Nationality: British. Born: Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor in London of American parents, 27 February 1932. Education: Attended the Hawthorne School, Beverly Hills, California; MGM studio school; University High School, Hollywood, graduated 1950. Family: Married 1) Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, Jr., 1950 (divorced 1951); 2) the actor Michael Wilding, 1952 (divorced 1957), sons: Michael and Christopher; 3) the producer Michael Todd, 1957 (died 1958), daughter: Elizabeth Frances; 4) the singer Eddie Fisher, 1959 (divorced 1964); 5) the actor Richard Burton, 1964 (divorced 1974; remarried 1975, divorced 1976), adopted daughter: Maria; 6) the politician John Warner, 1976 (divorced); 7) Larry Fortensky, 1991 (divorced, 1996). Career: Evacuated to California at outbreak of World War II; 1942—film debut as child in There's One Born Every Minute ; 1943—contract with MGM: series of successful films as child, adolescent, and adult over the next ten years; 1981—on Broadway in The Little Foxes ; 1985-present—founder and National Chairman of American Foundation for AIDS Research; in TV mini-series North and South ; 1987—launched own perfume line. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award for Butterfield 8 , 1960; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress, New York Film Critics, and Best Actress, British Academy, for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , 1966; Best Actress, Berlin Festival, for Hammersmith Is Out , 1972; French Légion d'honneur, 1987; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1993; Dame of British Empire, 2000. Agent: Chén Sam, 506 E 74th Street, New York, NY 10021, U.S.A.
There's One Born Every Minute (Young) (as Gloria)
Lassie Come Home (Wilcox) (as Priscilla)
Jane Eyre (Stevenson) (as Helen Burns); The White Cliffs of Dover (Brown) (as Betsy, age 10); National Velvet (Brown) (as Velvet Brown)
Courage of Lassie (Wilcox) (as Kathie Merrick)
Cynthia (Leonard) (title role); Life with Father (Curtiz) (as Mary Skinner)
A Date with Judy (Thorpe) (as Carol Foster); Julia Misbehaves (Conway) (as Susan Packett)
Little Women (LeRoy) (as Amy)
Conspirator (Saville) (as Melinda Greyton); The Big Hangover (Krasna) (as Mary Belney); Father of the Bride (Minnelli) (as Kay Banks)
Father's Little Dividend (Minnelli) (as Kay Dunston); A Place in the Sun (Stevens) (as Angela Vickers); Quo Vadis (LeRoy) (cameo role); Callaway Went Thataway (Panama) (as herself)
Love Is Better Than Ever (Donen) (as Anastacia Macaboy); Ivanhoe (Thorpe) (as Rebecca)
The Girl Who Had Everything (Thorpe) (as Jean Latimer)
Rhapsody (Charles Vidor) (as Louise Durant); Elephant Walk (Dieterle) (as Ruth Wiley); Beau Brummel (Bernhardt) (as Lady Patricia); The Last Time I Saw Paris (Richard Brooks) (as Helen Ellswirth)
Giant (Stevens) (as Leslie Lynnton Benedict)
Raintree County (Dmytryk) (as Susanna Drake)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks) (as Maggie Pollitt)
Suddenly, Last Summer (Mankiewicz) (as Catherine Holly)
Scent of Mystery (Cardiff) (as Sally Kennedy); Butterfield 8 (Daniel Mann) (as Gloria Wandrous)
Cleopatra (Mankiewicz) (title role); The V.I.Ps (Asquith) (as Frances Andros)
The Sandpiper (Minnelli) (as Laura Reynolds)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols) (as Martha)
The Taming of the Shrew (Zeffirelli) (as Katharina, + pr); Reflections in a Golden Eye (Huston) (as Leonora Penderton); The Comedians (Glenville) (as Martha Pineda); Doctor Faustus (Burton) (as Helen of Troy)
Boom! (Losey) (as Flora "Sissy" Goforth); Secret Ceremony (Losey) (as Leonora)
The Only Game in Town (Stevens) (as Fran Walker)
X, Y, & Zee (Hutton) (as Zee Blakeley); Hammersmith Is Out (Ustinov) (as Jimmie Jean Jackson)
Under Milk Wood (Sinclair) (as Rosie Probert); Night Watch (Hutton) (as Ellen Wheeler); Divorce: His/Divorce: Hers (Hussein—for TV) (as Jane Reynolds); Ash Wednesday (Peerce) (as Barbara Sawyer)
That's Entertainment! (Haley—compilation) (as narrator)
The Driver's Seat ( Identikit ) (Patroni-Griffi) (as Lise)
The Blue Bird (Cukor) (as Mother/Witch/Light/Maternal Love)
A Little Night Music (Prince) (as Desiree Armfeldt); Victory at Entebbe (Chomsky—for TV) (as Edra Vilnosky); Winter Kills (Richert) (as Lola Comante)
Return Engagement (Hardy—for TV)
The Mirror Crack'd (Hamilton) (as Marina Rudd); Genocide (Schwartzman—doc) (as narrator)
Between Friends (Antonio—for TV) (as Deborah Shapiro)
Malice in Wonderland (Trikonis—for TV) (Louella Parsons)
There Must Be a Pony (Sargent—for TV) (as Marguerite Sydney)
Poker Alice (Seidelman—for TV) (as Alice Moffit)
Giovane Toscanini ( Young Toscanini ) (Zeffirelli) (as Nadina Bulicioff); Who Gets the Friends? (Lila Garrett—for TV)
Sweet Bird of Youth (Roeg—for TV)
The Flintstones (Levant) (as Pearl Slaghoople)
Happy Birthday Elizabeth: A Celebration of Life (Margolis—for TV) (as herself)
The Visit (Fasano)
Elizabeth Taylor—Her Own Story , New York, 1965.
Elizabeth Takes Off on Self-Esteem and Self-Image , New York, 1988.
Waterbury, Ruth, Elizabeth Taylor , New York, 1964.
Hirsch, Foster, Elizabeth Taylor , New York, 1973.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus , New York, 1973.
D'Arcy, Susan, The Films of Elizabeth Taylor , London, 1974.
Wallis, Hal, and Charles Higham, Starmaker , New York, 1980.
Kelley, Kitty, Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star , London, 1981.
Moore, Dick, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star , New York, 1984.
Wickens, Christopher, Elizabeth Taylor: A Biography in Photographs , New York, 1984.
Morley, Sheridan, Elizabeth Taylor: A Celebration , London, 1988.
Tani, Marianne Robin, The New Elizabeth , New York, 1988.
Walker, Alexander, Elizabeth , London, 1990.
Latham, Caroline, All about Elizabeth: Elizabeth Taylor, Public and Private , New York, 1991.
Heymann, C. David, Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor , New York, 1995.
Spoto, Donald, A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor , New York, 1995.
Horner, Matina S., Elizabeth Taylor—Actress/Activist , Broomall, 1999.
Branin, Larissa, Elizabeth Taylor: A Life in Pictures , New York, 1999.
Israel, Lee, "Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Taylor," in Esquire (New York), March 1967.
Essoe, Gabe, "Elizabeth Taylor," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1970.
Schickel, Richard, "Elizabeth Taylor" in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
McGilligan, P., "Letter from Hollywood—Elizabeth Taylor," in Films and Filming (London), January 1982.
Current Biography 1985 , New York, 1985.
Pendleton, Austin, "Elizabeth," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1986.
Bibby, Bruce, "Taylor Made," in Premiere (New York), Octo-ber 1992.
Spira, T., "What Happened When Elizabeth Taylor 'Slapps' Out and Fails," in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), March 1995.
Burchill, J., "Hype & Glory," in Vanity Fair , May 1995.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1995.
Diamond, Suzanne, "Who's Afraid of George and Martha's Parlour" Domestic F(r)ictions and the Stir-Crazy Gaze of Hollywood," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), October 1996.
Norman, Barry, "The Last Movie Star?" in Radio Times (London), 26 July 1997.
Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story , directed by Kevin Connor, 1995.
* * *
Elizabeth Taylor's star image always has overshadowed her capabilities as a performer. Public and media attention has fallen not on her achievements as an actress, but on the sensational aspects of her private life. Her passage from youth to maturity has been studded with highly publicized marriages and divorces and Lazarus-like recoveries from serious illness, all of which have sustained her reputation as one of the most celebrated products of Hollywood.
Interest in her acting skills has been further diverted by a widespread preoccupation with her appearance. When she was young, her lavender eyes and all-around beauty enthralled audiences and clouded the critical faculties of the press. Decades later, persistent weight problems attracted negative comment from all quarters. Few screen personalities have been so consistently evaluated in terms of physical criteria. Considerations of looks and celebrity aside, however, Taylor emerges as an actress of definite ability whose talents—despite several worthy screen roles in the 1950s and 1960s—have too often been exaggerated or underused.
In the early 1940s, child stars were major revenue earners at the box office. Taylor's uncommon beauty, even at the age of nine, had much to do with her being selected for stardom by MGM, but it was the warmth and freshness of her screen presence which ensured success. The luminous charm that she projected in her earliest films, especially National Velvet , struck a chord with the moviegoing public. Unlike many child actors, she made a smooth transition to adult parts, although the path was strewn with weak scripts and undemanding roles. MGM, to which she was under contract for 18 years, was apt to use her as decoration in frothy comedies or typecast her as a poor little rich girl. She received good notices for Minnelli's Father of the Bride , and provided solid evidence of acting talent in George Stevens's A Place in the Sun . Stevens, who acted as midwife to another memorable Taylor performance in Giant , induced her to display considerable emotional range and an unforgettable sensuality. Most of the films she made in the early 1950s, however, were lacking in distinction.
The years from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s represent the zenith of Taylor's career. During this period she created various portraits of women wrestling with adversity, usually of a psychological nature. As Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , she suffered intense emotional and sexual frustration at the hands of a morose, self-absorbed husband. In Raintree County and Suddenly, Last Summer , both Oscar-nominated performances, the battle was with the imminent threat of mental disintegration. As Katharina in Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew , she was a fury who vigorously warded off the role of obedient wife. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (for which she won her second Best Actress Oscar, after Butterfield 8 ), she was a raucous harridan using drink to anaesthetize life's disappointments and verbal aggression to provide the illusion of control.
Taylor has been at her best when playing brash, shrewish women. Few actresses have better demonstrated the power of sarcasm as a weapon against the male ego. After the mid-1960s, however, she seemed increasingly unable to make effective use of her abilities. Even as regal Cleopatra , she drew critical fire for being excessively shrill in voice. For many years, too much faith was placed in her drawing power at the box office, and too little thought given to the selection of appropriate parts. Since she never attempted a transition from leading lady to character actress, the onset of middle age accelerated the decline of her film career.
In response to the dearth of suitable movie roles, she has recently diversified into theater and television. Most of these ventures have done little more than capitalize on her star status. A notable exception was Between Friends , a television movie in which she and Carol Burnett help each other confront the problems of lonely middle-aged existence in a youth-oriented society. Taylor gives a sensitive, multi-dimensional performance, distinguished by its responsiveness to her fellow actors.
Yet public attention to this day remains directed towards Taylor the legend, rather than Taylor the actress. She continues to be the quintessential star, providing a focus for the fantasies of successive generations. In recent years she has experienced more frequent hospitalizations for hip replacement surgery and a brain tumor, yet she also has managed to be at the forefront of the movie industry's campaign to raise awareness of the devastation of AIDS.
—Fiona Valentine, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg