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Five Interesting Facts About Elizabeth Taylor That You Probably Didn't Know
She has been called the Last Movie Star, and rightfully so. Adored ever since her breakout role in National Velvet in 1944 at age 12, Elizabeth Taylor was one of the last products of the Hollywood Studio System. Yet despite the fact she won two Oscars, she's known as much for her offscreen life as she is for her acting abilities. We know about her friendship with Michael Jackson, her love of jewelry; her struggles with weight and pills and alcohol, and her multiple marriages. Here are some fun and interesting facts about Elizabeth Taylor that you probably didn't know.
1. She Authored a Children's Book as a Teenager
Elizabeth Taylor was a great lover of animals. As an adult she often brought pets with her all over the world, sometimes booking a room just for them. Her fondness for animals began when she was a child star. She lobbied for -- and got -- King Charles, the horse she had ridden in National Velvet. She also had quite a menagerie of dogs, cats, and -- oddly -- chipmunks.
One of the chipmunks was the inspiration for Nibbles and Me, which she wrote when she was 14. Supposedly the 77-page illustrated book sprang from an assignment she had done at MGM's fabled Little Red Schoolhouse, though after it was published by Duell, Sloane, and Pearce, some critics suspected she may have had a little help from MGM's script and art departments. Regardless of who actually wrote it, Elizabeth was the one who got the credit. It also wouldn't be the last book she would write. As an adult she wrote an autobiography in 1964 and two other works: Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image and Self-Esteem, published in 1988, and My Love Affair with Jewelry, published in 2002.
2. She Became a Grandmother at 39
One of the reasons Elizabeth Taylor was able to squeeze eight marriages to seven husbands into her 79 years was that she got an early start of it. She wed her first husband, hotel heir Nicky Hilton, in 1950 when she was only 18. The marriage was a disaster. Hilton was a gambler and a drunkard who abused her physically, once striking Taylor so hard he caused her to miscarry. She divorced him the following year and took up almost immediately with British actor Michael Wilding, whom she married in 1952.
During the four years she and Wilding were together, she had two sons: Michael Wilding, Jr., born in 1953, and Christopher Wilding, born on her twenty-third birthday, February 27, 1955. (Taylor would go on to have two more children, a daughter Liza by her third husband, film producer Mike Todd, and a second girl, Maria, whom she adopted in the waning days of her marriage to Husband #4, Eddie Fisher.)
In August 1971 Michael Wilding, Jr. and his wife Beth had a daughter Layla, making Elizabeth a grandmother for the first time. At the time of her death in 2011 she had nine other grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
3. She Saved the Life of One of Her Co-Stars
On May 12, 1956, Elizabeth and Michael Wilding hosted a dinner party in their Benedict Canyon home. The guests included Rock Hudson and his wife, Phyllis Gates; Kevin McCarthy; and Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth's co-star from A Place in the Sun and the Civil War drama Raintree County, which was currently in production.
After dinner, when McCarthy announced that he was leaving, Clift said he was going to go, too. He probably shouldn't have. He had been drinking, and earlier in the day he'd been popping Seconals. He was also unfamiliar with Benedict Canyon's winding roads.
McCarthy volunteered to lead the way in his car -- which was the same make and model as Clift's -- and kept an eye on Clift's vehicle in his rearview mirror. All of a sudden Clift's car disappeared. McCarthy backed up and upon investigation found that Clift's car had gone over the side of a hill and had crashed into a utility pole.
McCarthy was unable to get any of the doors open to rescue Clift, but somehow he shut the engine off (he's told conflicting stories as to precisely how), then went back to the Wildings' to summon help. After someone called for an ambulance and a doctor, Elizabeth went to the scene with McCarthy, where she managed to get into Clift's car through one of the back doors and crawled over the front seat.
What she found was a horrible mess. Clift's once-handsome face had been reduced to a bloody pulp, his nose was broken, and he was choking. Unable to speak, he pointed to his throat. Elizabeth took a look and discovered that two of his front teeth had been knocked out and had gotten lodged in his windpipe. Immediately she reached into Monty's throat and pulled out the teeth, giving Monty some much-needed air. (Ironically, Elizabeth herself would be caught in a similar situation five years later and have to undergo an emergency tracheotomy.) Without Elizabeth's quick thinking, Monty wouldn't have survived.
He did survive, though, and to show his appreciation he gave Elizabeth one of the teeth as a souvenir. In true Elizabeth Taylor fashion, she sometimes wore the token as a necklace.
4. But for an Illness, She Would Have Crashed with MikeTodd
Taylor married Mike Todd in Mexico on February 2, 1957, two days after her divorce from Wilding became final. She was already pregnant with Todd's daughter Liza at the time. Todd's best friend Eddie Fisher served as one of his best men (the other was his son, Mike Todd, Jr.), while Fisher's wife Debbie Reynolds served as matron of honor.
Taylor's and Todd's relationship was a stormy one. The two battled constantly and often physically. Todd already had a violent streak, as demonstrated perhaps most vividly the time he had second wife Joan Blondell dangling outside a sixteenth-story window at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Yet according to Fisher, where Todd and Elizabeth were concerned, the violence seemed to be just a form of foreplay.
In March 1958, Todd was scheduled to receive the Showman of the Year Award from the Friar's Club in New York City. At the time he had just leased a 12-seater Lockheed Lodestar which he'd outfitted with a king-size bed and rechristened the Lucky Liz. The real Liz, who had just started filming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, had planned to go to New York with him, but she was laid up in bed with a bronchial infection. Despite her pleas to come along even though she was ill, Todd ultimately decided to go without her, taking his friend Art Cohn along instead.
The Lucky Liz left Burbank Airport a little after 10 o'clock on the night of March 21st. The plane was overloaded, there was ice on the wings, and the weather was nasty. The aircraft went down in the mountains near Grants, New Mexico, at about two forty-five on the morning of March 22nd. There were no survivors. Liz was indeed the lucky one. Had she been aboard as she'd planned, she most likely would have perished as well. Instead she became a widow -- for the first and only time in her life -- at age 26. She and Todd had been married for a total of 413 days.
A Lady All the Way
5. She Threw Up The First Time She Saw Cleopatra
The epic film Cleopatra is notorious in cinematic history as the costliest motion picture ever made. Its $44 million price tag (about $313 million in 2010 dollars) nearly bankrupted Twentieth Century-Fox. It remains the only highest-grossing film of the year to have lost money the year of its release (though it has since recouped its investment).
Production of the film was troubled from the start, and many of its troubles centered around Elizabeth Taylor. Principal shooting began in September 1960 at the Pinewood Studios just outside of London, but within six weeks Taylor came down with meningitis. While she went home to California to recover, Fox had little choice but to shut down a production that was already costing them a fortune and for which they had nothing to show.
When production picked up again in 1961, it was a completely different film. The director had been fired (in part due to Taylor's efforts), most of the London footage was unusable, and two key cast members -- Peter Finch and Stephen Bond, who played Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, respectively -- had moved on to other projects to which they'd already been committed. In addition, the entire production had been relocated to the Cinecitta Studios outside Rome in the hope that the area would be more scenic and the climate more hospitable to filmmaking. Of course new sets had to be constructed which were just as lavish as the ones in London, new props had to be created, and new costumes had to be designed. There was also a new Julius Caesar in the form of Rex Harrison and -- fatefully for Taylor, as it turned out -- a new Mark Antony, Welsh-born Shakespearean actor Richard Burton.
It wasn't long before Taylor and Burton (both married to others at the time) began a passionate and highly-publicized affair that resulted in both of them divorcing their spouses and marrying each other in 1964. Not coincidentally the real-life romance brought a lot of publicity to the film, which wrapped in the summer of 1962. It was released the following summer.
Shortly after the film's release, the British Embassy asked Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to attend a screening for the Bolshoi Ballet -- the first time Taylor had seen the completed film. It's a bit unclear as to what happened next. Some reports say she saw the movie in its entirety and went back to her hotel; others suggest she didn't make it quite that far. In any event, after she had seen at least part of the film that had consumed two years of her life, Taylor promptly went to the bathroom and vomited.