A publicity still for Elizabeth Taylor who was 9-years-old when she appeared in her first film, "There's One Born Every Minute" (1942). Born in England to American parents (her mother was a former stage actress), Taylor moved to the States with her family at the onset of World War II, and won a screen role with Universal Pictures based on her dark beauty. (Following a screen test MGM complained that she couldn't sing or dance.) After Universal failed to renew her contract, MGM signed Taylor to star in "Lassie Come Home."
Elizabeth Taylor with Lassie. Taylor appeared in the 1943 film "Lassie Come Home" (which also starred Roddy McDowall, Edmund Gwenn and Elsa Lanchester), and later starred in a sequel, "Courage of Lassie."
Loaned to 20th Century Fox, Taylor appeared (unbilled) with Peggy Ann Garner, as the young Jane Eyre, in the 1943 Joan Fontaine-Orson Welles version of Charlotte Bronte's classic. Taylor also had a small role in the Irene Dunne-starrer "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1944).
Taylor's maturation from juvenile roles was definitely announced in her pairing with Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" (1951). Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel, "An American Tragedy," the film tells of a social climber who latches onto a beautiful socialite while trying to extricate himself from his pregnant lover. The film won six Oscars, including Best Director (George Stevens).
Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor in the lavish costume drama "Ivanhoe" (1952), based on Sir Walter Scott's novel. And no, Robert Taylor was no relation to his co-star (his birth name was Spangler Arlington Brugh).
MGM's Civil War drama "Raintree County" (1957) sought to recapture the spectacle and passion of "Gone With the Wind," but the film failed at the box office. Taylor was reunited with her "Place in the Sun" co-star Montgomery Clift and joined by Eva Marie Saint ("On the Waterfront"). During production Clift nearly died in an auto accident.
Although the stage play's sexual proclivities were toned down somewhat for the film version of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), Taylor's voluptuous performance as Maggie (which earned her an Oscar nomination) proved that she was perhaps the actress best suited to portray Tennessee Williams' particular flavor of troubled, assertive Southern women. It was during production when, having contracted a virus, Taylor cancelled plans to fly to New York with her husband Mike Todd. Todd's plane crashed, killing everyone on board.
Another Tennessee William tale of debauchery and madness: Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959). As a young woman suffering from mental illness, Taylor earned another Academy Award nomination, as did co-star Katharine Hepburn as her mother. Film censors tamed (somewhat) the play's intimations of homosexuality and cannibalism.
Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from "BUtterfield 8" (1960), loosely adapted from John O'Hara's novel. Though Taylor is said to have despised the film about a promiscuous woman, she accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Many believed she won a sympathy vote after a near-fatal illness during filming of "Cleopatra."
"Cleopatra" (1963) was a troubled production whose costs - over $300 million in inflation adjusted dollars, according to the L.A. Times - almost brought down 20th Century Fox. Taylor's bout of pneumonia, which almost killed her, halted production and required hiring a new director and stars when filming resumed. One of those stars: Richard Burton. The two soon married and became one of the most recognizable couples in the world.
Louis Jourdan, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "The VIPs" (1963), the Terence Rattigan-scripted tale of lovers trapped at London's Heathrow Airport when fog delays their escape. Rattigan said it was inspired by a similar fog-induced romantic dissembling involving Vivien Leigh, her husband Laurence Olivier, and her lover Peter Finch.
Taylor appeared as the alluring apparition who helps tempt Richard Burton as "Doctor Faustus" (1967). Burton co-directed this adaptation of an Oxford University production of the 16th century Christopher Marlowe classic.
Credit: Oxford Prods. Ltd. and Venfilms S.P.A./Columbia Pictures
Taylor received her fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (and her second Oscar) for her searing performance in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966), based on Edward Albee's play of a warring couple. It was director Mike Nichols' first feature film, which broke Hollywood taboos on language and provided Taylor and Burton with their most electrifying screen pairing.
Taylor appeared with Burton in "Boom" (1968), Tennessee Williams' own screen adaptation of his play, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." The allegory, set on a secluded island, featured Burton as a figurative Angel of Death, and Noel Coward as "the Witch of Capri." It was not received well by critics.
Suspending disbelief when watching "Ash Wednesday" (1973) means accepting 41-year-old Taylor as a 55-year-old woman who undergoes full-body plastic surgery in order to win over a philandering husband (played by Henry Fonda). What was more believable was her affair with young playboy Hemut Berger.
The 1976 Russian-American co-production "The Blue Bird" - one of many filmings of the Maurice Maeterlinck play - was directed by Hollywood veteran George Cukor, and starred Taylor alongside a young Patsy Kensit and Todd Lookinland. Also in the cast: Ava Gardner, Cicely Tyson, Robert Morley and Jane Fonda.