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Taylor lived glorious spectacle on-screen and off
When cartoonist Garry Trudeau mocked Taylor and then-husband John Warner, newly installed as a U.S. senator, in a 1979 “Doonesbury” comic strip, he memorably described her as a “tad overweight, but with violet eyes to die for.”
Her eyes were only part of the charms that took her to the top in Hollywood and kept her there for decades.
Born in London on Feb. 27, 1932, to art dealer Francis Taylor and American stage actress Sara Sothern, Taylor seemed born for the spotlight. A seasoned ballerina at age 3, Taylor danced before Princess Elizabeth, the future queen.
Her family moved to Hollywood at the outset of World War II. She then made her screen debut with a tiny part in the 1942 comedy “There’s One Born Every Minute.” Her big break came a year later in “Lassie Come Home.”
Taylor’s screen test for the film won her both the part and a long-term contract. She grew up quickly after that.
“I have the emotions of a child in the body of a woman,” she once said. “I was rushed into womanhood for the movies. It caused me long moments of unhappiness and doubt.”
Steady work and high-profile romances followed into her late teens, with early lovers including athletes Ralph Kiner and Glenn Davis and hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr., whom she married at age 18 and divorced just months later.
Taylor showed her first real grown-up glimmers as an actress with 1951’s “A Place in the Sun,” adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s novel “An American Tragedy.”
After some old-fashioned costume pageants (“Ivanhoe,” “Beau Brummell”) and romances (“The Last Time I Saw Paris,” “The Girl Who Had Everything”), Taylor set the screen ablaze opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean in the 1956 epic “Giant.”
She was primed to become one of the era’s most-acclaimed actresses.
Taylor got four straight Oscar nominations from 1957-1960, for “Raintree County,” the back-to-back Tennessee Williams adaptations “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Suddenly, Last Summer,” then her win for “BUtterfield 8,” a film she later disparaged.
Professional success was tempered by the headlines that came with Taylor’s personal life. She was wed again at 19, to British actor Michael Wilding, a marriage that lasted four years and produced two sons.
She married producer Todd, with whom she had a daughter. Fisher was best man at Todd’s wedding to Taylor. A year after Todd’s death in the plane crash, Fisher left Reynolds to marry Taylor, who converted to Judaism before the wedding.
Then came Burton. They met while filming “Cleopatra,” a colossally expensive production that nearly ruined 20th Century Fox.
The movie was derided by critics as a bloated bore, but the ardor between Taylor’s Cleopatra and Burton’s Marc Antony came to life for real as the co-stars began one of Hollywood’s great and stormy love affairs.
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