Elizabeth Taylor’s Tumultuous Life Wasn’t Anywhere Near as Glamorous as It Seemed

Emma Smith | Sun Jan 08 2023

This article was originally published on For What It’s Earth and has been republished to The Gossip Geek with permission.

The iconic old Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor was a big deal for good reason. For she started out in the movie world at a very young age, having been molded by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) into the star they wanted her to be. But as she grew older and more confident, she led a decadent and self-indulgent life full of illicit affairs and unforgettable luxury.

Image: Vogue

At some point, she transitioned from a Hollywood actress and to a world icon. Some say that she was the last of Hollywood’s truly talented actresses and that no one could match the intensity she brought to theaters. But we’re exposing what the real Elizabeth Taylor was like that very few got see, with some of her most revealing personal photos.

Elizabeth Had a Sheltered Childhood Controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Born in London, Elizabeth was thrust into the limelight by her mother Sara from a young age. Sara kept receiving comments about Liz’s desirable double eyelash mutation and violet-blue eyes, and eventually put her forward for auditions. At 11 years old, she was signed on to MGM for a seven-year contract but was deemed to be too short. They waited for the child actress to grow for a few months, but MGM had a few more changes up their sleeve.

Images: Pinterest / Papa Wembay (left) Listal (right)

MGM wanted her to become a big star, and quickly got her in some braces to give her that perfect Hollywood smile. They also ordered for two of her baby teeth to be pulled out, dyed her hair, and reshaped her eyebrows. On top of that, they wanted her to change her name to “Virginia,” but that’s where Liz’s parents drew the line. Nonetheless, MGM recognized her outstanding natural beauty and tried their best to mold her into what they wanted.

Elizabeth’s First Relationship Was Totally Set Up

MGM arranged for Elizabeth to date the 1946 Heisman Trophy-winning footballer Glenn Davis, pictured in the photo frame, in 1948. In this photo, she’s wearing his jersey and his pin, reading letters he’d sent her. She was still living with her parents at the time, while her athlete boyfriend was busy training elsewhere. But by her own admission, the 16-year-old Elizabeth was “emotionally immature” during this period.

Image: Elle

In fact, Glenn wasn’t the only one interested in Elizabeth. Howard Hughes was a much older bigshot film tycoon, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get her hand in marriage. Howard even offered her parents a huge lump sum and a six-figure deal, but Elizabeth just wasn’t interested. She had more time for her athlete beau who she described as having a “rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs.”

She Regretted Her First Marriage Almost Immediately After the Wedding

Despite her relationship with the trophy-winning athlete, she ended up marrying Conrad Hilton Junior in 1950; he was the heir to the Hilton Hotels chain. Elizabeth viewed it as a way of gaining more independence from her parents and from MGM, despite the fact that MGM organized and paid for the wedding. It was a huge and costly event, attended by 600 guests and 3,000 fans hoping to catch a glimpse of them.

Images: FamousFix (left) IMDb (right)

Almost immediately after the wedding, Elizabeth regretted the marriage. She was 18 and he was 24, and all they did was fight. Conrad wanted to drink and gamble through the nights on their three-month honeymoon in Europe, and Elizabeth turned to shopping and heavy smoking as a comfort. Only eight months later, Elizabeth was granted a divorce from her not-so knight in shining armor.

Elizabeth Was Isolated From Her Peers in School With a Private Tutor on Set

While Elizabeth was living a very adult life – starring in films and getting married – she was still just a teenager who needed schooling. MGM arranged for her to have a private tutor come to set, where they would section off some space and establish a “schoolroom.” If she wanted to continue education, she would have to do it right on set!

Image: Yahoo

Despite the on-set schooling, education took a back seat in Elizabeth’s life. She was already becoming a huge star with MGM, starring in films that became big box office successes. And she was all for what life had in store for her, having once stated: “I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”

Elizabeth Marries Some Much Older Than Her the Second Time Around

Only a couple of years after her first wedding, Elizabeth got married for the second time to British actor Michael Wilding. He was 20 years older than her, and both of them had their own reasons for getting hitched. Elizabeth was looking for “the calm and quiet and security of friendship” which she thought an older guy would offer, while Michael was looking to boost his Hollywood career.

Image: Hello!

It’s in this marriage that Elizabeth had her two sons Michael and Christopher. She had always known that she wanted to be a mother, once stating: “I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something.” Still, she is known for having had several nannies and assistants to deal with them on the day-to-day.

Her Canine Companions Are the Ones Who Really Stole Her Heart

Elizabeth was dog crazy from a very young age. As she once said: “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.” Her romantic life had its ups and downs but her relationship with her dogs was solid as a rock. She went to every effort to bring her pups with her on her travels, especially when she was working.

Images: Vogue (left) Woman’s World (right)

Her favorite breeds were Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Pekingese, and Maltese. Elizabeth also always had two dogs at any particular time in her life, but often she had a lot more. Interestingly, she would fall head over heels for one of her dogs more than others, later in her life. In 2004, she admitted, “I’ve never loved a dog like this in my life. It’s amazing,” when talking about her white Maltese called Sugar.

Her Husband’s Career Is Doing Badly While Her Own Career Is Flourishing

As the months went on, Elizabeth and Michael’s marriage started to fall apart. Elizabeth was an in-demand actress and her career was going from strength to strength, but Michael’s career was steadily declining. She was filming for Giant in 1955 when scandalous news of her husband broke out. A magazine called Confidential claimed that he had invited a bunch of exotic dancers to their house, and Elizabeth didn’t know what to believe.

Image: IMDb

The couple didn’t work it out and eventually divorced. Michael had been a great husband for the actress, giving her the older presence she craved in a relationship, but their time was up. “He was a wonderful father,” an elderly Elizabeth would recall in an interview. He was just the kind of stable guy she needed to be with after her marriage to a rich, gambling playboy.

Elizabeth Hits It off With James Dean Right Before His Sudden Death

When Giant was released in 1956, it was clear that Elizabeth had some crazy good chemistry with her co-star James Dean. Elizabeth was 23 and James was 24 at the time of filming, and they got along like a house on fire. Just take a look at James sitting on Elizabeth’s lap when the cameras weren’t rolling! It makes us wonder if their relationship contributed to Elizabeth’s divorce from Michael Wilding.

Image: Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth’s character had a strong personality that equaled that of her male co-stars, and her friends say that this role was the one closest to her real-life personality. But it’s bittersweet to see her sitting next to James Dean. The two became great friends while filming, but unfortunately, Dean died in a car crash before the movie even hit the screens.

The Only Man Elizabeth Didn’t Divorce

It wasn’t long before Elizabeth fell into the arms of film producer Mike Todd. They were married in 1957, the same year of her divorce from husband no. 2, and Elizabeth even gave birth to their daughter “Liza” in August that same year! Sources at the time claim that this period in her life was the happiest they ever saw her.

Image: Yahoo

One thing to know about Mike is that he loved a good publicity stunt. In the summer of ’57, he threw a huge birthday party at Madison Square Garden in New York to which 18,000 guests arrived, which got it broadcast on CBS. He also lavished Elizabeth with expensive jewelry, which really stole her heart.

Tragedy Strikes and Elizabeth Is All Alone Once More

Elizabeth and Mike were madly in love with each other. But in March 1958, he was taken from her when he tragically died in a plane crash. They were a match made in heaven, and in only a year he was gone and their relationship over. Elizabeth was left alone again and raising their daughter as a single mother.

Image: FamousFix

Elizabeth told several interviewers throughout her life that Mike was her first true love. The actress was plunged into grief following the plane crash but found comfort in Mike’s best friend, singer Eddie Fisher. One thing lead to another and, before she knew it, she and Eddie were having an affair.

Elizabeth Gets Dragged Trough the Mud For Her Affair With a Friend’s Husband

Elizabeth and Eddie tried to keep their affair a secret because Eddie was actually married to actress Debbie Reynolds. She was an old friend of Elizabeth and had been since high school: “I went to MGM when I was around 17, and Liz was there, too, but she was already a star… We got along very well because I was in awe of going to school with Elizabeth Taylor. And if anyone said they weren’t, then they were lying. Or blind.”

Image: FamousFix

Needless to say, it was pretty messy. It turned into a public scandal with Elizabeth’s reputation tarnished, and Eddie eventually left Debbie for his new love. Debbie later stated: “A man doesn’t leave a woman for another woman unless he wants to go. You know, when Mike Todd died, I sent Eddie to help Elizabeth. I don’t think she ever really loved Eddie. He was an interim interest during her mourning period.”

Elizabeth Is Ravishing In Green For Marriage Number Four

“Women liked her and men adored her — my husband included,” Debbie once admitted. Elizabeth and Eddie were married in Las Vegas in 1959, having had a Jewish wedding. Elizabeth converted to the religion after being raised as a Christian Scientist, but was adamant that “I feel as if I have been a Jew all my life.” Her late husband Mike Todd had been Jewish, too, but she didn’t convert before their wedding,

Image: CBS News

As it turns out, Debbie was spot on – Elizabeth would come to admit that she only married Eddie out of grief for Mike. Mike had been the love of her life, and after his death, she formed a special bond with his best friend, Eddie. But as we’ll come to see, this wasn’t enough to keep Elizabeth’s eyes from wandering.

Husband Eddie Fisher Is By Her Side For the Oscar Win, But Not For Much Longer

Elizabeth Taylor was nominated for several Oscars before she finally won her first one in 1961. Her performance in the movie Butterflied 8 landed her the Oscar for “Best Actress.” Elizabeth turned up looking glamorous in a “Soiree A Rio” Dior dress, accompanied by her husband Eddie. Little did he know at the time that Elizabeth’s head would soon turn.

Image: Red Magazine

No one could forget how classy and elegant her speech was, and it became one of the most memorable speeches in Oscar history. “I don’t really know how to express my gratitude for this and for everything. I guess all I could do is say thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

She Has a Passionate Affair With Her Co-Star, Which Soon Becomes Very Public

A couple of years into her marriage with Eddie, Elizabeth was cast in Cleopatra to star as the leading lady. And soon after filming started in 1962, Elizabeth began a passionate affair with her co-star, Welsh actor Richard Burton. But once again, Richard was married, as was Elizabeth this time around.

Image: Vogue

They were photographed being touchy-feely together on a yacht, and it caused a huge stir in the media. The Vatican said they were exhibiting “erotic vagrancy,” and there were talks with the US Congress about barring them from re-entering the country after their vacation.

Elizabeth Almost Loses Her Life Behind-the-Scenes of Cleopatra

Cleopatra was the movie that changed the world of acting. Elizabeth shocked the world by doing her own complex eye makeup for the entirety of the film! Makeup artist Alberto de Rossi had fallen ill and only managed to leave behind some sketches of the looks. She really was unlike any other actress. When producers asked Elizabeth to play the part of Cleopatra, she initially refused unless she was to be paid $1 million.

Images: The Telegraph (left) The Chive (right)

At that time, the best actors and actresses were paid a maximum of $250,000. When the producers agreed, the contract was in all the headlines across the world. The movie was filmed in England, but the cold weather and loosely fitted costumes lead to a serious case of pneumonia. Elizabeth was not expected to survive but eventually pulled through.

Elizabeth Marries Richard Burton Only Ten Days After She’s Granted a Divorce From Eddie

Elizabeth and Richard were said to have had an obsessive affair which neither particularly wanted to hide. There was a time that Eddie called his house phone to speak to Elizabeth, only for Richard to pick up the phone. “What are you doing in my house?” Eddie asked him, to which Richard simply replied, “What do you think I’m doing?” Both their marriages were ruined in the wake of their romantic affair.

Images: Vogue (left and right)

They were supposed to act out falling in love in Cleopatra but wound up falling for each other in real life. When their relationship became very public, it was them against the world. They both divorced their partners, and 10 days after Elizabeth’s divorce, they married each other. Pictured above, the couple is tying the knot on their wedding day, with Elizabeth wearing a fantastical rainbow wedding dress.

The Romance of the Century That People Couldn’t Stop Talking About

Despite Elizabeth’s controversial public image, her relationship with Richard was something that everyone wanted to see last. He was more of a poetic, Shakespearean actor and she was a bombshell Hollywood actress. Their illicit relationship was one of the first to be completely public in the media, thanks to those scandalous yacht photos. Before those photos surfaced, this type of personal intrusion was totally unheard of.

Image: Sports Tribunal

It’s considered a turning point in the lives of celebrities, as ever since that moment, stars struggled to keep their personal lives private. The couple was dubbed “Liz and Dick” by the tabloids, and the couple starred in a total of 11 movies opposite one another. On top of that, they led a jet-set lifestyle and spent millions of dollars on diamonds, paintings, travel, food, alcohol, clothes, and a yacht.

Elizabeth’s Deep Obsession With Plush and Fluffy Fur

In this photo, taken in 1955, Elizabeth Taylor wears her signature white fur shall. This studio headshot is one of her most iconic ones, and it’s not hard to see why. Just take a look at how she stares seductively down the lens of the camera, all without hardly moving her face at all.

Image: Harper’s Bazaar

Elizabeth’s extravagant tastes meant she was always dressed to the nines. It didn’t matter what she was doing, she always wore expensive jewels and whenever the weather permitted, would turn up in a luxurious fur shawl or coat. Elizabeth truly loved her material possessions and even had one of the most valuable jewelry collections in the entire world.

It Was Thanks To Her Numerous Husbands That She Had One of the Best Jewelry Collections

This photo of her seems to capture her essence in its entirety. Though she’s covered in jewels and wearing the most magnificent gown and jewels, she’s still eating a cookie and sharing it with her furry little friend. She would later come to write a book, titled “My Love Affair With Jewels.”

Image: Vogue

And while Elizabeth acquired some of her special jewelry pieces on her own and with her own money, most of her jewels were gifts from her husbands. Among her collection are the 32 carrot Krupps diamond, jewels from Egyptian kings, and a ton of rubies and emeralds.

The Woman Who Never Apologized for Being Herself

The world fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor right off the bat, not just for her breath-taking beauty, but for her unrivaled personality. The most captivating and inspirational aspect of the actress is often believed to be her confidence. Elizabeth never apologized for anything she did in her life.

Images: Vintage Everyday (left) EatDrinkFilms.com (right)

She ignored the media’s criticism and walked around with her head held high. As far as she saw it, she was living her life and she was going to own it in the way she wanted to. It’s thought that Elizabeth developed this belief after having experienced a sheltered childhood where she was managed by her parents and MGM.