BREAKING NEWS: Legendary Elizabeth Taylor Dies
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, British-born American actress, passes away in Los Angeles
It was no big surprise when Elizabeth Taylor died last night. She had been in the hospital for the last six weeks, so this wasn’t like when her friend Michael Jackson died suddenly one afternoon. What I think is interesting about Taylor’s life is that she is considered the last star of old Hollywood. She was involved in a lot of crazy things you hear about with current stars.
She was born in England (her mom was a stage actress her dad an art dealer), and they relocated to Los Angeles. That’s a move that would be successful for her, since she was spotted somewhere and given a screen test. The 5’2” actress, with captivating violet eyes (and not too shabby eye brows), was one of those child actors that actually made a successful transition to adult roles. The world got to watch her grow up on the big screen.
Universal Pictures signed her to a contract (which is how they did it in old Hollywood). Her first film was 1942s There’s One Born Every Minute. It was the following year, at age 10, when she got attention for the first of her two movies – Lassie Come Home. The other film she did that year, was the often made version of the classic novel that was just released a few weeks ago in its latest version – Jane Eyre. The version with Taylor also starred Hollywood heavyweight Orson Welles, and was written by Aldous Huxley! To make Jane Eyre, she was “loaned” to 20th Century Fox.
In 1944 she did two movies, including The White Cliffs of Dover and a breakout role in National Velvet with Mickey Rooney (he made the news last week for speaking out on elder abuse, which he claims to have suffered from a relative).
And as Hollywood does today – sequels. We got another Lassie film. There were two movies in 1947 and two in 1948. In 1949, we got her in the popular version of Little Women, as well as a role in Conspirator.
She did her usual two movies in 1950, but what was unique about her role in Father of the Bride, was that it came a few days after she had become a young bride. She married Conrad Hilton, Jr. (yes, he’s related to Paris Hilton). The marriage, like a lot of Hollywood unions, lasted a whopping six months. It would be the first of eight marriages for her.
There were two movies in 1951, including A Place in the Sun. She continued doing two a year, but had four films in 1954.
A big role came in 1956 in a movie with Rock Hudson that also starred James Dean in his last movie – Giant. He died in a car accident before the movie was released (and someone else had to do a few voice-overs during post-production).
The following year Liz picked up her first Oscar nomination for Raintree. An actor with the looks and intensity of James Dean, Paul Newman, was starred with Taylor in the 1958 film version of the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The two stars grabbed Oscar nominations.
The next year was a movie title I knew growing up as a song by The Motels in the 80s – Sudden, Last Summer. She made the huge salary of $500,000. She also got her third Oscar nomination.
In 1961, she finally broke her Oscar losing drought. She won the gold statue for playing a prostitute in Butterfield 8. It created a bizarre Oscar trivia question when that same year Shirley Jones won the best supporting actress for also playing a prostitute in Elmer Gantry. The world's oldest profession became the Oscar winning profession.
In 1963, a film studio wanted her for Cleopatra. She had just married and wanted to enjoy the honeymoon. Taylor wanted to enjoy her honeymoon and refused. They told her they’d pay her anything. So she threw out a million bucks, double the salary she got for Suddenly. She thought they’d never go for it.
Well, she ended up getting that and 10% of the gross, becoming the first actor to ever make over a million bucks for a film (I’m guessing nothing makes a honeymoon like being the highest paid in your profession).
To put that into perspective, John F. Kennedy was the president and was pulling in $150,000 a year salary.
In 1966, she got another Oscar win for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In 1967, she went all Shakespeare on the hippies of the summer of love, doing The Taming of the Shrew. There were three other movies that year, including The Comedians filming in Africa.
Acting giant Marlon Brando had picked up the Oscar for her for Virginia Woolf, and flew to Africa to hand deliver it. Richard Burton (who Taylor had married, divorced, and then remarried) wasn’t so happy with the personal delivery. According to an actress that was there, the two got into a fistfight over it while on a yacht.
In 1973 Taylor did three movies, one being for TV. The ‘70s would be where she made a transition into more TV. In the early ‘80s, she did three episodes of General Hospital. In the mid-80s she did the TV mini series North and South.
Showing her hip side (no pun, as she had three hip surgeries over the years), she was in the popular episode of The Simpsons, in which she played the baby, Maggie. She’s still the only one to ever voice that character, and she becomes one of three actors that have been on The Simpsons as both a fictional character and as themselves (Joe Mantegna and Mark Hamill were the others).
Just as we hear about Hollywood stars doing their share of partying and car accidents – Taylor was good friends with Montgomery Clift, right up until his death in 1966. When he left a party at her house in the early ‘50s, he got into a bad car accident. She showed up on the scene and removed teeth from his throat that threatened to choke him to death.
And just like a few other stars (Kirstie Alley currently), her weight often fluctuated and was even joked about on Saturday Night Live (John Belushi would play her, while stuffing food into his mouth).
Taylor also adopted a child while being married to Richard Burton. The only other big name actress from that time I can recall adopting was Joan Crawford.
We’ve been hearing a lot about Khloe Kardashian releasing a perfume. Well, Liz was the first to do that as well. Passion came out in 1987, and White Diamonds in 1991 (there would be four more perfumes in the mid-90s).
Speaking of White Diamonds, she was also known for all the diamonds she received from her various suitors (and this wasn’t for the reasons Kobe Bryant sprung a few million on a diamond for his wife). Richard Burton tried buying Taylor a 69-carat diamond at an auction, and when he lost out, he spent over $1,000,000 for another huge diamond the following day. Years later, it would be auctioned to fund a hospital in Botswana (years before Oprah Winfrey did things like this). There was also a diamond-and-emerald ring Burton gave her that she eventually auctioned to raise money for an AIDS charity. The rings Burton gave her made the 29-carat diamond her husband Michael Todd gave her look like crap!
On the subject of things being auctioned, a painting Andy Warhol did of Taylor in 1963, was auctioned in 2007 and sold for $22.7 million. A painting Warhol did the previous year, titled Men in Her Life (which was done between her marriages), sold for $63.3 million last year.
Just like the stars we hear about today, Taylor has had her stint in rehab. In typical Taylor fashion, her stay in 1988 produced a husband. She met construction worker Larry Fortensky and had a brief marriage to him. Years later, she would pay his medical bills after he fell from a balcony.
And speaking of husbands, we occasionally hear about stars today leaving their spouse for somebody they met on the set of a film (Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt come to mind). Eddie Fisher had one of the biggest Hollywood marriages when he wed Debbie Reynolds. He was involved in one of the biggest scandals when he left her after starring in a film with Taylor. Taylor had one husband (Michael Todd) die in a plane crash.
It’s sad to think that over the last few decades, we most often heard about Liz Taylor when it was medical reasons or Michael Jackson controversies. She was supposed to appear in his trial, but couldn’t due to illness. She had a brain tumor removed in 1997.
Sure, she had a brief return to film with a part in The Flintstones in 1994 (she made a sweet $2,500,000 for that role).
It was six weeks ago that Liz Taylor went into the hospital for congestive heart failure, and many felt this wasn’t a good sign. She had been having medical problems for a few years.
She has four kids, lots of grandchildren and even some great grandchildren. Everyone seems to be so fascinated by celebrities and it’s all so strange. For example, as I’m writing this, The View just started and they’re talking about her death. And what does Barbara Walters, this legendary (but horrible) journalist have to say about Taylor? “I interviewed her more than anyone else.” All about you Babs, even on her death at age 79.
On Twitter, Kim Kardashian was someone Taylor surprisingly followed. And Taylor even sent tweets out herself. Her last ones came in July, when she tweeted: “No one is going to play Elizabeth Taylor, but Elizabeth Taylor herself. Not at least until I’m dead, and at the moment I’m having too much fun being alive…and I plan on staying that way. Happiness to all.” She probably realized that sounded odd, and later tweeted: I would like to add something to my earlier tweet. Always keep love and humility in your heart. Never let yourself think beyond your means…mental, emotional or any otherwise. You are who you are. All you can do in this world is help others to be who they are and better themselves and those around them.” Her final tweet later that day: Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind. I love you.