Arguably as well known for her beauty, famous violet eyes, and eight marriages (two of which were to actor Richard Burton!) as her acting ability, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London in 1932. Her parents were both American, so Taylor had dual citizenship, and before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Taylor family moved back to the United States, settling in Los Angeles.
Despite Taylor’s initial reservations, her acting ambitions were encouraged by her mother, Sara, who had herself been in the theater before giving it all up to marry and start a family. Taylor’s ascent to stardom was swift, and she was nine when she appeared in her first movie, There’s One Born Every Minute. But refreshingly, unlike some other Hollywood starlets, she resisted being molded to a studio ideal. Her family should be given some credit for this, with her father reportedly refusing to let the studio pluck her eyebrows or alter her lip shape with makeup, or subject her to having a nose job!
When Taylor was nine and filming Lassie Come Home, her costar Roddy McDowall reported that, On the first day of filming, they took one look at her and said, Get that girl off the set she has too much eye makeup on, too much mascara. So they rushed her off the set and started rubbing at her eyes with a moist cloth to take the mascara off. They soon learned that she had no mascara on. She has a double set of eyelashes. Now, who has double eyelashes except a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?
Many strong women working in Hollywood at this time started off learning from makeup artists, before going on to take control (or work in collaboration) and do their faces themselves, as no one knew their faces as well as they did. This was definitely the case with Taylor: Though she didn’t wear makeup until she was older, she did like doing it. In a 2011 interview with designer Michael Kors, Taylor described how she always cut her hair and did her own makeup. Amazingly, she even did her face for one of her most legendary screen looks, the role of Cleopatra, as the makeup artist (Alberto De Rossi) was unavailable due to back surgery. Taylor described how she had studied his methods and sketches, and simply copied them.36 It’s also been reported that one day on the set of Cleopatra, they wanted to do a very early morning shot with extras. Union rules meant that the makeup department wasn’t able to do it, so Liz made them all up!
Celebrity perfumes are common now, but Taylor’s was one of the first and has been described as the mother of celebrity fragrances. Passion was the first to launch in 1987, but her best-known offering is White Diamonds (aptly named for her well-publicized love of diamonds), which launched with Elizabeth Arden in 1991 and was worth $200 million at the time of her death.
Elizabeth Taylor’s trademark glamour is still just as iconic and relevant today: Her influence is often seen in fashion and beauty magazines and on young starlets. Yet in another way in common with other icons of the past she’s also the antithesis of current Hollywood actresses, who are keen to be seen as normal people. You would never catch her in a T-shirt and jeans; until her death in 2011, at the age of seventy-nine, Taylor always dressed like a film star, with her hair and makeup done, and loaded down with her customary jewels.
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