Studio publicity portrait of Elizabeth Taylor in 1955.
Studio publicity portrait of Elizabeth Taylor in 1955.

Famous Birthdays this week: Elizabeth Taylor

27/02/1932 - 23/03/2011 (died aged 79).

"I've only slept with men I've been married to. How many women can make that claim?”

1932: Dame Elizabeth Rosemond "Liz" Taylor, DBE (Dame of the British Empire) was a British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian. She was born at Heathwood, her family's home in London. She received dual British-American citizenship at birth, as her parents, art dealer Francis Lenn Taylor and retired stage actress Sara Sothern were United States citizens, both originally from Arkansas City, Kansas. They moved to London in 1929, and opened an art gallery on Bond Street; their first child, a son named Howard, was born the same year.

1939: The Taylors decided to return to the United States due to the increasingly tense political situation in Europe. Sara and the children left first in April 1939, and moved in with Taylor's maternal grandfather in Pasadena, California. Francis stayed behind to close the London gallery, and joined them in December.

1940: Taylor's father opened a new gallery in Los Angeles, and after briefly living in Pacific Palisades, the family settled in Beverly Hills, where Taylor and her brother were enrolled in Hawthorne School.

1940's: Taylor auditioned for both Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer early 1941. Both studios offered Taylor contracts, and Sara Taylor chose to accept Universal's offer. She began her contract in April 1941, and was cast in a small role in There's One Born Every Minute in 1942. She did not receive other roles, and her contract was terminated after a year. Taylor received another opportunity in late 1942, when her father's acquaintance, MGM producer Samuel Marx, arranged her to audition for a minor role requiring an actress with an English accent in Lassie Come Home in 1943. After a trial contract of three months, she was given a standard seven-year contract in January 1943. Following Lassie, she appeared in minor uncredited roles in two other films set in England - Jane Eyre and The White Cliffs of Dover in 1944.

1944: Taylor was cast in her first starring role at the age of 12, when she was chosen to play a girl who wants to compete in the exclusively male Grand National in National Velvet. She later called it "the most exciting film" of her career. Taylor struggled with health problems for most of her life as she was born with scoliosis and broke her back while filming National Velvet. The fracture went undetected for several years, although it caused her chronic back problems.

1946: Following the success of National Velvet, MGM gave Taylor a new seven-year contract with a weekly salary of $750, and cast her in a minor role in the third film of the Lassie series, Courage of Lassie.

1947: When Taylor turned 15 in this year, MGM began to cultivate a more mature public image for her by organising photo shoots and interviews which portrayed her as a "normal" teenager attending parties and going on dates. Film magazines and gossip columnists also began comparing her to older actresses such as Ava Gardner and Lana Turner.

1950: Taylor made the transition to adult roles in 1950, the year she turned 18. Her first mature role was playing a woman who begins to suspect that her husband is a Soviet spy in the thriller Conspirator (1949). Taylor's second film of 1950 was the comedy The Big Hangover, co-starring Van Johnson. It was released in May, and the same month, Taylor married hotel-chain heir Conrad Hilton, Jr., in a highly publicized ceremony. The event was organised by MGM, and used as part of the publicity campaign for Taylor's next film, Vincente Minnelli's comedy Father of the Bride, in which she appeared opposite Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett as a bride preparing for her wedding.

1956: She underwent an operation in which some of her spinal discs were removed and replaced with donated bone.

1961: Taylor was prone to illnesses and injuries, which often necessitated surgery. She survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia that required a tracheotomy.

A photo of Elizabeth Taylor from the film Cleopatra, in 1963.
A photo of Elizabeth Taylor from the film Cleopatra, in 1963.

1963: After completing her MGM contract, Taylor starred in 20th Century-Fox's Cleopatra - a historical epic which, according to film historian Alexander Doty, made her more famous than ever before. She became the first actress to be paid $1 million for a role; Fox also granted her 10% of the film's profits, as well as shooting the film in Todd-AO, a widescreen format for which she had inherited the rights from Mike Todd. The film's production - characterised by costly sets and costumes, constant delays, and a scandal caused by Taylor's extramarital affair with her co-star Richard Burton - was closely followed by the media, with Life proclaiming it the "Most Talked About Movie Ever Made". Dubbed "Liz and Dick" by the media, Taylor and Burton starred together in 11 films, and led a jet set lifestyle, spending millions on furs, diamonds, paintings, designer clothes, travel, food, alcohol, a yacht, and a jet.

1964: Taylor intended on following Cleopatra by headlining an all-star cast in Fox's black comedy What a Way to Go! but negotiations fell through, and Shirley MacLaine was cast, instead.

1965: Taylor and Burton's first joint project following her hiatus was Vincente Minelli's romantic drama The Sandpiper, about an illicit love affair between a bohemian artist and a married clergyman in the Big Sur. Its reviews were largely negative, but it grossed a successful $14 million in the box office. Their next project, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, featured the most critically acclaimed performance of Taylor's career. She and Burton starred as Martha and George, a middle-aged couple going through a marital crisis. To convincingly play 50-year-old Martha, Taylor gained weight, wore a wig, and used make-up to make herself look old and tired - in stark contrast to her public image as a glamorous film star.

Taylor and her co-star and husband, Richard Burton in The Sandpiper, 1965.
Taylor and her co-star and husband, Richard Burton in The Sandpiper, 1965.

1970's: Taylor's third film with George Stevens, The Only Game in Town, in which she played a Las Vegas showgirl who has an affair with a compulsive gambler, played by Warren Beatty, was unsuccessful. The three films in which Taylor acted in 1972 were somewhat more successful. Zee and Co., which portrayed Michael Caine and her as a troubled married couple, won her the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress. She then appeared with Burton in the Dylan Thomas adaptation Under Milk Wood; although her role was small, its producers decided to give her top-billing to profit from her fame.

1983: She was addicted to alcohol and prescription medications. She was treated at the Betty Ford Center for seven weeks from the December to January 1984, becoming the first celebrity to openly admit herself to the clinic.

1980's: Taylor acted mostly in television productions. She appeared as evil socialite Helena Cassadine in the day-time soap opera General Hospital in November 1981.[She made cameos in the soap operas Hotel and All My Children in 1984, and played a brothel keeper in the historical mini-series North and South in 1985. She also starred in several television films, playing gossip columnist Louella Parsons in Malice in Wonderland in 1985. During this time, she also began receiving honorary awards for her career - the Cecil B. DeMille Award and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Chaplin Award in 1986.

1990's: Her few acting roles included characters in the animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers in 1992 and The Simpsons in 1992, 1993, and cameos in four CBS series - The Nanny, Can't Hurry Love, Murphy Brown, and High Society - in one night in February 1996 to promote her new fragrance. In 2000, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II. After supporting roles in the television film These Old Broads in 2001 and in the animated sitcom God, the Devil and Bob in 2001, Taylor announced that she was retiring from acting to devote her time to philanthropy.

1997: She received a Lifetime of Glamour Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). After her death, her jewellery and fashion collections were auctioned by Christie's to benefit her AIDS foundation, ETAF. The jewellery sold for a record-breaking sum of $156.8 million, and the clothes and accessories for a further $5.5 million.

1999: The American Film Institute named her the seventh-greatest female screen legend.

2004: She was using a wheelchair due to her back problems, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in this year.

2005: Taylor founded a jewellery company, House of Taylor, in collaboration with Kathy Ireland and Jack and Monty Abramov.

2007: She gave one last public performance, when James Earl Jones and she performed the play Love Letters at an AIDS benefit at the Paramount Studios.

2011: After many years of ill health, Elizabeth Taylor died at age 79 of congestive heart failure at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her funeral took place the following day at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

FRAGRANCES:

Taylor was the first celebrity to create her own collection of fragrances. In collaboration with Elizabeth Arden, Inc., she began by launching two best-selling perfumes - Passion in 1987, and White Diamonds in 1991. Taylor personally supervised the creation and production of each of the 11 fragrances marketed in her name. According to biographers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, she earned more money through the fragrance collection than during her entire acting career, and upon her death, the British newspaper The Guardian estimated that majority of her estimated $600 million-$1 billion estate consisted of revenue from fragrances.

MARRIAGES:

Elizabeth Taylor was mother to four children and had seven spouses but married eight times. Spouse(s): Conrad Hilton Jr. (m. 1950; div. 1951); Michael Wilding (m. 1952; div. 1957); Mike Todd (m. 1957; d. 1958); Eddie Fisher (m. 1959; div. 1964); Richard Burton; (m. 1964; div. 1974) & (m. 1975; div. 1976); John Warner (m. 1976; div. 1982); Larry Fortensky (m. 1991; div. 1996).

PHILANTHROPIC WORK:

Taylor was one of the first celebrities to participate in HIV/AIDS activism, helping to raise more than $270 million for the cause. She began her philanthropic work in 1984, after becoming frustrated with the disease being widely discussed, but very little being done about it. She was honoured with several awards for achievements, including: Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1987, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, the Screen Actors' Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanitarian service in 1997, the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2000, and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. Taylor is considered a gay icon, and received widespread recognition for her HIV/AIDS activism.

INTERESTING FACT:

Taylor's eyes were blue to the extent of appearing violet, and were rimmed by dark double eyelashes, caused by a genetic mutation.


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