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Elizabeth: Golden Hollywood's Last Greatest Star

Elizabeth Taylor is the violet-eyed, raven-haired beauty whose colorful personal life has for most of the time eclipsed her career. Nevertheless, she wouldn’t be the iconic legend that she will be today without the scandals, intrigues, marital storms, charitable endeavors, and unforgettable screen performances that graced her life.

Early Years

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born at Heathwood near London on February 27, 1932 to Francis Lenn Taylor and Sarah Viola Warmbrodt. She held a dual citizenship, coming from American-born parents who reside in London and, herself, being born in British soil. Her family moved to Los Angeles when Great Britain was on the brinks of World War II, where his father opened an art gallery, which displayed the numerous paintings he brought from England.

Child Actress

Taylor’s career began in 1941, after Universal Studio signed her up for a seven-year contract. She appeared in her first picture in 1942, There’s One Born Every Minute, though she never made another film with Universal.

Taylor while shooting National Velvet (1944).
In 1943, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered the lead role in a Lassie Come Home. After its success, she was offered a seven-year contract, at $100 a week. Breakthrough came sooner after she was cast as a young girl who trained her beloved horse to win the Grand National in National Velvet (1944).

National Velvet Makes Her a Star

National Velvet was a colossal box office hit, grossing more than $4 million. Critics fell in love with her and Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that her “face is alive with youthful spirit, her voice has the softness of sweet song, and her whole manner in this picture is one of her refreshing face.” However, a fall while riding the horse while shooting the film triggered her back problem that worsened in her later years.

Velvet’s success was followed by Courage of Lassie (1946), which saw her popularly increase and her paycheck raise to $750 a week. Throughout the rest of the 1940s, Taylor’s success as an adolescent star was solidified in Life with Father (1947), A Date with Judy (1948), and Little Women (1948).

Taylor Becomes a Superstar

As Taylor transitioned to more mature roles, her popularity, unlike other child stars, continued to soar. In 1950, her salary was raised to $2,000 per week, with her box office potency continued, with the most notable films made opposite Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride (1950) and its sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951).

For her role as the spoiled socialite who stood between Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters in George Stevens’A Place in the Sun (1951), Taylor image as a dramatic actress was shaped.

However, the next films she was cast in, including Callaway Went Away (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), The Girl Who Had Everything (1953), and Beau Brummel (1954) dissatisfied her as she longed for meatier roles.

Giant and Critical Successes

Taylor opposite Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).
Taylor’s interest with her career was revived when she was cast to play a meaty performance in Giant (1956), opposite James Dean and Rock Hudson. More critically acclaimed roles followed, as well as Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her compelling performances in Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly Last Summer (1959).
In 1960, Taylor filmed Butterfield 8, which depicted the story of a Manhattan prostitute. In 1961, at the height of the award season, she nearly died of pneumonia but a successful tracheotomy stabilized her condition as well as earned her a “sympathy vote” for Best Actress in the Academy Award. Her success with the Oscars became controversial at that the time and fellow nominee, Shirley Maclaine was said to have exclaimed, “I lost to tracheotomy!”


Taylor as Cleopatra (1963).
After winning the Academy Award, Taylor started filming Cleopatra, perhaps the most expensive film ever produced and the most controversial motion picture that she ever starred in. Taylor herself made history when she was paid $1 million, the first person to receive such a hefty paycheck; she eventually pocketed $7, being the owner of part of the film’s profits.

Cleopatra was originally geared as a $2-million mega-epic extravaganza, showcasing the life and love affairs of the notorious Serpent of the Nile. But as delays went on, the cost of production eventually spiraled to $44 million. The film topped 1963’s box office list, earning more than $26 million but the studio, 20th Century Fox still lost substantially because of its excessive cost.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Taylor gives a tour de force, Oscar-winning performance opposite
 Richard Burton in  Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
In 1966, Taylor appeared in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, considered as her most critically acclaimed performance. She intentionally gained weight and appeared unglamorous for this part, whose alcoholic, obnoxious role as Richard Burton’s wife deservedly won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Virginia Woolf also marked the peak of Taylor’s artistic excellence, which she followed, though not as a acclaimed as Virginia Woolf, with Reflections of a Golden Eye (1967) opposite Marlon Brando, and Secret Ceremony (1968) opposite Mia Farrow. At the onset of the 1970’s Taylor made fewer film appearances, with the live-action, big-screen version of The Flintstones (1994) as her last feature film.

Taylor Appears on TV

Taylor became more and more active in television as her film career waned. She made her foray in daytime soap operas, with her appearances in General Hospital and All My Children. Her last TV appearance was in These Old Broads, opposite Shirley Maclaine, Joan Collins, and former reel and real life rival Debbie Reynolds in 2001.

Taylor’s Marriages

Taylor married eight times, twice to actor and onscreen partner Richard Burton.

Her first marriage was with hotel heir Conrad Hilton, Jr. She married him in 1950 and divorced in 1951, less than eight months later.In 1952, she married Michael Wilding, an actor, to whom she had two children: Michael Jr and Edward. They divorced in 1957.

Taylor was twice married to Richard Burton.
A few days after divorcing Wilding, she married film and theater producer Michael Todd. They had a daughter Elizabeth. Their marriage ended after Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, less than one year after they were married.

Taylor’s fourth husband was Eddie Fisher, whom she married in 1959. Taylor’s marriage to Fisher, who was Todd’s best friend, stained Taylor’s image and reputation for ruining Fisher’s marriage with actress Debbie Reynolds.

While still married to Fisher, Taylor starred in Cleopatra, appearing opposite Richard Burton. The two fell in love while on the set and their torrid love affair was the subject of much publicity during their days. Taylor divorced Fisher while Burton, who himself was married, divorced his wife. They married in 1964 and appeared in many films following Cleopatra. They divorced 10 years later and remarried the following year only to be divorced again 10 months later. Their marriage was highlighted by their extravagant lifestyle, making headlines after Burton bought Taylor a diamond from Cartier that weighed almost 70 carats.

Taylor’s seventh husband was John Warner, a Republican senator from Virginia. They wedded in 1976 and divorced in 1982.

In 1991, married his eighth and final husband, construction worker Larry Fortensky, who was 20 years her junior. The marriage gained publicity after Michael Jackson gave her away. They divorced in 1996.

AIDS Activism

The death of Taylor’s close friend Rock Hudson in 1985 spurred her to be an active AIDS advocate. Hudson became one of the first high-profile personalities to die from this dreaded disease.

Taylor is an active advocate of AIDS research.
Taylor dedicated much of her time and attention to raising funds and spreading awareness for this cause. Raising more than $250 million dollars, Taylor was one of the founders of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, she herself founding the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Already a well-awarded actress, her humanitarian, fun-raising, and charitable efforts earned her numerous honors and acclamations, too.

Later Honors and Recognitions

In 1992, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Taylor’s indomitable contributions to the battle against AIDS with the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award. In 1992, she was given the Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild. In 1999, the American Film Institute listed Taylor number 7 in its list of 25 Greatest American Female Screen Legends. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made her a Dame Commander of the British Empire while President George W. Bush awarded her with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 for her humanitarian work.

Entrepreneurship and Wealth

In her later years, Taylor launched successful
jewelry and perfume lines.
Taylor is estimated to be worth as much as $1 billion at the time of her death. Court filings showed that she is worth more $608.4 when she divorced Larry Fortensky in 1996.

Much of her wealth was derived from her lucrative Elizabeth Arden perfume lines which debuted in the 1980s and her famed jewelry collection.

Passion, her first perfume product, was released in 1987, which was followed in 1991 by White Diamond. Elizabeth Arden reported that her perfumes have already sold more than $1 billion.
Her massive jewels meanwhile, which include a ruby and diamond Cartier necklace gifted by Mike Todd and the 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond and 69.74-carat pear-shaped Burton-Diamond bought at $1 million in 1969, were valued at $270 million way back 2002.

Meanwhile, her real estate holdings, which include her ranch-style house in LA, are estimated to be worth over $150 million.


Taylor struggled with poor health in the later years of her life, having been hospitalized more than 70 times and undergoing more than 20 operations. She was admitted into the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in February 2011 to undergo treatment due to symptoms of congestive heart failure. She succumbed on March 23, surrounded by her four children.

Learn more about Elizabeth Taylor with these selected books about her:

Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood


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