February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
Story by Scott Michaels, Mark Langlois, and much appreciation to Mark Masek.
fag hag (fæg hæg)
Noun Slang: Disparaging and Offensive .
A heterosexual female who seeks out or particularly enjoys the company of male homosexuals.
Elizabeth Taylor did not like to be called “Liz”.
Liz – acclaimed actress, entrepreneur, activist and humanitarian – was a child actress turned Hollywood Queen who endured and captivated generations with her iconic worldwide fame and beauty. You would be hard pressed to name another woman worthy of mention in the same sentence. Maybe one. That Bacall woman, and loads of people would have a difficult time naming three of her film.
Born in Hampstead, north London to American parents, Liz was given ballet lessons as a toddler, and at the age of three she danced with her class for the Royal Family. Her art dealer father, Francis, and former stage actress mother, Sara, settled in Hollywood in 1939 before the outbreak of WWII. Her father’s art gallery was a staple in the film colony and his gorgeous, young daughter was soon discovered and tested for films.
MGM introduced the violet-eyed, lovely child to audiences in Lassie Come Home (1943) and it was behind the palace walls of the MGM lot in Culver City where she received her education in all things show business. She worked at MGM six days a week (as all contract players did) attending classes in posture, diction, dance, and acting. She received a formal education in the MGM lot schoolhouse attended by John Derek, Roddy McDowall and Jane Powell. Elizabeth and her classmates would receive (by law) three hours of piecemeal lessons each day between wardrobe fittings, make-up tests and film production. Jane Powell told interviewers years later about how isolated the children really were: “We didn’t have much time to socialize, except at Roddy’s house.” Powell said, “Roddy was like a brother to me, the same way he was with Elizabeth. He was a friend of everybody’s. We’d meet at his house most every Sunday, and we’d dance, and we’d swim, and play badminton, and Roddy’s mother would make a big dinner. That was the only socializing we did, really.”
From an early age, Elizabeth used her charm and beauty to her advantage and was soon coyly telling her directors that she “expected a present” when their film wrapped. She began collecting baubles and jewelry this way for the rest of her film career. She declared that jewelry was one of her greatest loves in life.
“My mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked.”
Some biographers speculate that because the only “genuine” care and break from the film factory that Elizabeth ever received was when she was sick – it began a long tradition of hypochondria that the actress used throughout her life. However, she did suffer many serious ailments and several life-threatening illnesses.
“If Liz opens a can of beer, she cuts herself. If there’s a chair on the set, she’ll fall over it.”
– Director Richard Brooks
In 1942 she broke her foot while making the film Lassie Come Home, and she’s been hitting home runs in the medical and personal malady department ever since.
At age 17, RKO boss and millionaire, Howard Hughes, sent his lawyer to Elizabeth’s mother with a $1 million offer to arrange a marriage with her daughter. Other reports say he offered Taylor her own movie studio. Liz threw her head back and laughed like this: “AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!”
In 1950 the 18-year-old Elizabeth married rich playboy, Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, the 23-year-old son of hotel magnate, Conrad Hilton. At their wedding, the bride wore a $1,500 satin wedding gown given to her by MGM Studios. MGM took advantage of the publicity by releasing Father of the Bride (1950) where Spencer Tracy walked screen-bride Elizabeth down the aisle. The Taylor-Hilton marriage lasted only eight months.
“Man of her dreams” #1 turned out to be an abusive nightmare. Elizabeth once claimed that she had a miscarriage because Hilton had kicked her in the stomach.
Elizabeth broke into adult roles in director George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (1951) as the American beauty who could drive Montgomery Clift to offing his pregnant girlfriend. Monty and Liz became great friends.
Liz loved the gays. Roddy, Monty, Rock, Jimmy the dabbler, Malcolm Forbes…
She was paired with her friends, Rock Hudson and James Dean, in George Stevens’ epic Giant (1956) where Elizabeth could look amazing and show her acting chops. She reunited with Montgomery Clift in Raintree County (1957).
Elizabeth would pursue love through marriage eight times in her life. She is an excellent example of just how sacred the institution of marriage is. A record in Hollywood only broken by Mickey Rooney. After her first marriage to Hilton, she wed British actor, Michael Wilding, with whom she had two sons.
“You don’t get over men like the flu. Every divorce is like a little death.”
By 1956, her marriage to Wilding (“Man of her dreams” #2) was falling apart. According to most people, Liz guilt-tripped Monty into attending a dinner party in their home in the hills. After dinner, Monty and guest, Kevin McCarthy (who told me that Monty didn’t have a single drink), drove in separate cars, down the hill.
Monty hit a phone pole and his face was crushed. The story goes that Liz rushed to the scene, pulled a dislodged tooth from Monty’s throat and saved him from choking to death. Liz cradled Monty’s bloodied head in her lap. The ambulance took an hour to arrive. In the meantime, photographers arrived at the scene. Sheilding Monty from the flashbulbs, she screamed, “You take one picture of him and you will NEVER get near me again!” They obeyed. Liz knew how to use it.
Months later, Monty returned to complete the film with a reconstructed face and need for painkillers, etc… until his premature death at age 45. Elizabeth later explained her relationship to Monty, “We truly LOVED each other in the purest and most complete form of the word.”
At age 24 in 1957, she wed producer/impresario Mike Todd (“Man of her dreams” #3) in Acapulco. Mike Todd’s best man was his life-long friend, crooner Eddie Fisher (“Man of her dreams” #4) and Elizabeth’s maid of honor was Fisher’s wife and Liz’s MGM chum, Debbie Reynolds. That same year, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter named Liza. Seven months later, Todd died in a plane crash and Elizabeth was destroyed.
“I needed — after Mike’s death — some very strong faith to keep me alive, something to hang on to. I didn’t find it in Christian Science. I wanted to be close to Mike, so I studied Judaism for a year after his death, and then converted.”
She gradually came out of seclusion and finished Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), revealing a raw, powerful screen persona that elevated the film. Her connection to the directory Mike Todd was his friend, Eddie Fisher, who soon became Elizabeth’s next husband. Eddie left Debbie Reynolds and their two small children (Carrie and Todd) to become Mr. Liz Taylor.
The Debbie-Eddie-Liz scandal painted Elizabeth as homewrecker in the fan magazines and the worldwide publicity led Fox to offer her a $1 million salary for Cleopatra.
“If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.”
Cleopatra was her first film as a freelance actress and Elizabeth changed the landscape of actor pay scales. She also changed the landscape of Los Angeles. When Cleopatra proved to be an over budgeted box-office bomb for Fox, they were forced to sell their backlot real estate to developers. These 180 acres became the commercial-residential area known as Century City.
As Elizabeth filmed Cleopatra in London, she was rushed to a London clinic with a high fever and lung congestion. She was given a tracheotomy to assist her breathing and lingered in a coma for days. She rallied, recovered and won her first Oscar that spring. She had been nominated three times before, but her role as an emotionally wounded call-girl in Butterfield 8 (“I was the slut of all time!”) brought her an Academy Award. Elizabeth called the film “a piece of shit”. Shirley MacLaine (nominated for The Apartment) reportedly exclaimed, “I lost to a tracheotomy!”
The public affection for Elizabeth had returned: she had proven herself as America’s resilient royalty. The last laugh was on Eddie Fisher – he could not and would not be forgiven by America for what he did to Debbie Reynolds. He was later publicly humiliated and dumped by Liz for Richard Burton (“Man of her dreams” #5 and #6) where he spent his remaining decades addicted to drugs until dementia eased him into oblivion. Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor reconciled years later- on a cruise ship – and the oft-remarried pair stayed in touch through Elizabeth’s final days. Debbie reportedly called Elizabeth in the hospital and said “Getting old is really shitty, isn’t it?” Elizabeth replied, “It certainly is, Debbie. This is really tough.”
The jet-setting, glamorous, highly acclaimed Liz and Dick left a trail of volatile passion and financial excess across the globe. Burton gifted his wife incredible diamond rings. The couple even appeared as themselves on a Here’s Lucy episode centering around Liz’s ring. The Burtons were equally generous in giving vast sums to charities, including the $1 million endowment for a heart disease research foundation in memory of Montgomery Clift. The couple adopted a daughter from Germany named Maria, and Burton legally adopted Liz’s daughter, Liza. Elizabeth won her second Oscar for her role as the acid-tongued Martha in the box of crazy called Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) opposite Burton as her long-suffering husband, George.
In 2010, Elizabeth allowed love letters between her and Burton to be published and said: “Richard was magnificent in every sense of the word. We were always madly and powerfully in love.” Imagine being Burton’s widow, Sally. Wouldn’t you want to strangle Liz?
In 1971, Elizabeth became a grandmother at age 40. You can feel the joy in this photograph.
The late 1970s brought Elizabeth a new marriage to Senator John Warner (“Man of her dreams” #7) of Virginia. Liz would later say that the endless electoral benefits, fundraisers and hand-shaking was “so boring. That’s why I put on so much weight.”
Liz blew up like a balloon – her fans were aghast. John Belushi played her in drag on SNL. Liz was a big, fat joke. By 1981, comic Joan Rivers was making millions with her Liz fat jokes on stage and television. “She puts mayonnaise on an aspirin! This woman is fat! Mosquitoes see her and yell “BUFFET!” Not one to be laughed at, Elizabeth divorced the Senator, lost the weight and took a role on the hottest TV show of 1981 – General Hospital. On the afternoon soap-opera, Elizabeth rocked a bejeweled turban and chewed up the scenery as vengeful widow and heiress, Helena Cassadine, making Luke and Laura’s life miserable.
“My curse on you, Laura and Luke!”
Elizabeth entered Betty Ford to treat her addiction to booze and pills.
“I had a hollow leg. I could drink everyone under the table and not get drunk. My capacity was terrifying.”
Elizabeth began a new relationship with a construction worker who she met in rehab named Larry Fortensky (“Man of her dreams” #8). They were wed in 1991 at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. The couple donated money from selling wedding photos to AIDS charities. They stayed together for five colorful years, and to make the story more weird, they divorced on Halloween 1996. As of December 2011, Larry is ill and living in a rented trailer (okay a modular home). They kept in touch, and Elizabeth sent him a note promising to “send him a thousand dollars a month for the rest of my life, or until I go broke.” The rest of her life lasted for two years.
Elizabeth had thrown herself body and soul into AIDS charity work around the time her beloved friend, Rock Hudson, became gravely ill with the disease.
For her last 20 years of Liz, she lived in a house high up in the hills of Bel Air. Most people would only see her front gate, which had purple neon numbers of her address, 700.
If you strained, you could get a glimpse of the house.
If you were tacky (hello), on Thursday nights you could go garbage picking.
We didn’t find much. A lot of moldy, broccoli stalks and an Entenmann’s donut box that Steve Goldstein described as ” looking like it had been licked clean.” Remember when The Enquirer would publish the contents of people’s trash? I really miss that feature. I loved that they embraced what they were doing.
“I don’t allow tabloids in the house. And if it is something so outragreous, I’ll sue.”
I asked Carrie Fisher about a small item I read in a gossip column about Liz pushing Carrie into a swimming pool. Carrie told me that when they were still in talks to cast the TV-film These Old Broads (PIECE OF SHIT), both Carrie and Liz were at a garden party. Carrie thought it would be funny if Elizabeth threw her in the pool, so she suggested it to Liz. Liz refused saying, “No, you’re going to pull me in with you.” Carrie said to me, “Yeah, I can hear her plastic hip clicking every time she walked, I was not going to pull her in.” Carrie finally demanded, “Elizabeth! Just push me in the f*cking pool!” Liz did. Hilarity ensued.
Starting in 1984, Elizabeth was at the forefront in the fight of AIDS research. She went out on a limb, when it was dangerous to do so. Long before it became trendy, Liz was there. Bless her. She co-founded AMFAR and later, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
“I don’t mind using my fame for AIDS. I can’t be too greedy when it comes to AIDS. And if my fans want to do one thing for me, they can give money for AIDS. Honestly, I would give my life to defeat AIDS.”
When Elizabeth died, the organization spent thousands of dollars to place billboards in tribute.
In 1990 during a near death experience with viral pneumonia, she saw the ghost of Mike Todd, and he told her, “You have to go back. It’s not time.” So Liz returned to life specifically to make The Flintstones (1994). She was paid $2.5 million to play Wilma’s mother. This is right about the time I sent her a fan letter requesting her autograph. I received one, well it was probably auto-pen so I won’t bother you with a picture, but it did come with this complements card.
Oh! I just remembered, my friend, Steve Smith, and I were prank phone calling celebrities one night (I know, but we got chewed out by Betty White!) and we called Liz’s house. We asked for Elizabeth and told them who we were (we didn’t lie). They hung up on us. They then *69’d us. To my friends in other countries *69 was a very 90’s way to call back the last phone call you received. I mean seriously, what were Liz Taylor’s people going to do? We answered and they hung up. Again. hahaha.
During the 1990s, Taylor reportedly earned about $2 per second, or about $63 million per year. Her namesake jewelry and perfume line made her greatest fortune. She toured the country promoting this tat, always accompanied by her dog, Sugar. Sugar’s poo habits were legendary. A certain type of tissue paper had to be spread on hotel room floors for her dog to defecate on. Sugar rarely hit the target and would leave a trail of excrement around the room. At least that’s what I’ve heard…
For Liz’s 60th birthday, Madonna sent Liz a stripper. An insider quipped: ‘Liz doesn’t care for get-well cards. It’s beefcake that lifts her spirits.’ She made a few interesting cameos over the years, including giving voice to Maggie Simpson’s first spoken word.
In 1997, she shaved her head in solidarity with people suffering from cancer. She bravely underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumor.
I’ll leave this stinkin’ hospital… WITH dignity.
In 1998 she was rumored to be dating Rod Steiger — people were hoping there would be another wedding to mock. I know I was.
In 2003, a fascinating lawsuit was filed against Liz and her butler Jean-Luc Lacquement by her former gardener. He claimed sexual harassment and unjust firing because he was straight, and Liz loved those gays. The details were fab. Jean-Luc took Viagra to have sex with Liz, or as he described it, “jump the old trampoline”. This is at the same time he made a pass at the gardener, telling him “I’m good and horny,” while grabbing him. Two months later, the gardener was thrown out on his tits.
The lawsuit described Liz as “an overweight, crippled, mentally confused insomniac who’s sexually addicted and sustained by pain killers.” You can almost see Liz reading this nonsense and exlaiming, “Mmmhm, and?”
According to a spokesperson, the suit was settled “with no exchange of money”. Okay.
She became wheelchair bound due to spinal problems and she was heartbroken at the 2009 death of her friend, Michael Jackson.
She seldom went out in her final years except for a charity function or a midweek afternoon cocktail at her favorite gay bar, The Abbey (I’d rather shove forks in my eyes), in West Hollywood. She would be wheeled in by her caregiver/companion and hold court by the fireplace. Elizabeth would have her little dog on her lap, flirt with the handsome waiters, and occasionally try on people’s sunglasses/hats that she admired. She later donated a portrait of herself to the establishment in the now-named ‘Elizabeth Taylor Room’. I seriously question her sanity during her later years.
Her condition spiraling, they fast-tracked her birthday celebration a month early. Her house was filled with gardenias and lilies of the valley. Liz wasn’t in great shape. A guest commented, “She was in her wheelchair and having trouble breathing. When she talked, it was in short sentences.” When friends and relatives paid tribute in a champagne toast to the star, Liz mustered the strength to raise her glass and say, “I’m not dead yet!”
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”
– Hunter S. Thompson
The “final” photograph.
On Feb. 8 she was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital for a leaky valve, and was operated on, on the 12th. She was down to about 96 pounds and spent her final two weeks on a ventilator. The world without Elizabeth Taylor began at 1:28am on Wednesday March 23, 2011. She died peacefully of congestive heart failure. Finally. She was surrounded by her four children.
She was also survived by her brother, Howard, and 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
She was 79 years old.
Tabloids wept, and trees gave a sigh of relief.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce – ready with their hot glue gun and glitter, placed this wreath on her star on The Decrepit Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As with most big celebrity deaths, I was out of town at the time. Thanks Dawn Wirth for texting me with the news!
The next day, Thursday afternoon, March 24, Elizabeth Taylor was taken to her final resting place (near her friend, Michael Jackson) during a small, private funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. She arranged ahead of time, that the hearse would arrive 15 minutes late. Fashionably late, to the end. “She always wanted to have the last laugh – and even in death, she got it.” said a guest.
There was speculation about Liz’s burial spot. There has been a rumor for decades that she would be buried with Richard Burton in Switzerland. I’m sure Burton’s widow loved that. Both of Liz’s parents are in crypts at Westwood Cemetery, and the person entombed next to them was moved out. Most of us assumed that Liz would be buried with them, so it was a surprise that she went to The Great Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Glendale.
This is probably the grandest statue in the entire building, and stands front and center when you visit the building to see their stupid Last Supper window.
PHOTO CREDIT MARK MASEK
Liz had a traditional Jewish burial, in a mahogany casket made completely of wood. No nails, screws – just wood. Reportedly it is lined with red satin and valued at over $10,000. Rabbi Jerry Cutler officiated the service. He did Shelley Winters, Milton Berle and Walter Matthau. I wonder who sent flowers.
Colin Farrell (Colin. Farrell.) read from the Hopkins poem The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo. The poem was Richard Burton’s favorite. Other relatives read, and her grandson played Amazing Grace on the trumpet.
Up until this point, I was positive that Michael Jackson would be moved to Neverland when they got a permit to make it Graceland West. Now I believe he’ll stay in his crypt in the same building.
Months after her death, her Bel Air home and jewelry collection were put up for sale/auction by her estate. Her crowned jewels will be touring the world before they go on the auction block. She left behind a fortune of $600 million to $1 billion.
When Andy Warhol would make a portrait of someone, he always presented one to the subject as a gift. Nikki Haskell, the diet pill star cap lady, claimed that a drunken Liz was nasty to Andy, and he refused to give her one. Either he forgave her, Liz bought a fake, or Nikki is a goddamn liar.
The house went on the market for $8.6 million. It sold in 33 days.
In November of 2011 a photograph emerged that was allegedly Liz in the nude.
It certainly got a lot of attention, but it was later revealed to be a doctored photograph of comedian, Lee Evans. Kidding. Dancer, Lee Evans.
A “secret diary” (don’t they all have them?) supposedly exists in which Liz reports a fling she had with Marilyn, when Marilyn came on to her at a party. Let the good times roll.
In 1993 she reportedly took 2,500 doctor prescribed pills in a three-month period.
Old Hollywood is almost gone.
Rest in Peace.