Remembering The Screen Icon Of The 20th Century – Elizabeth Taylor

England lost many of its early actors to Hollywood. The likes of Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Charles Laughton and Cary Grant and many others all found more scope and richer pastures in Hollywood. British actresses have also supplied Hollywood with an abundance of talent, notably Deborah Kerr and Vivien Leigh. But the most acclaimed and the best loved of all female performers to have left the shores of Britain was Elizabeth Taylor.

Unlike many of her peers and fellow actors, Elizabeth left England not for glory and greener pastures but a necessity born of circumstances. World War Two saw the evacuation of many children from London and the south of England to the north of England and safer havens of rural backwaters, but Taylor’s family travelled west to the United States.

In 1942, when the world war was in full swing, ten-year old Elizabeth Taylor was making her first movie. A year later came a break that would propel the young actresses into one of the most enduring careers in the history of Hollywood. That film was the innocently titled ‘Lassie Come Home’, in which she starred opposite another budding child actor, Roddy McDowall. With this film, Taylor made a great impression on the studio bosses of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She was immediately engaged to act in a film that would put her on the road to stardom. The film was ‘National Velvet’, the story of a young girl who wins a horse in a village lottery and determines to enter it in the Grand National steeplechase. Her elder sister was played by a fellow Londoner, Angela Lansbury.

By the early 1950s, Taylor had made the transition from a child actor to an adult movie star. She established herself as a major movie star in ‘Raintree County’, opposite Montgomery Clift and received her first Academy Award nomination. Later under director George Sanders she made the film, ‘A Place in the Sun’ and was recognised as a major acting force in Hollywood. Six years later, she starred in the epic, ‘Cleopatra’. Although, the film was not received well by the critics, it did fetch Elizabeth a tidy sum. Also, it introduced her to Richard Burton, her future husband. In fact, Elizabeth and Richard married twice and also divorced each other twice. They were the leading socialites and talk of the town for many years.

This pair of Elizabeth and Richard Burton were the leading pair of ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf’? It was an acclaimed film and Taylor won one of the film’s five Academy Awards, while Richard Burton lost out to Paul Scofield’s portrayal of Sir Thomas More in ‘A Man For All Seasons’.

Elizabeth Taylor was married and divorced many times. Among her more famous husbands were actor Michael Wilding (The World of Suzie Wong) to whom she was married from 1952 to 1957, and producer Michael Todd (Around The World In 80 Days) who was killed when his aircraft ‘The Lucky Liz’ was lost on a flight bound for New York in 1958, the same year that ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’, staring his wife Elizabeth Taylor was released. The 1970s saw Elizabeth turn to Broadway and West End, and a reunion on stage with Burton in a revival of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’.

Elizabeth Taylor is probably the only star whose entire life both, on and off the screen, has become an icon. Movie audiences watched her grow up – she was a spirited child star in ‘Lassie Come Home’ and ‘National Velvet’, a ravishingly beautiful young woman in ‘Father Of The Bride’, ‘A Place In The Sun’ and ‘Ivanhoe’. Then as a developing screen personality in ‘Giant’, ‘Raintree County’ and finally as an acclaimed actress with an Academy Award – ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’, ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and ‘Butterfield 8’.

Born in Hampstead, London, on February 27, 1932, she was on Hollywood screen by 1942 in ‘There’s One Born Every Minute’. Her child stardom reached its zenith galloping to victory in ‘National Velvet’, she passed quickly through her awkward adolescent years in films like ‘Cynthia’ and ‘A Date with Judy’, and began to look lovely indeed as Spencer Tracy’s daughter in ‘Father Of The Bride’.  She was certainly beautiful enough to give murderous ideas to Montgomery Clift in the film ‘A Place In The Sun’ and was ravishing and desirable enough as Rebecca in ‘Ivanhoe’. She was considered a serious actress when she completed ‘Giant’ with James Dean. Her films with her then husband Richard Burton like ‘Virginia Woolf’ and ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ were generally of interest for biographical if not cinematic reasons.

Elizabeth met her eighth and last husband, Larry Fortensky at a clinic which both had entered in 1991 for various problems. The marriage ended in 1996. Larry was a construction worker, at least till the time he married Elizabeth. Subsequently, she never remarried.

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor died on March 23, 2011 after a brief illness. But despite her career taking what many may see as something of a downward turn in the 1980s, Taylor had achieved a status which is envied by many and matched by few. From child star to screen idol to enduring film icon, hers is one of the classic cinematic careers, and one which has been admired and enjoyed from both within and without the industry that owes her such a very, very great deal.

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