The Most Beautiful Woman in the World: The Obsessions, Passions, and Courage of Elizabeth Taylorby Ellis Amburn
Ellis Amburn's magnificent biography of the Academy Award®-winning actress and legendary beauty captures the unparalleled Elizabeth in all her tragedy and splendor—her tumultuous loves, her doomed affections, her shocking excesses, her courage, and her inimitable style. Filled with stunning revelations about the men in her life/small>/sup>
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Ellis Amburn's magnificent biography of the Academy Award®-winning actress and legendary beauty captures the unparalleled Elizabeth in all her tragedy and splendor—her tumultuous loves, her doomed affections, her shocking excesses, her courage, and her inimitable style. Filled with stunning revelations about the men in her life—Burton, Clift, Hilton, Dean, Fisher—it is a glorious celebration of the turbulent life of a brilliant star that none in Hollywood or heaven could ever outshine.
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Discovering Boys: A Mixed Blessing
One of Elizabeth Taylor's child-star contemporaries at MGM's Little Red Schoolhouse was Jean Porter, who later became famous for a fast-talking comedy routine with Red Skelton in Thrill of a Romance. "We had a surrogate mother, Muzzie McPhail, who took care of all of us MGM kids," recalled Porter in 1998. "For Elizabeth, Virginia Wiedler, Roddy McDowall, and me, Muzzle McPhail was someone whose shoulder we could cry on. How we loved Muzzie! She was there every day, morning until evening when everybody went home. Muzzie's son, Doug McPhail, was under contract to Metro [and appeared in minor parts in Born to Dance, Maytime, and Sweethearts]. Elizabeth and all of us knew Doug; they were grooming him in case Nelson Eddy ever faded away, but Nelson kept turning them out, and Doug finally hanged himself." Metro's Little Red Schoolhouse was a pitiful excuse for an educational institution. As a result, Elizabeth would never really have a decent education. In 1999 she described it as "a nightmare. No two kids were the same age...When you were not shooting, you went to school."
Recalling Elizabeth as a child, Porter said, "Elizabeth and I had the same makeup lady every morning, Violet Downer. Elizabeth's mother was always with her. She was very careful, back of the camera, in the dressing room, or on the set. And always in the makeup room, wherever Elizabeth was. Mrs. Taylor was a very sweet lady. We had lunch together a lot, but when her mother needed to take a breather, Muzzie was there with open arms. Tea was ready in the afternoon, in the commissary, or you could bring it out and have a snack.
"The Little Red Schoolhouse was the domain of Mrs. Mary McDonald, the teacher. She was just murder to everyone. She was a rather stern disciplinarian who always wanted to be sure the kids did their homework. That was good, but she wasn't anything like a mother." Elizabeth recalled that, when she was fourteen or fifteen, Mrs. McDonald rapped her hands with a ruler and ordered her to "stop daydreaming!" Thereafter Elizabeth went to the toilet to enjoy her reverie of being swept away by a prince on a white charger, and when Mrs. McDonald scolded her for an absence of fifteen minutes, Elizabeth said, "Oh, Miss [sic] McDonald, if you don't believe me, I suggest you go in and smell." Asked to evaluate Elizabeth as a student, Mrs. McDonald called her "[no] Einstein, but she wasn't stupid."
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor had arrived at Metro's 187-acre Culver City lot just before the outbreak of World War II. She'd been born on February 27, 1932, at 2:30 A.M., in a house called Heathwood, at 8 Wildwood Road, in a semirural section on the northern edge of London. Her mother, Sara, a vivacious beauty who'd briefly been a stage actress, and father, Francis, an elegantly dressed art dealer with sparkling blue eyes, were American by birth and British by choice. Eerily beautiful even as a small girl, Elizabeth looked as if an adult woman's head had been incongruously placed on her child's body. Her rosy skin seemed to glow with its own inner Technicolor, and a double row of long black eyelashes highlighted eyes that were "not violet as publicized," she later stated, but were "different colors" depending on what she wore. The Taylors had one other child, Howard, born in 1929 and blessed with features as well-defined and striking as his sister's.
Both children were sometimes subjected to rough treatment from their father. In 1937, one house guest saw Francis Taylor slap Elizabeth across the face - with too much force and too little provocation - and shove her brother into a broom closet under the stairs. To some observers Francis seemed happier with his male companions, and they concluded that his marriage was a cover for an active homosexual life. Sara was four years older than Francis and had been thirty and in fear of becoming an old maid at the time of their marriage in 1926. With Sara's quite normal connubial expectations, she unwittingly placed Francis under pressure, and when he exploded, it was the children who suffered.
With war on the horizon, Sara and the children left England and came to L.A. on May 1, 1939, and Francis followed shortly afterward, establishing an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he counted collectors like Edward G. Robinson, Billy Wilder, and George Cukor among his clients. The Taylors lived briefly with Elizabeth's maternal grandfather in Pasadena. The number one topic all over L.A. was Gone with the Wind, still in production in Culver City. Sara was advised by almost everyone she met that Elizabeth resembled Vivien Leigh and should try out for the role of Bonnie Blue Butler, Scarlett O'Hara's daughter. For two years her parents refused to let her work, choosing instead to enroll her in school. Her classmates, who included Norma Shearer's children as well as Darryl F. Zanuck's offspring Richard and Darrylin, sometimes poked fun at her British accent, saying, "I cawnt take a bawth on the grawss with the banawnas." Fortunately the Taylors soon moved into their own house in Pacific Palisades, and both children enrolled at Willard Elementary and later at Hawthorne School at 624 North Rexford Drive. "The children very quickly lost their accents," Sara recalled, but Elizabeth retained the ability to switch back and forth depending on movie requirements. Darryl F. Zanuck, the mogul who'd reigned supreme at 20th Century-Fox since 1935, dandled Elizabeth on his knee when Darrylin brought her home but pooh-poohed his daughter's suggestion that he put Elizabeth under contract. Mischievous young Richard Zanuck's idea of fun was tying Elizabeth up and locking her in the basement.
She first met Louis Burt Mayer, who founded Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924 and still ruled it like a dictator, during a visit to the studio with her parents. Mayer wanted to sign her, but Sara mistakenly thought Elizabeth would get more attention at a smaller studio and took her to Universal instead. The year was 1941 and, at a salary of $100 per week, Elizabeth played an ear-pulling brat with Alfalfa (Little Rascals) Switzer in the B-movie There's One Born Every Minute, but the Universal casting director said, "Her eyes are too old. She doesn't have the face of a kid." Universal fired her on March 23, 1942...
What People are saying about this
(George Stevens, director, Giant)
(Edward Dmytryk, director, Raintree Country)
(Richard Burton, Husband numbers five and six)
(James Dean, costar, Giant)
(Eddie Fisher, husband number four)
(HRH Princess Margaret, on first seeing Elizabeth's new diamond, the Krupp)
Meet the Author
Ellis Amburn worked as a reporter-researcher at Newsweek before becoming a book editor at Putnam, where he edited Jack Kerouac, John Le Carre, William Golding, Edward Albee, and Paul Gallico. He was also editor-in-chief at Delacorte and William Morrow, and edited/collaborated on books by Shelley Winters, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lana Wood, and with Priscilla Presley on her #1 national bestseller Elvis and Me. Mr. Amburn is the author of The Sexiest Man Alive: A Biography of Warren Beatty; Dark Star: The Roy Orbison Story; Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin; Buddy Holly; and Subterranean Kerouac.
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