen of Hollywood. This ultimate celebrity biography is the gripping real-life story of a fairy-tale couple whose lives were even grander and more outrageous than the epic films they made.

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