Closing Credits: Elizabeth Taylor
A Hollywood icon and a beacon of British film talent has died, Elizabeth Taylor aged seventy-nine was, and always will be, a legend of cinema across the globe.
Her face is iconic and her performances equally so, and there's her tireless charity campaigning, her love for life, and her marriage to the equally iconic Richard Burton. You could wonder if anyone has lived a fuller life than hers.
Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1932 in London, England and began her career really at the age of three when she, together with the rest of her class, danced at her school for members of the Royal family. It was in 1939 that the family moved to Hollywood.
The article in The Guardian suggests that her break in Hollywood was helped by the fact that her father ran an art gallery there which was patronised by those in the film industry, and they often received comments about how beautiful the young Taylor was.
That lead to her first screen outing aged a mere ten years old in There's One Born Every Minute in 1942, but it was Lassie Come Home the next year where she began to get noticed with Roddy McDowall leading, and aged eleven she was already headed for stardom. The Lassie films were a big thing in our household, although eventually banned for making the dog mad family cry too much, and I remember watching this one a few times.
Two more roles later in 1945 her mother took her to see the producer of National Velvet, the story of Velvet Brown, a young girl disguised as a boy to win the Grand National horse race, and auditioned her for the part. While the producer thought she wasn't right for the part her mother took her away for training and returned to convince him otherwise, a sign of the drive and determination in the family. She succeeded and it's seen as the real start of her career.
In 1949 when her career is said to have turned a road and she began to play more adult roles. She was just sixteen when she played a twenty-one year old in Conspirator and received critical acclaim for her performance, even if the film didn't do well at all.
The Guardian have an interesting story of her and Clift where she saved his life during the filming of Raintree County in 1957, pulling a tooth from his throat to stop him choking and the two years later using her star power to cast him, despite his drug problems, in the 1959 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play Suddenly, Last Summer.
Another memorable role around that time was Giant where she starred with her close friend Rock Hudson and James Dean, a strong line-up for her to be appearing in when she was so young, but she held her own and stood strong against these powerful actors.
In 1958 she starred in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, during which her husband Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash, a plane she was supposed to be on but didn't go as she had a flu virus. His death pushed her into seclusion for some time, but she returned, completed the film and gave a career defining performance alongside Paul Newman and Burl Ives.
She was nominated for an Oscar for leading actress for that role as well as the one just before, Raintree County, and the one right after, Suddenly, Last Summer. Three consecutive years of nominations and no win.
It was during the filming of Suddenly, Last Summer that she was offered the lead role of Cleopatra, to which she apparently joking asked for US $1 million and 10% gross. The studio agreed and she became the highest paid actress or actor for a single performance, to that point anyway, and she famously said:
"If someone's dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down."
Cleopatra was filming in London but it moved to a much warmer climate after Taylor became ill on set. Not just ill, she caught a cold which developed into a fever and progressed to lung congestion. She had to be given a tracheotomy to help her breathe before she went into a coma. She recovered and completed the film, and the production moved to accommodate her health.
It also saw the change of leads seeing Peter Finch as Julius Caesar and Stephen Boyd as Mark Antony replaced by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, and it was during the film that the chemistry between Taylor and Burton was noticed, it was electrifying.
Their off-set romance caused quite a stir as and the paparazzi were all over their affair, relationship and eventual marriage.
However after Cleopatra, which despite being recognised as an iconic role for her opened to mixed reviews, her career took a few stumbles as her private life overtook her performances and her appearances with her husband on film were far from great.
That is until they starred in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and delivered fantastic performances that earned both huge recognition for their powerful performances together. They appeared together in a number of other films, notably Franco Zeffirelli's version of The Taming of the Shrew in 1967, in The Comedians in 1967, from Graham Greene's novel, and another Tennessee Williams adaptation Boom in 1968.
John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye in 1967 continued to gain Taylor recognition, but when her marriage to Burton collapsed, twice, and she married John Warner and began campaigning on his political career, something that again took her from the limelight.
She briefly returned to the stage, film and television, but nothing compared to the performances she had already delivered, and with the death of Richard Burton and that of her friend Rock Hudson, she refocused her career and became a tireless campaigner for charity causes, particularly for AIDS.
She herself went through many health scares, including a brain tumour, and amazingly she fought through them all until yesterday.
Elizabeth Taylor will be greatly remembered through her charity work and her amazing films and iconic performances, and as always the thoughts of Filmstalker readers are with her family and friends.