Screen legend Dame Elizabeth Taylor passed today at the age of 79. The cause was complications from congestive heart failure. She had been in poor health for many years.
Dame Elizabeth Taylor was born in London on 27 February 1932 to American parents. Her father was an art dealer. Her mother had acted on the stage in New York. Miss Taylor spent her early childhood in England. Her family moved to Pasadena, California shortly before World War II.
Her mother loved the movies and it was Miss Taylor's mother who encouraged her to act. She made an impressive film debut at the age of 9 in the film There's One Born Every Minute (1942), playing Gloria Twine. Signed to a contract with Universal, it was cancelled less than six months later, in February 1942. In October of that year MGM signed the young actress. Her first film for MGM would be Lassie Come Home (1943). She was loaned to 20th Century Fox to play Helen Burns in the 1944 adaptation of Jane Eyre, and went to England to appear in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). Cast as Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944) at MGM, Elizabeth Taylor attained stardom at the tender age of 12. Over the next few years she would appear in such films as Courage of Lassie (1946), Life with Father (1947), A Date with Father (1948), and Little Women (1948).
Little Women would be the last film in which Dame Elizabeth Taylor played an adolescent. While The Big Hangover (1950), in which she played her first adult role, was a failure, her next film, Father of the Bride (1950), would be a huge success. The film would prove successful enough to produce a sequel, also starring Miss Taylor, Father's Little Dividend (1951). The Fifties would prove to be a good decade for Dame Elizabeth Taylor. She appeared in such films as A Place in the Sun (1951), Ivahoe (1952), Beau Brummell (1953), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Butterfield 8 (1960).
Miss Taylor's career declined slightly in the Sixties, perhaps due to the failure of the extremely expensive Cleopatra (1963). She appeared in such films as The Sandpiper (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woof (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Doctor Faustus (1967), The Comedians (1967), and The Only Game in Town (1970). In the Seventies she appeared in such films as X, Y, and Zee (1972), Ash Wednesday (1973), A Little Night Music (1977), and The Mirror Crack'd (1980). She made her television debut in the TV movie Divorce Hers-Divorce His and appeared in a presentation of The Hallmark Hall of Fame.
From the Eighties into the Nineties most of Dame Elizabeth Taylor's work was in television. She appeared in such shows as General Hospital, Hotel, All My Children, and the mini-series North and South. She also appeared in the telefilms Malice in Wonderland (as Louella Parsons) and Poker Alice. She provided the voice of Maggie in a memorable episode of The Simpsons, as was a guest voice on God, The Devil, and Bob (her last work) as well. She appeared in the film Il giovane Toscanini (1988). She also appeared on Broadway, in The Little Foxes, Private Lives, and The Corn is Green.
In 1999, Miss Taylor was knighted as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Coverage of Dame Elizabeth Taylor's passing has made much of her personal life, her marriages and her poor health. Coverage of her passing has also made much of her beauty. And while there can be no doubt that Elizabeth Taylor was indeed beautiful (she had the most remarkable, violet eyes), it seems to me that the various media outlets have overlooked what made Dame Elizabeth Taylor a star to begin with--her acting. While the movies in which Dame Elizabeth Taylor appeared were not always the best, more often than not she gave very fine performances. For myself it is her earliest performances that stand out the best. She was convincing as Velvet Brown in National Velvet (no doubt helped by the fact that she was already an experienced rider) and she was convincing as Leslie Benedict in Giant. And while I enjoyed her early performances most, Miss Taylor was still an acting talent to be reckoned with in later years. She was impressive as gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the TV movie Malice in Wonderland.
Dame Elizabeth Taylor was hardly the last of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are still alive, as are Kirk Douglas and several others. That having been said, she was perhaps one of the most recognisable names from the Golden Age where the general public was concerned. In some respects it may not be refer to Dame Elizabeth Taylor a star or even a legend. She long ago transcended being either a star or a legend to become an icon.