As one of the final remnants of Old Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor exuded glitz and glamor. Her iconic turn as Cleopatra only cemented what her fans already suspected: Elizabeth Taylor was royalty. Her scandalous love life and ongoing health troubles filled the pages of gossip mags, but away from the public eye, Taylor was generous, loyal, and acutely sensitive to the struggles of those Hollywood would cast aside. Here are 44 dazzling facts about Elizabeth Taylor.
1. Born in the UK
Taylor was born in Hampstead, England in 1932. Her parents, who were from the United States originally, moved to California in 1939, concerned that rapidly the developing world war would spread to Great Britain.
2. The Family Business
Elizabeth Taylor’s mother, Sara Sothern, was a well-known stage actress with several Broadway credits to her name. She passed away in 1994, at 99 years of age.
3. A Star Is Born
Taylor was just ten years old when she made her film debut. She played Gloria Twine in the 1942 comedy There’s One Born Every Minute.
4. Cover Girl
It is estimated that Taylor appeared on over 1,000 magazine covers in her lifetime.
5. Gone to the Dogs
The teenaged Taylor became a bonafide star with 1943’s Lassie Come Home. She won the role of Priscilla when the original actress, Maria Flynn, was replaced. Sources differ on whether the switch was made because Flynn was afraid of dogs, or because she had grown too tall. Taylor made $100 a week while filming the movie; Lassie earned $250 a week.
6. Getting Back on the Horse
While filming National Velvet in 1944, Taylor fell from a horse and injured her back. The horse, named King Charles, was known to be aggressive, but had behaved himself around Taylor to that point. Taylor recovered quickly from her injury and even arranged to keep King Charles when filming was finished. However, the back injury she sustained would plague her for the rest of her life.
7. Heartbreak Hotel
In 1950, Taylor married hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr. The couple divorced just three months later, after a lengthy European honeymoon, citing irreconcilable differences. It would be the first of eight marriages for Taylor.
8. The Late Elizabeth Taylor
Despite her much-publicized health issues, Taylor still lived to the age of 79. No one was more surprised by her longevity than Mel Gussow, the theatre critic who wrote Taylor’s New York Times obituary. Taylor outlived Gussow by six years—another writer had to update the obit with the appropriate dates and info when Taylor actually did die.
9. The Late Elizabeth Taylor
Taylor’s coffin arrived fifteen minutes after her funeral was scheduled to begin. She stated in her will that she wanted to be late—fashionable, even in death.
10. Good Casting
In 1956, Taylor appeared in the movie Giant alongside Rock Hudson and James Dean. Taylor played Leslie Benedict. Carroll Baker played her daughter in the film, despite the fact that she was actually older than Taylor. Though that sounds like a poor casting decision, it’s not far removed from Taylor’s real-life experience: her stepson, Mike Todd Jr., was three months older than her.
Taylor had planned to retire from making movies after 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. A contract dispute with MGM forced her to return to film BUtterfield 8, in which she starred as a prostitute opposite her real-life husband, Eddie Fisher. Taylor resented being forced out of retirement and refused to speak to the director for the entire shoot.
12. What Were You Thinking?
Just because Taylor hated BUtterfield 8, doesn’t mean Hollywood agreed with her. She ended up winning her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film. Later, when asked about the movie’s success, she replied, “I still say it stinks.”
13. Repeat Customer
Taylor underwent more than 40 surgeries and was hospitalized more than 100 times in her lifetime.
14. The Other Woman
Taylor married Eddie Fisher (father of Carrie Fisher) in 1959, just hours after he divorced her friend, Debbie Reynolds. They divorced in 1964. Though Taylor and Reynolds renewed their friendship following the divorce, Taylor did not speak to Fisher for another forty years.
15. Finding Her Faith
Taylor converted to Judaism in 1959, after her husband Mike Todd’s death, but shortly before her marriage to Eddie Fisher. Though both Todd and Fisher were Jewish, Taylor said her choice was purely personal, and not influenced by either of her husbands. Upon her conversion, she was given the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel.
16. No Entry
Taylor’s conversion nearly jeopardized the filming of Cleopatra. The Egyptian government initially barred Taylor from entering the country because she had converted to Judaism.
In 1961, Taylor began work on Cleopatra. It was the most expensive film ever made and remains one of the most famous films of all time. For her role as the Queen of the Nile, Taylor was paid $1 million, the largest sum ever paid to an actress at the time. She would later comment, “If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.”
18. Yabba Dabba Do!
30 years later, Taylor would earn more than twice that much—$2,500,000—for her role in The Flintstones. It would turn out to be her biggest payday.
19. A Sickening Sight
Cleopatra was released in the summer of 1963. Taylor reportedly threw up when she saw the completed film. “They had cut out the heart,” she complained, “I found it vulgar.”
20. Liz and Dick
While filming Cleopatra, Taylor began an affair with her co-star Richard Burton. She married Burton following her divorce from Eddie Fisher in 1964. Taylor and Burton’s relationship would be legendarily tempestuous, and the pair would be divorced, remarried, and divorced again by 1976.
21. Public Affair
If not for Taylor and Burton’s affair, Cleopatra would have been two separate three-hour epics. Producer Daryl F. Zanuck insisted the two films be merged into one when he realized Burton would only appear in the second film. The affair had already captured the attention of the moviegoing public, and Zanuck hoped to capitalize on their curiosity.
22. Perfect Pair
Despite the highs and lows of their relationship, there was no denying Taylor and Burton had chemistry. They made 11 films together, most notably Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which they played a squabbling couple on the verge of divorce, earning Taylor her second Best Actress Oscar.
23. To the Rescue
One evening, while driving home from a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house, actor Montgomery Clift fell asleep and crashed his car into a tree. Taylor rushed out to tend to Clift until an ambulance arrived, going so far as to pluck shards of teeth from Clift’s tongue to keep him from choking.
24. Hollywood Loyalty
Following his accident, Clift struggled to find work. His good looks had been ruined in the crash, and his erratic behavior (believed, at the time, to be the effects of a pain killer addiction) led him to be blacklisted by the major studios. Nevertheless, Taylor supported her friend: she insisted he be cast in 1966’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, posting her own salary as insurance in case Clift could not perform. Sadly, Clift passed away before filming could begin.
25. A Sight for Sore Eyes
Many would agree that Taylor’s eyes were her most compelling feature. Taylor had a condition called “distichiasis,” a mutation of the FOXC2 gene which results in an extra pair of eyelashes. The double-lashes made Taylor’s eyes stand out even more, but posed considerable risks: often, the extra set of lashes can curl inward, poking and scratching the cornea.
Taylor’s eyelashes may have been natural, but her purple eyes were not. Taylor’s eyes were blue, but her publicists employed a number of cosmetic and photographic effects to give them a distinct violet color. Violet eyes usually indicate a type of mild albinism found in just 1% of the population. Taylor was not among that 1%.
27. Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend
Taylor was an avid collector of jewelry; when she died, her collection was valued at $156.8 million!
28. Family Jewels
In addition to the 33-carat Krupp diamond and the 50-carat “La Peregrina” pearl (once owned by England’s Queen Mary I), Taylor owned a 69-carat diamond once considered the most valuable in the world. Given to her by Richard Burton, the “Burton-Taylor Diamond” was set into a necklace which, under the terms of its $1 million insurance policy, could only be worn for 30 days of a given year. Taylor later auctioned off the diamond to fund a hospital in Botswana.
29. No Type
In addition to her many marriages, Taylor had brief flings with a, shall we say, diverse group of public figures. Her former boyfriends include Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack, actors Peter O’Toole, Mickey Rooney, and Rod Steiger, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, and glam rock icon David Bowie.
30. The Queen of the Nile and the King of Pop
Michael Jackson was a huge fan of Elizabeth Taylor, and the two became close friends. Taylor was named godmother of two of Jackson’s children.
31. Visit to Springfield
Taylor provided the voice for the usually-nonverbal Maggie Simpson in the 1992 Simpsons episode “Lisa’s First Word.” Taylor would then return to play herself in the season finale, “Krusty Gets Kancelled.”
32. Smells Like Advertising
In 1996, Taylor appeared on four different CBS television programs in one night, always playing herself. The appearances were part of a cross-promotional stunt with the network to advertise her newest perfume.
33. For A Good Cause
Following the death of her friend Rock Hudson from AIDS in 1985, Taylor devoted much of her time to raising awareness and funds for AIDS research. By 1997, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, which Taylor co-founded, had raised more than $83 million.
34. Road Trip
Following the 9/11 attacks, Taylor hopped in a rental car and drove out of New York City, making it as far as Ohio. Her traveling companions were Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando. Brando allegedly insisted on stopping at every Burger King and KFC along the way, much to Taylor’s consternation.
35. Escape from New York
The trip was planned by Jackson, who had brought Taylor and Brando to New York for his concert at Madison Square Garden. According to former child star Corey Feldman (who was also in attendance at the concert), Jackson was worried that his friends Taylor and Brando would be targeted by the attackers and wanted to get them out of the city as fast as possible.
In 2017, a dramatization of the trip was filmed for the British television series Urban Legends. Stockard Channing played Elizabeth Taylor. “Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon” was shelved after the public outcry from when it was revealed that a white actor, Joseph Fiennes, would be playing Jackson.
37. Based on a True Story?
Though the story has been corroborated by several of Jackson’s former employees, not to mention Corey Feldman, Taylor’s assistant insists the road trip never happened, and that Taylor spent the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, trying to support and comfort those affected by the tragedy.
38. The Girl Who’s Got Everything
In the later years of her life, Taylor suffered with significant health issues. Not only did she struggle with addiction and diabetes, she also underwent several hip replacement surgeries, a hysterectomy, and treatments for skin cancer, heart failure, and a brain tumor.
39. Banned from the Set
Taylor’s health issues forced her to retire from acting. In an interview with Barbara Walters, she admitted that while she didn’t actually wish to stop appearing in films, no film company would insure her, so she was left without options.
40. Silent Treatment
Just like on BUtterfield 8, Taylor didn’t speak to the director on her next film, Cleopatra, either. This time, however, she had a good reason. While filming, Taylor began to suffer one of her frequent bouts of pneumonia. This one was so severe that she had to be given an emergency tracheotomy. She was so sick that several news agencies reported that she had died.
41. Hard to Swallow
The year that Taylor won her first Oscar, Shirley MacLaine had been the favorite. Many believed that Taylor’s recent misfortunes (ie. her bout with pneumonia on the set of Cleopatra) caused many to vote for her out of sympathy. MacLaine later remarked, “I lost out to a tracheotomy.”
42. Now That’s Acting
Taylor’s husband at the time, Eddie Fisher, joined her in hating BUtterfield 8. Years later, Fisher would claim that he and Taylor actually had sex during a lovemaking scene for the movie—fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), the scene was cut from the final film.
43. The Showman
After a brief marriage to English actor Michael Wilding, Taylor married film and theater producer Mike Todd. Todd loved spectacles: for Elizabeth’s birthday, he rented Madison Square Garden, invited 18,000 party guests, and arranged to have the whole thing broadcast on CBS. Todd died in a plane crash in 1958; it was Taylor’s only marriage not to end in divorce.
44. Speak of the Dead
Taylor beat out Marilyn Monroe for the role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She began filming the film the day Mike Todd died. Her grief resulted in a terrible stutter which, luckily, was repressed by her character’s southern accent.
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