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Archive for the ‘Eddie Fisher’ Category

Elizabeth Taylor in costume as “Cleopatra,” from the 1963, 20th Century Fox production of the same name

Yet another iconic item worn by actress Elizabeth Taylor is on the auction block – a wig she wore in the 1963 film, “Cleopatra.” Ms. Taylor wore many different hairdos in the movie and British wigmaster Stanley Hall made three wigs for each style. The wig for sale is made of real human hair, medium brown, and is adorned with hanging braids and gold beads.

Elizabeth Taylor is photographed with some props from the 1963 film, “Cleopatra.”

In the movie, Ms. Taylor’s character wears this particular wig when she tries to convince Julius Caesar, played by Rex Harrison, to accept supreme control of the empire. (1) The wig is being sold by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and is set to fetch around $11,000.

Elizabeth Taylor in the arms of Richard Burton, from the movie, “Cleopatra,” 1963.

It was during the 1962 filming of “Cleopatra” in Rome that 30-year-old Elizabeth Taylor fell madly in love with her other male costar and onscreen lover, Richard Burton, 36, cast as Mark Antony. The two were both married to others at the time.

At the time, Ms. Taylor was already a big film star being paid the unprecedented amount of a million dollars to play Cleopatra. Mr. Burton, however, who was Welsh, was a Shakespearean stage actor largely unknown outside of England.

Richard Burton (l), talks with Eddie Fisher and his wife Elizabeth Taylor on the Cinecitta set in Rome, early 1962.

When people began to whisper that perhaps Ms. Taylor and Mr. Burton were conducting an illicit affair, the couple denied the accusations. So uncontrollable was their love and lust, that their affair was

“bloody obvious,” to use Burton’s term – so flagrantly on display. (2)

When the director of “Cleopatra” shouted “Cut!” at the end of love scenes, Taylor and Burton would continue to kiss.

They carried on on the movie set, film lot, in their private villas, and took their love to town – to the Via Veneto. But they were not safely in America, where  there was a time-honored tradition not to pry into the private lives of public people and where the studio would have squelched any unflattering press. They were in Rome – the land of the paparazzi.

The Italian “paparazzi” were a new style of journalist. These young, Vespa-riding photographers with cameras with zoom lenses slung around their neck were hungry for a money-making photo that would reveal the affair to the waiting world. With a pack mentality, they were ruthlessly intent upon snapping photos of the jetset enjoying La Dolce Vita, the sweet life, popularized in the film of that same name. And Liz and Dick were getting hot and heavy on the Via Veneto.

From February thru July, paparazzi stalked Taylor and Burton’s every move, hoping for that money-making photo that would expose the lovers to the world. And they got them, too, forcing both Liz and Dick to deal with their respective spouses.

Liz Taylor and Richard Burton emerge from the restaurant Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona, spring, 1962.

The Burton-Taylor Affair – “Le Scandale,” as Burton termed it – created international interest and thus, international coverage.

Richard Burton leans in for a kiss from Elizabeth Taylor on the Cinecitta sound stage, circa March 30, 1962. Paparazzo Elio Sorci hid under a car across from the movie lot all day to snap this photo which came to be known as the “kissing picture.” It blew the lid off the Taylor-Burton affair, appearing in first the Italian papers before making its way to New York.

The public, it seemed, had an unquenchable appetite to follow the drama. Gone were the days when American readers of Photoplay and Modern Screen were content to read fictional accounts of their favorite movie stars generated by the big movie studios.

Elizabeth Taylor gazes into the eyes of her true love, Richard Burton, as they sail off the Amalfi Coast where the filming of “Cleopatra” was wrapping up. June, 1962.

It is hard to overstate the excitement caused at the time by Elizabeth and Richard’s grand passion. Everyone was following the saga, even First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who asked the publicist Warren Cowan in early 1963,

“Warren, do you think Elizabeth Taylor will marry Richard Burton?”(3)

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the glow of their love, caught by paparazzo on a yacht off the coast of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, June 1962.

Initially, the pair were condemned by the press for their public adultery until publishers woke up and realized how much the “Liz and Dick” machine increased tabloid, newspaper, magazine, and book sales.

Photoplay July 1962. Everyone had an opinion about the Taylor Burton affair.

Note to readers: Today also begins the first auction at Christie’s, New York, of  The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, which I was privileged to view on December 3, 2011. (2)

(1) Source: The Guardian

(2) “Remembering Liz (1932-2011),” Life Commemorative, 2011.

(3) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor as "Cleopatra" (1963)

Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

There’s a delicious new Elizabeth Taylor biography on the market: How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William Mann. I’ve been reading juicy excerpts online. The book is so good, so rich in scandalous detail, that I’ve ordered a copy to be sent to my doorstep.

I’m devouring the chapter on the early 1962 filming of “Cleopatra,” when Elizabeth famously ditches husband #4 Eddie Fisher for her Welsh costar Richard Burton. Author Mann paints Elizabeth Taylor as quite the pampered diva, ensconced in her Italian villa, filming in Rome by day. Her butler, for example, was one of many charged with satisfying her every frivolous need.

An example: Elizabeth was a pack-a-day smoker – despite the fact that she was recovering from pneumonia and a tracheotomy that had seriously delayed the movie’s production and almost cost Elizabeth her life. Nevertheless, she smoked, and with a cigarette holder. She never used the same holder twice.

“Fresh ones – at least ten a day –  had to be at the ready, and they had to be color-coded. A green dress called for a matching holder – and Madame changed outfits quite frequently as her moods shifted. Every morning Oates [her butler] prepared a box of cigarette holders based on what Elizabeth would be wearing that day and evening, and not only did the holders have to match her outfits, they couldn’t clash with the tablecloth.” (1) 

Richard Burton as Mark Antony with Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

Richard Burton as Marc Antony with Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra" (1963)

But Richard Burton wasn’t dazzled by Liz’s Hollywood fame. Twentieth Century Fox was paying her $1 million to play the Queen of the Nile in their production. Elizabeth Taylor was the highest-paid actress of the day – but Richard Burton called her “Lumpy” – and to her face. She was intrigued by his dismissive attitude toward him.

Burton was a heavy drinker.  In his first big scene with Taylor, he appeared on the set with a terrible hangover. Elizabeth, although the mother of 3 children at the time, with an adoption of a fourth child in the works, had never been particularly maternal. Yet when she saw how sick Burton was, she felt an overwhelming need to take care of him. It was the turning point. They began a hot-and-heavy and very public romance.

Rumors seeped out and crossed the Atlantic, creeping into gossip columns by Hedda Hopper and Dorothy Kilgallen, scandalizing the film industry and the public who were just recovering from Liz’s latest romantic acquisition, when she stole the married Eddie Fisher from actress wife Debbie Reynolds.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

Meanwhile, back on the “Cleopatra” set, Eddie Fisher learned of his wife’s affair. Their marriage had already been on shaky ground but was not yet in complete tatters. He wanted to salvage it. On February 5, at the suggestion of his  wife’s secretary, he took Elizabeth shopping. He chartered a flight to Paris. The international press followed their every move, as the former nightclub crooner Fisher and his gorgeous celebrity wife visited Parisian fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, and Dior, where Eddie wrote check after check for gowns, jewels, and furs for his flagrantly unfaithful wife. Eddie Fisher once said,

“To keep Elizabeth happy, you have to give her a diamond before breakfast every morning.”

Delighted with her new trinkets, Elizabeth promised Fisher she would stop seeing Burton. A rupture was temporarily averted; they flew back to Rome.

Two weeks passed yet things did not go better for Fisher. Liz did not keep her word. She continued seeing Burton. On February 17, 1960, drinking heavily, Elizabeth swallowed 14 sleeping pills and passed out cold.  She was hospitalized for what was considered a suicide attempt. She was distraught over her personal life. She could not make the break with Burton. She had fallen head-over-heels in love with him.

A little over a week later, she turned thirty, and her parents flew to Rome for the celebration. Shortly afterward, Burton confronted her in front of Fisher and told her she must choose between her two men. On the spot, she chose Burton. Richard divorced his wife of 13 years, Sybil Burton. In 1964, Elizabeth divorced Fisher and married Richard Burton.

Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor in an Edith Head evening gown, 1970
Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor to the 1970 Oscars. Taylor wears an Edith Head gown that matches her violet eyes and displays her assets, particularly her own 69-carat, pear-shaped Cartier diamond — which later became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

Twice married, twice divorced to one another, the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton remains one of the most famous – and tempestuous – of the Twentieth Century.

(1) Mann, William J. How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

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