Hollywood’s Golden Age sadly came to a close last week with the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, one of the greatest actresses, movie stars, and celebrities of all time. Long before the paparazzi, celebrity fragrances, jewelry, and million dollar movies, there was Elizabeth Taylor. A classic beauty – voluptuous, vibrant, and entirely mesmerizing with those velvet eyes. In a career that lasted more than 70 years, with over 50 films, and a handful of stage appearances, Taylor set the standard for everything a Hollywood celebrity was supposed to be – abundantly talented and charismatic, classy and elegant, controversial, benevolent and kind.
Born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor in Hampstead Garden, a northwestern suburb of London on February 27, 1932, the young starlet began taking ballet lessons at the age of 3. Shortly before World War II, her parents decided to move her and her brother (Howard) to Los Angeles, where her father opened a prestigious art gallery with many exclusive paintings from England that would attract the attention of the Hollywood elite. The social circles helped earn Elizabeth a screen test for Gone with the Wind as Scarlett’s child, Bonnie Blue. And immediately afterward, she was signed by Universal, making her very first on screen appearance in There’s One Born Every Minute.
Upon the film’s debut, however, she was released from her contract. And a frustrated casting director, Dan Kelly, was once quoted as saying: “The kid has nothing!”
So, Taylor left Universal and went to cross town rival, MGM, who promptly picked her up and cast her in Lassie Come Home (1943), alongside Roddy McDowall and Donald Crisp. The film was a moderate success and would lead to more supporting roles in Jane Eyre (1944) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). But it wasn’t until her heartwarming and spirited performance as Velvet Brown, the horseback riding heroine in National Velvet, that audiences began to take notice. She co-starred with Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, and another newcomer, Angela Lansbury. And just like that, at 12 years old, she had the world on a string.
As Taylor matured through adolescence, she would tackle both teenage and adult roles with an innate sensibility and sensuality that transcended the celluloid. Her passion and versatility erased any and all doubts that she was merely a glamorous leading lady without substance. Over the years, she shared the screen with Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950), Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951), Rock Hudson and James Dean in Giant (1956), and Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).
In 1960, opposite her then husband Eddie Fisher, she played a Manhattan call girl in BUtterfield 8 and earned her first Academy Award. Then, she left Fisher and built an on screen/off screen relationship with highly regarded classically trained actor, Richard Burton, starring in such films as Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which would earn her a second Academy Award.
One of the most highly publicized actresses of any generation, Taylor’s private life would include eight marriages, several life threatening illnesses, and many years as a social activist championing the cause of AIDS awareness, research, and cure. After best friend Rock Hudson’s death in 1985, she committed her life to fighting AIDS as a co-founder of amfAR and founder of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. And for her efforts, in 1992, she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Said Taylor, “I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being — to prove that we are a human race, to prove that our love outweighs our need to hate, that our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame.”
Always the epitome of grace, Elizabeth Taylor passed away quietly on March 23rd after complications from congestive heart failure at the age of 79. And with her passing, brought an end to one of the greatest eras in Hollywood history.
-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”
Paul Newman’s Tribute (Turner Movie Classics):
Broadway dims the lights in NYC (March 25th)