Elizabeth Taylor is probably the closest thing to royalty America has ever had. A very good actress with stunning good looks to match, she grew up before America's eyes over the course of a career that spanned 60 years. Her prominence in Hollywood was so great that when she and then husband Richard Burton considered taking a break from film making for three months in the mid-60s, it caused major alarm in Tinseltown. At the time, films starring one or both of them constituted almost 50% of all box office receipts in the United States. In addition to her string of box office hits and her multiple awards, Elizabeth Taylor was also well-known for her eight marriages and her extremely lavish lifestyle. That lifestyle included an incredibly extensive jewelry collection that fetched a record-setting sum of $115 million when it was auctioned off in December of 2011. Recently, a dispute has arisen over one of the most famous items in Taylor's collection, the "Krupp Diamond." Four years after her death, the famous actress is still the subject of scandal.
Elizabeth Taylor was born in Hampstead Garden, London, England on February 27, 1932, to two Americans who were living in London. After the family returned to the US, they settled in Los Angeles. Elizabeth's dark hair, fair skin, and dark blue eyes–which appeared violet in certain light–instantly attracted agents, managers, and other Hollywood types. Initially, her family was reluctant about launching her acting career. Her mother had been an actress as an adult, but had no experience with children and film work. However, a family friend convinced them to see John Cheever Cowdin, chairman of Universal Pictures. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer also got wind of Liz, and suddenly she had a bit of a bidding war on her hands. Universal beat MGM to the punch and signed Elizabeth to a seven-year contract. She made only one picture with Universal before being let go.
MGM snatched her up immediately. Her film work for them was so successful that she ended up under contract with the studio for the next 18 years. While her star rose, her personal life was another matter altogether. She began playing adult roles when she was only 16, often acting opposite men 30-40 years her senior. However, she managed to pull it off even as it took a toll on her emotional and psychological health. She wanted to take a break, but her mother, now in full-blown stage-mother mode, refused to allow it.
Due to her full acting schedule, her schooling had been sporadic at best, and even basic arithmetic was difficult for Elizabeth. By the age of 20, she'd already been married twice. By age 30, she was on husband #4. She starred in such films as "Lassie Come Home," "National Velvet," "Father of the Bride," "A Place in the Sun," "The Last Time I Saw Paris," "Giant," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Suddenly, Last Summer," "BUtterfield 8," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Under Milk Wood," "Ash Wednesday," and "The Mirror Crack'd." She also appeared on various television shows and in television movies, including "General Hospital," "North and South," "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," "The Nanny," and "Murphy Brown," as well as in a number of theater productions on Broadway and in the West End.
As a member of the Hollywood elite, she set the standard for fashion through the 1980s and put designers like Halston and Valentino on the map. But it was her amazing jewelry collection that got the most tongue wagging. The majority of Liz's collection was auctioned off in 2011. These items alone ended up fetching $115 million.
The auction included such pieces as the 33.19 carat "Krupp Diamond" which was given to her on her 40th birthday by her 6th husband Richard Burton (who was also her 7th husband – they remarried briefly). The diamond, which is now set in a ring, was reportedly once owned by a Mughal emperor. Expected to fetch somewhere around $3 million, it ended up going for $8,818,500 to an anonymous Asian buyer.
Liz also owned the famed La Peregrina necklace. Yet another gift from Richard Burton, the necklace which is made up of pearls, diamonds, and rubies, was expected to go for around $3 million. It ended up setting a record for the sale of a pearl-related piece of jewelry when it went for $11,842,500. The diamond bracelet Michael Jackson gave her? It was expected to earn somewhere around $50,000. When the bidding ended, it went for $194,500.
Earlier this year, the anonymous Asian buyer who paid $8 million for the Krupp Diamond ring became angry that it was not actually an historic artifact and demanded his money back. Christie's, the auction house that had handled the 2011 auction, gave him his money back, and then demanded the Taylor Estate return the $8 million. The Taylor Estate responded by saying: "We never said it was an artifact, and there is nothing in your policies about us paying you back if something is returned."
Now it's getting ugly. The Taylor Estate is counter-suing Christie's and nobody's happy.
Quick note: some reports are saying that the fight is over the famous Taylor-Burton Pendant. That's a different–and larger–diamond that Liz used to wear around her neck because it was too heavy to wear on her hand. Hopefully, everything will get worked out in the end.
Elizabeth Taylor's life was filled with amazing films, and incredible friendships, but she also saw more than her share of heartbreak and sadness, too. Now that she's passed away, her memory deserves a break. It's her birthday February 27th, and it would be better to remember her for her film work, than for this latest scandal.