Remembering Elizabeth Taylor ‘last of the Hollywood Greats’

PUBLISHED: 14:42 05 April 2011 | UPDATED: 17:29 05 April 2011

Dame Elizabeth Taylor in her youth

Dame Elizabeth Taylor in her youth

PA Wire/Press Association Images

WITH her natural beauty, a film career which spanned more than half a century and eight marriages, Dame Elizabeth Taylor was one of the biggest and most intriguing stars of the 20th century.

Her death at the age of 79, last week, will be mourned in equal measure by her British fans and her followers in Hollywood.

Born in London on February 27 1932, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was the daughter of an American art dealer and his actress wife. The family lived at 8 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb for the early years of Dame Elizabeth’s childhood.

In a message to mark the Suburb’s centenary in 2007, she wrote: “The happiest days of my youth were when my brother and I would run through the woods and feel quite safe. I wonder whether the Suburb is still like that. I do hope so. It was heaven for this child and her brother.”

Her family moved to Los Angeles before the Second World War and she began her film career at the tender age of nine.

In 1943, she appeared in Lassie Come Home with the child star Roddy McDowall. At the age of just 19 she played a society girl in A Place in the Sun with Montgomery Clift. Her smouldering onscreen presence, “violet eyes” and “double eye lashes” established Dame Elizabeth as one of the great beauties of the 20th century.

In 1958, 1959 and 1960 she was nominated for Oscars for Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer. She finally received an Oscar in 1961 for her part in Butterfield 8. In 1963 she finished working on a production of Cleopatra which reportedly cost £40m to make – a staggering amount at that time. The film didn’t deliver a box office knock-out but it did lead to the explosive love affair between Dame Elizabeth and Richard Burton.

They wed in 1964, divorced in 1973, re-married two years later and then divorced again. Their tempestuous relationship provided column inches for the tabloids.

When Burton bought Dame Elizabeth a diamond ring for £500,000, she joked that she became “very left handed for a while”.

Her personal life was, however, as colourful as her acting career: including her two marriages to Burton, she married eight times in total.

Although she was blessed with her looks, she suffered ill health in her adult life including nearly dying from pneumonia and undergoing surgery for a benign brain tumour.

In 2004, her health deteriorated after she developed congestive heart failure and scoliosis, leaving her unable to walk. A wheelchair failed to diminish her glamour: she opted for a gold-plated, jewel-encrusted wheelchair.

Although Dame Elizabeth will be remembered primarily as a beautiful actress, she also did an invaluable amount to promote awareness and fund research into Aids.

Stalwarts of Hampstead and Highgate this week shared their own memories of Dame Elizabeth’s beauty and elusive Hollywood glamour.

The former President of the Highgate Society, 81-year-old Ivor Burt, lived in Mr Burton and Ms Taylor’s home in Squire Mount, Hampstead, when his own house in South Grove, Highgate burned down in the 1980s.

He said: “She was an icon – glamorous but it was Hollywood glamour.

“I saw her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and she was unbelievably good, it was her best performance ever, better than any of her films. She was amazing and very beautiful in those days.”

Ruth Montague, who lives off Keats Grove, acted in a play with Richard Burton in her teens. She summed up why both men and women were bewitched by Dame Elizabeth.

“She was exceptionally beautiful, creamy looking and she was a great actress. There was something very glamorous about her Hollywood lifestyle it was like she was living a fairy tale.”

Highgate resident and singer George Michael paid tribute to Dame Elizabeth on the social networking site Twitter. He wrote: “Such a sad day, Elizabeth Taylor was the last of the Hollywood greats, and a fantastically charming woman.”

Actress and former Muswell Hill resident Maureen Lipman declared that she was “the ultimate Liz Taylor fan.”

“There’s nothing I don’t know about her,” Mrs Lipman said. “I’ve never met her but I’ve seen her on stage and I know every fact about her over the years.

“I’m devastated. I can’t imagine a life without Liz Taylor in it.”

She leaves behind four children, 10 grand-children and four great grandchildren.

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