Somehow it came as a shock this morning that Hollywood’s luminous actress Elizabeth Taylor (“National Velvet,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) had died of congestive heart failure at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. True, Ms. Taylor had been at Cedars for these past six weeks, but she had been ill so many times before and always bounced back. Sadly, not this time. Today, Hollywood’s royalty lost a radiant star.
In her later years, Ms. Taylor is probably most thought of in terms of her incredible charitable work with her Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, her battles with illness and weight, and of course her eight marriages (two to Richard Burton). But it’s her superb movie performances that she will be remembered for longest. Nominated for five Academy Awards and winning two Oscars (“Butterfield 8” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), Ms. Taylor graced the screen for six decades in a wide array of comedies and dramas.
Of course, everyone has his or her favorite Elizabeth Taylor film (and if you don’t, you should start an Elizabeth Taylor Netflix list). Three personal favorites are “National Velvet,” “Father of the Bride,” and the rigorous “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
In 1944’s “National Velvet” a 12-year old Elizabeth Taylor burst onto the Hollywood scene playing a young girl, Velvet, who wins a spirited horse, Pie, in a local lottery. It’s not long before Mickey Rooney is assisting with the training of Pie and Velvet for England’s greatest horse race, the Grand National. This joyous and thrilling family movie, with an already breathtaking Elizabeth Taylor, is an exciting forerunner to the horse racing films of today (“Seabiscuit” and “Secretariat.”)
“Father of the Bride” from 1950 stars Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett as the parents and Ms. Taylor as daughter Kay, who announces she’s getting married. The film wryly depicts all the funny and disastrous events that occur up through the wedding. Still resonating today, “Father of the Bride” was remade in 1991 starring Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. But what’s great about the original is Vincente Minnelli’s fine comedic touch with his ensemble, Ms. Taylor’s youthful, charming performance as Kay, and Mr. Tracy as the exasperated father footing the wedding bill. No one plays an exasperated husband and father better than Spencer Tracy, and for his performance, he was nominated for an Oscar.
Then on the opposite side of the entertainment spectrum is a film from 1966, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Directed by Mike Nichols from the Edward Albee play, this film is a hard hitting, raucous affair where Elizabeth Taylor stars with her then husband Richard Burton as Martha and George, a boozing, angry married couple – George is a college professor at Martha’s father’s college. After a college mixer, they invite over a new instructor and his wife (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) for a few drinks. It’s a night not to be forgotten.
Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, “Virginia Woolf” was nominated in every category, and picked up five Oscars, including Oscars for Ms. Taylor and Ms. Dennis. It’s an intense film, but definitely worth watching.
What’s your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie? Feel free to respond in the comments section below.
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