The original Queen of Bling

2011-04-01 14:28

Famous for her beauty and notorious for her many marriages, ­actress Elizabeth ­Taylor, who died of congestive heart failure last month at the age of 79, was one of the last great stars of Hollywood’s golden age.

Playing on the names of the ­gigantic gemstones she ­passionately collected throughout her eight marriages, Taylor was a pioneer of the current celebrity fragrance business.

In 1987, she launched her first fragrance, ­Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion.

White Diamonds has sold more than $1 billion (about R7 billion) since its introduction in 1991.

In addition to Passion and White Diamonds, Taylor produced 10 ­other scents. All 12 are still sold by Elizabeth Arden.

While she had a major effect on the beauty world, her personal fashion sense was often ­questionable.

In fact, in 1967, at the height of her fame (when she was married to Richard Burton), Women’s Wear Daily labelled the violet-eyed ­brunette a “fashion dropout” for the unflattering printed dress she wore to a polo match in Nice, France.

The ups and downs of her weight through the 1970s and 1980s didn’t help. Numerous photos through the years show Taylor in less-than-flattering ensembles.

A 1970 photo shows her in a white hot pants outfit with daisy trim everywhere, including on the high peekaboo boots, and another picture from that same year shows her in a dizzying ivory mesh poncho pantsuit, detailed with fringe.

Still, Taylor could look stunningly statuesque in the right kaftan or flowing dress, perhaps with a plunging neckline that showed off one of the huge jewels given to her by her various husbands.

There was the 69.42 carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond and the 50-carat La Peregrina pearl, once owned by Mary Tudor, ­daughter of Henry VIII.

Burton gave her both of those, along with the 16th-century Taj Mahal diamond necklace; the King Farouk bracelet, detailed with ­hieroglyphics in diamonds and ­coloured stones; and the 33.19 carat Krupp diamond mounted on a ring.

Taylor’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, showered her with ­jewellery too, including a ­remarkable Cartier diamond and ruby necklace, and the antique ­diamond tiara she wore to the 1956 Academy Awards.

Her costumes could be influential too. The evening dress Edith Head designed for Taylor’s role as a society girl in 1951’s A Place in the Sun, for instance – a strapless white dress with a boned bodice detailed with daisies – inspired the most popular prom look of that year, while a white dress Taylor wore as Maggie the Cat in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was ­licensed by its costume designer, Helen Rose, and sold in the thousands.

Taylor was born to American parents on February 27 1932 in England, but when World War II began, the family returned to the US, settling in Los Angeles. Elizabeth’s first film, at the age of 10, was There’s One Born Every Minute (1942).

Then MGM gave her a standard seven-year contract and cast her in 1943’s Lassie Come Home. At 12, she appeared as Velvet Brown in the 1944 film National Velvet, which made her a star.

Regarded by many as the ­loveliest woman in the world in the 1950s and 1960s, she became a perennial cover subject for Life when that magazine was a bellwether of American culture.

A drama queen in more ways than one, Taylor lived life on a grand scale, marrying eight times, including twice to Welsh actor ­Richard Burton. She divorced her first two husbands, hotel heir Nicky Hilton and actor Michael Wilding, and her third, Todd, was killed in a plane crash in 1958.

Her next marriage, in 1959, was to Todd’s friend, singer Eddie ­Fisher, who unfortunately was still married to America’s sweetheart, actress Debbie Reynolds. Taylor was labelled a home-wrecker on an endless series of fan magazine ­covers, and only won back some public support when she almost died from pneumonia.

“Maybe I’ve been around so long that people expect me to survive,” Taylor told Women’s Wear Daily in 1996. “And I guess they must want me to survive. My life has had so many ups and downs that ­sometimes it takes even my
breath away.”

In 1960, Taylor became the highest-paid actress of the time when she agreed to accept $1 million to play the title role in Cleopatra. She reportedly requested the ­then-unheard-of sum because she didn’t want to do the movie.

On the troubled set, she and Burton, who played Marc Antony, kindled their incendiary romance, which created an epic scandal ­because both were still married to other people.

When Burton appeared in ­Hamlet on Broadway in 1964, huge crowds gathered outside the ­theatre simply to see the couple leave together.

The endless ­paparazzi stake-outs and tabloid coverage of the duo prefigured the massive ranks of paparazzi that feed the tabloids today.

Burton and Taylor’s wildly ­over-the-top lifestyle came to ­overshadow their accomplishments. Some of their joint acting projects were successes, but their films ­together began to bomb as their 10-year first marriage was winding down.

The pair’s epic bouts of fighting and drinking had also grown stale.

In addition to two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe, Taylor received the Academy’s Jean ­Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the French Legion of Honour and the Presidential Citizens Medal, and was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Taylor is survived by her ­children, Christopher Edward ­Wilding, Michael Wilding Jnr, Liza Todd and Maria Burton.

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