Lynn Barber

The life of Elizabeth Taylor was non-stop drama 

Kate Andersen Brower has had access to the vast, unpublished archive of Hollywood’s queen - famed for her beauty, diamonds and unhappy marriages

Elizabeth Taylor, circa 1950 (Alamy)

What is so startling about Elizabeth Taylor’s life story is how quickly everything happened. She was an MGM star at 12, a wife at l8, a widow at 26 and a grandmother at 38. Aged 16, she was playing Robert Taylor’s wife in Conspirator while still doing school lessons every day. ‘How can I concentrate,’ she wailed, ‘when Robert Taylor keeps sticking his tongue down my throat?’

MGM paid her mother Sara to be her chaperone, and Elizabeth felt that the only way she could escape their control was to get married – which she did, to Nicky Hilton. He had managed to stop drinking while courting her, but two weeks into the honeymoon he started again, and beat her up so badly she had a miscarriage – ‘I saw the baby in the toilet,’ she said. She divorced him while she was still 18. Howard Hughes came wooing, scattering handfuls of diamonds at her feet. Elizabeth demanded $2 million in cash and it arrived two hours later. But she still refused to marry him. Nevertheless, for years afterwards, Hughes sent three dozen red roses to every hotel she ever stayed in.

For Taylor’s 25th birthday, Mike Todd gave her a Renoir, a mink coat and a diamond bracelet

Aged 20, she married a suave English actor, Michael Wilding, and had two sons by him before she was 23. (She also got pregnant by Frank Sinatra, but he ordered his manager to drive her to Mexico for an abortion.) Wilding didn’t beat her, but he didn’t excite her either, and she was soon swept off her feet by the sexy, overpowering film producer Mike Todd. For her 25th birthday he gave her a Renoir, a mink coat and a diamond bracelet. (She adored jewellery – she called it ‘the loot’, and was apt to wear a tiara in the swimming pool.

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