In honour of her what would have been her 87th birthday yesterday, let us examine the resplendent life of Elizabeth Taylor — actress, author, and business tycoon.
From child star to global icon
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27, 1932 in London, England to American parents. In 1939, the Taylor family moved to Beverly Hills, California due to fear of impending war in Europe. Taylor drew much attention for her eyes, which were blue to the extent of appearing violet, and it was not long before she landed her first Hollywood film at age 9. Her dark hair and strong eyebrows made her stand out, and, in contrast to other child actresses (like Judy Garland and Shirley Temple), she made an easy transition to adult roles.
With striking beauty and undeniable talent, Taylor captivated generations of audiences. Her career, spanning almost seven decades, earned her five Oscar nominations and two Best Actress wins, as well as her name becoming synonymous with Hollywood glamour. Her lack of professional training did not stop her from portraying a wide range female characters — from predatory vixens to wounded victims — who embodied strength, integrity, and unapologetic femininity.
After wrapping up BUtterfield 8 (1960), Taylor left MGM to become a freelance actress. Able to choose her own films and negotiate her own salaries and armed with an instinctive sense of her own worth, Taylor negotiated the first million-dollar contract for an actor for her title role in Cleopatra (1963).
In 1946, Taylor—then fourteen and a major star at MGM — published a children’s book titled Nibbles and Me. Duell, Sloan and Pearce paid her $1,000 for her story of her real life adventures with a chipmunk named Nibbles. According to Taylor, “Nibbles and Me sprang from a school assignment. Each week, we had to do an essay on any subject we chose, and Nibbles was my favorite subject. I kept a diary of our experiences together. I think it was the teacher’s suggestion that I write it with a sense of continuity, as if it were a book.”
Nibbles and Me was reissued by Simon & Schuster in 2002 (and as an eBook in 2011) after it was suggested to Taylor that there was a new generation of children who would appreciate her witty tale. “Over the years, animals have remained my sweetest and most cherished friends,” Taylor wrote introducing the new version, which also included drawings by her at age 13.
Though she did not continue to write children’s books, Taylor extended her authorship with three coffee-table memoirs: Elizabeth Taylor: An Informal Memoir (1964), Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image & Self-Esteem (1988), and My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002).
In addition to being an author, Taylor put her flair for business into a career that made her more money than her prolific film career ever did: perfume. While she was not the first celebrity to come out with a scent, she was the first to reach monumental success. In 1987, Taylor shrewdly teamed up with Elizabeth Arden to release the first of her “celebrity fragrance” empire, Passion.
By the time of her last release, Violet Eyes, in 2010, her franchise had grown to 11 perfumes. She personally supervised the creation process for the entire collection, even when her health failed, and, unusually, she also always wore her own creation—the bestselling White Diamonds.
Backed by a $20 million media blitz and a tour of high-end department stores in the United States and Canada, White Diamonds was introduced in 1991. Since then, it has remained on the list of top ten selling perfumes and is still the best-selling celebrity fragrance in the world, bringing in $76.9 million globally in 2010.
Quotes to inspire
“An actor is an actor whether it’s in Hollywood, whether it’s in Africa, whether it’s on stage, television or in film. Acting has to be generated from within.”
“I think [perfume] is more than just an accessory for a woman. It’s part of her aura. I wear it even when I’m alone.”
“I’m not fascinated by things. I dive into them. One is fascinated by fire. But when I was a toddler and crawling, I was so fascinated by it that I reached out and touched it. That’s the difference between fascination and passion for me.”
“If they don’t have passion, it means they are incapable of love.”
Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 at age 79, survived by four children, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Today, her perfumes continue to embody a transcendent legacy that will linger long after they fade.
Hope your new year has been fabulous! 🙂 Today, I am introducing Beauty of Reason, a new section of the blog for the recognition of the phenomenal lives of beauties known not only for their looks, but also their intellectual pursuits. In this profile, let us admire Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor.
Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. She starred in her first film at age 17 and worked on German and Czechoslavakian productions until the 1933 German film Exstase (Ecstasy) brought her to the attention of Hollywood producers. She signed a contract with MGM, officially changed her name to Hedy Lamarr, and starred in her first Hollywood film, Algiers (1938), opposite Charles Boyer. Often called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films,” Lamarr’s femme fatale persona and sensual screen presence made her one of the most popular actresses of her day. She starred in films such as White Cargo (1942), Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Female Animal (1958).
In addition to her illustrious film career, Lamarr had a secret hobby: inventing. She was greatly encouraged to pursue this endeavour by airplane designer Howard Hughes, who once wanted to make his planes the fastest in the world. Lamarr deduced that the wings were too square, then analysed the structures of the fastest fish and birds to arrive at a new kind of wing shape. He thereafter provided her with equipment to run experiments in her trailer in between takes. At home, she had a room set aside for tinkering, complete with tools and a wall of engineering books.
Lamarr also worked with Hollywood composer George Antheil on an idea that is considered an important development in the field of wireless communications. In 1942, they patented what they called the “Secret Communication System” and donated it it to the U.S. Navy to help with World War II efforts. The revolutionary “frequency hopping” technology was designed to solve the problem of enemies detecting and blocking signals from radio-controlled missiles: since multiple radio frequencies were used to broadcast a radio signal, by switching frequencies at split-second intervals in a seemingly random manner, only the sender and intended receiver could hop frequencies at the same time and get a clear signal; anyone else listening would hear mere noise. Lamarr and Antheil never profited from their invention during their lifetime and the enormous significance of their invention was not realised until the patent resurfaced in the late 1950s, while private companies were developing a wireless technology called CDMA. Their method is still in use today in modern wireless communications: mobile networks, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS — a legacy that far surpasses that of her films.
Quotes to inspire
“The world isn’t getting any easier. With all these new inventions, I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more… The hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.”
“A good painting to me has always been like a friend. It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.”
“Men are most virile and attractive between the ages of 35 and 55. Under 35, a man has too much to learn – and I don’t have time to teach him.”
“Every girl would like to marry a rich husband. I did twice. But what divides girls into two groups is this question – do you first think of money and then love, or vice versa?”
“Perhaps my problem in marriage – and it is the problem of many women – was to want both intimacy and independence. It is a difficult line to walk, yet both needs are important to a marriage.”