Friday, March 9, 2018

Elizabeth Taylor

Stardust: TCM’s Star of the Month

By Ed Garea

"I've always admitted that I'm ruled by my passions.”

"I am a very committed wife. And I should be committed too – for being married so many times."

No star has lived so much of her life in the tabloids as has Elizabeth Taylor. From her first marriage at the age of 18 to hotel heir Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, Jr., to her famous marriage to Eddie Fisher, for which he threw over then wife Debbie Reynolds, to her romance and marriages to Richard Burton, her marriage as the ultimate trophy wife to politician John Warner, and to her last marriage to construction worker Larry Fortensky, Taylor dominated the shelves at supermarket check-out lines.

She was born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor in London on February 27, 1932. Her parents, art dealer Francis Lenn Taylor and retired stage actress Sara Sothern, were wealthy and socially prominent. Because they were American citizens, Taylor received dual citizenship at birth.   

In 1939 the Taylors decided to return to the United States due to the deteriorating political climate in Europe. Sara, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s brother Bobby left first in April 1939, moving in with Taylor's maternal grandfather in Pasadena, California. Francis stayed behind to close the London gallery and joined them in December. He opened a new gallery in Los Angeles early the next year. After briefly living in Pacific Palisades, the family moved to Beverly Hills, where Elizabeth and Bobby were enrolled in Hawthorne School.

With her striking blue eyes (almost to the point of appearing violet), young Elizabeth drew a lot of attention from friends and acquaintances of the family, several of whom told her mother that Elizabeth should audition for the movies. Sara ignored the requests at first, but with the war in Europe in full swing, it looked unlikely that they would ever return. In addition, Francis Taylor’s gallery drew an increasing clientele from Hollywood, one of whom, columnist Hedda Hopper, also thought Elizabeth should give movies a shot.

After auditioning for both MGM and Universal, Sara Taylor accepted Universal’s offer and Elizabeth began at the studio in April 1941 with a small role in There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). She was not cast in anything else and her Universal contract was terminated after a year, as Universal’s casting director did not think Taylor had what it took to be star. 

Taylor received another opportunity in late 1942 when MGM producer Samuel Marx, a client of her father, arranged an audition for her in Lassie Come Home (1943). She was signed to a three-month trial contract, and when it expired, signed a standard seven-year contract.

She landed her first starring role at the age of 12 when she was chosen to play a girl who wants to compete in the all-male Grand National in National Velvet (1944). Because she was deemed too short, the studio pushed filming back several months to allow her to grow. She took advantage of the extra time by practicing riding. MGM also wanted to dye her hair and change the shape of her eyebrows. They also proposed that she use the screen name “Virginia," but Taylor and her parents refused.

National Velvet, released on Christmas 1944, became a box office smash, with Taylor receiving notice from the critics for her performance. Taylor would later say that her childhood ended when she became a star, as the studio came to control every aspect of her life. The success of National Velvet led to a new seven-year contract with a starting salary of $750 a week and the studio cast her in the third film in the Lassie series, Courage of Lassie (1946). Noting her popularity among teenage and pre-teen girls, the studio published a book of Taylor’s writings about her pet chipmunk, Nibbles and Me (1946), and had paper dolls and coloring books made about her.   
When she turned 15 in 1947, the studio began to cultivate a more mature public image for her. Photo shoots became a normal routine, along with interviews that portrayed her as a "normal" teenager attending parties and going on dates. Items comparing to older actresses such as Ava Gardner and Lana Turner began turning up in film magazines and gossip columns. 

Life named her “Hollywood's most accomplished junior actress” for her roles in the critically panned Cynthia (1947), where she she portrayed a frail girl who defies her overprotective parents to go to the prom, and the period film Life With Father with William Powell and Irene Dunne (also 1947) as the love interest of their son.

In 1948 she was featured in a supporting role as a teenaged "man-stealer" who seduces her peer's date to a high school dance in the musical A Date With Judy, and later played a bride in the romantic comedy Julia Misbehaves which was a box office success. Her last adolescent role was as Amy March in MGM’s remake on the 1933 classic Little Women (1949) which also did well at the box office.  

Despite the fact she was one of MGM's most successful stars, Taylor considered retirement in the early 1950s. She greatly resented the studio's control and considered many of the films to which she was assigned as beneath her. But her career took an upward path in the mid-‘50s with satisfying roles in the 1956 epic Giant and two adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959, for which Taylor won a Golden Globe). Although she disliked her role as a call girl in BUtterfield 8 (1960) it brought her the Academy Award as Best Actress.  

The publicity engendered by her marriage to Eddie Fisher kept her in the gossip columns and public eye, and then she was paid a record-breaking $1 million to play the title role in Cleopatra. There she met co-star Richard Burton and the rest, as they say, is history, with Liz and Dick becoming popular culture icons.

The Elizabeth Taylor-a-thon runs on the evenings of March 12 thru March 16. Here are our choices:

March 12

8:00 pm – NATIONAL VELVET (MGM, 1944): Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor. English farm girl Taylor struggles to train a difficult horse for the Grand National Steeplechase. 

3:00 am – LASSIE COME HOME (MGM, 1943): Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowell. The faithful collie undertakes an arduous journey to return to her lost family. Taylor’s first MGM film.

March 13

8:00 pm – FATHER OF THE BRIDE (MGM, 1950): Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor. A sweet family comedy about a doting father and the endless trials he endures when his daughter marries. Tracy is terrific.

9:45 pm – FATHER’S LITTLE DIVIDEND (MGM, 1951): Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor. The sequel continuing the story set forth in Father of the Bride as daughter has her first baby comes close to the original. Great viewing.

March 14

11:00 pm – GIANT (WB, 1956): Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, & James Dean. George Stevens directed this rambling saga about a Texas oil family struggling to adapt to changing times. Admittedly, it’s not a favorite of mine, but Taylor is fantastic to watch.

2:45 am – IVANHOE (MGM, 1952): Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor & Joan Fontaine. Robert Taylor stars in the title role in Sir Walter Scott’s novel about a noble knight torn between two women. Taylor shines as Rebecca.

March 15 

8:00 pm – BUTTERFIELD 8 (MGM, 1960): Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey. This movie is about call girl Taylor’s affair with a married man. It’s hard to believe that Liz got the Oscar for this. This is a bad movie, but Liz is fun to watch.

March 16

4:45 pm – ELIZABETH TAYLOR: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT (ABC, 1975): Documentary about the life and films of the late star. Documentaries such as these are always good viewing.

8:00 pm – SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (MGM, 1958): Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift. Hepburn is a rich widow who wants Clift to perform a lobotomy on niece Taylor to hide a family secret. A bad film that never fails to entertain, especially with Liz in that white bathing suit.

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