Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)
She was born in England to American parents and was an international star by the time she was a teenager.
She entranced people all over the world with her beauty – especially with those incredible violet eyes. Yet she never really thought of herself as a great beauty and said that Ava Gardner truly deserved that title.
Just as moviegoers became accustomed to her appearing on screen as a sweet child (National Velvet, Lassie Come Home) and then lovely teenager (Little Women, Life with Father), she blossomed as a young woman in Father of the Bride. Some child stars have difficulty transforming themselves and their careers from the cuteness of youth to the maturity and talent of an adult.
But not Elizabeth Taylor.
Taylor’s movie career began when she was 10 years old. Her last film appearance was in the TV movie These Old Broads. In between she acted in comedy and drama. She was in historical epics and musicals, Shakespeare and westerns. She even did the voice of Maggie on The Simpsons.
Her successful transition into adult roles was solidified by her performance in A Place in the Sun opposite Montgomery Clift. As Angela, a society girl who falls for a man from the wrong side of the tracks, Taylor won praise and new legions of fans. From there she continued to hone her talent in movies such as Ivanhoe, Elephant Walk, Giant, and Raintree County, continually growing and developing as an actress. But her real breakout film was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Taylor had lost her husband Mike Todd just as filming was beginning but went on with the movie, throwing herself into the role Maggie Pollitt and earning her second Oscar nomination.
Taylor would go on to receive five Oscar nominations for Best Actress and she won twice. The first award came for the role of call girl Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8. A few years later, she pulled out all the stops in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Playing opposite her then-husband Richard Burton, the film about the tormented marriage of George and Martha brought Taylor a second Oscar.
It’s debatable whether she was more famous for her eight marriages to seven men or for her films. They seemed to be intertwined, especially in regard to Richard Burton, the actor she married twice. They met while filming Cleopatra and their off screen affair – while each was married to other people – brought so much notoriety that people were clamoring to see the movie when it premiered. Taylor and Burton went on to make more films together (The Taming of the Shrew and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, among others), displaying as much fire on screen as they were reported to have in their private lives.
While she continued to work steadily throughout the 70s and 80s, other concerns began to draw Taylor away from acting. In 1985, Rock Hudson, her co-star in Giant, died of AIDS, and Taylor began to campaign for research and understanding of the disease, establishing the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). For that work, she was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Liz Taylor often portrayed women who appeared fragile, yet had a core of steel that became evident when they were tested. In that way, her career reflected her life. She persevered, sometimes through sheer will. And she’s left a wealth of great movies and a legacy of humanitarian work that are to be admired.