Born to American parents living in London, Elizabeth took dancing lessons as a little
tyke, and even performed before the Royal Family with her class. The Taylors returned
to America just before the outbreak of World War 2, settling in Beverly Hills.
A strikingly beautiful, graceful child, with raven hair and violet eyes, she broke
into movies at the age of 10, teamed with Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in a Universal B,
There's One Born Every Minute (1942).
At MGM, Taylor appeared with Roddy McDowall (who was to become a lifelong friend) in
Lassie Come Home (1943), but made a greater impression opposite Mickey Rooney in
National Velvet (1944), as a young girl determined to enter her horse in the Grand
National Steeplechase race. Her earnest, irresistible performance paved the way to
stardom. Loaned to Fox for Jane Eyre (1944), she came back to Metro for The White
Cliffs of Dover (1944), Courage of Lassie (1946), Cynthia, Life With Father (both 1947),
A Date With Judy, Julia Misbehaves (both 1948), and Little Women (1949) before winning
her first "adult" role, as Robert Taylor's wife in Conspirator (also 1949), which she
followed with The Big Hangover (1950). She had miraculously bypassed the "awkward"
adolescent phase, going from pretty girl to beautiful woman without the usual coltish
She was adorable as the excitable daughter of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett in Father
of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951). Also in 1951, on loan to
Paramount, she played the society girl who inflames workingclass Montgomery Clift in
A Place in the Sun George Stevens' remake of An American Tragedy It marked the first
time that Taylor was taken seriously by the criticsand, she has said, the first time
she ever thought of herself as an actress. Back at Metro, she was positively radiant
in period garb for Ivanhoe (1952), positively wasted in the musical Love Is Better
Than Ever (also 1952), and positively bewitching in The Girl Who Had Everything (1953),
Beau Brummel, The Last Time I Saw Paris and Rhapsody (all 1954).
George Stevens again gave Taylor a memorable screen assignment as the indomitable wife
of oil tycoon Rock Hudson in Giant (1956), an epic story for which she received favorable
reviews. By now a real stunner, whose voluptuous curves perfectly complemented her
flawless features, Taylor had developed her instinct for bonding with the camera lens,
an intangible ability reserved for only a special few performers. As if by magic, she
delivered three consecutive Oscarnominated performances, in Raintree County, Cat on a
Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer, the last two films based on Tennessee Williams
plays, and more demanding than anything she'd done before.
Taylor's offscreen life, which up to this point had included marriages to hotel heir
Nicky Hilton, actor Michael Wilding, producer Mike Todd (reportedly her happiest union,
curtailed by his untimely death), and singer Eddie Fisher, made nearly as many show-biz
columns as her screen work. Persistent health problems (and an emergency tracheotomy)
sapped her energy and nearly led to her death. Amid all that turmoil, she won her first
Academy Award for the disaffected call girl she played in Butterfield 8 (1960). Absent
from the screen for several years, she resurfaced in Cleopatra (1963), one of the most
publicized movies ever, and at that time the most expensive movie ever made. Its lengthy
production schedule had taken its toll on both the Taylor-Fisher marriage (an on-set
romance with leading man Richard Burton didn't help) and on Taylor herself, whose
performance was uneven at best.
Taylor was divorced in 1964 and immediately wed Burton. As the most famous married
couple in the world, they commanded unprecedented salaries to costar on-screen, though
only a few of their films were really good. The V.I.P.s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965),
The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedians, Dr. Faustus (all 1967), Boom! (1968), Under
Milk Wood (1973), Hammersmith Is Out (1972), and the TV movie Divorce His-Divorce Hers (1973)
all take a backseat to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), for which Taylor won her
second Oscar as Burton's blowsy, foul-mouthed wife. It was a brave and electrifying
performance for a "glamor queen" to give-and it remains one of her very best. (She and
Burton divorced in 1974.)
She has also starred in several madefor-TV movies, including Return Engagement (1978),
Between Friends (1983, perhaps her best, well matched with costar Carol Burnett),
Malice in Won- derland (1985, as famed gossip colum- nist Louella Parsons), There Must
Be a Pony (1986), Poker Alice (1987), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1989). At decade's end
she costarred with C. Thomas Howell in Franco Zeffirelli's unreleased Young Toscanini
In her later movies, Taylor's work has ranged from vital to vapid; clearly, a good
script and a good director are necessary to coax from Taylor the kind of performance
she's capable of giving.
Over the years Taylor's personal life has continued to make fodder for the press. She
briefly remarried Burton in 1976, then wed Virginia Senator John Warner, then Larry
Fortensky, a man some 20 years her junior, whom she met while in a rehab center
getting treatment for substance abuse. She is an indefatigable crusader for continued
and expansive AIDS research and care funding, and says her acting career is behind her.
(Nevertheless, she was coaxed into appearing in 1994's The Flintstones-of all things-as
Pearl Slaghoople, Fred's mother-in-law, and gave a deliciously funny performance.)
Her efforts on behalf of AIDS sufferers was rewarded with the prestigious Jean Hersholt
Humanitarian Award at the 1993 Academy Awards ceremony. That same year she received the
American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. An "in- formal memoir," "Elizabeth
Taylor by Elizabeth Taylor," was published in 1965.
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