Elizabeth Taylor: Reflections in a Violet Eye

Elizabeth Taylor costarred in LassieA violet-eyed beauty who matured from child stardom into one of cinema’s most glamorous screen presences, the caliber of Elizabeth Taylor‘s body of work has tended to be obscured by the tumult from what has to be the most public private life ever. Born in London on February 27, 1932 to a prosperous art dealer and former stage actress who were in fact natives of Kansas, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor’s family moved to Los Angeles when she was seven. Coached by her mother, she made her screen debut at 10 in the 1942 Universal comedy There’s One Born Every Minute.

A subsequent MGM contract brought her a co-starring role in Lassie Come Home, paying $100 a week for her efforts in 1943. The friendship Taylor forged with co-star Roddy McDowell was to last throughout their lives. Her next billed film appearance, alongside Mickey Rooney in the 1944 family favorite National Velvet, made her a star. Earlier that year, she appeared in Jane Eyre at Fox as young Jane’s sickly friend.

A Lassie sequel was inevitable, and in 1946 Elizabeth joined fellow MGM studio player Frank Morgan in Courage of Lassie, which updated the story to World War II. Years later, discussing her career, she remarked, “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses!”

Taylor’s adolescence was charted on the big screen through such enduring pictures as 1947’s Life with Father, with William Powell as the title papa of four boys (one of whom catches the eye of visiting Elizabeth), and Cynthia, showcasing her character’s coming of age, falling in love, and coping with the struggles of life living in a small town. A Date with Judy followed in 1948, in which she met and made another lifelong friend, Jane Powell (They would eventually be maid of honor at each other’s weddings). Her role as Amy in the 1949 screen version of Little Women, alongside June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Margaret O’Brien, remained a fan favorite for years to come. Liz’s first adult role came in in the romantic suspense thriller Conspirator (1949), where she learns her husband–British military officer Robert Taylor–is really a Soviet spy with orders to kill her.

In 1950, she was the perfect bride-to-be in Vincente Minnelli’s Father of the Bride, as harried parents Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett planned the wedding. Never a studio to never miss a step, MGM scheduled the film’s release for two days after Liz’s real-life wedding to hotel magnate Nicky Hilton, with the advance publicity helping its box office immensely. This union, her first of eight marriages, lasted only three months. A sequel was to follow in 1951 with the same cast, although Father’s Little Dividend did not do as well. Paramount came calling with an offer for A Place in the Sun, a film which brought her closer to another lifelong friend, Montgomery Clift. They met in 1949, when studio publicists asked Liz to accompany Clift to the premiere of his new movie, The Heiress. She described Clift as “The most gorgeous thing in the world and easily one of the best actors.”

Young adulthood found her remaining busy in largely middling fare, and shuttling through her first two marriages, the second to actor Michael Wilding. Back at Metro, she appeared with Larry Parks in the comedy Love Is Better Than Ever, but by its 1952 release Parks’ career was derailed by the HUAC “black list” even as Taylor’s star was rising. Reuniting with Robert Taylor in 1952, Liz couldn’t have been more gorgeous or alluring in the Technicolor medieval epic Ivanhoe as Rebecca, a moneylender’s daughter. The next year, she was The Girl Who Had Everything, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy criminal attorney who falls in love with one of his clients. It was a loose remake of a 1931 MGM drama, A Free Soul.

A quartet of films followed in 1954. Rhapsody featured Taylor with Italian actor Vittorio Gassman–and boasted a lush classical score featuring works from Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff –in a tale of a woman torn between two musicians. Following Rhapsody were Elephant Walk with Dana Andrews and Beau Brummel with Stewart Granger. One of her most popular films is The Last Time I Saw Paris, in which she is an American ex-patriate living in Paris after World War II along with Walter Pigeon, Donna Reed, and Van Johnson as her troubled husband.

The mid-’50s found her beginning to consistently receive projects of heft. Liz ages gracefully as she and her husband’s lives unfold in George Stevens’ sprawling epic Giant (1956), co-starring with good friend Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, their co-star James Dean never saw the completed movie, as he was killed in a crash before it premiered. Her next film in ’56 brought her back together with Clift in Raintree County. Tragedy struck again during filming, when Monty was in a near-fatal car accident after leaving Liz’s home that made it difficult for him to finish the project. Cast and crew pulled through together, though, and she scored her first Academy Award nomination for the Civil War drama.

Her happy third union with showbiz impressario Mike Todd ended tragically with the producer’s death in a 1958 plane crash. The actress proved her resilience and channeled her focus into her best work, including Oscar-nominated turns in the Tennessee Williams tales Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, opposite Paul Newman, in 1958 and Suddenly, Last Summer, with Clift and Katharine Hepburn, in ’59. It would be her next film, the 1960 drama Butterfield 8,  which finally won her the Academy’s Best Actress prize. And for trivia fans, it marked the first and only time Oscars were given in the same year to women playing prostitutes (the other statue went to Shirley Jones for Best Supporting Actress in Elmer Gantry).

It was during this period that her scandalous liaison with the married Eddie Fisher went public; within a few years, however, she’d be throwing him over for Richard Burton, her co-star in the infamous 1963 costume saga Cleopatra. Considered Hollywood’s most expensive film at the time (Taylor was the first actress to reach a million-dollar salary when she agreed to play the title role), the Taylor/Burton publicity almost  overwhelmed the project. “Liz and Dick” would be regarded as Hollywood’s golden couple for the rest of the decade, with a string of collaborations (The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper and The Comedians, among others) highlighted by the groundbreaking 1966 classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which brought Elizabeth her second Best Actress Oscar. Their tongue-in-cheek performances in 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew made it seem like Shakespeare was thinking of them when he wrote it. And later that year in Doctor Faustus, Liz was Helen of Troy, whose legendary beauty helped compel Burton’s Faustus to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for her love. Away from the camera, the mid-’70s would find the duo divorcing, remarrying, and divorcing again within the space of two years.

Liz shared her thoughts about meeting her twice-wed co-star. “Richard came on the set and sort of sidled over to me and said: ‘Has anybody ever told you that you’re a very pretty girl?’ I thought, Oy gevalt, the great lover, the great wit, the great Welsh intellectual, and he comes out with a corny line like that! But then I noticed his hands were shaking as if he had Saturday night palsy. He had the worst hangover I’d ever seen. And he was obviously terrified of me. I just took pity on him. I realized he really was human. That was the beginning of our affair.”

In 1967, she joined friend Marlon Brando in John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, and starred opposite Warren Beatty in 1970’s The Only Game in Town. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Liz largely picked her spots for appearing before the camera, but remained steadfastly in the press, usually due to various marital and wellness issues, but also for her consistent efforts on behalf of AIDS awareness. Notable entries from her latter-day resumé include a 1972 filming of Dylan Thomas’  Under Milk Wood, which was narrated by Burton; X, Y And Zee,  an erotic and controversial 1972 love triangle melodrama with Michael Caine and Susannah York;  and the suspense/drama The Driver’s Seat  in 1974. The final “Liz and Dick” collaboration was a two-part 1973 made-for-TV movie, Divorce His – Divorce Hers, that had people guessing if it wasn’t art imitating life (coming shortly before their first union ended). Taylor’s later films– the fantasy/musicals The Blue Bird (1976) and  A Little Night Music (1978) and the Agatha Christie whodunit, The Mirror Crack’d (1980), with old friend Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple–were minor successes. Meanwhile, appearances in the ’80s telefilms Between Friends, Malice in Wonderland and Sweet Bird of Youth kept her in the public eye…or ear, as when she voiced little Maggie Simpson’s first word (“Daddy!”) in an episode of The Simpsons.

In 1985, she began her friendship with music icon Michael Jackson. She was to say about Michael, “What is a genius? What is a living legend? What is a mega star? Michael Jackson – that’s all. And when you think you know him, he gives you more … I think he is one of the finest people to hit this planet, and, in my estimation, he is the true King of Pop, Rock and Soul.” And when her good friend died in 2009, she compassionately said, “I just don’t believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event.”

Her final big-screen appearance was as Wilma’s mother in the 1994 live-action version of  The Flintstones, and she made a fitting farewell to TV alongside Joan Collins, Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Reynolds in 2001’s  These Old Broads, co-scripted by Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher.

Elizabeth Taylor in Rhapsody: MGM’s Nod To The Classics

 
  • bogart10

    ELIZABETH TAYLOR DIED YESTERDAY AM, 3-23-11….REALLY SAD ALL DAY AND FELT I HAD LOST A FRIEND. THE ACCOLADES WERE, AND STILL ARE, MANY ON TV….BUT I JUST HEARD OF A HATE GROUP WHO DESCRIBED HER AS “A GAY ENABLER”….THIS IS THE SAME GROUP THAT LAST MONTH PICKETED A “GAY” FUNERAL…AND THEY CALL GAYS SICK…HOW SICK CAN YOU GET?

  • http://www.facebook.com/whatever41 Cynthia LaRochelle

    Fantastic actress and all woman. A gutsy female with a beauty that couldn’t be matched. She lived her life as she wanted, but not without her own heartaches. So let the hate groups wallow in their own mire. They are the losers, and we are all the better for being a part Ms. Taylor and her insight. She will be missed and always remembered!

  • Denise

    While reading YAHOO and the comments left for Elizabeth Taylor, I came across one who stated she was “useless and wasted her life”. This is a person who did not understand her craft. She was an amazing actress, a warmhearted human being and a strong activist. I read her book (Elizabeth) and realized what she had gone thru and had to deal with. We have lost the last great actress of our time! There will never be another to replace her. Although I never met her, I will always hold her dear to my heart!!

  • Kai Ferano

    I think a large part of our sorrow for the loss of Elizabeth Taylor is that her death marks the (near) end of the classic glamorous movie stars. Nowadays not one celebrity carries the bigger-than-life aura as the ones we knew, from the 1940s to the present. Very few of them are left, and that’s very sad. Elizabeth had said that when she died, she and Richard Burton will again be married in heaven. We’re missing you already, Elizabeth.

  • danny

    She’s the last movie superstar and I can’t remember a time in my life when she wasnt in the news, always beautiful, always passionate and compassionate. Even so, how can I feel such a sense of loss for someone I never personally knew?

  • Jan

    I believe with Elizabeth Taylor’s passing it is an end of an era. The end of style, grace, beauty and class. No one in the film industry these days possess a fraction of her greatness.

  • John Staggs

    Dame Elizabeth Taylor will be missed by all. I have loved her for 65 years.She has always been a Great Lady,and very compassionate about her work with aids.I feel a great loss for this Great Actress that I will never forget .

  • Donna

    Elizabeth Taylor was truly a great actress. She should also be remembered for her great charity and work with Aids. Those who chide her for it should hang their heads in shame!

  • Mary

    Elizabeth’s role in the 1944 version of Jane Eyre is rarely mentioned, maybe because it was such a small role, but played beautifully. She was a true star. Paul Newman’s tribute to her shown on TCM often is wonderful.

  • jimg

    I was lucky enough to meet her in 1992. The hour I spent with her was just great. She was classy , nice and funny.

  • Phil G.

    Yes, one of the last of the screen greats is gone. I can not imagine a world without Liz Taylor in it? Who’s left now? Debbie Reynolds (they remained friends to the end) is still here. Mickey Rooney too. Who else has survived the golden era of true STARS? Today, you put on a dress made of meat or make a fool of yourself on TV and they call you a star. Give me the good old days and RIP dear Elizabeth.

  • john laughlin

    a true icon there will never be another actress like her.althoug you are gone you will never forgoten. god bless you. the poolman.

  • Tom Hogg

    Elizabeth Taylor screamed the word AIDS when Ronald Reagen refused to even mumble the word. She was fighting for the rights of people afflicted with this terrible disease when all the other Hollywood stars were hiding from them. She is a heroine to us all, in a class by herself. She is Elizabeth Taylor.

  • WALT F.

    A FINE LOOKING WOMEN, A GREAT ACTRESS, BUT ONE HELL OF A LADY

  • william kunz

    I mourn the passing of this exquitely beautiful and wonderful,compasionate human being,
    I was about 6 months older than she. As a teenager, I was heart-broken when she married Nicky Hilton. None the less, I became a great fan of here career and her caring for those in need.
    God bless and keep you.

  • Nancy Truitner

    There will never be another woman as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor. What a legend. What a great actress. I will never forget her and will greatly miss her. I can’t imagine life without her.

  • Martin Stumacher

    Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful with a talent that made the period of the Golden Age of Films a very special time for movie lovers. Just this morning, I took out my DVD copy of A Place in the Sun. For me, this was Elizabeth Taylor’s best acting role. To be together with Montgomery Cliff, that’s makes this one of the best films Hollywood has produced.

  • Wes R

    As a teen-ager I had a HUGE crush on her. I had seen National Velvet about nine times. My mother was a friend of Sidney Guilaroff, the head of hair style at MGM. He arranged a meeting for us in the MGM comminsary. She was lovely and a little shy. She had her pet chipmonk on her shoulder. We only spoke a few words,but I’ll never forget my moment with Elizabeth Taylor.

  • JoAndra

    Gone from Hellish pain to Heavenly gain. She is reunited with her dearest friends, Michael Jackson and Roddy McDowall. May they all be joyous and at peace.

  • Sheila B

    Stars come and go, True ones remain always Shining Bright.. God Bless the violet eye’s that stay’s with you. R.I.P.

  • Joanne Eckel

    Elizabeth was my favorite actress.My favorite movie is A Place in the Sun. The closeup kiss scene between her and Monty Clift, could never be matched, ever! God bless you, Elizabeth.

  • sheena c

    Elizabeth i’m going to miss you! but i will have you dvd movies (smile) to injoy. one of my favorite is butterfile 8. You are one of the BEST!!!

  • Ruben Laqbrada

    Farewell to our Queen Elizabeth!

  • Ruben Labrada

    Sorry for he spelling on my last name.
    Cleopatra my favorite.

  • RayJ

    Elizabeth Taylor was a star to the end.I will never forget her riveting roles in GIANT with Rock Hudson and James Dean; Maggie, in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and the tough bitches she played in WHO’s AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF? and REFLECTIONS IN AN GOLDEN EYE.What a persona she had, in real and reel life. I am very sad.

  • Linda W

    Eliazbeth: A royal name for a royal beauty that’s all I can say, she will truly be missed, rest in peace Dame Eliazbeth, you fought a good fight God bless you!

  • Judy

    My favorite Elizabeth Taylor film was Giant. I can appreciate the way she played the southern beauty who captures the heart of the direct, rich Texan (Rock) and they both were rarely more enjoyable on screen. Just loved the way she and he aged, with grandchildren to enjoy at the end, after going through all the bumps in their marriage and how they handled their children’s choices in love and occupations. Always enjoy seeing the young Elizabeth as the silly Amy in Little Women, with the way she put a clothespin on her nose before she went to sleep at night, and always mispronounced big words.

    From the famed studio era and still with us: Maureen O’Hara, still a beauty at age 80+. Kirk Douglas was even doing shtick at the Oscars in his 90s. Mickey Rooney, who just testified, sadly, before Congress about his own experience with elder abuse, is still here; Doris Day has an April birthday coming, and she’s around 86. Still around and around 77/78 and in a happy marriage is Kim Novak, another former screen siren. Dancer/actress Shirley MacLaine is still kicking! We’re fortunate to have with us still, Shirley Temple Black, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Sophia Loren, Esther Williams, and Luise Rainier, now 100+; Leslie Caron; Angela Lansbury, Eleanor Parker, Joan Leslie, Margaret O’Brien.
    Still alive of the male leading men or Oscar-winning actors of the screen from the studio era, I can think of Sidney Poitier, Maximilian Schell, Peter O’Toole, Louis Jourdan, Eli Wallach, Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Cliff Robertson, Clint Eastwood, now 80 and Omar Sharif.

  • Roger Phillips

    Maybe “Giant” is my favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie. Also love the comedy of “Taming of the Shrew”–she and Burton did Shakespeare well. She had lots of versatility to do “National Velvet” as a girl, “Father of the Bride” and in late years funny as Wilma’s mother in “The Flintstones”> I liked her in a “Place in the Sun”.

  • Judy

    Sorry, I looked it up later and Maureen O’Hara is approaching her 91st birthday this August. Also, I left out Lauren Bacall as among the leading ladies who are still very much alive. Guess I should also include Brigitte Bardot, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gina Lollobrigida.

    Has anyone who has seen the movie, Giant, ever connected the basic storyline with the hit TV show, Dallas? I always thought there was an echo from the film.

  • Nina

    I was so sorry to hear that Elizabeth Taylor passed. She was a great beauty and actress. Her philanthropic work was amazing. One of my favorite films is ”The Sandpiper” with Richard Burton. Rest in peace, great lady.

  • Debbie

    Thanks to all of you for the lovely comments on Elizabeth Taylor, yes she will be sadly missed. She was my favorite female movie star of all time. Her life was sometimes controversial but she did live it to the fullest. My favorite movies are Butterfield 8 and Father of the Bride.
    She was truly a legend. Everyone have a super day.

  • Allison

    Elizabeth Taylor, will always be remembered , as a teenager I could not wait to read about her daily life. I have seen just about all of her movies. I still have the magazines that she appeared in. There are a few true stars of that great Hollywood era.
    I wish to thank each and everyone of them for sharing their lives with us. Elizabeth Taylor I will always love you .

  • Lesa McLane

    Elizabeth Taylor was a true classic. Not only a star, in every sense of the word, but a woman that lived her life and convictions to the fullest! May we all try to emmulate her examples; not of perfection, but rather of courage and elegance to the end!

  • Jack West

    3 Things: 1.)I saw Cleopatra in 1963, liked the first part, hated the second and will always remember the scene where she enters Rome; 2.)I saw Giant at the Glenview Naval Air station movie theatre the night before I went on active duty; 3.)@Kai Ferano, hate to bust your balloon but according to Jesus Christ, we don’t get married in Heaven. When being tested by the Jewish leaders who used an example like Ms. Taylor, saying a woman had been married 8 times, died, went to heaven and saw her husbands, which one was she married to, Jesus replied: “None of them. There is no marriage in heaven.” Sorry.

  • DIANE

    I LOVED LIZ TAYLOR,MY MOM WAS TOLD SHE COULD BE HER TWIN,SO GROWING UP I SAW ALL HER MOVIES,MY MOM PASSED OCT31,2007, AND NOW I FEEL LIKE ILOST MY OTHER MOTHER, GOODBYE LIZ, I HOPE MY MOM GETS TO MEET YOU IN HEAVEN,

  • Susan Peran

    Dame Elizabeth, I am so grateful to have so many memories within the amazing performances that your legacy leaves to us. May we always remember your incredible laughter, strength, loyalty and passion for all who you loved, protected and championed. Love to you now and always. God needed one more angel.

  • Harold Moore

    Liz Taylor is truly is one of Hollywood’s most beautiful icons to ever graze the screen with her unusual violet eyes and one of the most influential humanitarian of our time! Thank u for teaching us how to share and live, Love u always and rest in peace!

  • Scherylle Smith

    I will really miss Elizabeth Taylor. She was and
    will always be my favorite movie star. I loved her in “Cleopatra” and when she kissed Richard Burton, it was for real. Also I loved both of them in “The Sandpiper” and I can’t wait to get it on DVD. Elizabeth Taylor was truly a classy act! She will be missed!!!!!!!

  • Donald R Perry

    I’m looking for a DVD from 1948 called “A Foreign Affair”. Billy Wilder Directed Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur and John Lund in this film.
    Thanks – Don

  • Carol Keola

    I have adored Liz for many,many years. For the talent,beauty,entertainment and just for the pure pleasure of watching her work her craft. I say Thank You Liz and may God keep you.

  • Barb

    Elizabeth Taylor was definitely a movie super star and she will be sorely missed!! She is the last of stars in her era that could boast the title MOVIE STAR! We have fine actresses and actors today but none compare to the caliber of Elizabeth! There will never be another Elizabeth Taylor!! She was one in a million!! Wish I could have known her! From what I’ve read about her over the years, she was a generous woman and deeply devoted to her friends! Someone said of her devotion to Michael Jackson that once she became your friend, she was loyal to that friendship! Glad she was always there for him!! Glad they were always there for each other!! Two beautiful human beings…gone too soon!! We’ve lost a great friend and champion in Elizabeth!!

  • Barb

    Reply to Judy:

    Thanks for the list of great stars that are still with us! I had forgotten about some of them, nonetheless, Elizabeth was always at the top of my list!!
    It was also interesting that you compared “Giant” (which is one of my very favorites) to the television series “Dallas”!! I too, can see some similarities!!
    I truly hope in the very near future TCM or Movies Unlimited with put out a boxed collection of Taylor’s greatest movies on DVD!!! What a treat and grand tribute that would be!!

  • Roger Lindberg

    Dame Elizabeth was truly a great star and actress, who will be sorely missed in our household. Those eyes and such beauty! Your comments were very nice, but had one error—-her first husband was Nicky Hilton, not his father, Conrad. Conrad was married for a time to Zsa Zsa Gabor–which meant she was Elizabeth’s step-mother!!! Ah, Hollywood!

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Good point Roger. Sometimes the fingers are quicker than the mind. Thanks for pointing out our “Nicky” error, which is now fixed.

  • jeannetta

    Hollywood most beautyfulL star. She will shine always. I will never forget her, she was one hell of a lady.Her beauty, will never be match.I’LL MISS YOU MS. TAYLOR.REST IN GOD HANDS. THANK YOU SHARE YOUR GIFT.

  • Monique

    I can so relate to my fellow Elizabeth fans saying they miss someone they didn’t know. I thought it was just me and I was going nuts! Her passing has really saddened me and I think it’s more that I feel like I missed out on knowing her. To know she’s no longer in pain is comforting but I really feel like a light has gone out! It’s so odd to miss someone you never met but I guess growing up (I’m 28) seeing her is why I feel like this. We Love you always Elizabeth and you will be forever missed!

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