One of the most beloved actresses of all time, Elizabeth Taylor is a star who will never forgotten. Although she passed away in 2011, the impact she had on the world is still reverberating. Born in 1932, the violet-eyed actress charmed generations of fans and starred in some of the most memorable films in history, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In addition to being a successful, Oscar-winning actress, Taylor was also a celebrated philanthropist who tirelessly fought to help those suffering from AIDS and worked to fund research for a cure.
The British-born star was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000 in recognition of her significant influence. She led a fascinating life marked by hardship and strategy, but all of it served to harden her resolve and work ethic. While she is still remembered for her films, many people don’t realize that Taylor was far more than a stunningly beautiful star, but was also a passionate and witty woman. The real Dame Elizabeth Taylor is even more remarkable than most people realize.
An abusive father contributed to an unhappy childhood
Taylor’s childhood was an unhappy one. She began acting when she was just nine years old, and being thrust into the spotlight only served to incite the anger of her father. “When I was a little girl, my father was abusive when he drank and seemed to like to bat me around a bit,” she told Barbara Walters in a 1999 interview for ABC (via SFGate).
Taylor said that she later made peace with her father’s abuse after she had left home and had children of her own. “I started thinking about my father and how it must have felt for him to have his 9-year-old daughter making more money than he was… when he had been this very proud, beautiful, dignified man,” she said. “I don’t blame him… he was drunk. I know he didn’t mean to do it. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I was used from the day I was a child”
Before she was even in her teens, Taylor had become a successful Hollywood star. But fame was far from idyllic for the young actress. Instead of enjoying her new career, Taylor was made miserable by the film studio. “I was nine when I made my first films in Hollywood,” she told Rolling Stone. “I was used from the day I was a child, and utilized by the studio. I was promoted for their pockets.”
One incident in particular stuck in Taylor’s memory. MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, one of the most influential people in the early days of Hollywood, began screaming at Taylor’s mother, saying “I took you and your f***ing daughter out of the gutter.” Taylor defended her mother. “I uttered my first swear word and told him that he didn’t dare speak to my mother that way, and he and the studio could both go to hell, and that I was never going to go back to his office,” she said. She was just fifteen years old at the time.
“I have never had an acting lesson in my life”
Years after her death, Taylor remains one of the most iconic actresses in Hollywood history. Her legendary beauty and prodigious acting talent had captivated generations of fans. Taylor’s talent was innate, and the star didn’t have any formal training in her craft. Instead, she honed her skills by watching others. “I have never had an acting lesson in my life,” she told Rolling Stone. “But I’ve learned, I hope, from watching people like Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Jimmy Dean — all people who were finely tuned and educated in the art of acting. They were my education.”
Taylor was determined to grow as an actress and not be molded by directors, saying she did her “best work by being guided, not by being forced.” She added, “If you describe me as an actress, you’d have to say that I wasn’t a distinctive actress as actresses go, because I’m certainly not a polished technician.”
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