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 may have filled gossip mags, but away from the public eye, Taylor was generous, whip-smart, and acutely sensitive to the struggles of Hollywood's rejects. Here are 55 dazzling facts about Elizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor was born in Hampstead, England in 1932. Her parents, who were from the United States originally, moved to California in 1939 for a dark reason. World War II was quickly developing and the Taylors feared that the conflict would spread to Great Britain and endanger their baby daughter's life.
Elizabeth Taylor’s mother, Sara Sothern, was a well-known stage actress with several Broadway credits to her name. But her legacy isn't just based on her talent or her daughter's incredible career. Dark rumors swirled through Hollywood, claiming that Sara Taylor and the notoriously cruel MGM boss Louis B. Mayer were having an affair.
Sara Taylor may have liked "The Monster of MGM" Louis B. Mayer, but Elizabeth hated the studio head with a passion. Even though he supported her career as a child star, she thought he was incredibly egotistical and overbearing. To quote Liz, Mayer resembled "a gross thick penguin" and looked at his employees and stars like they were all "completely squashable." When the time came, she'd tell him what she really thought of him...
Don't mess with Elizabeth Taylor. When she was just a teenager, her boss Louis B. Mayer insulted her mother, Sara Taylor. Elizabeth was not about to take that lying down. The young star held her head high and hit Mayer where it hurt. She told him that he and his studio could “go to hell.” Even though Mayer's employees pressured Taylor to apologize, the gutsy young actress refused.
One evening, while driving home from a dinner party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house, her dear friend and fellow actor Montgomery Clift fell asleep and crashed his car into a tree. Terrified, Taylor rushed to tend to Clift until an ambulance arrived. One detail in particular is utterly stomach-churning: Taylor had to pluck shards of teeth from Clift’s tongue and throat to keep him from choking.
After the accident, Clift's actor's good looks were ruined. Things only got worse from there: He developed a dependence on pain killers and behaved so erratically that major studios blacklisted him. Nevertheless, Taylor supported her friend: she insisted he be cast in a film with her, even posting her own salary as insurance. Sadly, Clift passed away before filming could begin. He was just 46 years old.
In 1950, Taylor walked down the aisle for the first time when she married hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr. The couple divorced just three months later, after a lengthy European honeymoon, citing irreconcilable differences. Behind closed doors, the horrible truth came out. Taylor was horrified by Hilton's constant gambling, and drinking...and that wasn't even close to the worst part.
MGM has never admitted it, but film historians believe the studio had a major hand in Taylor’s wedding to Hilton. They "suggested" that she enter into a relationship with him, bought their star an an expensive wedding dress, and even provided the white negligee for her wedding night. But even though the wedding looked like a dream, the marriage was a nightmare.
Hilton called Taylor "a bore" and Taylor later revealed that he was physically abusive.
After Taylor divorced Hilton less than a year into their marriage, Taylor's next movie was surprisingly low-profile. She starred in a romantic comedy called Love is Better Than Ever in 1952. But few people know about the dark drama behind the lighthearted flick. MGM forced Taylor to star in a B-movie to punish her for leaving her abusive husband. We guess they thought a scandal was worse than their biggest star's safety.
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Next up on the list of Liz Taylor's husbands: Michael Wilding. Taylor soon sunk her claws into this British actor, despite their extreme age difference. Wilding was a whopping 20 years older than Taylor, though it looks like he was the immature one in their relationship. After having two sons, the couple broke up when Taylor discovered that Wilding had hired, um, female entertainers for "pool parties" while Taylor was away. But that's not the only scandal about Wilding and Taylor's marriage...
The venomous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper actually tried to stop Elizabeth Taylor from marrying Michael Wilding. She believed that Wilding was hiding a dark secret from his new bride: He was secretly gay. Hopper forcefully implied that Wilding and his male friend Stuart were closer than they let on. Of course, Taylor and Wilding got married anyway--but that didn't stop Hopper from publishing multiple columns suggesting that Wilding had a wandering eye.
After divorcing Michael Wilding in 1957, Taylor hurried down the aisle with her next conquest: Mike Todd. Todd was a famous, high-powered producer who loved spectacles: for Elizabeth’s birthday, he rented Madison Square Garden, invited 18,000 party guests, and had the whole thing broadcast on CBS. But the good times wouldn't last for long...
Mike Todd was incredibly wealthy and would constantly shower his new bride with jewels and luxurious gifts. Soon enough, the press accused Taylor of being a heartless golddigger. But film historian Karina Longworth suggests a far sadder alternative... Taylor wasn't with Mike Todd for his money. After her disastrous marriages to Hilton and Wilding, she just wanted freedom.
After she gave up all her savings to Wilding in their contentious divorce, Todd's wealth would provide her with a safety net.
When Elizabeth Taylor, Mike Todd, and Debbie Reynolds went out together, Reynolds was shocked by the way Taylor and Todd would violently fight with each other. When Reynolds stepped in to defend her friend, Taylor told her to back off. She then purred that to her and Mike Todd, fights weren't fights, they were "foreplay."
Evidently their kinky approach worked: Taylor and Todd had a daughter named Liza in 1957.
But just a year later, tragedy struck when Todd died in a plane crash. In the years to come, Taylor described him as one of the three loves of her life, alongside Richard Burton and, we think this one is a joke, her jewellery. Taylor's marriage to Todd was her only union that didn't end in divorce.
When Taylor nearly died (more on that later), she had a heartbreaking vision. The starlet claimed that she saw her deceased husband Mike Todd. Apparently, Todd told Taylor it wasn't her time yet, but that when it was, he'd be waiting for her on the other side. Pass the tissues.
All the drama with Mike Todd couldn't hold a candle to the absolute media frenzy caused by Taylor's next conquest. Mere hours after Hollywood heartthrob Eddie Fisher divorced America's sweetheart Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor did the impossible. She didn't walk but practically pranced down the aisle with him. And that's not even the worst part.
Before Taylor stole Fisher, Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were best friends. Imagine the scandal over Brangelina, and then dial it up a few more notches: That's how big of a deal this was.
In the throes of Taylor and Fisher's illicit affair, Debbie Reynolds called her gal pal Elizabeth to chat. Unfortunately for Reynolds, the person who picked up wasn't Taylor, but her cheating husband Eddie Fisher. Allegedly, Reynolds icily said "Roll over, darling, and let me talk to Elizabeth."
After being run through the muck for her relationship with Eddied Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor decided to retire from movies after 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Unfortunately for her, the executives at MGM had other ideas. After a heated contract dispute, they forced her to film BUtterfield 8, in which she starred as a sex worker opposite her real-life husband, Eddie Fisher. Taylor resented being forced into the movie and let the director know it with a cruel gesture: She refused to speak to him for the entire shoot.
Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher definitely shared a fiery passion. When they made the movie BUtterfield 8, Fisher claimed that husband and wife were so freaky 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.
James Dean is one of Hollywood's most heartbreaking examples of a star who was gone too soon, but few people felt his loss as keenly as Elizabeth Taylor. At the time of Dean's death, she was filming Giant with Dean and Rock Hudson. On the day that the crew learned about Dean's death, the director George Stevens forced a grieving Taylor to film reaction shots for a scene that would have involved Dean. Taylor was so heartbroken and appalled by the director's insensitivity that she never forgave him.
While 12-year-old Taylor was filming National Velvet in 1944, tragedy struck. The horse, named King Charles, was known to be aggressive, but had behaved himself around Taylor...until one dark day. The horse threw Taylor, causing the actress to injure her back. Taylor immediately forgave the animal 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.
Elizabeth Taylor's fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, was actually at Taylor's wedding to her third husband, Mike Todd. I want to be mad, but all I feel is respect.
In 1961, Taylor began filming Cleopatra, the most expensive film ever made. For her role as the Queen of the Nile, Taylor received $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."
She didn't know it then, but money wouldn't be the only thing she took home from the set of Cleopatra.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton met on the infamously troubled set of Cleopatra. Not only was the movie so expensive that it drove 20th Century Fox into bankruptcy, but even worse, it saw Taylor engage in yet another major Hollywood scandal. The film's stars fell in love and began seeing each other—even though they both already had spouses.
When the press leaked pictures of Taylor and Burton getting hot and heavy on the beach, the fallout was swift and devastating. Both stars were married to other people, leading the Vatican to condemn them for "erotic vagrancy."
After Taylor met Richard Burton, it was only a matter of time before she split from Eddie Fisher. In 1964, she dumped him and, in an iconic move, somehow rekindled her friendship with the woman she'd spurned: Debbie Reynolds. While Reynolds and Taylor managed to patch things up, Fisher and Taylor definitely didn't. After their split, they never spoke again.
Burton and Taylor are one of cinema's most iconic duos for a reason: After all, how many couples can say they got married, then divorced, then married again? In one of their on-again periods, Burton even bought Taylor a 69-carat diamond that was once considered the most valuable in the world. Despite the ice, the couple called it quits for the last time and divorced (again) in 1976.
When Lauren Bacall was asked about Burton's affair with Elizabeth Taylor, she replied with a vicious insult. The screen legend quipped, "Richard's values were not very good and I don't think his standards were either." Ouch. Gonna need some ice for that burn, Burton and Taylor.
Cleopatra was, um, a notoriously troublesome movie to film, but nothing compared to the day that Elizabeth Taylor nearly died. During production, Taylor began to suffer one of her frequent bouts of pneumonia. This one was so severe that when an assistant found Taylor, her face had turned a terrifying shade of blue. The actress had to be given an emergency tracheotomy and was so sick that several news agencies reported that she had actually perished.
Just because Taylor hated making BUtterfield 8, that doesn't mean that Hollywood agreed with her. Taylor actually ended up winning her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film. Later, when she was asked about the movie's success, Taylor saucily replied, "I still say it stinks."
The year that Taylor won her first Oscar, Shirley MacLaine had been the favorite. Many believed that Taylor’s recent misfortunes (ie. her near-fatal bout with pneumonia on the set of Cleopatra) caused many to vote for her not because of her talent, but out of pity. MacLaine viciously remarked, “I lost out to a tracheotomy.”
On her seventh (!) walk down the aisle, Elizabeth Taylor married a politician named John Warner, but quickly tired of life in Washington D.C. When she started to depend on prescription pills and alcohol too heavily, she knew that their union wasn't meant to be. The couple divorced in 1982, leaving Taylor free to pursue her next, incredibly strange choice for a husband.
Even when she was in her sixties, Liz Taylor had a healthy appetite for romance. She married Larry Fortensky, a buff construction worker who was 20 years her junior, in 1991, but the romance didn't last. The couple's pre-nup guaranteed Fortensky a million dollars if the marriage survived for five years. Almost exactly five years later, the pair split up. Make of that what you will.
Many would agree that Taylor’s eyes were her most compelling feature, but funnily enough, doctors would classify it as a "mutation." 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.
When Elizabeth Taylor passed away, many people wondered if she would be buried near her beloved Burton, even though they weren't together at the time of either one's death. Understandably, Burton's actual widow Sally Hay made darn sure that wouldn't happen. Hay bought the plot surrounding Burton's grave, but she went even further.
Hay put a massive gravestone across both plots, with many believing she was marking her territory. Taylor wasn't going to pull a final diva manoeuvre on Hay's watch.
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.
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.
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%.
Elizabeth Taylor beat out Marilyn Monroe for the role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Initially, she was thrilled to land the part, but then her whole world ended when her beloved husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash...on the very same day that she began filming the movie. Taylor's grief resulted in a terrible stutter which, luckily, was repressed by her character's southern accent.
Taylor shocked the world when she converted to Judaism in 1959, after her husband Mike Todd’s death. Though Todd was Jewish, Taylor said her choice was purely personal. Upon her conversion, she took the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel. Taylor was thrilled, but not everyone was so happy.
Taylor’s conversion to Judaism nearly jeopardized the filming of Cleopatra. The Egyptian government initially barred Taylor from entering the country because she had converted to the Jewish faith.
Perhaps because of her early start in Hollywood, Taylor was a precocious and overly mature child, with some shocking consequences. One of her biographers claims that when she was only 15 years old, the well-developed Taylor ended up in bed with a 36-year-old Ronald Reagan, who was a well-known actor at the time.
Reportedly, the teenaged Taylor went to the future President's place and they soon began kissing on his couch before moving to the bedroom. As she later told her friend, "Reagan was treating me like a grown woman, and that thrilled me."
In 1985, Elizabeth Taylor's entire world changed. Her beloved lifelong friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson perished from AIDS, leading Taylor to devote 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.
Taylor's two-time ex-husband Richard Burton kept diaries throughout his life. The journals, which were published after his death, include withering remarks about rival actors and Burton's own films, but few things compare to his digs at Taylor. Burton coyly wrote, "All the bad things that have ever happened to me have always happened in Rome," referring to the catastrophic Cleopatra shoot, and describes Taylor as being so "sloshed" that she could hardly read a script.
Following the 9/11 attacks in New York City, 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.
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.
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.
At one time, Elizabeth Taylor owned the most valuable diamond in the world. Given to her by then-husband Richard Burton, the gem was so incredibly expensive that it had a $1 million dollar insurance policy and could only be be worn for 30 days of a given year. When the couple broke up, Taylor auctioned off the diamond, but not for the reason you might expect. She used the money to fund a hospital in Botswana.
Taylor once quipped, "Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses" and well, she really put her money where her mouth was. The actress actually wrote a book about one animal co-star, a chipmunk, but took her animal lover reputation to the next level when she learned that England would quarantine her dogs for six months to make sure they didn't have Rabies.
Taylor bought a yacht specifically for the dogs so that they would never technically put their paws on English soil. The media went wild for Taylor's extravagant "floating dog kennel," which cost almost $150,000 (in modern money) just to dock her dogs for a few weeks.
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 more than 40 surgeries, including several hip replacement surgeries, a hysterectomy, and treatments for skin cancer, heart failure, and a brain tumor. She was hospitalized more than 100 times.
Taylor once lamented that Richard Burton was the last great love of her life. She said, "After Richard, the men in my life were just there to hold the coat, to open the door. All the men after Richard were really just company."
Taylor’s health issues forced her to retire from acting, but she didn't go down without a fight. In a heartbreaking interview with Barbara Walters, Taylor admitted that while she didn't actually wish to stop appearing in films, no film company would insure her, so she had no other options.
The controversial 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard BUrton as a dysfunctional couple who invite a younger couple to their house for drinks. The film caused quite a stir for including explicit language and dark subject matter. In fact, it was so scandalous that the MPAA needed to create a brand new rating. Because of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? we now have the 18A rating today.
What's more romantic than literally paying a girl to marry you? If you ask Howard Hughes, the notoriously weird director and inventor, nothing! He fell for young Liz Taylor and offered her parents a six-figure sum if they'd let him put a ring on their child's finger. Wisely, Taylor declined Hughes' "proposal."
On the night of Montgomery Clift's horrible accident, he was incredibly tired and didn't want to attend Taylor's dinner party. He only went because she forced him. When Clift died at just 45, the press called the time between the car crash and his premature demise "Hollywood's slowest suicide."
Elizabeth Taylor received Richard Burton's last love letter after attending his memorial service. When she saw his handwriting, she fell apart. From then on, she kept the letter next to her bed, ensuring that he was always in arm's reach. Although she revealed many of his other letters, this was the one letter she kept for herself.
However, she did reveal one satisfying detail.
To her biographer's delight, Taylor finally gave some insight into Burton's final letter. She said, "In it he told [me] what he wanted. Home was where Elizabeth was, and he wanted to come home." When Taylor herself passed, it was her wish to be buried with the letter. But while this one wish was granted, there was one dream that never came to pass.
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