‘written by Megan Musgrove’
On 26th May 1950, an eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor stood outside the Church of the Good Shepherd, ready to wed hotel heir Conrad ‘Nicky’ Hilton. The wedding had been hijacked by the studio she was contracted to, MGM, who saw it as convenient promotion for her latest film Father of the Bride, so along with gifting Elizabeth her wedding dress, the studio also invited 600 of her closest friends and the world’s press.
Until this point, Taylor’s life had been dominated by MGM and also her mother. She had yet to experience real-life. Her first kiss was during filming and she had attended the MGM School House, where academic education was questionable. She thought marriage would be a chance for freedom, to experience the fairy-tale the films promised. She would quickly learn that these fairy-tale endings were usually reserved for films only.
After the whirlwind courtship and wedding of the year to Hilton, Elizabeth’s matrimonial bubble burst on her honeymoon, when her new husband decided to show his true self. At twenty-three, he was already dealing with a drinking problem, along with a short temper. This marriage would only last a few months, with Elizabeth deciding very quickly that she was putting herself in that kind of position any longer.
Over the course of her life, Elizabeth Taylor would go on to marry seven more times. It is one of the things that most people know about her. You may not have seen one of her films, but you know she was married more than the average amount. Yet, as we can see from the experience of her first marriage, the choice to end it was completely reasonable. Her marriages were not just some whim experiences, following a drunken night in Vegas, that the tabloids can lap up the next day. They are also not what define her. She was an accomplished actress, winning two Best Actress Oscars, the first actress to earn $1million for a role, a successful businesswoman and a philanthropist. But while her marriages do not define her, the most definitely helped shape her and aided in the creation of the legend that is Elizabeth Taylor.
Her second marriage was to a man who was the antithesis of Nicky Hilton. Michael Wilding was a British actor, twenty years older than Elizabeth. To Elizabeth, he was a stable man who could give her the fairy-tale she wanted. For a while, he did; at least that was how things looked on the surface. Despite being barely twenty, Taylor was already a huge star in Hollywood. Wilding was revered in England, but yet to make a name for himself in America. In renegotiations to her contract with MGM, Elizabeth would stipulate that they had to cast her husband in certain projects too. She tried to help his career, but it never took off. She became the bread-winner to the family and he the house-husband to their two children, something that did not sit well with him. It was only after learning that Wilding had entertain female strippers in the home she bought for them, whilst she was filming to pay the bills, that she knew the marriage had come to an end.
Her third husband, Mike Todd, was possibly the best fit for Elizabeth. He was incredibly self-assured, self-assured enough not to have his ego knocked by being married to one of the most famous actresses in the world. He supported her career and wanted her star to rise. He also was self-assured enough to argue with her, something she revelled in. He was her equal. But their marriage would only last a year. In 1958, he would die in a plane crash. Elizabeth Taylor was devastated. Friends were worried she would never recover and in those first few weeks, took turns to watch her in case she did something drastic in her grief. It would be fair to say that had his life not been tragically cut short, Mike Todd may have been Taylor’s final husband in a lasting marriage.
Her fourth marriage may have been one of those marriages that from the outset was not a good idea. In her grief for Mike Todd, she found a companionship with Eddie Fisher, Mike’s best friend. Eddie idolised Todd, aspiring to be just like him. While the grief may have brought them together, it was likely that Elizabeth was looking for a way to keep Mike alive somehow. The problem with beginning a relationship with Eddie Fisher was that he was already married, to the nation’s sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds. Once news broke of this, the public turned against Elizabeth. They saw her as a home-wrecker, tempting married men away from their wives with her looks and sexuality. It would take a near-death experience and emergency surgery to have the public on her side once more.
Marriages five and six involved the same man. Richard Burton. The Taylor-Burton romance would become the stuff of legends, having a diamond named after it, as well as being publicly condemned by the Vatican. They would divorce after ten years, then marry again the following year, before a second divorce followed. During their marriage they starred in eleven films together, with Elizabeth winning a second Oscar. There was a great love and bond between them, but perhaps they were both too much for each other, which is why they could not make things last. Everything surrounding them had to be larger than life; whether it was on the set of Cleopatra, where they began their relationship, their extravagant lifestyle, or the epic tales of their drinking. Though before Burton passed away in 1984, there was the possibility they may have attempted a third marriage.
featured image is from wiki commons and can be found here