16 Elizabeth Taylor books, scandals included
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Elizabeth Taylor, who died early Wednesday at age 79 in Los Angeles, had never really bothered to write a full-life autobiography. Maybe that’s because the public life of the Oscar-winning actress was, for a few decades, so large that there was no need to retell it. The seven marriages, two to Richard Burton. The very public lifting of singer Eddie Fisher from his wife, Debbie Reynolds -- a telling photo of the three of them together is after the jump.
If memoir is lacking, photos are everywhere. She was so famous and so beautiful that it’s not hard to find picture books dedicated to her. And it seems like every photo book that includes the words ‘glamour’ or ‘Hollywood’ includes at least one photo of Liz. Similarly, the name-droppy Hollywood books also always mention her, and more than one notes that she hated being called Liz.
Taylor was the author of record of three books (one source says four, although I can’t find the fourth). Two may well have had ghostwriters; the last one was acknowledged to be ghostwritten by Jane Scovell. All three make our list of 16 books about Elizabeth Taylor, the big picture.
1. ‘Nibbles and Me’ by Elizabeth Taylor (1946). The young actress on her adventures with her pet chipmunk.
2. ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ by Elizabeth Taylor (1964). An informal, authorized memoir. Don’t expect dish.
3. ‘Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star’ by Kitty Kelley (1981). The notorious biographer took on Taylor for her second big book and wound up with a lifelong enemy. Afterward, Taylor repeated called Kelley a liar -- so while this book dishes the dirt, it may be more shiny rumor than documented fact.
4. ‘Richard Burton: A Life’ by Melvyn Bragg (1989). The biography of Burton includes passages from his diaries about Taylor. ‘My God, she’s a beauty. Sometimes even now, after eight years of marriage, I look at her when she’s asleep at the first light of a gray dawn and wonder at her,’ he wrote. And later, ‘Our quarrels sounded like the quarrels one hears from the next room in a cheap hotel by two middle-aged people 20 years married and bored witless by each other.’
5. ‘Elizabeth’ by Alexander Walker (1991). The British film critic makes connections between Taylor’s films and her life, and is particularly good in his examination of her early career.
6. ‘A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor’ by Donald Spoto (1995). Reviewed as ‘at once scathing and sympathetic,’ Spoto’s biography, grounded in her film career and Hollywood research, blames a showbiz mom for Taylor’s self-destructive tendencies.
7. ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor’ by C. David Heymann (1995). Based on thousands of interviews, this unauthorized bio makes a less respectable, more candid companion to Spoto’s.
8. ‘Been There, Done That: An Autobiography of Eddie Fisher’ by Eddie Fisher (1999). Fisher, who was a mega-selling pop singer with the conquest record to match, writes: ‘Beauty made me crazy. I spent my life in pursuit of perfection. And I was fortunate enough to find the one perfect woman -- many times.’ He describes Taylor as the great and destructive love of his life.
9. ‘Yul Brynner: Photographer’ by Victoria Brynner (1996). Brynner was an avid amateaur photographer; his daughter Victoria compiled this collection. ‘He was on sets and taking pictures of his friends,’ said academy curator Ellen Harrington. ‘It’s a very different kind of intimate portrait. Elizabeth Taylor has said he’s the only one she ever let photograph her without her makeup.’
10. ‘Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry’ (2002). It may be superficial material for a book, but this is a woman who wore a diamond so big it had a name -- the Taylor-Burton -- and was a whopping 69 carats. Also, Taylor once threw a book party (for Carole Bayer Sager) at Tiffany’s, the first the store had ever hosted.
11. ‘Elizabeth Taylor: Eternal Romantic’ by James Ursini and Paul Duncan (2008). One of Taschen’s Movie Icons series, with text in English, German and Italian and lots and lots of photos. Softcover, about 5 by 7 inches.
12. ‘Elizabeth Taylor: A Life in Pictures’ by Pierre-Henri Verlhac and Yann-Brice Dherbier (2008). Lots and lots more photos, newsy, film-y and candid. Larger format -- 10 by 11.5 inches.
13. ‘Elizabeth Taylor: The Queen and I’ by Gianna Bozzacchi (2002). In 1965, Bozzacchi, a 22-year old photgrapher from Rome, joined Taylor on the African film set of ‘The Comedians.’ He remained her personal photographer for more than a decade; many of these photos had never been seen before publication here.
14. ‘The Unexpurgated Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diraires as He Wrote Them, 1970-1980' by Cecil Beaton, preface by Hugo Vickers (2003). In his introduction, Beaton biographer Vickers writes, ‘in the [previously] published diaries, opinions are softened, celebrated figures are hailed as wonders and triumphs, whereas in the originals, Cecil can be as venomous as anyone I have ever read or heard in the most shocking of conversation.’ Taylor is one of the stars revealed in this later version; our reviewer wrote, ‘there is perception amid the venom, a gift for seeing the difference between style and faddishness, elegance and ostentation, originality and shock effect, gold and dross.’
15. ‘Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century’ by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (2010). Our reviewer wrote, ‘The details of the couple’s affair, 10-year marriage, divorce, brief remarriage and second split are too well known to rehearse here. Most of this book’s narrative draws — with appropriate credit — on previously published sources, though Kashner and Schoenberger have had access to unpublished portions of Taylor’s autobiography and, more important, to 40 of the many love letters Burton sent her over the years. The latter, excerpted here, are remarkable: by turns playful, elegant, heartbreakingly felt and wonderfully earthy. The letters’ quality makes one regret that Burton’s lifelong attempts at writing fiction never came to anything but notebook pages.’
16. ‘Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image and Self-Esteem’ by Elizabeth Taylor (1988). Ghostwritten by Scovell, the book earned Taylor a rumored $750,000 advance. When L.A. Times reporter Bob Sipchen went to see Taylor at her Bel-Air home to talk about it, she had dropped from 180 pounds to ‘about 120' and wore ‘skin-tight jeans’ with a maroon sweater. She was gracious, except when he asked if plastic surgery had aided her weight loss. She replied:
‘The next time somebody asks me I’m going to strip all of my clothes off! This really is beginning to cheese me off! I lost weight by dieting!'I did have a chin tuck, because there was so much skin,’ she says, flicking that area with a finger. But ‘I haven’t had suction. I haven’t had a face lift. I did it the old-fashioned, hard way, with suffering, boredom and determination triple. And that is that.’
As for what Taylor herself read, she didn’t talk about it much. But she told the L.A. Times’ Charles Champlin in 1996 that being in films since the age of seven had given her an unsual education. ‘Looking back, I think I missed not having a childhood, not going to a regular school. I had a lot of fathers and avuncular friends on the set. They were great. They used to throw me around and play baseball with me and sneak me candy and comic books.’
-- Carolyn Kellogg