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Elizabeth Taylor

August 14, 2011

From child star, to collector of husbands and diamonds, Elizabeth Taylor was high maintenance. In 1963 it took a record $1M to persuade her to take her most famous role, Cleopatra. She got husband number five, Richard Burton, but the cost overruns and resulting flop nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

Burton found her expensive too. Her engagement ring, featuring the 33-carat Krupp diamond, was followed by gifts of no fewer than three other diamonds big enough to be given a name: the La Peregrina Pearl, the Taj-Mahal and (eventually) the biggest of them all, the £1M, 69-carat Cartier (later Burton-Taylor) diamond. He shouldn’t have been surprised; she had form. She’d pulled in a £500,000 divorce settlement from husband No. 1, Hilton heir Conrad Jr.

Michael Todd (No. 3), and his best friend Eddie Fisher (No. 4) had also both done their best to keep her happy with big rocks; Fisher later complained that a £50,000 diamond kept her sweet for only about four days.

The problem, as Burton saw it, was she had been too famous too young, and a spoiled brat ever since. He had a point. Wholesome good looks and a winning manner had made the child star. As an adult, the looks got less wholesome, and pulled in seven husbands, but she skipped the winning manner, which led to eight divorces. Her performance in Cleopatra was dire, and her illnesses kept costing other people fortunes. When later in life she put on weight and developed back trouble and an alcohol problem, few had much sympathy for her.

But that was unfair. Plenty of people drink too much and get fat, and the back troubles allegedly stemmed from a fall during shooting of National Velvet, the film which had made her famous, about a kid who rides the winner of the Grand National. And she wasn’t a bad actress. Although her first Oscar, for playing a whore in Butterfield 8, was by common consent won by the sympathy vote — Michael Todd had been killed in a plane crash the previous year — her second, for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Burton, was well deserved.

In three of her best films (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Reflections in a Golden Eye) she played women married to men with sexual secrets. Eight marriages to seven men must teach you a bit about male sexuality. She probably learned a bit from the male friends she didn’t marry, too. Nearly all were gay.

After the death of one of them, Rock Hudson, she supported many gay causes, even selling her diamonds for some. She managed to get her penultimate husband, John Warner, a Virginia politician, not only elected to the U.S. Senate, but to make him one of the most socially liberal Republicans to ever come out of the South. It was no surprise that she stood by her friend Michael Jackson as he faced his child-abuse accusations.

Through it all her fame kept growing. Hobnobbing with royalty one day, and picking up husband No. 7, a lorry driver named Larry Fortensky in rehab the next, she rose far beyond normal celebrity. By her death, Andy Warhol’s iconic silkscreen prints of her had become as valuable as those of Marilyn Monroe. She outlived all but her last two husbands, and even her New York Times obituarist — but not me, and not you.

Elizabeth Taylor had a bad back
Maybe she spent too long on it.
But seven men married her
She must have been good on it.

Some gave her money
And some gave her ice.
Burton did both
And married her twice.

Andy Warhol, Rock Hudson
They both got away,
Despite painting and dating her,
Because they were gay.

As she got fat
And ran out of rich husbands,
She supported her charities
By selling her diamonds.

Who cares now how spoilt
She was, for most of her life?
If you’re not J Warner or L Fortensky
Just thank the Lord, she wasn’t your wife!

— Jim Thornton
Nottingham, March 2011

Reprinted from AO Deadpool


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