Elizabeth Taylor

A Shining Legacy on Film


By Cindy De La Hoz

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She was called the most beautiful woman in the world, but Elizabeth Taylor was far more than a pretty face — she was one of the greatest actresses the movies have ever known. From her first success in National Velvet when she was just 12 years old, to her stunning performances in A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer to her Oscar-winning role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and beyond — Elizabeth Taylor showed herself to be a force to be reckoned with.

Elizabeth Taylor: Her Place in the Sun is a film retrospective that spans her 70-year career, featuring production histories, “behind-the-scenes” stories, and reviews for each film. Featuring hundreds of rare photos, it’s a dazzling tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, the film star.



SHE WAS CALLED THE LAST OF THE GREAT HOLLYWOOD ICONS, but Elizabeth Taylor was also a defining member of that rarified class. For more than sixty years she fascinated the world by doing everything that her public did, only on a far grander scale. Everyone contends with sickness; she conquered so many near-death illnesses that she seemed indestructible. Most marry; Elizabeth wed eight times—once at Neverland, the fabled home of her good friend Michael Jackson. All women have their baubles; she had a king’s ransom in jewelry, including the sixty-nine carat Taylor-Burton Diamond. People volunteer and make charitable donations; she raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research, in the course of a lifetime of humanitarian work. With sultry raven hair and expressive violet eyes, she also possessed otherworldly beauty.

All of these elements of a life lived at large were glittering fodder for the press but never obscured the fact of Elizabeth’s extraordinary talent as a star of more than sixty films over the course of five decades. Greatest of all was her golden era, from the mid-1940s through the late ’60s, which was filled with certifiable classics. Elizabeth’s work in movies started her on the road to stardom and was a mainstay throughout all but the last decade of her life. In a transient business, her career lasted longer than most can ever hope, making it a uniquely fascinating study in cinematic history.

As with any person one watches grow up, we saw a definite evolution of Elizabeth both as an actress and a woman. It was all played out on the screen, from the fragility of her youth through the power of her later years. In her fifth movie, National Velvet, she became a child star. The ensuing years under contract to MGM saw her through an ingénue period capped by Father of the Bride, among a rapid succession of less memorable films in which the studio cast her. In the 1950s, critics and the general public were more awed by Elizabeth’s beauty than by her acting. She was a singular standout in the blonde bombshell era of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Brigitte Bardot.

Elizabeth’s work in movies started her on the road to stardom and was a mainstay throughout all but the last decade of her life.

Elizabeth was just starting out when this photo was taken, and had much in store for her in the years to come. In 1992 she told Life magazine, “I’ve been lucky all my life. Everything was handed to me: looks, fame, wealth, honors, love. But I’ve paid for that luck with disasters. Terrible illnesses, destructive addiction, broken marriages.”

A loan out to Paramount Pictures resulted in the first dramatic role in which she was taken seriously as an actress. There to make A Place in the Sun, she was inspired by her close friend and costar Montgomery Clift. Working with great actors always brought out the best in Elizabeth. Director George Stevens and costars Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Clift saw her through Giant and Raintree County, but the tragedy of her third husband Mike Todd’s death in a plane crash in 1958 taught her to infuse her performances with her own raw emotions. This came through beginning with her sizzling work in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The fact that her role of Maggie (“the cat”) was a character created by gifted playwright Tennessee Williams also worked in her favor, as it did in her next film, Suddenly, Last Summer. Elizabeth’s performances in Raintree County and the two Williams-inspired movies earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations. She finally took home an Oscar for BUtterfield 8, though many—including Elizabeth—thought it was more out of sympathy for the fact that she had almost died of pneumonia at the start of filming Cleopatra.

Besides setting a precedent by clinching a $1 million salary for the movie, Cleopatra saw Elizabeth transition into the next phase of her life and career: the Richard Burton era. During this time they made many popular films together, she conquered every thespian’s greatest challenge of Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew, and gave what is arguably the best performance of her career in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Oscar. Untethered from her studio contract and able to choose her own roles, Elizabeth proved herself a daring actress. She later said, “I think ever since I was released by my penal servitude [at MGM] and was on my own making my own deals, I really started having fun.”

Making her own choices in the ’60s and ’70s, Elizabeth played characters you either loved or hated. From a virago of a wife who sleeps with her husband’s lover (X, Y & Zee) to a deranged woman on a mission to find the perfect man to kill her (Identikit), each role was deemed by critics either the best she had in years or cinematic suicide. Her daring was sometimes to her own detriment, but if a fan was disappointed by one movie it would soon be followed by another they did love. Although she was still beautiful, she never relied on her looks and was never afraid of a challenge. She said in 1973, “I like parts that aren’t too easy for me, that aren’t too close to me, because then it’s acting, and you have to do more than read through it.” After 1980 Elizabeth primarily turned to television, for work she found more interesting than the parts feature films offered to an aging screen goddess.

Through the decades Elizabeth grew from sweet-faced child star into a force of nature on the screen who could go toe-to-toe with any actor and commanded the viewer’s attention. In her golden era, Elizabeth gave her fans a thrilling spectacle on the screen and brought to life a colorful array of characters. From tomboyish Velvet Brown to vain Amy March, blushing bride Kay Banks, love struck Angela Vickers, libidinous Gloria Wandrous, acid-tongued Martha, Maggie the cat, and Katharina the shrew, Elizabeth Taylor left the world a truly unique cinematic legacy. It serves as a brilliant and lasting record of what made her a celebrity in the first place. More luminous than other stars could ever hope to claim, the big screen was, undoubtedly, her place in the sun.


Her Life and Loves in Photos

Much of the private life of Elizabeth Taylor is discussed in succeeding texts, as events occurred within the timeline of her film work. Presented here is a collection of photos illuminating a selected overview of her offscreen world.

Beautiful little Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27, 1932, in Hampstead, England, the second child of American parents who worked in London. Father and mother were Francis Taylor, an art dealer, and Sara Warmbrodt, a former actress.

Elizabeth was signed to a long-term contract with MGM after her success in National Velvet in 1944. The honeymoon between her and studio head Louis B. Mayer (pictured here) ended quickly. She came to think of him as a tyrant and disliked the studio’s control over her career, particularly her choice of roles.

Sara Taylor and her two children, Howard and Elizabeth, at home in California, where they moved from England in the wake of World War II. Elizabeth was always very close with her family—and they called her “Elizabeth.” She said in 1961, “People who know me well call me Elizabeth. I dislike Liz. I guess it goes back to the days when my brother Howard called me Lizzie, or Lizzie the Cow, or Lizard.” Sara tried to push both Howard and Elizabeth into show business. Howard wanted no part of it, but early on it was apparent that her lovely daughter was ideal for big screen close-ups.

Elizabeth was a graduate of MGM schooling in 1950, about the same time she got her first great adult roles, in A Place in the Sun and Father of the Bride. Just eighteen years old, she also became engaged to hotel heir Nicky Hilton that year.

Her wedding to Hilton took place (with the help of police escort) at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, May 6, 1950, amid a star-studded crowd of seven hundred. “Turn on the sirens. Let them know I’m coming!” she said on her way to the church.

Elizabeth matured fast. Fourteen films into her storied career she made A Place in the Sun. She won rave reviews for her performance, and attended the premiere with her best friend, actor Roddy McDowall, whom she met while making her first movie at MGM.

Elizabeth at her divorce proceedings from Hilton, following less than a year of marriage. She was devastated. Elizabeth was raised with the notion that when you loved someone you married, you didn’t have an affair. Her firm belief in this led to eight marriages and seven divorces, none of which she took lightly; “Every divorce is like a little death,” she said in 1996.

Elizabeth and British actor Michael Wilding were still engaged at the time this shot was taken in London. She met him during the making of Ivanhoe in England and they were wed on February 21, 1952.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Wilding was short-lived, but it provided her with her two sons, Michael and Christopher. Of the marriage Elizabeth said, “[We] had a lovely, easy life, very simple, very quiet. Two babies were born. We had friends. We didn’t do much.”

Film producer Mike Todd swept Elizabeth off her feet. They were married in Acapulco in 1957.

One legacy Todd left her was a start of her passion for jewelry. He regularly surprised her with expensive, gleaming gifts.

During her marriage to Todd, she was just starting to get roles in films that were important to her, such as Raintree County, and she blossomed under his larger-than-life personality. “I grew up for all America to see,” Elizabeth said, “and I ached to become a real woman.”

Elizabeth and Todd were blessed with a daughter, Liza, born August 6, 1957.

Elizabeth’s short but idyllic period with Todd ended with his death in a plane crash in March 1958. She attended the funeral in Chicago with her brother, Howard.

Todd and Elizabeth were good friends with actress Debbie Reynolds and her husband, singer Eddie Fisher. Elizabeth’s coupling with Fisher following Todd’s death erupted in the Liz-Eddie-Debbie Scandal. She was called a home wrecker in the press, irate citizens picketed Fisher’s shows in Las Vegas, and NBC opted to cancel his television show.

In the midst of her despair over Todd’s death, Elizabeth was making Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The movie turned out to be one of her greatest. Splashed on the covers of magazines, she was one of the most famous women in the world and would remain so for the next five decades.

Elizabeth and Fisher were married in Las Vegas in May 1959. The same year she converted from the Christian Science faith to Judaism, not for either of her Jewish husbands, Mike Todd or Fisher, as is often thought, but because, in her words, “I needed, after Mike’s death, some sort of very strong faith to keep me alive. Something to hang on to—and I didn’t find it in Christian Science. And I wanted to be close to Mike. So I studied Judaism for a year after his death and then converted.”

Elizabeth and Eddie Fisher, after her return from London, 1961.

Fisher saw her through a near-death bout with double pneumonia in England, where she was to film Cleopatra. When she returned to Los Angeles on the mend they attended a Cedars-Sinai Hospital charity dinner, where this shot of the couple was taken. The ordeal she had been through endeared Elizabeth to the public once again—and many, including Elizabeth, felt cinched her the Academy Award win as Best Actress for BUtterfield 8.

The only love affair in Hollywood more notorious than that between Elizabeth and Eddie Fisher was the one between Elizabeth and Richard Burton when it first began, during the making of Cleopatra in 1962. They fell in love on the set and could not hide it, so soon the entire world knew. “I try not to live a lie,” Elizabeth said, “I’m a human being, and I do make mistakes like all human beings. I can’t be that hypocritical to protect my public.” One of the great romances of the century was sealed with their marriage on March 15, 1964. They would later adopt a girl, Maria Burton.

Elizabeth and Burton were inseparable through all the years of their marriage. They made eleven films together, and when not working in tandem they were making appearances on the sets of each other’s films. Here she joins a conference between Burton and director John Huston on the set of their film, The Night of the Iguana.

A snapshot following Elizabeth and Burton’s benefit performance of poetry readings at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in June 1964.

As a presenter at the Academy Awards in 1970. Prominently displayed on her décolletage is the sixty-nine carat Taylor-Burton Diamond. Burton bought the necklace for $1.1 million, saying, “I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely. And it should be on the loveliest woman in the world.”

The Burtons, the most famous couple in the world, appeared on Here’s Lucy in 1970 with the most famous comedienne in the world, Lucille Ball. The crux of the show’s story line was Elizabeth’s thirty-three carat Krupp Diamond, given to her by Burton.

On the cover of a magazine at the time of her seventeen-year-old son Michael’s marriage to his first wife, Beth Clutter, in 1970. Elizabeth maintained close relationships with all of her children throughout her life (as well as with several stepchildren and grandchildren).

Richard Burton and Elizabeth were divorced and then remarried in 1975. Their reunion in wedlock was officiated by Abrose Masalila of the Botswana civil court in Chobe National Game Park. She wore a dress that had been given to her by Burton’s beloved late brother, Ifor. Their second marriage lasted just a few months. They never seemed able to explain why their marriage did not work. Elizabeth once said, “Maybe we have loved each other too much. I never believed such a thing was possible.” Their relationship was undeniably passionate. Burton wrote in his diary in 1968: “I have been inordinately lucky all my life, but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig, she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody’s fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and willful, she is clement and loving. . . . she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me! And I’ll love her till I die.”

Elizabeth’s seventh marriage was to Republican politician and about-to-be senator for the state of Virginia, John Warner, with whom she is pictured at center. Along with them are Michael Wilding, Jr., her daughter Liza, his daughter Mary, her grandchild Naomi Wilding, and daughter-in-law Jo Wilding.

John Warner successfully campaigned and was elected senator of the state of Virginia. Elizabeth was a devoted politician’s wife for a time, bringing her in contact with a new stratum of well-known names outside of Hollywood and the European jet set. Here in 1980, she meets then GOP presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and wife, Nancy, and Virginia governor John Dalton (second from left).

After decades of success on the screen, Elizabeth made a triumphant Broadway debut in The Little Foxes in 1981.

Playing tourist at the Great Wall of China with Mexican lawyer Victor Gonzalez Luna, to whom she became engaged in 1983. The romance ostensibly ended amid her despair following the death of Richard Burton in 1984.

Elizabeth’s boyfriend in 1988, George Hamilton.

Sara Taylor lived to be ninety-nine years old, well cared for all the while through the aid of Elizabeth. She attended a tribute to her daughter at Lincoln in 1988.

In addition to unqualified success in movies, theater, and humanitarian work, Elizabeth launched a line of best-selling fragrances, including Black Pearls, which debuted in 1996.

Elizabeth met her last husband, Larry Fortensky, during a stay at the Betty Ford Center in 1988 and married him in 1991.

An Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation benefit. The cause of fighting AIDS was one of the most important aspects of Elizabeth’s entire life.

Larry Fortensky was Elizabeth’s last husband. They divorced in 1996.

Elizabeth and one of her best friends, Michael Jackson.

As ever, decorated with an enviable adornment, the day she received the honor of being named Dame by Queen Elizabeth in 1999.

Elizabeth was awarded an Academy Fellowship from the British Academy in 1999.

In 2002, Elizabeth achieved the highest recognition in the United States given to a performer, the Kennedy Center Honors, given for a lifetime of contributions to American culture. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush pose with Elizabeth and her fellow honorees: James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera, Paul Simon, and James Levine.

Elizabeth passed away on March 23, 2011 of congestive heart failure. In her room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital she was comfortable and peacefully surrounded by those most important to her: her children. After she had survived numerous grave illnesses, the world was shocked to lose Elizabeth Taylor. Her final service was held the following day at Forest Lawn Cemetery. She had left instructions that the service must begin fifteen minutes behind schedule, so she would “be late for the last bloody judgment,” as Richard Burton used to tell her she would most certainly be. Even beyond the grave, after a lifetime of triumphant highs and heartbreaking lows, Elizabeth never lost her sense of humor.




There’s One Born Every Minute



Hugh Herbert Lemuel P. Twine
Peggy Moran Helen Barbara Twine
Tom Brown Jimmy Hanagan
Guy Kibbee Lester Cadwalader, Sr.
Catherine Doucet Minerva Twine
Edgar Kennedy Mayor Carson
Guy Schilling Professor Quisenberry
Elizabeth Taylor Gloria Twine
Charles Halton Trumbull
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer Junior Twine


Ken Goldsmith (producer); Harold Young (director); Robert B. Hunt, Barbara Weisberg (screenplay), based on story by Robert B. Hunt; John W. Boyle (photography); H. J. Salter (music); Jack Otterson, Martin Obzina (art directors); R. A. Gausman (set decorations); Bernard B. Brown, Charles Carroll (sound); Maurice Wright (editor); Vera West (costumes)

RELEASE DATE: June 26, 1942

RUN TIME: 60 minutes, black and white

As Gloria Twine

SUMMARY: Pudding maker Lemuel P. Twine is an unlikely candidate for mayor, backed by crooked local businessman Lester Cadwalader, who is the one really pulling the strings behind the mayoral race. Twine suddenly gains enormous popularity (and campaign funding) through the success of his patented pudding, which is packed with “essential” Vitamin Z. Cadwalader, now fearful of Twine’s power, turns on him and embarks on a smear campaign to discredit Twine along with his pudding. But through the support of his family—and a ringing musical endorsement from the youngest Twines (Elizabeth Taylor and Carl Switzer)—the pudding king ends up victorious.


WHILE CROSSING OVER FROM ENGLAND, HOME TO AMERICA to escape the perils of Europe on the brink of war in 1939, Elizabeth and her mother, Sara, were treated onboard ship to a screening of the latest Shirley Temple film, The Little Princess. According to her mother, seeing the pint-sized princess of cinema in her first Technicolor feature, and in a story set in the England so recently lost to them, made a powerful impression on her little refugee daughter. The film’s influence on Sara Taylor was greater still, fanning the flames of her own desire: For the former stage actress, seeing Elizabeth in a career in the performing arts seemed not to be a far-fetched dream. With a final destination of Los Angeles, where Elizabeth’s father, Francis Taylor, was to run an art gallery owned by his brother, the Taylors were headed in the right direction to see their own little princess up on the big screen.

Elizabeth played the bratty daughter of the Twine family (pictured here) in There’s One Born Every Minute.

“The kid has nothing. Her eyes are too old. She doesn’t have the face of a kid.”


Playing a smart-mouthed little girl, she clowned with Carl Switzer and sang a little campaign-song duet with him.

Living in Pasadena and then Pacific Palisades put the Taylors in close proximity to the film community and, primarily through Francis’s gallery at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Sara made some important friends—one being the fiancée of John Cheever Cowdin, the chairman of Universal Pictures. When she and Cowdin visited the Taylors, the movie mogul was impressed by little Elizabeth’s poise and beauty, and through him she landed her first film contract at Universal.

At the age of nine, Elizabeth made her screen debut in There’s One Born Every Minute. Politics met pudding in this zany low-budget comedy, which was originally called Man or Mouse. Playing a smart-mouthed little girl, she clowned with Carl Switzer (formerly of Our Gang fame as the beloved Alfalfa) and sang a little campaign-song duet with him. The comic number showed off the tuneful, if untrained, singing abilities that Elizabeth possessed as a child. Her voice certainly had volume, and Sara hoped it could develop to a degree that would boost her career. Universal even touted Elizabeth in the trades as a singer and dancer when she was first signed. She was no rival in that respect, however, for the studio’s resident young singing superstar, Deanna Durbin, then at the height of her fame.

Though she displayed energy and charm in her first role, the executives at Universal saw no future for Elizabeth under their aegis. Years later she recalled that casting director Dan Kelly “just didn’t like me.” Famous last words from Universal: “The kid has nothing. Her eyes are too old. She doesn’t have the face of a kid.” She did not make another film for the studio for the duration of her year-long contract. At age nine, it was on to the next job for Elizabeth.

With Catherine Doucet and Carl Switzer

With Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, former star of the wildly popular Our Gang short

In England, Sara Taylor hoped to one day make a good marriage for her daughter; when the war drove the family back to America, specifically to California, she seemed destined for the movies.

Lassie Come Home



Roddy McDowall Joe Carraclough
Donald Crisp Sam Carraclough


On Sale
Oct 2, 2012
Page Count
304 pages
Running Press

Cindy De La Hoz

About the Author

Cindy De La Hoz is the author of several books on film and fashion- among them, Audrey and Givenchy, Lucy at the Movies, and Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies, which Leonard Maltin called “one of the best books about a star I’ve ever read.” She has also edited numerous books on film history and women’s lifestyle subjects. Cindy lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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