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Archive for the ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ 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.

March 31, 1962: Nightclubbing in Rome – Elizabeth Taylor, wearing leopard-skin coat and hat, holds Richard Burton by the arm as they leave a nightclub in Rome early in the morning. In New York City the day before, singer Eddie Fisher, Ms. Taylor's husband, held a press conference for about 100 journalists to deny that his marriage with Miss Taylor was on the rocks.

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, 5, poses with her mother Sara, 1937.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor had stunning beauty. She was such a gorgeous little girl that, when people would see her for the first time, they would gasp in astonishment, staring at her sapphire eyes wreathed in thick black lashes and the shiny black hair framing her porcelain face.  “What a pretty child !” they would exclaim, prompting the well-rehearsed Elizabeth to curtsey and smile.

Elizabeth Taylor in "Lassie Come Home," 1943.

But Elizabeth was not always gorgeous, said her mother, Sara Taylor, a former stage actress. She considered Elizabeth to be quite an ugly baby when born in London on February 27, 1932.

Sara Taylor cradles her newborn daughter, the future movie queen Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

At first glance at her newborn, Sara was repulsed:

“As the precious bundle was placed in my arms, my heart stood still. There inside the cashmere shawl was the funniest-looking baby I had ever seen. Her hair was long and black. Her ears were covered with thick black fuzz, and inlaid into the sides of her head….”(1)

Baby Elizabeth’s arms, shoulders, and back were covered with a thick downy pelt called lanugo, not uncommon in newborns.

“The infant looked like a little monkey,” remembered Viennese art dealer and family friend Ernest Lowy. (2)

Compounding the problem, Elizabeth’s eyes were screwed tightly shut. For ten days, the doctor tried to pry them open unsuccessfully, finding only the whites visible.

Then one day, Baby Elizabeth suddenly snapped open her eyes and gazed up at her new mother. Sara found herself gazing down into two pools of deep violet fringed by thick black lashes – double rows of lashes! Then the baby smiled. Sara considered this a special greeting from her daughter and told the nurse so.

The nurse chuckled, reminding Mrs. Taylor that infants can’t express emotion:

“That was no smile,” the nurse indicated, “only a little gas.” (3)

Elizabeth Taylor in profile, ca. 1934

The dark fuzz fell off and a swan emerged.

Elizabeth Taylor didn't begin to walk until she was 16 months old. She is shown here with one of the many dogs for which she cared during her lifetime. ca.1934-35

 

As a young girl, Elizabeth Taylor had a big head on a little body. "What a podge!" she remarked, upon seeing a young photo of herself. 1934.

 

Elizabeth Taylor enjoys tea and cake in her dressing room. In this unretouched 1950 publicity photo, one can see La Liz's arms were covered in a dark and velvety down, in keeping with her being a beautiful brunette.

(1) Ladies’ Home Journal,  March- April 1954

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1995, 2011.

(3)  Walker, Alexander. Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Grove Press, 1990, 1997.

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

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British American screenstar Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) as a young girl.

Just after actress Elizabeth Taylor was born, her parents were ushered into the doctor’s office and told that their newborn daughter had a mutation. 

 “Well, that sounded just awful,” her mother Sara Taylor said later,”a mutation.”

The mutation was not a deformity, however. It meant that little Elizabeth was born with double rows of eyelashes.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 10

Sara breathed a little easier to learn that.

“I thought,well, now, that doesn’t sound so terrible at all.”

Elizabeth’s eyes were stunning – large and blue, rimmed by deep, thick lashes. When caught in the light, the color of her eyes was almost violet. (1)

Elizabeth Taylor had luminous beauty - and double rows of eyelashes.

Double rows of eyelashes are usually the result of a mutation at FOXC2 , a gene that influences all kinds of tissue development in embryos. FOXC2 mutations are thought to be responsible for, among other things, lymphedema-distichiasissyndrome , a hereditary disease that can cause disorders of the lymphatic system, in addition to double eyelashes.

The eyelash mutation isn’t always as cosmetically enhancing as Taylor’s turned out to be — the extra eyelashes can sometimes grow inward and damage the cornea. In addition, seven percent of people with lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome also suffer from congenital heart disease.

Coincidentally, Taylor herself had a history of heart problems. In 2009, Taylor underwent surgery to repair a leaky heart valve. Her death on March 23, 2011, was attributed to congestive heart failure.

In April 2010, Elizabeth Taylor launched a new line of perfume "Violet Eyes": "This sensual perfume is inspired by her iconic eye color; it is feminine, captivating, sophisticated and intriguing. Filled with a bouquet of the flowers Elizabeth Taylor loves, the composition is both modern and mysterious."

Source:  Slate

Readers, for more on Elizabeth Taylor at Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor on the Rome set of the film, "Cleopatra," 1962, where she began her scandalous affair with costar Richard Burton. Dame Liz wears her diamond ring from her late husband Mike Todd and the diamond, emerald, and gold bangle watch by Bulgari, Jaeger-LeCoultre

Christie’s auction house is selling screen sensation Elizabeth Taylor’s complete jewelry collection in New York City on Dec. 13-16, 2011. Among the pieces to be sold is the diamond, emerald, and gold “snake” brackelet watch by Bulgari, ca. 1961, shown below:

This cobra bangle watch by Bulgari, estimated at $12,000-15,000, is to be sold at Christie's auction of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection, Dec. 13, 2011.

Readers: For more on The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor Auction by Christie’s, click here and here.

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

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Elizabeth Taylor sizzes as "Maggie the Cat" in the 1958 film, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

From 1930-1968, the Motion Picture Production Code spelled out clearly what was acceptable conduct to be shown in Hollywood movies. When  British-born actress Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932) appeared as Maggie the Cat in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the movie censors dogged the set.

“It’s hard to believe how strictly we were supervised in those days when it came to anything involving sex,” recalled Elizabeth. “It wasn’t just homosexuality that was concealed; heterosexual behavior was subject to almost as many restrictions.”

One day when she was on camera for a wardrobe test, an “inspector” showed up.

When a BI (Bust Inspector, if you can believe it) appeared, he took one look at me and called for a stepladder. He climbed up, peered down, and announced that I needed a higher-cut dress, too much breast was exposed.”

To satisfy the BI, the costume designer Helen Rose pinned Elizabeth’s bodice with a brooch. But as soon as the BI left, that brooch came off and Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary cleavage was bared. (1)

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor have more bitter conversation in a still from the 1958 film, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

(1) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Readers, for more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor photographed on the set of “Cleopatra” in Rome. Life Magazine, April 13, 1962

During the 1962 filming of “Cleopatra” in Rome, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began a very public affair. The two were both married to other people at the time. The scandal made headlines worldwide and was met with moral outrage.

After five months in Rome, filming moved to the island of Ischia, Italy, off the Amalfi Coast, with the paparazzi in hot pursuit. It was on Ischia that the scenes on Cleopatra’s barge were shot. The following candid photos of Elizabeth Taylor sunbathing and swimming were taken by celebrity portrait photographer Bert Stern.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton relax in Ischia, Italy, in June 1962, during the filming of the "Cleopatra" barge scenes.

Elizabeth Taylor on location for "Cleopatra" off the coast of Ischia, Italy, June 1962

That same month, the Hollywood stars visited the neighboring island of Capri as guests of entertainer Dame Gracie Field at her exclusive hotel, La Canzone Del Mare. The hotel’s name – “Singer of the Sea” – is a reference to the incredible view over the rocks below where the mythological sirens were said to have lured sailors to their deaths. The photo shown here is being shown publicly for the first time in an auction of Field’s scrapbooks

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton arrive on the island of Capri in June 1962. The screen stars, who were both married, were guests at Dame Gracie Field’s exclusive hotel on Capri, La Canzone Del Mare.

 

Rumours of their relationship had been sizzling since filming of Cleopatra began the year before, but exploded that June when the scandalised Vatican accused them of ‘erotic vagrancy’ and the U.S. government threatened to ban them from the country. In the photograph, however, they look as though they haven’t a care in the world as they stroll side by side to the waterfront, him holding a cigarette in a casual white top and trousers, Taylor standing beside him in a one-piece bathing suit and cap, their hands almost brushing together.”

After the picture “Cleopatra” was completed filming the next month (July 1962), Taylor and Burton would continue their off-screen romanace. Another two and a half years would elapse before they would divorce their respective spouses and be free to marry one another. After their March 1964 wedding in Montreal at the Ritz Carlton, “the Burtons” would continue to captivate the public’s attention for the rest of the sixties, grabbing headlines, making movies together, throwing glamorous parties, having nasty public arguments, buying ridiculously large and expensive jewels and yachts, jetting here and there, and hobnobbing with royalty like the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor and other glitterati. 

But by 1970, the glitter had worn off the golden couple. Their endless and needless spending and self-indulgence were wearisome and tacky. Their film reviews were terrible and their relationship was worse. They made each other miserable. They were in bad health. Both drank heavily and Elizabeth liked pills.  They would divorce each other only to remarry, then divorce again.   

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton tie the knot in Montreal on March, 1964.

Since they began their affair on the movie set of “Cleopatra” in January, 1962, Richard Burton delighted in giving bride Elizabeth Taylor extravagant jewels.

The Taylor-Burton Diamond

One of the most famous pieces Burton gave Taylor is the pear-shaped, 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton Diamond. Fifth husband Richard Burton bought the diamond from Cartier in 1969 after a Sotheby’s auction, paying over $1 million for it. Burton agreed to allow the jeweler to display the jewel for a limited period in New York and Chicago, beginning on November 1. Crowds of more than 6,000 a day circled the store’s Fifth Avenue shop in New York to “gawk at a diamond as big as the Ritz.” 

Meanwhile, Taylor had Cartier remount the stone as a pendant suspended from a V-shaped necklace of graduated pear-shaped diamonds, mounted in platinum. Elizabeth admitted that even for her the Cartier Diamond – now called the Taylor-Burton Diamond – was too big to wear as a ring. 

The Taylor-Burton Diamond hangs from a diamond necklace created by Cartier.

Elizabeth is no stranger to heavy rings. She wears the Krupp Diamond on her left hand almost every day and has worn it in most if not all of her films and TV appearances since she bought it in 1968 for $305,000. The stone weighs 33.19 carats. 

Liz Taylor's everyday ring: The Krupp Diamond

The Krupp Diamond, Liz Taylor's everyday ring

Elizabeth chose to debut the Taylor-Burton Diamond at Princess Grace of Monaco’s  fortieth birthday bash at L’Hermitage in Monte Carlo. Princess Grace, formerly known as film star Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who would officially turn 40 on November 12, 1969, wanted to share this special occasion with sixty of her closest friends. Many of them were celebrities she knew from her film days like Rock Hudson, the Taylor-Burtons, and David and Hjordis Niven.

Film star Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco in Monte Carlo, April 1956 and becomes Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco.

Princess Grace’s invitations were designed like horoscopes and the party was to have a Scorpio theme – as that was Grace’s astrological sign. Grace was a lifelong believer in astrology, and often called a Hollywood astrologer for a personal daily horoscope. (1) 

Princess Grace of Monaco (center) is flanked by her 2 sisters on the day of her fortieth birthday party. Monte Carlo, Monaco. November 15, 1969.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932) planned her big entrance to Princess Grace’s party. Aside from choosing her wardrobe and hairstyle, she and Richard decided that the Taylor-Burton Diamond required more then ordinary security: 

First, the diamond was flown from New York to Nice in the company of two security guards, who delivered it to Elizabeth Taylor and her husband aboard their yacht, the Kalizma. The Burtons were then escorted to the party with their security guards, who were armed with machine guns as added protection.” (2) 

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at Princess Grace's 40th birthday party, Monaco, November, 1969. Notice that Liz Taylor wears a robe in keeping with the party's Scorpio theme, the Princess's astrological sign. On her left hand she wears the Krupp Diamond. The necklace pendant is the Taylor-Burton Diamond. November, 1969 ("Bling-Bling, Bang-Bang: Elizabeth Taylor Attends Princess Grace's Scorpio Ball," Lisa's History Room)

Princess Grace of Monaco with Richard Burton at her 40th birthday party, Monaco, November 1969

Princess Grace of Monaco, 1969

Although it was Grace’s birthday, Elizabeth Taylor clearly upstaged the princess, dazzling all the guests with her new jewel and her beauty. After the ball, Grace wrote friend Judy Balaban Quine that she found it hard to take her eyes off Elizabeth, whom she considered

 “unbearably beautiful.”

Turning forty, added Grace, was equally unbearable. (1)

Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor to the April 1970 Academy Awards. Elizabeth wears the Taylor-Burton Diamond necklace and an Edith Head chiffon gown.

After the Taylor-Burton divorce in 1978, Elizabeth sold the diamond for $5 million, pledging to use part of the profit to build a hospital in Botswana (which, my mother tells me, blew away).

(1) Glatt, John. The Royal House of Monaco: Dynasty of Glamour, Tragedy, and Scandal. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
(2) Taylor, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

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Elizabeth Taylor with husband #2: Michael Wilding: Married 21 February 1952, Divorced 30 January 1957

On May 12, 1956, Anglo-American film actress Elizabeth Taylor and her second husband Michael Wilding threw a dinner party at their Beverly Hills home. It was a bad night for a party. For the first thing, it was foggy and the Wildings lived up a long and winding road in Benedict Canyon. For the second thing, the Wildings’ marriage was on the rocks. Elizabeth was having an affair and Michael’s out-of-control drinking had led to several indiscretions with other women. 

The guest of honor was to be Father George Long, a hip priest who ran with the Hollywood set. Rock Hudson and his new wife Phyllis Gates were invited. So was Kevin McCarthy, who was then making “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” 

Montgomery Clift was another actor on the guest list. That spring, he and Elizabeth were shooting the MGM Civil War melodrama, “Raintree County.” 

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in "Raintree County" (1957)

(Elizabeth had just finished filming “Giant” which would be released in October of that same year.) 

Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in "Giant" (1956)

Monty and Elizabeth had become best friends in 1951 during the filming of “A Place in the Sun.” Monty affectionately referred to Elizabeth as “Bessie Mae.” She was his confidante. Monty Clift was a rising star, known for his sensitive and brooding portrayals of troubled young men. He was very intense and deeply serious about acting. 

"A Place in the Sun" (1951) with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor

At first Monty declined the invitation at Liz’s. He was awkward being around the Wildings while their marriage was so bad. But he changed his mind and agreed to join the group for dinner, leasing a car and driving up the mountain road to the Wildings’ house. 

The party turned out to be a terrific bore. The guest of honor didn’t even show. Michael Wilding wasn’t feeling well and spent the evening lounging on the couch, saying virtually nothing to the company and acting aloof. That made Elizabeth nervous so she was unusually chatty. Monty grumbled about the way the MGM director Edward Dmytryk was shooting everything in “Raintree County” in giant close-ups. He was depressed and angry. He sensed the film would be a colossal disaster. 

The party broke up about midnight with Monty and Kevin bidding each other goodbye in the driveway and taking off down the road Elizabeth called a “cork twister.” Kevin was in the lead. Within minutes, Kevin was back at Elizabeth’s house, ringing the bell. Monty Clift had had a serious car accident. His car had struck a utility pole as he rounded one of the hairpin turns in the fog. Elizabeth shrieked and demanded that Kevin immediately take her to the scene. 

Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint in "Raintree County" (1957)

Since the 1950, many unflattering things have been written about Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor who is now a Dame of the British Empire, and much of it was justified. (She tended to steal people’s husbands.) But what was to happen next on that foggy stretch of midnight road below her house was to be Elizabeth’s finest hour. 

She and Kevin arrived at the wreck:

“Monty’s car was demolished, an ‘accordion-pleated mess,’ Elizabeth said. A 4,800 transformer, knocked off the pole by the impact, had narrowly missed hitting the car. McCarthy thought his friend was dead. ‘The doors were so jammed that we couldn’t get to him,’ he said.” (1)  

Broken glass was everywhere – but that didn’t faze Elizabeth. She climbed in the car through a back window.  

“‘Adrenaline does something to you,’ she remembered.” 

Elizabeth hauled herself over the bloody seat. Monty’s motionless body lay beneath the steering wheel. His face was barely recognizable. 

“‘It was like pulp,’ she remembered.” 

Elizabeth called out to Monty. He reacted to her voice and indicated to her that he was choking. Several of his teeth had broken off and had lodged in the back of his throat. Reaching inside his mouth, Elizabeth pulled the teeth out, one by one. Elizabeth saved his life. Monty could once again breathe.

It was nearly an hour before an ambulance arrived and, with it, a handful of frenzied photographers. Elizabeth positioned herself between the stretcher carrying Monty and the photographers’ cameras. “She was remarkable,” said McCarthy. She told the photographers that if they so much as snapped one photo of Monty’s bloodied face, she’d never allow her to take another photo of her. (That would never do. Elizabeth Taylor was one of Hollywood’s top actresses and would become one of the most photographed women in the world.) The photographers backed off.

The car accident left Elizabeth with persistent nightmares. She couldn’t get Monty’s bloody face out of her mind.

“It would come up like a balloon in front of me at night.” 

"The Misfits" (1961) stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift

Understandably, filming on “Raintree County” was put on hold as Monty underwent a long hospitalization and painful facial reconstruction. Despite these efforts, Monty never looked as beautiful as before. His face remained scarred and partially paralyzed. This was the beginning of Monty’s long and deadly slide into alcohol and drug addiction. He became a wrecked man.

Marilyn Monroe, who appeared alongside Monty in the 1961 film, “The Misfits,”  described him as 

“the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.” 

Monty’s post-accident career has been called “the longest suicide in Hollywood history.” In 1966, ten years after his car accident, Montgomery Clift died alone in his New York apartment while watching “The Misfits” on TV. He was only 45. 

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

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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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