Legendary Actress Elizabeth Taylor Has Died
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
We are remembering Elizabeth Taylor this morning. She died today of complications from congestive heart failure at the age of 79. Elizabeth Taylor was English by birth and became an American icon after she was discovered by a talent scout at the age of nine. In her later years, Taylor put considerable energy and money into the fight to find a cure for AIDS. And for decades she's been among the most famous people in Hollywood.
NPR's Gloria Hillard has this appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor's life.
GLORIA HILLARD: She was considered one of film's most beautiful and legendary women. The world first caught a glimpse of her oval face, arched dark eyebrows and deep blue eyes when she was a child. She was a 10-year-old with shoulder- length hair and eyelashes so long, a makeup man thought they were false. But it was the role of a young English girl in love with a horse in the 1944 film "National Velvet" that won the hearts of moviegoers.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NATIONAL VELVET")
M: (as Velvet Brown) He's a gentle one. I will just call him Pie. Oh, you're a pretty one, Pie. You didn't mean to run away.
M: (as Farmer Ede) You're a wizard, Velvet.
M: (as Velvet Brown) May I ride him, Mr. Ede?
M: (as Farmer Ede) Ride this horse?
M: (as Velvet Brown) Oh, please, let me ride him.
HILLARD: Taylor became part of MGM's stable of young stars that included Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien. Taylor talked about her bittersweet childhood on a studio backlot in MGM's 1974 film "That's Entertainment."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT")
M: I was 10 years old when I first came to MGM and I spent most of the next 18 years of my life behind the walls of that studio. As a young girl growing up in that strange place, it's hard to recall what was real and what wasn't.
HILLARD: Taylor spent her teen years making a number of films, such as "Father of the Bride" with Spencer Tracy, "Little Women." Director George Stevens cast the 19-year-old opposite Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." Five years later, she co-starred with James Dean and Rock Hudson in "Giant."
In her career, Taylor received three Academy Award nominations and two Oscars. Her first was for her portrayal of a call girl in the 1960 film, "Butterfield 8."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BUTTERFIELD 8")
M: (as Gloria Wandrous) Taxi.
U: (as character) Yes, ma'am.
M: (as Gloria Wandrous) Double your tip for a cigarette.
HILLARD: Her performance six years later with Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" earned Taylor her second Oscar.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, " WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?")
M: (as Martha) You make me puke.
M: (as George) That wasn't a very nice thing to say, Martha.
M: (as Martha) Wasn't what?
M: (as George) A very nice thing to say.
M: (as George) Oh, I like your anger. I think that's what I like about you most, your anger.
HILLARD: In the years that would follow, Elizabeth Taylor seemed to embody the phrase movie star. Her life, full of success, personal tragedies and multiple marriages, played out in the headlines and on the cover of magazines. Peter Rainer is the past president of the National Society of Film Critics.
M: Well, I think, you know, Elizabeth Taylor is probably thought of at this point as someone who may have been launched by the movies but somehow became bigger than the movies. But what she had was this kind of star presence that was part and parcel of her private life, and there was just no way to separate out the two.
HILLARD: The woman who loved diamonds went to the altar eight times, twice with Richard Burton, the Welsh actor whom she first met in 1963 on the set of "Cleopatra." They soon became the notorious couple the Hollywood press couldn't get enough of.
Y: We incorrectly identified Larry Kramer as "late." The playwright, author and activist lives in New York City and Connecticut.]
M: What's so remarkable about it is so few people use their gifts, their intelligence, their celebrity, for the sake of humanity like this. She's out there, this beautiful woman, and it just gives it a bit of class, a touch of class, as the movie says, and she never stopped.
HILLARD: For her work, Taylor received a humanitarian award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1992, followed by a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Film Institute.
(SOUNDBITE OF AWARDS BROADCAST)
U: Ms. Elizabeth Taylor.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
M: Thank you. You've made me realize how much I really do miss it. But my life is full and good. It has taken so many diverse twists and turns, and I have grown into what I do now wholeheartedly.
HILLARD: Plagued by health problems the remainder of her life, Taylor continued to extend a sense of humor and strength to others, never hesitating to share her own fears and vulnerabilities with the world. When asked why she appeared with her shaved head following an operation for a brain tumor, she told an interviewer that maybe others would see the picture and say, hey, if she can get through it, so can I.
For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
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Correction March 24, 2011
In this obituary, NPR incorrectly identified playwright Larry Kramer as the late Larry Kramer. Kramer lives in New York City and Connecticut.