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Elizabeth Taylor: The Many Lives and Roles of an Immortal Star

March 23, 2011

There was more than one Elizabeth Taylor.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the gifted child actor who played alongside Lassie and Mickey Rooney and Roddy McDowall -- “One Take Liz,” so dubbed because she always got it right the first time.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the young woman who blossomed on screen in “Father of the Bride,” “A Place in the Sun” and “Giant,” one of the small handful of kid actors who retained their gifts into adulthood.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the box-office giant who dominated the world’s screens for more than a decade, even when the pictures weren’t particularly good, from (and to cite only the better ones) “Raintree County” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” through “BUtterfield 8” and “Cleopatra” to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”

There was Elizabeth Taylor the tabloid sensation, who married seven men -- one twice -- and was a mother at 20, a divorcee at 18 and again at 25, a widow at 26, a homewrecker (and wife a fourth time) that same year, half of the most tumultuous relationship in Hollywood from 28 through 43, then a politician’s wife at 44 and, finally, at 59, the bride of a construction worker 20 years her junior.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the icon of glamour, often regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world, with the violet eyes and curvy physique and collections of priceless jewels and rare works of art and elegant homes and designer gowns.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the AIDS activist, moved to the cause by the death of her friend and co-star Rock Hudson and carrying on a number of other humanitarian crusades.

There was Elizabeth Taylor the three-time Oscar-winner (two for acting, one for charitable works) and the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

There was too, alas, Elizabeth Taylor the punchline -- first for her marriages, then for her plush lifestyle, then for her late-life weight gain.

That is a massive life considering that one person lived it -- so big, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that Taylor only celebrated her 79th birthday 3 1/2 weeks before her death.

Indeed, it’s such a big life that it can overshadow the thing that made it possible:  the acting.  Read More