Two of Elizabeth Taylor’s best-known films from two distinct eras of her celebrated life are newly available in high definition on Blu-ray.
First, 18-year-old Taylor appears in one of her earliest adult roles, as Spencer Tracy’s daughter in the Vincente Minnelli-directed classic, Father of the Bride ($22 Warner Archive).
Joan Bennett (later famous as the star of TV’s Dark Shadows) plays Taylor’s mother; Russ Tamblyn (tom thumb, West Side Story) as her younger brother. Don Taylor (no relation to Liz) plays her fiancé in the 1950 film, which co-stars Billie Burke (Glinda in The Wizard of Oz) as Taylor’s future mother-in-law.
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The second film is nothing like the first: 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, co-starring Taylor’s fifth-and-sixth husband, Richard Burton; based on the play by Edward Albee; and directed by Mike Nichols, the first-time director who a year later made The Graduate. The film co-stars George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Both women won Oscars for their performances.
Virginia Woolf ($22 Warner Archive) was arguably Taylor’s last great screen appearance. She made films through the 1970s, then performed on stage in productions including The Little Foxes, which debuted Feb. 27, 1981— her 49th birthday — at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Taylor, who spent her final years raising money for AIDS research, died March 23, 2011 at age 79. Here’s her Miami Herald obituary published that afternoon:
A LIFE FILLED WITH DRAMA AND PASSION
Elizabeth Taylor, the world famous movie star and AIDS activist who made her 1981 stage debut in Fort Lauderdale, has died of congestive heart failure at 79.
By STEVE ROTHAUS, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed, beautiful child actress who became the world’s most famous movie star — and at one time its most famous woman — lived her personal and professional triumphs and tragedies always in the public eye.
She died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at a Los Angeles hospital, in private, surrounded by her four children.
“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor and love,” her son, Michael Wilding, said in a statement.
Taylor, a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner who starred in Hollywood classics including A Place in the Sun, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was known as much for her flamboyant personal life as for her films. Married eight times to seven men (twice to Richard Burton), she defined 1960s pop culture as a “superstar” and “jet-setter.”
In the late 1980s, her acting career mostly behind her, Taylor took on a new role — Hollywood’s most outspoken celebrity in the new fight against AIDS and HIV. Her close friend Rock Hudson, who co-starred with the actress in the 1956 film Giant, died of AIDS complications in 1985.
In March 1988, she presented “An Extraordinary Evening With Elizabeth Taylor and Friends” at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, which raised more than $2 million split between University of Miami’s AIDS programs and amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
“She was one of the great ladies of our age. As a human being, first of all, and then, of course, as an artist, “ said Broadway composer Jerry Herman, who worked closely on the fundraiser with Taylor.
“What she did for the AIDS epidemic is almost indescribable. She pioneered that alone at a time when people were afraid of the subject. I’m just so sad, “ said Herman, an HIV survivor who composed Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles.
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born Feb. 27, 1932, to American parents living in London. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1939 at the beginning of World War II.
Taylor made her film debut at age 10 in the Universal Pictures film, There’s One Born Every Minute. She quickly moved to MGM for her next movie, Lassie Come Home, which turned her into a full-fledged star at 11. Among her most popular pictures during this period: National Velvet, Life with Father, Cynthia, A Date with Judy and Little Women.
Unlike most child stars of her era, the gorgeous Taylor easily transitioned into adult roles, starring in 1950s classics including Father of the Bride, A Place in the Sun, Giant, Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer.
At age 18, Taylor married hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr., who drank and physically abused her. He also slept with father Conrad Hilton’s wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian star later said. Taylor and Hilton divorced in 1951.
The next year, Taylor married actor Michael Wilding, with whom she had two sons, Michael and Christopher. Taylor and Wilding divorced in 1957, after she became involved with showman Mike Todd, producer of Around the World in 80 Days.
Todd and Taylor married a week after her split with Wilding became final. They had a daughter, Liza, and spent much time with another show-biz power couple, singer Eddie Fisher and movie star Debbie Reynolds.
On March 22, 1958, Todd died in a crash of his private plane, the Lucky Liz. In what became one of the great Hollywood scandals of the 1950s, Fisher left Reynolds to comfort Taylor and never returned home.
Taylor and Fisher married in 1959 and the couple co-starred a year later in the film Butterfield 8. Shortly after, Taylor nearly died of pneumonia and doctors performed a life-saving tracheotomy. Weeks later, she received her first Academy Award. Many at the time said her illness won her the Oscar. Fellow nominee Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment) reportedly quipped, “I lost to a tracheotomy.”
Next up: Cleopatra, co-starring Burton and Rex Harrison. With its $44 million budget adjusted for inflation, Cleopatra remains the most expensive movie ever made.
The Taylor-Fisher scandal paled compared to what came next. Taylor fell in love with Burton and began an affair with the married star of The Robe and Broadway’s Camelot. She dumped Fisher and married Burton in 1964. The couple adopted a daughter, Maria.
Through the next decade, Taylor and Burton appeared together in 12 films, including The V.I.P.s, The Taming of the Shrew and The Sandpiper. Her most memorable role during this period: Martha, the blowzy housewife of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a performance that won Taylor a second, well-deserved Oscar.
The Burtons divorced in 1974, remarried in 1975 and divorced again in 1976. Later that year, Taylor married former U.S. Navy Secretary John Warner. She campaigned with him during his successful run for U.S. Senate in 1978. They divorced in 1982.
Even as her film career faltered, the public never lost interest in Taylor, who remained a tabloid favorite as her weight fluctuated and she battled various addictions.
She underwent at least 20 major operations and she nearly died from a bout with pneumonia in 1990. In 1994 and 1995, she had both hip joints replaced, and in February 1997, she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In 1983, she acknowledged a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and pain killers.
After meeting construction worker Larry Fortensky during a stay at the Betty Ford Center, Taylor married for a final time in 1991. She and Fortensky wed at her close friend Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. The couple divorced five years later.
She appeared infrequently in movies during the 1970s, in such films as Ash Wednesday, The Blue Bird and A Little Night Music. After The Mirror Crack’d in 1980, she did some TV work, including a highly publicized stint on General Hospital in 1981.
After four decades on the screen, Taylor took the plunge and became a stage actress. South Florida theater impresario Zev Buffman convinced her to star in a Broadway-bound revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.
Buffman said he didn’t want to open Little Foxes on Broadway and instead chose the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
“She couldn’t open in a major market because I didn’t know what we had, “ he said. “I needed to protect her. You couldn’t go anywhere without the paparazzi. I learned that early. Opening in Lauderdale, people are so much nicer. They respected her privacy. Plus, I didn’t want the New York critics.”
Taylor debuted at Parker Playhouse on Feb. 27, 1981— her 49th birthday.
“She was a joy to work with, “ said longtime South Florida show business publicist Charles Cinnamon, who traveled about three years with Taylor during her Buffman association. “She was a prima donna, but she was a pro.’’
Even as her health failed, Taylor continued as a staunch advocate to wipe out HIV. “She continued her commitment to AIDS forever, until the day she died. She was fearless, “ said Cinnamon, who convinced Taylor to appear in the 1988 Miami Beach fundraiser. “She was the most beautiful woman in the world. And with all that beauty, she was a down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth broad.”
Miami Herald theater critic Christine Dolen and staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report, which was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.