HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This violet-eyed massively-cleavaged dramatic actress intensed her way to royal status in the '60s with such important films as Cleopatra and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but it was her passionate diamond-studded romance with actor Richard Burton that made her perhaps the decade's most-photographed, most-publicized woman.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Movie Star and TV Star
BIRTH: Elizabeth was born in '32, making her 28 as the '60s began. Her exotic birthplace: London, England.
IMPACT: Madonna says of Elizabeth Taylor: "She takes my breath away." Like Marilyn Monroe, Liz couldn't cough without the international papers printing a picture or writing a story about it during the '60s. She was to the decade what Lady Di was to the '90s: photogenic royalty. In June '99 the American Film Institute released its distinguished list of the "50 Greatest Screen Legends," Liz was number seven among the actresses, sandwiched between #6 Marilyn and #8 Judy Garland, with Katharine Hepburn as #1 (Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren also made the list). And how's this for impact: Mattel has made a doll with costumes styled to look like her, including the latest one where she wears the famous Edith Head gown that Liz wore to the Oscars in '70 complete with a replica of the massive 69-carat diamond that Richard Burton bought for her.
CAREER IN THE '60s: Liz started the decade with a bang: Butterfield 8 in '60, a movie she didn't want to do but was contractually obligated to make, brought her an Oscar. Cleopatra in '63 brought her international attention and Richard Burton. After the disappointing The Sandpiper in '65, she roared back with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in '66, scooping up another Oscar. Taming of the Shrew in '67 was her last big movie of the decade. She also made guest appearances on TV shows, including "The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show" in '66 and "Here's Lucy" in '68. However, her terrific early momentum started to taper off in '68, thus she made no movies in '69. Not that she enjoyed everything about movies -- here's what she said about her craft: "How boring moviemaking is ... you work for one minute and then sit around for three hours."
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Her long film career began with 29 films in the '40s and '50s. Her first was at seven years old with the "Alfalfa" actor in the B-movie "There's One Born Every Minute." At twelve years old she made National Velvet, her breakthrough role; she had wanted that role so badly that she had two teeth pulled to accommodate the braces she would have to wear in the movie. She quickly matured and at fifteen was dubbed "the most beautiful woman in America" by Hedda Hopper. MGM, her studio at this time, arranged everything for her throughout her adolescence, including her first "boyfriend" -- football hero Glenn Davis -- and a staged high school graduation with fake classmates and a fake diploma. Her next big role was Giant in '56 with the doomed Dean, then a series of intense movies, especially Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, the biggest box office success of '58. Her post-'60s films commanded attention but not much respect from audiences or critics, and she ended up doing a lot of TV and documentaries as her film roles dwindled. Her best roles in the '80s and '90s probably came in commercials for her perfumes, Passion and White Diamonds, which have probably made her more money than all her movies. On December 3rd of '93 she spoke Maggie's first word -- "Daddy" -- on "The Simpsons."
TALENT: She got three Oscar nominations for three '50s films -- Raintree County in '57, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in '58, Suddenly, Last Summer in '59 -- and two Oscar wins in the '60s -- for Butterfield 8, a movie she's said to have hated, and Virginia Woolf. She admitted that her Oscar win for Butterfield 8 resulted from her much-publicized hospitalization before the ceremony: "I won the Oscar because I almost died -- pure and simple." Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman once said about her: "Elizabeth Taylor was famous, at least in legend, for never reading an entire script, just her own lines. No one's had a more fabulous career, maybe she knew something the rest of us didn't." She received an honorary Oscar in '93. In early 2000 the Queen bestowed the prestigious title Dame upon her, a title that's the female equivalent of "Sir" and a title that's also held by Diana Rigg. She officially received the title on May 16, 2000, saying, "This is the highest, the peak of my life. I'm so thrilled." Also that month she received a British Film Institute fellowship, a celebration of her career was staged at the Royal Albert Hall, and an exhibition about her opened at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
HER '60s LOOK: She was perhaps the world's greatest beauty at the start of the decade, and an early advocate for serious tanning. In "Doonesbury" she was described as having "violet eyes to die for." Unfortunately, she'd become a bloated alcohol-ravaged harpie for Virginia Woolf in '66, which was both great acting and a sad foreshadowing of what the '70s and '80s held in store for her. Even by the end of the '60s she was losing her legendary charms, though to her credit she would repeatedly bounce back with dramatic new looks. But at her peak, here's how sexy she was in her prime: in January '99 Playboy published its list of the "100 Sexiest Stars of the Century," and La Liz came in at #7, sandwiched between Sophia Loren and Pamela Anderson (two dozen of our Swingin' Chicks of the '60s made that Playboy list, by the way, including Marilyn Monroe at #1, Brigitte Bardot at #4, and Elke Sommer at #31). In '63's Movie Life Yearbook her stats were given as 5' 1" and 118 pounds, 37-25-36. Her mountainous chestal area was shown off to great effect in the early '60s. According to Richard Burton -- and he oughta know -- "her breasts would topple empires before they withered." Liz wore a $10,000 Halston gown to the '72 Oscars, at the time the most expensive dress ever worn to that event, plus she was decked out with the $1.5 million diamond she got from Burton; "A diamond," she once said, "is the only kind of ice that keeps a girl warm." She has owned some of the world's most expensive gems, thanks to Burton's generosity. However, in the '70s and '80s her tonnage zoomed past the 200 mark, inspiring John Belushi's classic chicken-eating parody on "Saturday Night Live." Of her image, she herself once said, "I hate to see myself on the screen, I hate the way I look, I hate the sound of my voice, I'm always thinking I should have played it better."
LIFESTYLE: She was the center-third of the legendary love triangle in '64 that led to her divorce from singer Eddie Fisher and her quick marriage to talented Welsh actor and tormented boozer Richard Burton. Here's her matrimonial chronology:
1. She wore the studio's wedding gown when she married her first husband, bad-boy Nicky Hilton, who was five years older; on their Queen Mary honeymoon he abandoned her and went off drinking and gambling, they separated within a few months
2. Her next marriage was to English actor Michael Wilding, he was 39, she was twenty; they had two kids, Michael and Christopher, then a divorce in '56
3. One day after the divorce, she married producer Mike Todd, the best man was Eddie Fisher and the matron of honor was Debbie Reynolds; she had a daughter with Todd named Liza; because she was sick, Liz wasn't on Todd's plane The Lucky Liz when it crashed in New Mexico and killed him
4. Six months later she took up with Fisher, who left wife Debbie in the scandal of the '50s; "Eddie and I are going to honeymoon for forty years," she said after the wedding; unfortunately, the notoriety led to cancelled contracts for him and basically ruined his career; on the same day Eddie and Debbie were divorced, Eddie and Liz got married, on their honeymoon in Europe she got a telegram inviting her to star in Cleopatra in '60
5. She and Burton began le scandale, as she called it, when they started filming Cleopatra scenes together in Italy in '62; supposedly when she first met Burton on the set of Cleopatra, he showed up for the day's shooting with a hangover, and when she administered some much-needed coffee, an instant rapport was established and things took off quickly from there; "she was the most sullen, uncommunicative, and beautiful woman I had ever seen," he once said of her; the director, Joseph Mankiewicz, said that the love scenes in Cleopatra were so intense he felt like a stranger on his own set; Liz and Dick quickly paired up off the set, even though her husband, Eddie Fisher, was there working on the film too; as the Liz-Dick affair gained momentum, the Vatican published a statement denouncing her "erotic vagrancy"; Liz herself said "it was probably the most chaotic time of my life ... it was fun and it was dark -- oceans of tears, but there were some good times, too"; when she and Dick married on March 15, 1964, she pronounced "this marriage will last forever"; however, when they travelled they reportedly rented the rooms above and below their own so nobody could hear their fights; drinking, brawling and affairs led to several separations and a divorce on June 26th of '74
6. In '75 Burton won her back, they married in Botswana on October 10th, and Liz proclaimed "We are stuck together like chicken feathers to tar for lovely always"; they divorced four months later; sadly, she was barred by Burton's current wife from his funeral when he finally died in '84
7. Later marriages: to politician John Warner '76-'82, he called her "my little heifer" ...
8. ... then to construction worker Larry Fortensky '89-'96, she met him in group therapy
In addition to her eight husbands, in the '60s she's alleged to have had affairs with Frank, Peter Lawford, Victor Mature, George Hamilton, and possibly a Kennedy. Of the many rumors and books about her, she said "I haven't read any of the autobiographies about me." According to Time magazine, which named her one of the century's twenty most beautiful stars in the June 14, 1999 issue, "Today she says Richard Burton was 'one of the two great loves of my life,' the other was Mike Todd, but most of her friends know that Burton was the man she fought hardest to keep, and the man she would have probably tried to win back again had he lived." Of her many relationships and husbands, she said "What do you expect me to do? Sleep alone?"
EXTRAS: Her father was an art dealer, her mother a Broadway actress ... for Cleo she was the world's highest-paid actress, the first to earn $1 million per picture, plus she got 10% of the gross, $3K a week for living expenses, and Eddie got $1.5K a week ... for all its hype and expense -- $44 million in '63, three times the cost of Ben-Hur, which was at the time the second-most expensive film -- Cleopatra is regarded as one of the biggest flops ever ... during the filming she caught double pneumonia, had an emergency tracheotomy, and at one point was pronounced dead ... the first time Liz saw the film on the big screen, she rushed home and threw up ... she was featured in Playboy, January '63 ... when Charles Manson was picked up after the murder of Sharon Tate in '69, he had a list of Hollywood celebs he wanted to kill, among them were Liz and Dick, Steve McQueen, Frank, and Tom Jones ... she was the first celebrity to acknowledge a stay in the Betty Ford Clinic ... she's suffered repeated illnesses and injuries throughout her life, here's a partial list: back injury when she fell off a horse in '44, emergency tracheotomy in '61, rehab at Betty Ford Clinic in '83 and '88, respiratory problems in '90, a hip replacement and two more hip surgeries since '95, an irregular heartbeat in '96, a benign brain tumor and mild seizure in '97, a back injury from a fall at her house in '98, a back injury from a fall in her house in summer '99, a severely broken ankle, and at least three-dozen surgeries overall ... she was back in the hospital in August of 2000 with pneumonia, but everybody is optimistic that she whipped it and will be fine ... she claims that the only cosmetic surgery she ever had was a minor tuck on her chin ... to her credit she was an early and major AIDS fundraiser ... close friends with actor Rock Hudson, Liz and Rock helped each other put their hand and footprints into the wet cement in front of Hollywood's Chinese Theatre ... Rock once said about her: "Elizabeth Taylor likes men around her; even if it's just one and even if it's platonic. I don't think she has many girlfriends. She's a romantic, and with men around, she can have the illusion that it's romantic, but without the hassles" ... "I've been through it all," she once said, "I'm Mother Courage" ... her full name, including her middle name and all her husbands, is Elizabeth Rosemond Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky.