Famous for her beauty and notorious for her many marriages, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure on March 23 at age 79, was one of the last of the great MGM stars, who used her iconic status to pioneer the world of celebrity fragrances.
Playing on the names of the gigantic gemstones she passionately collected throughout her eight marriages, Taylor created the forerunner of the current celebrity fragrance business in 1987 when she launched her first fragrance, “Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion.” “White Diamonds” has sold well in excess of $1 billion at retail since its introduction in 1991. In addition to “Passion” and “White Diamonds,” Taylor produced 10 other scents. All 12 are still sold by Elizabeth Arden, primarily in North America.
But while she had a major impact on the beauty world, her personal fashion sense was often questionable. In fact, in 1967, at the height of her fame, when she was married to Richard Burton, Women’s Wear Daily labelled the violet-eyed brunette a “fashion dropout” for the unflattering printed dress she wore to a polo match in Nice, France.
The ups and downs of her weight through the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t help. Still, Taylor could look stunningly statuesque in the right caftan or flowing dress with one of the huge jewels she had been given by her husbands. There was the 69.42-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond or the 50-carat Peregrina Pearl, once owned by Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII. Burton gave her both of those, along with the 16th-century Taj Mahal diamond necklace; the King Farouk bracelet. Her costumes could be influential, as well.
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on Feb. 27, 1932, in Hampstead, England, the daughter of Americans Francis Lenn Taylor and Sara Viola Warmbrodt. When World War II began, the family, including her older brother, Howard, returned to the States, settling in LA. Elizabeth’s first film was with Universal Pictures, “There’s One Born Every Minute” (1942). Then MGM gave her a standard seven-year contract and cast her in 1943’s “Lassie Come Home.” At 12, she appeared as Velvet Brown in MGM’s 1944 film “National Velvet,” the story of a young girl who trains her horse to win the Grand National. The film was a runaway success and made Taylor a star.
Regarded by many as the loveliest woman in the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s, she became a perennial cover subject for Life when that magazine was a bellwether of American culture. A drama queen in more ways than one, Taylor lived life on a grand scale, marrying eight times, including twice to Welsh actor Richard Burton. She divorced her first two husbands, hotel heir Nicky Hilton and actor Michael Wilding, and her third, Todd, was killed in a plane crash in 1958. Her next marriage, in 1959, was to Todd’s friend, singer Eddie Fisher, who unfortunately was still married to America’s sweetheart, actress Debbie Reynolds, with whom he had a daughter and a son, when his romance with Taylor began.
In 1960, Taylor became the highest-paid actress of the time when she agreed to accept $1 million to play the title role in 20th-Century Fox’s “Cleopatra.” On the troubled set, she and Burton, who played Marc Antony, kindled their incendiary romance, which created an epic scandal.
The endless paparazzi stakeouts and tabloid coverage of the duo prefigured the massive ranks of paparazzi that feed the tabs today. The two married for the first time in 1964. Burton and Taylor’s wildly over-the-top lifestyle came to overshadow the accomplishments of both. Some of their joint acting projects – such as 1967’s “The Taming of the Shrew” – were both critical and financial successes, but their films together began to bomb as their 10-year first marriage was winding down. The pair’s epic bouts of fighting and drinking had also grown stale. Their second marriage lasted less than a year.
In addition to two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe, Taylor received the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the French Legion of Honor and the Presidential Citizens Medal and was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Taylor is survived by her children Christopher Edward Wilding, Michael Wilding Jr., Liza Todd and Maria Burton.