By Eric Kohanik,
She began her career as a child actress during the 1940s. And, through the decades afterward, Elizabeth Taylor became renowned as an actress for the ages, bringing her charismatic presence — and her mesmerizing violet eyes — to a wide collection of productions.
Born in London on February 27, 1932, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was drawn to the silver screen when her parents returned to the United States in 1939. After briefly living in Pasadena and Pacific Palisades, her family ultimately settled down in Beverly Hills.
Taylor soon began auditioning for film roles and was signed to a short-lived contract with Universal Pictures in 1941, then to another contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer the following year.
After a string of minor roles, the 12-year-old Taylor landed her first starring stint, alongside a young and already famous Mickey Rooney, in 1944’s National Velvet. After the success of the film, the studio began fostering a more glamorous, adult image for Taylor in the years that followed, boosting that image with supporting roles in such 1948 films as A Date With Judy and Julia Misbehaves along with 1949’s Little Women.
The transition to adulthood continued with starring roles in 1949’s Conspirator and 1950’s The Big Hangover and Father of the Bride. A sequel to the latter, called Father’s Little Dividend, followed in 1951. That same year, Taylor played a beautiful, spoiled socialite in A Place in the Sun, which led to a wave of critical praise for her.
Taylor received more acclaim, thanks to a lead role alongside Rock Hudson and James Dean in 1956’s Giant. Her subsequent performance in 1957’s Raintree County led to Taylor’s first Academy Award nomination. It was another Oscar-nominated performance, in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, that helped propel Taylor higher into Hollywood’s stratosphere. And although her next film — 1959’s Suddenly, Last Summer — led to a Golden Globe award, it was 1960’s Butterfield 8 that gave Taylor her first Academy Award.
Taylor garnered more fame in the title role of 1963’s Cleopatra, which costarred Richard Burton. After that, her volatile performance next to Burton in 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? led to Taylor’s second Academy Award.
Numerous other movies followed, including such notables as 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew and Reflections in a Golden Eye as well as some not-so-successful flicks like The Comedians. As the years progressed, Taylor’s film credits would be wide-ranging, from 1972’s Under Milk Wood to 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d. She even played Wilma Flintstone’s mother, Pearl Slaghoople, in the 1994 live-action film adaptation of TV’s The Flintstones.
Although her accomplishments were primarily in movies, Taylor also chalked up stage credits. While she only appeared as a replacement singer/dancer in the original 1956 Broadway production of Mr. Wonderful (starring Sammy Davis Jr.), a somewhat bigger stage presence came as Helen of Troy in a 1966 British production of Doctor Faustus. That led to a film adaptation the following year, featuring Taylor, Burton and others from the stage cast.
Taylor’s first major stage credit didn’t come until 1981, when she starred in the Broadway production of The Little Foxes, a role she continued when the play moved to London’s West End the following year. Encouraged by that success, Taylor then starred, along with Burton, in a 1983 revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, which hit the stage in Boston and on Broadway.
Even though Taylor devoted most of her career to the big screen, she graced the small screen, too. She made appearances as herself in shows that varied from a 1970 episode of Lucille Ball’s Here’s Lucy to 1996 installments of High Society and Can’t Hurry Love to Fran Drescher’s The Nanny and Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown.
From the 1980s onward, Taylor actually dedicated most of her acting to TV. Her credits ranged from roles in such daytime soaps as General Hospital in 1981 and All My Children in 1983 to a 1984 episode of a primetime fixture called Hotel. Other efforts ranged from the 1985 miniseries North and South to a number of TV movies, including a stint with Carol Burnett in a 1983 yarn called Between Friends and some teamwork with Joan Collins, Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Reynolds in These Old Broads, a 2001 TV flick written by Carrie Fisher. Taylor even did voice work on TV, delving into such animated series as The Simpsons, Captain Planet and the Planeteers and the short-lived God, the Devil and Bob.
With so many varied credits on her resumé, it’s no wonder Taylor is still regarded as a true actress for the ages.
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