Elizabeth Taylor: Screen goddess who defined an era

Last Updated: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 09:51

Los Angeles: She was a legendary beauty of Hollywood, an actress who grew from an irresistible child star to the ultimate doyen of the screen world, a woman who epitomised perhaps more than any other in the golden age of Hollywood in the decades after World War II.

A double Oscar-winner Taylor, who died in Los Angeles at the age of 79, she was almost as famous for her private life as for her professional career. She was married eight times, including twice to actor Richard Burton. Their tumultuous romance was one of the most storied relationships in the history of show business.

In her later years Taylor became increasingly reclusive, though she always remained an outspoken activist for AIDS victims and a strong supporter of Michael Jackson - even when the pop star was faced child sex charges.

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in 1932 in the wealthy London district of Hampstead. Her father was an American art dealer and her mother was a former actress, and the family moved to Los Angeles in 1939 to avoid the hostilities of World War II.

Thanks to her mother`s indefatigable efforts she got her first movie contract in 1941 after executives at Universal Pictures were wowed by her beauty.

According to the 1996 biography, Elizabeth, her greatest asset as a child star was a genetic mutation that caused her to be born with a double set of eyelashes. The result was a face that the cameras loved - and would go on loving for decades. "Who has double eyelashes except a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?" her child co-star and lifelong friend Roddy McDowall put it.

Taylor starred in several unremarkable films as a young teen, but it was her captivating performance in 1944`s "National Velvet" that propelled her to world stardom as a girl who trains and rides her horse to victory in the Grand National. Her role in the film also had a negative legacy. Taylor was plagued by back problems her whole life after falling from a horse during filming.

Taylor enjoyed a string of moderate successes as an adolescent star until 1949, when as a 16-year-old she played a 21-year-old social debutante in the flop "Conspirator". She was now earning over $2,000 a week but it was only in 1950 that she enjoyed her first success in an adult role when she starred with Spencer Tracy in the romantic comedy "Father of the Bride".

A year later she showed the world that she wasn`t just a pretty face, starring in the acclaimed film "A Place In The Sun" as a spoiled socialite.

She still found it hard to attract Oscar-worthy roles until a trio of nominations in the late 1950`s for films like "Raintree County", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Suddenly Last Summer". She failed to win but her enhanced reputation helped her make history in "Cleopatra" in 1960 when she was the first actor or actress to earn $1 million on a film. It was also on the Rome set of "Cleopatra" that she met and fell in love with Richard Burton - sparking a huge scandal and a condemnation from the Vatican since both were married at the time.

The high point of her acting career came with her two Oscar wins for "Butterfield 8" in 1960 and "Who`s Afraid of Virginia Woolf", in 1966 in which she co-starred with Burton. Their relationship was tumultuous, but of all her seven husbands it was her love for Burton that was the defining romance of her life, as revealed in their love letters.

Their first marriage lasted from 1962 to 1974. They remarried again a year later before breaking up in July 1976.

"From those first moments in Rome we were always madly and powerfully in love," Taylor said. "We had more time, but not enough."

IANS



First Published: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 09:51

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