A bona fide legend from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Elizabeth Taylor made her first movie at age 9, was a star by 12 and had her first “adult” hit at 18 in “Father of the Bride,” the release of which coincided with the first of her eight marriages.
The dark-haired beauty, known for her violet eyes and thick eyelashes, had been nominated for an Academy Award for lead actress five times. She won twice, for "Butterfield 8" (1960) and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). In 1992, the academy honored her with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her efforts to fund AIDS/HIV research.
Taylor's first appearance in film came in "There's One Born Every Minute" (1942) with Carl (Alfalfa) Switzer of "Our Gang" fame as her costar.
"It was very strange," she said in a 1996 interview with The Times. "I still had an English accent." (She was born in London to American parents, and the family returned to the United States at the outbreak of war in 1939.) "If I remember, I had to put on an American accent. But I don't think I've ever seen the film. It always seemed more like a test than a film. I'm not ashamed of it, I just don't remember anything about it."
Taylor said she thought of 1943's "Lassie Come Home" as her first film and said that 1945's "National Velvet" was her favorite. "Because it was totally me, and I could ride all day long," she said. "It wasn't work."
She spent 18 years at MGM, was tutored at the studio, and the grips and other crew members became a kind of second family. But the affection stopped at the executive suites, she said. "I never got into that Poppa L.B. Mayer bit. No way. I had my family and we were very family-oriented.
"Looking back, I think I missed not having a childhood, not going to a regular school. I had a lot of fathers and avuncular friends on the set.... But it wasn't the same as having peers, and I think I would advise parents of child actors not to push it. It's a hard life for a child not to have a childhood. It's rough."
As an actress, Taylor blossomed throughout the 1950s in such enduring dramas as “A Place in the Sun,” “Giant,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (as Maggie the Cat) and “Suddenly, Last Summer.”
But over the years she became as famous for her tumultuous personal life and near-death experiences as she was for her acting.
Taylor married for the first time at age 18 to hotel heir Conrad Hilton, a union that was over within a year. Her second husband was producer Michael Wilding, with whom she had two sons. Her third husband, Michael Todd, with whom she had a daughter, was killed in a plane crash in 1958. Taylor sought comfort from his best friend, Eddie Fisher, who soon left his wife, Debbie Reynolds, to be with Taylor.
That marriage ended in divorce in 1964 after Taylor met Richard Burton when they were cast in the costly epic “Cleopatra.” Although Burton was also married at the time, they embarked on a tabloid-ready romance.
The couple wed nine days after Taylor and Fisher's divorce was final and went on to costar in nine other features — most notably “The V.I.P.s,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Taming of the Shrew” — as well as the telefilm “Divorce His, Divorce Hers,” before their 1974 divorce. (The tempestuous pair remarried the following year, but divorced again nine months later.)
In late 1976, Taylor married Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). They divorced in 1982. By then, Taylor was acting less, appearing in a smattering of features over time including “Ash Wednesday,” “A Little Night Music” and “The Mirror Crack’d,” as well as in more widely seen TV movies such as “Malice in Wonderland” (playing gossip columnist Louella Parsons), “Poker Alice” and a remake of “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
During the early 1980s, Taylor spent time on the London and Broadway stages in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” She soon returned to Broadway in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” in which she reunited with ex-husband Burton.
The four-time Golden Globe Award winner’s last few screen appearances include 1994’s feature of “The Flintstones” and the 2001 telefilm “These Old Broads.”
Over the years she was plagued by a plethora of physical ailments and used a wheelchair by the time of her death. Taylor had at least one reported bout with alcoholism, famously meeting her eighth husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, during a stint at the Betty Ford Center; and became a close — and some thought unlikely — friend of singer Michael Jackson.
The actress also became known for her line of jewelry and fragrances. Since 1988, spurred by the AIDS-related death of her close friend Rock Hudson, Taylor became one of the first major stars to push for HIV/AIDS research. She helped to raise tens of millions of dollars for the cause.
Taylor died March 23, 2011, of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 79.
— Charles Champlin in and Gary Goldstein for the Los Angeles Times
|1957||Best Actress||Raintree County||Nomination|
|1958||Best Actress||Cat on a Hot Tin Roof||Nomination|
|1959||Best Actress||Suddenly, Last Summer||Nomination|
|1960||Best Actress||Butterfield 8||Win|
|1966||Best Actress||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?||Win|
|1992||Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award||Win|