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Archive for the ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ Category

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was willing to do almost anything to get her seventh husband, Virginia lawyer John Warner, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To woo voters and the Republican Party leaders, Elizabeth had to prove to be an asset to the campaign. She had to make the transformation from movie queen to political wife. (Readers: For how they got together, read the previous post.)

During their brief courtship, Warner was given cause to worry that she could not make the leap. He recalled inviting Elizabeth to lunch with him in Washington, D.C.. Looking forward to showing her off, he was embarrassed when she appeared at the Bicentennial office (where he was director)

wearing a flowing black silk pajama outfit with a low-cut neckline.” (1)

Then there were her showy jewels, for example, an “eye-popping necklace of…egg-sized canary diamonds and amethysts as big as her fist.” Elizabeth promised her husband she would dress down, cutting down on the diamonds and the décolletage, opulence that would not go over big with plain Southern Virginia folk.

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor's famous jewels: the Bulgari Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels: the Bulgari Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

Besides sacrificing her fashion sense, Elizabeth would set her career aside during this period, appearing in only a handful of films and, then, mostly in cameo roles, requiring only a short stint away from the campaign.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Then there were her friends of the moment, the hard-partying, cocaine-sniffing crowd of the notorious New York disco Studio 54: Liza Minnelli, fashion designer Halston, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger. Warner steered her away from hanging out with them at the club (although she did install a discotheque at the farm for entertaining them).

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Self-restraint, too, was called into play, if Elizabeth was going to help Warner hit a home run, for Elizabeth was a hot-blooded woman, prone to hard-drinking, cursing, and screaming at photographers trying to shoot her from uncomplimentary angles.

In January, 1977, weeks after returning from honeymooning in Switzerland, Elizabeth and John hit the campaign trail with an appearance at the Hearts of Gold Ball in Richmond, which they reached by Greyhound bus. From here on out, for Elizabeth, it would be a 23-month slog of kissing babies, speechifying, ribbon-cutting, riding in parades, chairing galas, raising funds, eating corn-on-the cob at county fairs, signing autographs, hurling cream pies, and pinning Warner buttons on Democrats. If a college campus had a drama department, she held a seminar for the students and allowed friendly question and answer sessions, unscripted, with no retakes, to which she was accustomed on a movie set. Toward the end of the race, she and Warner put in 12-15 hour days, riding in planes, buses, cars, and trains to reach their destinations.

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to see Elizabeth, accessible to them, no longer protected by bodyguards, as  in her movie stardom days. She shook so many hands that, one day, two blood vessels broke in her hand. That did not slow her down. She continued to shake hands, though her hand was swollen and protected by an elastic bandage. Elizabeth’s bursitis flared up in her shoulder from such rigorous handshaking. She received cortisone injections to help with the pain. Sometimes she campaigned in a wheelchair. But she kept going. She did it because

‘They come to see my wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t disappoint them, do I?’ she laughed. ‘This face has been around a lot of years. People want to see if my eyes really are violet or bloodshot or both. Once they check me out, they can go home and say, ‘I saw Liz Taylor and you know what? She ain’t so hot!’” (1)

At almost every campaign stop, Elizabeth Taylor look-alikes would show up, in big wigs and evening gowns.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people who showed up at rallies came to see if Elizabeth was as obese as it was being reported in the press. The strain of the campaign was beginning to take its toll on her. Her weight had ballooned and she was drinking booze in excess and eating way too much. Joan Rivers was regularly lampooning her with fat jokes on  “The Tonight Show“:

Every time Liz Taylor goes into McDonald’s, the numbers on the sign outside start changing. When she looks up and see five billion, she thinks it’s her weight.”

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

Elizabeth was affected by such cruel commentary. Nevertheless, she continued eating and drinking herself into oblivion. Dinner guests reported seeing her eat, in one sitting, mounds of mashed potatoes drowned in gravy, followed by five rich desserts and countless bottles of champagne. (2) In her defense, she remarked:

‘I am not a monument that pigeons can doo-doo on. I am a living human being, and if I want to eat fried chicken six times a day and can still function, that’s up to me!’” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. June 2, 1978

In August, 1978, John Warner became the Republic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, when the original nominee was suddenly killed.

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain's funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain’s funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

The general election was on November 7; there were three months to go. The strain of the long and grueling campaign trail was apparent in both of them; tempers frayed and Elizabeth kept eating, eating, and then eating some more. Some campaign leaders worried that Elizabeth’s star appeal was overshadowing the candidate. They considered removing her from the campaign.

On October 12, 1978, three weeks before the election, Elizabeth was to suffer one of the many freak accidents for which she was known. She appeared at a rally at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The whole countryside was in a dither to see her.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her purple silk Halston pantsuit accessorized with a sumptuous gold necklace studded with amethyst stones the size of cookies and matching drop earrings encrusted with pearls. She had tucked a small bouquet of fresh violets behind one ear. She posed for photo after photo with a smile that was genuine.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978. Note the purple Halston pantsuit Elizabeth is wearing.

Later that evening, John and Elizabeth stopped for a chicken dinner at Fraley’s Coach House, where Elizabeth took a bite of a fried chicken breast and accidentally swallowed a two-and-a-half inch bone. The bone lodged in her throat. She clutched her neck, barely able to breathe. She tried to cough it up, but in vain. She stuffed some rolls into her mouth to try to push the bone down her throat but it didn’t work. It was clear that she was choking to death. (3) She was rushed to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where a thoracic surgeon inserted a rubber hose down her throat and stuffed the bone down where it dissolved in digestion. She was overnight in the hospital. The next day, she made the headlines:

‘ACTRESS NEARLY CHOKES AT CAMPAIGN RALLY,’ screamed The Washington Star.

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted from an airplane by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Strangely, it was about this time that a delegation of women who ran the Warner campaign chose to approach Elizabeth and inform her that she could no longer wear purple to John’s rallies. Everyone knows that purple was her signature color. Her legendary eyes were violet. In a 1997 interview with Kevin Sessums, Elizabeth recalled:

‘If the woman is the politician, then it might be quite different. But if you’re wedded to the politician, it’s like your lips are sealed. You are a robot. They even tell you what you can wear. You can imagine how that sat with me! I was told that I—me!—was not allowed to wear purple because it smacked of royalty.’ 

She told Harper’s Bazaar:

‘The Republican women told me, ‘You simply cannot wear the purple pantsuit you’ve been campaigning in anymore.’ I ended up in a tweed suit. Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.’”

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va.  Oct. 26, 1978.

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va. Oct. 26, 1978.

On November 7, John Warner squeaked to victory. Out of 1.2 million votes, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia by only 4,271 votes.  He could not have done it without Elizabeth. Some say that the chicken bone incident moved the public to sympathy for her, swinging the vote in Warner’s favor. Elizabeth joked later

‘I seem to have at least 4, 271 fans in Virginia, so at least I know I pulled my own weight!’” (2)

After the election, the Republican women threw Elizabeth a luncheon in her honor, for all she had done in the campaign. In her Kevin Sessums interview, Elizabeth said she

…put on my purplest Halston pantsuit. I told them the story that the women who ran John Warner’s campaign had forbid me to wear purple. I got up and pointed out one specific woman. I said, ‘That one! Right there!’”

The subjugation of her own ego to John’s for two full years damaged Elizabeth’s self-esteem. There were few movie roles for an aging beauty, especially a puffy one. Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, had lost her self-identity.

John and Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C., where, on January 16, 1979 in the gallery of the U.S. Senate, John was sworn in with Elizabeth and her mother in attendance. Things looked rosy for the couple at that moment. John and Elizabeth threw each other big Hollywood kisses, but John immediately became consumed by his new job, declaring he would never miss a roll call. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time in their Washington home or Virginia farmhouse, consoling herself with massive quantities of Jack Daniels and chili dogs. She resorted to trips to New York to hang out at Studio 54. Elizabeth liked to have a man around and John wasn’t there for her. Whereas John may have loved Elizabeth, he loved work more.

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth had married John Warner in the hopes that he would give her the roots (and a private life) that she had longed for so much in her hurried life. Instead, she had spent the first two years of their marriage on the campaign trail and in the public eye more than before, if that is possible. Her life was more stressful than ever. As a star, she was used to crushingly cruel movie reviews but nothing could have been as brutal as the punishing ridicule she had received from the media for her weight gain.

Though these years were painful for Elizabeth – she and John Warner would divorce after six years of marriage – her worsening addiction to alcohol, pain pills and food would put her feet firmly on a path that led, in 1983, to a life-changing stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. A new Elizabeth Taylor would emerge from the famous rehab: a savvy and respected politician who would use her high profile celebrity to raise mega millions to combat the deadly disease, AIDS, by creating AMFAR.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

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

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

They made their debut as a couple at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, on Founders’ Day on November 11, 1976, where John Warner gave a speech and Elizabeth Taylor looked up adoringly at her fiancé – rugged yet stately, tall, muscular, with “marvelous silver hair.” John then introduced Elizabeth, who promptly stood up and saluted the cadets. The men temporarily forgot their military bearing and tossed their hats up into the air.

John Warner had been appearing at functions around Virginia, testing the political waters for a possible U.S. Senate run in 1978. Elizabeth’s name recognition lent star power to his possible candidacy, raising his political profile.  He amused audiences with this oft-repeated anecdote:

I feel just like Ben Franklin. He was born in Boston. Moved to Philadelphia. Met a lady on the street. They got engaged. And then he discovered electricity. Ladies and gentleman,’ he would conclude, turning toward wife Elizabeth, “allow me to share some electricity with you.” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth was bowled over by Warner from the start, when he was her blind date to a British Embassy ball in honor of Queen Elizabeth II of England on July 8, 1976. Elizabeth was in the middle of a second bruising divorce from Richard Burton. Three years earlier, Warner had divorced Catherine Mellon, the daughter of billionaire Paul Mellon. Their divorce was so friendly that she lived next door to his 2,600 acre farm outside Middleburg, Virginia, in Atoka, to more easily share the care of their three children. Elizabeth was worth $50 million; Warner, $10 million, a result of his hefty post divorce settlement. Warner was one of the nation’s most eligible bachelors – a playboy, definitely – who unabashedly selected dates and debutantes out of the Social Register and Washington, D. C., Green Book, copies of which he kept on his desk at all times. He had dated many desirable women, including TV host Barbara Walters, remarking to her that

A woman like you could probably get me elected senator. “

She declined his proposal. (2)

But Barbara Walters was no match for the celebrity and mega-glamour of super-sexy La Liz.

British

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, first date, July 8, 1976, at a reception for Queen Elizabeth II at the British Embassy. At the time, John Warner was the Director of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, appointed by President Gerald Ford.

There was much speculation about this power couple. Was John using Elizabeth to advance his career? Would she boost his chances of winning the 1978 U.S. Senate seat from Virginia? Or, rather, would her five previous marriages and scandals drag him down?

Elizabeth Taylor, 39,  in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971

Elizabeth Taylor, 39, in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971. Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful and talented woman with a name known around the world.

Elizabeth was ready to leave behind the showbiz life, marry this country gentleman farmer/lawyer, and become the Lady of the Manor. Warner’s farm at Middleburg was a little over an hour away from Washington:

It sat at the end of a mile-long drive, amid spacious fields where a herd of 600 pedigree Hereford cattle grazed….Elizabeth was enchanted by the duck ponds….The farm won her heart….She married John Warner for his roots.” (2)

There were horses there, too, evoking Elizabeth’s idyllic childhood in England. Although Elizabeth owned homes in Mexico and Switzerland, she had spent the bulk of the last fifteen years living on her and Burton’s yacht, the Kalizma, and in hotels around the world. She had made over fifty films, had four children, and had been married six times, twice to Richard Burton. Elizabeth, a star since childhood, had been a vagabond her entire life. She needed a change. A marriage to John Warner would bring with it a home, something sorely lacking in her chaotic world.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Five months after their first date, they tied the knot. On Dec. 4, 1976, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner were married at the top of a hill on the farm, in a simple Episcopalian ceremony, at sunset. Only Warner’s son, the rector, and a few friends were also in attendance. Elizabeth wore a purple turban, a dress of lavender grey, with gray suede boots and a matching coat of silver fox. She carried a bouquet of lavender and her husband’s gold wedding band in her glove.

Elizabeth relaxed into her new role. “I’m so happy to just be John’s wife. I finally feel that I have a home. My search for roots is finally over.” (3)  John called her his “Little Heifer” and “Pooters.”

She was now Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner but she called herself “Mrs. John Warner.” The wedding was international news, one paper shouting:

Here She Goes Again, Number 7 for Liz

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

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

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

 

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Edith Head in an undated photo

Edith Head in an undated photo

It was summer vacation of 1924 and Edith Head, 27, wanted a new job. She was tired of making peanuts - $1500 a year – teaching French and art at the Hollywood School for Girls. She did have a husband but he was a heavy drinker. If Edith wanted to improve her quality of life, it was up to her to make it happen. However, there were few jobs open to women in the 1920s but secretarial work and teaching, and neither paid much.

One day, Edith spotted a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times. The Famous Players-Lasky Studio (later, Paramount Pictures) was looking for a sketch artist to create costumes for a new Cecil B. DeMille silent film, “The Golden Bed.” Edith wanted that job. One problem: Edith Head was no artist. She could not draw the human form.

She had exaggerated her qualifications to teach art when applying at the Hollywood School for Girls. True, she was highly educated, and was more than qualified to teach French – but not art. She had received a B.A. in Letters and Sciences with Honors in French at University of California at Berkeley (1919) and a Master’s Degree in Romance Languages at Stanford (1920) – pretty impressive for a girl who grew up in mining camps in the deserts of Mexico and Nevada. But she had no training in art. Once she had been hired at the girls’ school, she had swiftly enrolled in evening art classes at the Chouinard Art School to gain some artistic skill, learning just enough each night to keep one step ahead of the next day’s lesson for her students. So far, though, she could only draw seascapes.

Undaunted, Edith wrote the studio for an interview. She received a prompt reply, telling her to be at the studio the very next morning at 10 a.m., bringing sketches. Sketches? All she had to show of her own were seascapes.

Agnes Ayres stars in Cecil B. DeMille's 1921 film, "Forbidden Fruit." In silent films, costume was an extremely important element. DeMille's films were always lavish extravaganzas.

Agnes Ayres stars in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 film, “Forbidden Fruit” at Famous Players-Studio (later Paramount Pictures). In silent films, costume was an extremely important element. DeMille’s films were always lavish extravaganzas.

Edith did not know what to do but she knew that she wanted that job! Soon a light bulb went on in her brain:

That night I made the rounds at Chouinard (Art School) and collected all the students’ best landscapes, seascapes, oils, watercolors, sketches, life, art, everything.”

Some accounts say that Edith actually erased her friends’ names from their sketches and substituted her own. That next day, she appeared at the studio for her interview, a portfolio of other people’s work in hand. Howard Greer, head of the studio wardrobe department, described the interview in his memoirs:

…A young girl with a face like a pussy cat crossed with a Fujita drawing appeared with a carpetbag full of sketches. There were architectural drawings, plans for interior decoration, magazine illustrations, and fashion design. Struck dumb with admiration for anyone possessed of such diverse talent, I hired the gal on the spot.” (1)

Her salary was $40 a week, more than double what she made teaching.

The very next day, Edith reported for work. She sat at her drafting table, her canvas, blank. The jig was up. She couldn’t draw. Greer recalled:

[She] looked out from under her bangs with the expression of a frightened terrier.” (1)

Edith Head

Edith Head

Edith confessed that she had misrepresented her talent, taking credit for others’ work. Inexplicably, Greer did not fire Edith. Curiously, he took her under his wing and taught her how to sketch. Within six months, she sketched in his style and was quite accomplished. Later, when asked about misrepresenting her talent at the interview, she tossed off the fraud as “youthful and naïve indiscretion” and something she would never do again. (Two more lies!)

Whereas Edith dismissed the padding of her resume as an isolated incident, never to be repeated, designing colleague Natalie Visart did not see it that way. She commented:

Edith lied when the truth would have served her better.” (2)

Edith was to have few friends in life, among them, President Richard Nixon and wife Pat and actress Elizabeth Taylor. Biographer David Chierichetti said that

Her lies made her feel in control….Her lying – even more than her blazing ambition – was what turned people against her.”

Reportedly, director John Farrow would not let Edith work on his 1953 film, “Botany Bay,” as he had caught her in too many lies in the past.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, back to the summer of 1924, Edith was working at the bottom of the totem pole in the wardrobe design department.

My first big assignment was to do the Candy Ball costumes for Cecil B. de Mille’s film, “The Golden Bed.” I drew girls dressed as lollypops, peppermint sticks and chocolate drops….

Then came the crisis. I’d drawn very elongated girls with bodies like peppermint sticks and candy cane fingernails two feet long. Came the day of the shooting and, shortly after, came a blast from Mr. DeMille….The peppermint sticks had started cracking during the dance routine….whenever the dancers got within a half a foot of each other, the candy would stick.”

Also, under the hot lights on the set, the chocolate drops melted, and the production had to be halted. Edith went back to the drawing board and designed dresses studded with marshmallows for the peculiar film.

The "Candy Ball" scene from Cecil B. DeMille's 1924 film, "The Golden Bed." Men surround women wearing marshmallow dresses, pull off the sweets, and eat them.

The “Candy Ball” scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1924 film, “The Golden Bed.” Men surround women wearing marshmallow dresses, pull off the sweets, and eat them.

In another of Edith’s costume faux pas, Director Raoul Walsh had to stop production on “The Wanderer” (1925) when one of the show’s elephants began eating its costume – wreaths of flowers and grapes and anklets of rose petals.

As Greer had suspected, Edith did have a natural talent for costume design and, before long, it showed up. She began to score more hits than misses. She became a savvy politician. Although the studio maintained that the actresses were not allowed any say in what they wore in the films, Edith got around that rule. She began to talk with the stars, asking each actress what she liked to wear, what she thought she looked good wearing. Edith became known as “The Dress Doctor,” as she approached the design of each actress’s costumes with their tastes and figures in mind, how they moved, talked, and were photographed.

Costume designer Edith Head and film star Gloria Swanson. Undated photo

Costume designer Edith Head and film star Gloria Swanson. Undated photo

In this way, she developed a large and loyal following of actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly even though there were stars like Mary Martin, Hedy Lamarr, and Claudette Colbert who didn’t like to work with her.

Edith boasted that she was a magician. She took ordinary women, and, through fashion magic, transformed them into screen sirens.

Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” Edith liked to say.

Edith designed costumes for almost a thousand movies including westerns, biblical epics, war movies, and dramas. Her style was not flashy but flattered the star and advanced the story line. Here are some of Edith Head’s costume designs:

mae west she done him wrong

Mae West in “She Done Him Wrong,” 1933. Costumes by Edith Head.

Dorothy Lamour wearing a new version of a sarong in "Jungle Princess," 1936. Costumes by Edith Head.

Dorothy Lamour wearing a new version of a sarong in “Jungle Princess,” 1936. Costumes by Edith Head.

 

Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in "The Lady Eve," 1941. Costumes by Edith Head.

Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in “The Lady Eve,” 1941. Costumes by Edith Head.

Veronica Lake in "I Married a Witch," 1942. Costumes by Edith Head.

Veronica Lake in “I Married a Witch,” 1942. Costumes by Edith Head.

Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah," 1949. Costumes by Edith Head.

Hedy Lamarr in “Samson and Delilah,” 1949. Costumes by Edith Head.

 

Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard," 1950. Costumes by Edith Head.

Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” 1950. Costumes by Edith Head.

Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun," 1951. Costumes by Edith Head.

Elizabeth Taylor in “A Place in the Sun,” 1951. Costumes by Edith Head.

Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday," 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly suit in "Rear Window," 1954

Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly suit in “Rear Window,” 1954

Grace Kelly in "Rear Window," 1954, wearing green suit shown in above sketch. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “Rear Window,” 1954, wearing green suit shown in above sketch. Costumes by Edith Head.

Shown here with costar Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly wears the green suit shown in the sketch above, sans jacket. "Rear Window," 1954.  Costumes by Edith Head.

Shown here with costar Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly wears the green suit shown in the sketch above, sans jacket. “Rear Window,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Sketch for evening gown by Edith Head for Grace Kelly in "Rear Window," 1954.

Sketch for evening gown by Edith Head for Grace Kelly in “Rear Window,” 1954.

From sketch above, Grace Kelly wears an evening gown from "Rear Window," 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

From sketch above, Grace Kelly wears an evening gown from “Rear Window,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly models sunsuit from "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costume by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly models sunsuit from “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costume by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head sketch for gold masquerade gown for Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955.

Edith Head sketch for gold masquerade gown for Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955.

As in sketch above, Grace Kelly wears masquerade gown in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

As in sketch above, Grace Kelly wears masquerade gown in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Anne Baxter in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 remake of "The Ten Commandments." Costumes by Edith Head.

Anne Baxter in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 remake of “The Ten Commandments.” Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head was awarded eight Oscars and was nominated 35 times for best costume design.

Legendary costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) displays her 8 Oscar trophies. Originally, she wore blue tinted glasses because it allowed her to view fabrics as they would look in a black-and-white movie. Smoky lenses also made her inscrutable as well as disguising a slightly-crossed right eye. Undated photo

Legendary costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) displays her 8 Oscar trophies. Originally, she wore blue tinted glasses because it allowed her to view fabrics as they would look in a black-and-white movie. Smoky lenses also made her inscrutable as well as disguising a slightly-crossed right eye. Undated photo

Her brilliant career, that began with a con, was marred by controversy. Often economical with the truth, she sometimes claimed credit for designs that were not her own. She accepted the Oscar for “Sabrina”(1955) although two gowns and one suit wore by Audrey Hepburn – the Parisian look that dominates the movie – were truly designed by then rising French designer Hubert de Givenchy.

Audrey Hepburn wears three dresses from the movie, "Sabrina," 1954. Edith Head designed the "Cinderella" clothes that Audrey's character wears before she travels to Paris. Upon her return, she wears a wardrobe designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Edith Head accepted the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and took credit for De Givenchy's work.

Audrey Hepburn wears three dresses from the movie, “Sabrina,” 1954. Edith Head designed the “Cinderella” clothes that Audrey’s character wears before she travels to Paris. Upon her return, she wears a wardrobe designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Edith Head accepted the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and took credit for De Givenchy’s work.

Edith said the Oscar belonged to her because the costumes had been made in her department. In her acceptance speech, she did not thank de Givenchy. Worse still, when the little black dress became enormously popular, copied by the thousands by clothing manufacturers, Edith made sketches of it for books and appearances and signed them with her name. (3) Only after Edith’s death did Givenchy, a true gentleman, confirm that the black cocktail dress with the bateau neckline and ballerina skirt was his original design, and had been made under Edith’s supervision at Paramount.The Sting movie poster

In 1974, Edith Head was awarded her eighth and final Oscar for her work in “The Sting,” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. In her trademark bangs, bun, and tinted owl glasses, Edith flitted happily onto the stage, trilling:

“Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world, and then getting this!” she said, holding out her award.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman play ping pong. Undated photo.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman play ping pong. Undated photo.

She was promptly sued by a costume illustrator who said the work on “The Sting” was hers, not Edith’s. Famous designer Bob Mackie, Cher‘s favorite, who had also worked in the Paramount costume department, said of Edith:

She got more press out of The Sting than anything she ever did and she didn’t even do it.” (4)

(1) Greer, Howard. Designing Male: A Nebraska Farm Boy’s Adventures in Hollywood and with the International Set. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951.

(2) Chierichetti, David. Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

(3) Head, Edith. The Dress Doctor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959.

(4) Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. New York: Lifetime Media, 2010.

Readers, for more on Edith Head and her costume design, click here.

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Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

On July 4, 1973, American film actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) issued the following press release:

“I am convinced it would be a good and constructive idea if Richard [Burton] and I separated for a while. Maybe we loved each other too much. I never believed such a thing was possible. But we have been in each other’s pockets constantly, never being apart but for matters of life and death, and I believe it has caused a temporary breakdown of communication.

I believe with all my heart that the separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be – and that’s together. I think in a few days’ time I shall return to California, because my mother is there, and I have old and true friends there, too.” (1)

Leaving Richard at the Long Island estate of his lawyer Aaron Frosch, Elizabeth checked out of her room at the Regency Hotel, Park Avenue, New York and flew to Los Angeles. She had to put distance between herself and Richard’s endless drinking, their endless quarreling. She hid from the paparazzi at the Hollywood home of her old and dear friend, Edith Head, the legendary fashion designer for Paramount Pictures. Upon Elizabeth’s arrival, “Edie” got out the bottle of Jack Daniels  for the two of them to share.

Elizabeth considered Edith to be like a second mother to her. Edith returned the affection. In her Spanish-style home in Coldwater Canyon that she shared with her husband Bill, she had placed a plaque at the bottom of the stairwell that read,

ELIZABETH TAYLOR SLEEPS HERE

 

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head (1897-1981) had won one of her eight Oscars for best costume design for “A Place in the Sun” (1951) in which Elizabeth played socialite Angela Vickers. Taylor’s costumes were so beautiful in that film that they set fashion trends for prom and ball gowns that year. (2)

One evening gown, in particular, was a huge sensation and remains an iconic dress today. It was strapless, to show off Elizabeth’s gorgeous shoulders, which Edith considered one of her best assets, with a sweetheart neckline that showed just a trace of virginal décolletage.

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor's white tulle gown in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor’s white tulle gown in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

The bodice was highlighted by clusters of tiny fabric violets. Below the nipped in waist, a full skirt erupted in countless yards of white tulle studded with white velvet violets. It was a flattering silhouette for Elizabeth who Edith considered “one of the prettiest human beings I’ve ever seen.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

Eighteen years later, Elizabeth wore another of Edith’s designs to the 1970 Academy Awards, at which she presented the Best Picture Award to “Midnight Cowboy.” It was a chiffon dress - in violet, to match Elizabeth’s famous violet eyes - with a plunging V-neckline. Nestled in Elizabeth’s tanned cleavage was the famous 69-carat, pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond, a diamond as big as the Ritz that cost well over a million dollars. It was one of many outstanding pieces in the Elizabeth Taylor Jewelry Collection.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in "Anne of a Thousand Days" but did not win.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in “Anne of a Thousand Days” but did not win.

Elizabeth had a love affair with jewelry. She had long admired one piece that Edith Head often wore, a gold and ivory necklace made up of Victorian opera tokens.

Edith Head with sketch

Film costume designer Edith Head wearing her Victorian opera token necklace.

The Edith Head Necklace

The Edith Head Necklace

In 1981, Edith passed away, leaving her necklace to Elizabeth in her will.

E Taylor and e Head necklace

Elizabeth Taylor wears a Victorian opera token necklace of ivory and gold, a gift from her friend Edith Head. Undated photo

I had the opportunity to see the Edith Head Necklace in 2011 at the Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection in New York. It was my favorite piece of all of Elizabeth’s jewelry. The necklace was estimated to sell at between $1,500 and $2,000, but it sold for $314,500!

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

(2) Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. New York: Lifetime Media, 2010.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here. For more on Edith Head, click here.

 

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Actor Richard Burton (1925-1984)

Actor Richard Burton (1925-1984)

“Which one?” he asked, when actor Richard Burton was told in 1957 that his father had died.  It was an odd question, but a legitimate one. Richard, indeed, did have more than one father. Was it his birth father, the poor Welsh coal miner, who had died? Or, was it his foster father, the British schoolmaster and BBC producer who taught Richard how to be a fine Shakespearean actor?

It was his birth father who had died. He was Richard Jenkins, 81, and he had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Locally, in the coal pits and pubs, he was known as Dic Bach. His seven boys and four girls called him “Dadi Ni.” Richard Burton, named Richard Walter Jenkins at birth, was named after his father. When young Richard was born in 1925, his father was 49, his mother, Edith, 42. Edith would live only two more years; she would die giving birth to Richard’s younger brother, Graham.  As a result, at the tender age of two, Dadi Ni sent Richard away permanently to live with his older sister, Cecilia, and her violent miner of a husband in the nearby town of Port Talbot. Only occasionally did Dadi Ni come to visit Richard.

Richard Burton with his father Richard Jenkins in Welsh mining village Pontrhydfen in 1953. ©Getty

Richard Burton with his father Richard Jenkins in Welsh mining village Pontrhydfen in 1953. ©Getty

Graham and Richard (1925-1984) were the only Jenkins boys to escape the mines. The Jenkins brothers, Tom, Ifor, Will, David, and Verdun

grew tall like their mother, rugged and strong like their father, and [they] went down to the mines like their ancestors before them,” recalled Richard Burton’s sister, Hilda Jenkins Owens. (1)

Richard’s father Dic Jenkins often worked from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., six days a week, seeing the sun only on Sundays. Miner’s work was hell and Dic was a “right terror for his booze,” said one of the miners who had grown up in the village of Pontrhydyfen with the Jenkins.

Only his size, tiny, couldn’t be 5’2″ out of his boots. But drink! Bloody hollow legs!” (1)

The village was full of pubs – the Bird in Hand, Heart of Oak, Boar’s Head, Miners’ Arms, British Lion – and most of the miners went there, where the drinking was “tremendous and cheap.”

Dic Jenkins was severally alcoholic, going on drinking binges that lasted for days. Once he was burned in a mine fire. His daughters rubbed olive oil on his burned arms, which were then bandaged to his chest so he couldn’t use them at all. Even that didn’t stop him from drinking. He went straight to the pub and had pints of bitter poured directly down his throat. That night, walking home drunk from the pub, his arms strapped to his side, he was attacked and horribly beaten by an old enemy. His teeth were knocked out and he was thrown over a wall. He wasn’t found until the next morning. He survived and loved to tell the tale at the local pubs, again, over pints and pints of bitter.

Actor Richard Burton (l.), laughs with his father, Richard Jenkins, and brother Ifor Jenkins, 1953.

Actor Richard Burton (l.), laughs with his father, Richard Jenkins, and brother Ifor Jenkins, 1953.

Fortunately, when Richard was a teenager, his schoolmaster, Philip Burton, recognized his talent as an actor. Philip Burton became Richard’s foster father, adopting Richard as his ward, teaching him how to speak English without a Welsh accent, to use a knife and fork, and to dress and speak like an educated man. He taught him to read the classics. Richard left his sister’s house and moved in with Philip Burton.

Burton served as a navigator during WW2 in the British RAF. Here is shown as a RAF cadet, age 18.

Burton served as a navigator during WW2 in the British RAF. Here is shown as a RAF cadet, age 18. His eyesight was too poor to allow him to be a pilot.

 

In 1943, Richard changed his surname from Jenkins to Burton. Under Philip Burton’s tutelage, Richard Burton made his London stage debut at 18, and won a scholarship to Oxford. From them on, Richard would refer to Philip as his father.

Richard Burton did not attend his birth father’s funeral. Dic Jenkins had not approved of Richard’s choice of profession. He was actually very insulting about it. They did not have a close relationship.

Richard Burton had cast off his birthright, changed his name. He had escaped the mines. He had become an international film star, an accomplished stage actor, and had married perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, actress Elizabeth Taylor.

During the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton find each other. The island of Ischia, Italy, 1962© Bert Stern, courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery, New York

During the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton find each other. The island of Ischia, Italy, 1962© Bert Stern, courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery, New York

And yet he could not escape his inheritance from Dic Jenkins –  a propensity for heavy drinking. In 1984 at age 58, Richard Burton would die – like his father – of a cerebral hemorrhage, his physical deterioration hastened by years of excess alcohol consumption. He had begun drinking alcohol regularly at the age of eleven. He used to boast that he could drink a half gallon of cognac or a fifth of whiskey during one night’s stage performance.

In 1980, Richard Burton appeared on the Dick Cavett show and spoke frankly about his personal struggle with alcohol:

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

For more on Richard Burton, click here.

 

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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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