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Elizabeth Taylor In the Movies : From A to Z

From a child star to a Hollywood legend, Elizabeth Taylor, stepped out from the screen to become a personality known the world over. Be it her many marriages or movie roles that netted her two Oscars to arguably being viewed as the most beautiful woman on the planet, there were probably very few corners on Earth that didn’t know her name or image during the height of her career and beyond.

My earliest memory of Miss Taylor I should think is the 1963 “disastrous” epic Cleopatra. It would regularly play on television in two parts on a station out of Buffalo, New York, at 4 PM in the afternoon following school. It was probably my Mother who told me that the little girl in Lassie Come Home grew up to become the Queen of Egypt. By the time I became an avid film buff her movie career was basically over aside from a few TV movies. That didn’t prevent the press and paparazzi from following her around the globe to the very end when she passed away in 2011 at the age of 79.

I’ve always had a tug of war within myself over her film career. I respect the fact that she is a “star” of the first order and won those two statuettes from the Academy. Her beauty on camera from about 1958 to 1964 very well may be unparalleled and she courageously helped lead the worldwide fight against AIDS, but … but … Ithinkshewasfartoooftenahammyactress. There I’ve said it as fast as I could type it.

Now on to some movie trivia and highlights about this Hollywood Goddess from A to Z.

A is for …. Ash Wednesday. Saw this eons ago on late night TV and the only reason at the time was because Henry Fonda was in it. Quickly realized this wasn’t a film a teenage boy was interested in. Should Liz take younger men into the bedroom now that she’s had a little cosmetic work done or stay true to Henry? Haven’t seen it since and don’t even have a copy around the movie room making it a rare title in my books.

B is for …. Burton.

They met on the set of Cleopatra when Richard Burton took over the role of Mark Antony from Stephen Boyd who dropped out. The rest is history. Though she married seven different men, Liz will always be connected to Burton when it comes to the classic love affairs of film history. Much like Hepburn and Tracy. For those who may not know, she actually married and divorced Burton twice. I recall before his death when the two were again working together in a stage play, my Mom was convinced they would make a third go of it. Alas it wasn’t meant to be as Burton’s hellraising years had finally caught up with him. He passed at the age of 58 in 1984 and looked a good 10 years older than that. I saw his final film, Nineteen Eighty Four, released posthumously at the local theater that same year.

C Is for …. Cleopatra.

Far too much has been written on the subject of this colossal undertaking of bringing the Queen of Egypt to life on screen for me to add anything enlightening. Liz was the perfect choice and maybe someday there will be a 6 hour version made available though it’s probably lost. For more on the production be sure to watch the feature length documentary that’s available as a bonus supplement on the DVD/blu ray release. If you like movie history it’s really a must see.

D is for …. Divorce His – Divorce Hers. Not only is this 1973 release Liz’s final pairing with Burton but it served as her first movie that was made for television where she’d find frequent employment towards the end of her career. I’ve never actually seen this one so if it’s any good let me know and I’ll go digging for a VHS tape I have boxed up in the garage.

E is for …. Eleven. Starting with Cleopatra in 1963, Liz made 10 more film with Richard Burton for a total of 11 pairings. The V.I.P.’s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Doctor Faustus (1967), The Comedians (1967), Boom (1968), Under Milk Wood (1971), Hammersmith is Out (1972), Divorce His – Divorce Hers (1973)

F is for …. The Flintstones. Liz made her final big screen appearance as Fred Flintstones mother-in-law. I can just hear old Fred saying, “I love my mother-in-law, I love my mother-in-law.” Not the most memorable way to go out I suppose for the screen beauty even if I think John Goodman was a great choice to play Fred complimented by Rick Moranis as Barney. It just didn’t translate to the live action film. I’ll just remain a purist and watch one of the old cartoons that I grew up on ….. “I love my mother-in-law”

G is for …. Giant.

Liz starred opposite Rock Hudson in this George Stevens epic of cattle, oil and Texas in what amounts to a modern day western. Surrounded by an outstanding cast of actors including Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman, Carroll Baker, Sal MIneo, Rod Taylor and Mercedes McCambridge, the film is probably best remembered for being James Dean’s final screen role before his untimely death  on September 30th, 1955 prior to the film’s release.

H is for …. Hutton. Director Brian G. Hutton scored his biggest hits with a pair of Clint Eastwood war films, Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare. The second of which starred Richard Burton. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that he would direct Liz in two films shortly thereafter. X, Y and Zee and a thriller I enjoyed very much titled Night Watch that plays like a Hammer Horror thriller. Check it out if you locate a copy.

I is for …. Identikit.

This rather bizarre 1974 feature is perhaps better known under the title The Driver’s Seat here in North America. The film was apparently barely released and received little fanfare. Liz’s co-star was Ian Bannen and further down the cast list was cult icon, Andy Warhol. It has turned up on a four pack of Liz titles in a DVD set released by Mill Creek if you’re looking to give it a try.

J is for …. John Huston. The legendary director was behind the camera for the film that teamed Liz with an actor on equal footing as she, Marlon Brando. The film? Reflections in a Golden Eye released in 1967. Liz plays Brando’s military wife and while she’s sleeping with Brian Keith on the side, Brando just might be eyeing up that young recruit, Robert Forster. Yeah it’s not really a film I’d have picked to star these two polarizing figures of cinema.

K is for …. Kay.

The movie character of Kay Banks/Dunstan represents the only one that Liz played twice. Thanks to the success of the Spencer Tracy favorite, Father of the Bride (1950), where Liz played Spence’s very grown up daughter, MGM ordered a sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951) that saw Spence becoming a grandfather thanks to Liz and her screen hubby in the two films, Don Taylor, welcoming a child of their own into the family.

L is for …. Lassie. Liz didn’t stop her screen affair with the famed Collie after her appearance in 1943’s Lassie Come Home playing second lead to Roddy McDowall. She’d get to call Lassie her very own in 1946’s heartwarming The Courage of Lassie. This was another of Liz’s early roles that was a staple of afternoon television when I was growing up and has always been a favorite that sees our favorite Collie leave Liz behind and go off to fight the war overseas. Thankfully a happy ending is in store for one and all. For more on the film, click here as it was previously featured as Brando’s Pick of the Month.

M is for …. Monty. Hear for yourself Liz’s feelings on the career of her dear friend Montgomery Clift. The tear in her voice gets to me every time.

N is for …. National Velvet. It only makes sense that Liz would end up co-starring in a movie with another MGM contract player who also happened to be one of the biggest box office draws in the business circa 1944. None other than Mickey Rooney. A wonderful family film with young Liz as a jockey in England’s Grand National Sweepstakes under the tutelage of The Mick. A winning film that played regularly on TV back in the 70’s and 80’s. Just a short 34 years later, Tatum O’Neal, starred in a sequel, International Velvet.

O is for …. Oscar.

Liz’s love affair with Oscar resulted in a total of five nominations for Best Actress. Her first three were for Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. None of which landed her the golden statuette. She did win for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She’d also be awarded a third Oscar as the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993.

P is for …. Paul. Somehow the history of cinema wouldn’t seem right if Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman had never shared the screen together. Two of the greatest stars of their generation and beyond. Thankfully they did in the 1958 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof where Liz memorably starred opposite Newman as Maggie the Cat.

Q is for …. Quo Vadis. According to Liz’s credits list she’s to be found in a cameo somewhere amongst the crowds and carnage presented in MGM’s epic of 1951. If you do spot her, then maybe you can go two for two and figure out which extra is a pre-famous, Sophia Loren, supposedly in here as well. Somewhere.

R is for …. Roddy.

Liz netted herself a life long friend when she met Roddy McDowall as a child actress and he a child actor when they co-starred in Lassie Come Home. I’ve attached this bit from the IMDB ….. Met his best friend Elizabeth Taylor on the Set of Lassie Come Home (1943), and their friendship lasted until his death in 1998. He said of her in an interview in 1996 “She was an eight year old perfection. Absolutely ravishingly beautiful. So beautiful in fact that I began to laugh. . .because that sort of, takes your breath away.” To mark the occasion of their working together again in Cleopatra (1963) in 1961, Elizabeth had a signet ring specially made for Roddy. It bore on it the mark of a Roman battle Pennant, with the single initial R engraved in the center of the flag. Roddy wore it every single day from the moment Elizabeth gave it to him; He even wore it when he worked and is seen always wearing it in his television and film roles after Cleopatra, from 1963 until the end of his life.

S is for …. Sandpiper.

I guess this film always stands out to me for one reason only. It just seemed odd to see Charles Bronson participating in one of the Liz and Dick pairings. And as a beach bum/sculptor no less under the direction of Vincente Minnelli! At least that’s the way I remember it. Been a long time. Only in the movies.

T is for …. Taylor.

No I don’t mean Liz either but rather leading man Robert Taylor. Hard to believe now but when the pair were matched in 1949’s Conspirator, Robert was 38 years old and Liz clocked in at just 17. Can’t see that working to well in today’s era. The film didn’t fare well at the box office but there next go around, Ivanhoe, released in 1952 was a bonafide smash hit.

U is for …. Under Milk Wood. The ninth of the eleven films starring Liz and Dick added another real life couple to the proceedings, Peter O’Toole and Sian Phillips. One of only four films directed by Andrew Sinclair. I can only make a small wager that he had his hands full trying to make a movie with Burton and O’Toole while at the same time hoping they stayed sober. Would you believe his next directing engagement was called Blue Blood starring supreme hell raiser Oliver Reed?

V is for … Virginia Woolf. I believe it’s fair to say that this Mike Nichols film is far and away the most critically acclaimed of the Liz and Dick pairings. Not a tough statement to make when many of them were panned by the critics. The fact that she scored her second Oscar backs that up and Burton again scored a nomination losing out to Paul Scofield for A Man of All Seasons. Burton was a seven time nominee but never landed the prize. Doesn’t seem fair looking back.

W is for …. William Powell.

Along with Spencer Tracy, William Powell, played Liz’s father in two films but unlike Spence they were totally unrelated. In the fondly remembered 1947 comedy, Life With Father, and six years later in the all but forgotten, The Girl Who Had Everything.

X, Y and Zee. I couldn’t resist using the one film to take up the final three letters of this spotlight. Released in 1972 X,Y and Zee was also known as Zee and Co. It co-starred Liz with Michael Caine and Susannah York in a love triangle. I guess Michael was the prize?

“Bloody hell! I even have the poster in the vault here at Mike’s Take. Guess I should watch the film sometime as it’s in here too.”

15 Comments »

  1. I think Miss Taylor was an actress of limited range, and with a weak voice. Other actresses, e.g. Gene Tierney and Dorothy Tutin, had help deepening their voices. One wonders why no-one apparently asked her to go to a voice coach. I have not seen: ‘Cleopatra’, as I find Hollywood’s treatment of history appallingly bad. ‘The Sandpiper’ is ludicrously bad, and it seems to me, that the character played by the overrated Burton must have been utterly without taste to choose the Taylor character over the superb Eva Marie Saint. I will not comment on the arty barnacles clinging to Dean’s and Clift’s work, but neither was strong enough to play opposite Miss Taylor. I suppose her best performance was the somewhat hysterical one she gave in: ‘Suddenly Last Summer’. Allowing for differences of taste in beauty, I think Gene Tierney and Merle Oberon – two of many – knocked Elizabeth Taylor into a cocked hat.

    • I guess it’s safe to say you’re not a fan. Thing is neither am I really but I respect the fact that she’s looked upon as a Hollywood legend. I think her off screen antics both good and bad played a large part in her being relative to the end. As for beauty’s I too have favorites that are not named Liz. Jean Simmons always comes to mind. I just try to have fun with movie history and settled on some Liz trivia this time around as I try to broaden my own knowledge of movies from the past.

      • Any discussion of Liz Taylor really ends up a discussion between the makings of a great movie star vs the makings of a great actress. These two categories can overlap, but it’s by no means a perfect Venn diagram, as Liz herself certainly illustrates.

        Her performances vary in quality, but a large swath of people couldn’t take their eyes off her, on screen or in real life. She was larger than life in an era that preferred their stars to be a step removed from the humdrum realities of daily life, as opposed to the faux relatability that is currently the fashion. In that specific function, she was a legend.

        • Very well put. She became the personality in spite of being an actress. Jet setting around the globe with Burton had a lot to do with that. Fodder for the paparazzi magazines in the supermarket before it became the norm in this crazy world today.

      • Jean Simmons was very beautiful, and a true actress. Have you seen her in: “Home Before Dark’? What a superb performance! The film is flawless, from the writing to the casting to the cinematography to the direction.

    • I have that one and like the cast gathered around Agatha Christie’s mystery. Like most of those that are brought to the screen as producer’s try to make them a star studded affair. Look no further than recent Branagh/Poirot Orient Express. Always a fave genre of mine, the murder mystery.

  2. I own I think every one of her films between 1950 and 1975. Ash Wednesday is one of my favorites, I have a copy dubbed from VHS, yes, it’s rare! The Driver’s Seat is another favortie and now it’s on Amazon Prime so if you’re a big fan of late period Liz, check it out. I love her! I am still hoping that Raintree County gets a bluray release someday!

  3. I’m not a big fan of La Liz. I didn’t even think she was that pretty (I find Ingrid Bergman much more attractive). Anyhow, she was what I call a “talented movie star.” I thought she was superb in a handful of films — Giant, Suddenly Last Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, etc. — but she isn’t among my favorite actors. Trivia: In Michael Caine’s autobio, he claims that Taylor was the only actor in the business that never forgot a line (she apparently had photographic memory). Favorite performance? Probably National Velvet… a beautifully naturalistic performance.

  4. I haven’t seen all that many of her films (although I did see ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ at the theater), but I did see ‘National Velvet’ at a charity screening and thought it was outstanding…by far my favorite of the one’s I’ve watched. And I’d be curious to see what you’d choose to fill the X-Y-Z letters if that film wasn’t an option!

    • It’s the X and Y that I’d have had to come up with as I would have went with the alternative title, Zee and Co. 🙂 I guess if I had to pick a fave with Liz I’d go with Lassie Come Home though she is a secondary character.

  5. I love Liz and always have but while she was a serious professional her real strength was that she was a Movie Star with incredible magnetism and that indefinable quality that drew the audience’s eye to her whatever the quality of the film, her performance and the cast around her. There was a mixture in her that wasn’t there in others. She was nothing if not endlessly glamorous, at least most of the time, but then so were many other classic stars but there was a relatable earthiness there that made her connection stronger. She was also a tough survivor, much like frenemy Debbie Reynolds, with an inner grit and once she became involved in AIDS activism a sense of purpose that drove her to remain visible.

    Having seen all her films I’d agree as an actress she was very variable.

    There were times she could be very good-Giant, Father of the Bride, A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, National Velvet, The Taming of the Shrew (a near perfect piece of casting) and even though I don’t like the film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

    Others where she is beautifully competent in roles that don’t really ask much of her-Elephant Walk, A Date with Judy, Ivanhoe, Rhapsody, The V.I.P.S and a few more.

    Some where only her beauty was a requirement, that was very much so during her ingenue period-Beau Brummel, Julia Misbehaves, Love is Better Than Ever and the like.

    Others were she is enjoyably hammy-Suddenly, Last Summer, Cleopatra, Raintree County, Little Women, Butterfield 8 (which to her credit she hated and found it absurd that she won the Oscar for), Night Watch and The Mirror Crack’d.

    And alas many films, particularly after leaving MGM, where her work was undisciplined and scattershot-Boom!, Secret Ceremony, X, Y and Zee and that vile pile which was called Driver’s Seat when I saw the film, I think where she hit rock bottom.

    In her prime she was gorgeous but the “most” beautiful is such a matter of opinion. However good bad or somewhere in between, breathtaking or frowzy she was a one of kind personality, the sort we don’t see very often.

    • Thanks for the contribution. I think the one thing most agree on it she was a great example the Hollywood Star” She seemed to embrace the lifestyle. Sounds like I should avoid Driver’s Seat at all costs. Raintree County is one I’d like to revisit and kind of wish it would be restored for blu. Still need to see Secret Ceremony for the Mitchum factor. One day…. Cheers’

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