Liz Taylor on the red carpet in 1964. Image REX
I had first planned to write a two-part post about Elizabeth Taylor, however in writing these posts about the life of such a legendary star, I came to realize that two posts would simply not be enough. So, I decided to split two posts into three- it seemed oddly fitting considering that she has been gone for only three years. The last post was about her glittering career in film, this one is about her family life, her career outside of film and her causes and charity work. My final post will be about her style and her legendary love of jewelry.
Elizabeth and her domineering stage-mother, Sara Taylor, in 1937. Image by SNAP/Rex Features
First and foremost, the biggest influence in Elizabeth’s early life was her mother, Sarah Taylor, a slightly overbearing lady and one of Hollywood’s early “momagers”. After having been reluctant to let Elizabeth try out for movie roles, she now pushed her relentlessly to hone her craft, to be able to cry on cue, and was ever-present on film sets, correcting Elizabeth’s mistakes and signalling her to change her delivery. Education was not important to Sara, and as Elizabeth spent the majority of her childhood on film sets, she was so poorly-educated that she had to use her fingers to do basic arithmetic. Although MGM Studios provided an on-set school with classrooms for its child actors, Elizabeth hated this school and rebelled from it as often as she could.
During her teens Elizabeth became disillusioned with acting and considered quitting in favour of a normal childhood. Sara stepped in, rebuking her with, “You have a responsibility, Elizabeth. Not just to this family, but to the country now, the whole world.”
Sara also had a hand in Liz’s early relationships, pushing her to date famous bachelors like Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra and Henry Kissinger. At her mother’s insistence, Liz also dated, and later became engaged to American footballer Glenn Davis and William Pawley, the American Ambassador to Brazil. Elizabeth broke off both engagements, but she soon married Conrad Hilton Jr. (the great-uncle of Paris and Nicky), in an attempt to escape the influence of her mother.
Elizabeth and third husband, Mike Todd, on their honeymoon in 1957. GETTY images
Elizabeth married Conrad Hilton Jr. in May 1950, their marriage lasting until January 1951. She truly believed that she was in love with him, but his alcoholism, gambling and abusive behavior quickly drove her away.
She married actor Micheal Wilding a year later in February 1952. Wilding was twenty years her senior, but she fell for the “gentleness” he displayed whilst comforting her in the months after leaving Hilton. Their marriage lasted for five years and they had two children, sons Micheal Howard and Christopher Edward. They divorced in January 1957. Years later, Liz admitted that she was to blame for their divorce saying, “I gave him rather a rough time, sort of henpecked him and probably wasn’t mature enough for him.”
Liz then married producer Mike Todd in February 1952. Her relationship with him was tempestuous but this was her only marriage not to end in divorce. They had a daughter together, Elizabeth Francis. The marriage ended on March 22nd, 1958 when Todd died in a plane crash near Grants, New Mexico. Elizabeth would later say that Mike Todd was one of the three loves of her life, along with Richard Burton and jewelry.
Her next marriage was to singer Eddie Fisher a year later in May 1959. Fisher was Mike Todd’s best friend, and consoled a grieving Elizabeth after Todd’s death. Their relationship was considered scandalous since it began while Eddie Fisher was still married to singer Debbie Reynolds. Their marriage lasted for five years, dissolving in March 1964 because of the start of Liz’s most famous and controversial relationship – that with Richard Burton.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in MGM Studios’ “Cleopatra” (1963)
Elizabeth Taylor met Richard Burton on the set of “Anthony and Cleopatra.” To say that their affair was widely publicized would be an understatement. They were condemned by the Vatican for flaunting “erotic vagrancy” because they were both married to other persons at the time. Liz married Richard on March 15th, 1964, nine days after her divorce from Eddie Fisher was finalized. During her marriage to Fisher, Liz had started the proceedings to adopt Maria, a two-year-old girl from Germany, the adoption process was finalized in 1964. Richard Burton later adopted Elizabeth’s two daughters.
Their first marriage lasted a decade, spanning from 1964 to June 1974. Elizabeth tried to focus on her marriage rather than her career, even going so far as to intentionally gain weight in an unsuccessful attempt to deter receiving film roles. The relationship was rocky but passionate, eventually causing their first divorce that lasted sixteen months. They remarried in October 1975, but soon separated and re-divorced in July 1976.
Liz and Richard Burton in Look Magazine, June 1967
Due to the great public interest, Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard Burton continued to be closely followed by the media even after their second divorce.
Elizabeth remarried again in December 1976, this time to Republican Senator John Warner. She relocated to Washington D.C. where she tried to downplay her fame and focus instead on her marriage. She soon became depressed and entered the Betty Ford Center to overcome her depression. Six years later, she divorced Warner in November 1982.
Her final marriage was to Larry Fortensky, a construction worker Liz met during another stay at the Betty Ford Center. They were married in the Neverland Ranch in October 1991, divorcing five years later in October 1996.
In 1971, when she was just 39 years old, Elizabeth Taylor became a grandmother. At the time of her passing, she was survived by her four children, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and their children on vacation in 1967. Image GETTY
Elizabeth Taylor devoted countless energy and time in advocacy efforts for HIV/AIDS-related projects and awareness. She was one of the first celebrities to do so during a time when few people even acknowledged the disease. It was a cause especially close to her heart as her longtime friend and former co-star Rock Hudson confided his positive HIV/AIDS status with her, before eventually dying of the disease in 1985. In 1984 she hosted the first AIDS fundraiser to benefit ADIS Project Los Angeles. In 1985, Liz co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research with Dr. Micheal Gottleib and Dr. Mathilde Kim. In 1992 Liz was awarded a special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitatian Award for her HIV/AIDS humanitarian work. In 1993 she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to provide critically-needed support services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Of her many accomplishments, it was her ability to truly provide help and comfort to those dealing with HIV/AIDS that she truly valued.
Elizabeth Taylor on Capital Hill, where she testified before a senate subcommittee, asking for the Government to increase public spending on HIV/AIDS related healthcare and awareness. Image GETTY
In addition to her extensive AIDS work, Elizabeth Taylor worked for Jewish causes throughout her life. While she was not born Jewish, but converted to from Christian Science to Judaism in 1959 when she was 27 years old. She said that she had long considered converting, but that it was the death of Mike Todd that convinced her to do it, saying that she, “felt a desperate need for a formalized religion” after his death and that Judaism was able to address many of the, “questions she had about life and death.”
Her commitment to Jewish causes caused some controversy in her career, particularly in 1962, when she was barred from entering Egypt to complete “Cleopatra.” The Egyptian government announced that she was not allowed to enter Egypt because she had adopted the Jewish faith and, “supports Israeli causes.” The ban was lifted in 1964 after the film brought great publicity to Egypt. Another controversy occurred in 1959 when a large-scale purchase of Isreali Bonds caused Arab boycotts of her films.
Liz helped to raise money for organizations such as the Jewish National Fund and advocated for the rights of Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel. In 1976 she famously offered herself up as a replacement hostage in the Entebbe skyjacking incident, where more than 100 Isreali citizens were held hostage in an Ugandan Airport by Palestinian and German revolutionaries. After the hostages were freed, she acted in “Victory at Entebbe”, a 1977 TV special about the incident.
Liz in a photograph taken in the early 1950s. Image GETTY
She has left behind a legacy that is gargantuan in size. She has been called the “greatest movie star of all” and “the greatest actress in film history.” Although she never saw herself as a sex symbol, she played a major role in defining the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She pushed the envelope of her sexuality be appearing semi-nude in Playboy and by being one of the first actresses to appear completely naked on film.
However it was her accessibility that made the most impact in her personal life. She was described as being “a star without airs” working well with her co-stars and being uncatty in her work relationships with other actresses. Director Greg Cuckor once explained that Liz got along so well with her fellow actors because she possessed, “that rarest of virtues—simple kindness.”
Elizabeth Taylor in 1959 on the set of “Suddenly Last Summer.” Photo REX Images
Liz’s talent was summed up best by her ex-husband Richard Burton when he said, “she’s one of the most underrated screen actresses that ever lived, and I think she’s one of the best ones who ever lived. At her finest she’s incomparable.”
This was a long one! We’ll conclude tomorrow with the final post that’s all about her style, her famous love of jewelry, and her legendary collection of fabulous jewels. Until then!