Elizabeth Taylor swooped into Disneyland in a horse-drawn white carriage Thursday night as hundreds of her Hollywood friends turned out to salute a “survivor” on her 60th birthday.
The woman who grew up on screen before the rapt eyes of generations of Americans transformed Disneyland’s Fantasyland into a movie extravaganza with hundreds of celebrities, extraordinary security and lights that turned night into day.
Trumpet fanfares and flashing strobe lights greeted the celebrities who preceded her to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Disney characters escorted everyone from Henry Winkler to Cheryl Tiegs, Gregory Peck to Tom Selleck. A blond Delta Burke, accompanied by her husband, Gerald McRaney, called Taylor “strong and soft . . . witty and clever, intelligent . . . a fighter.”
Disneyland officials barred the press from the event, but beamed their own videotape of the festivities onto satellite for waiting television stations. It gave the public another glimpse of the woman who starred in “National Velvet” at age 12, won two Oscars and married seven men, one of them twice. Along the way she battled a host of illnesses and addictions to painkillers.
“This is a private party and the sky is the limit,” said a Disney spokeswoman. No one would say how much it cost to fete the hundreds of invited guests, but the normal $8,000 charge to rent the park after hours clearly was only the starting point. Although corporations have staged parties at Disneyland in the past, Taylor was the first individual to rent it, a park spokesman said.
Songwriter Carol Bayer Sager, one of the party organizers, said she “wanted to just throw a party where Elizabeth could have fun. She has brought a lot of love into my life.”
Her longtime friend, Roddy McDowallbeamed as he arrived and said, “It’s wonderful to be here to celebrate a survivor.”
JonVoight, wearing a white Lakers jacket, said: “I remember her when ‘National Velvet’ came out and I fell in love with her. She means so much to us.”
Rod McKuen said he wrote a song as his gift to Taylor, but wouldn’t say more because it’s “a very private thing.” Actor John Forsythe said the gift from him and his wife was a donation to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the charity for which Taylor has raised money.
Shirley MacLaine, who arrived with journalist Carl Bernstein, said Taylor has been “the most long-lasting star on the firmament and I know about that cosmic stuff. . . . I’m here in celebration of what has been a fantasy life.”
Times columnist Liz Smith, who attended the party, gave this report as events began to unfold:
“Disneyland was just spectacular. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was decorated with columns of lavender and gold balloons. Vintage cars carried the guests. Trumpets sounded as each alighted.
“Security was rigid but the atmosphere was warm, informal and childlike.
“Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky arrived at 9:30. She was wearing sparkling cowboy boots and black quilted jacket with sprays of sequins, and he was wearing a black leather jacket and brown cowboy boots. Mickey Mouse took her arm as she got out and walked with her.”
The extravaganza was a remarkable tribute to a woman who has not made a featured motion picture since 1980, nor a television movie since 1989. In recent years she has been known for her perfumes, her work on behalf of people with AIDS and her latest marriage--last October to construction worker Larry Fortensky, 20 years her junior.
Park officials shooed the public out at 6 p.m. and imposed extraordinary security inside and outside the grounds.
Disneyland employees sported wristbands in addition to their regular identification badges to cut down on the chance of infiltrators.
Outside the park, guards with flashlights and German shepherd dogs were stationed at intervals of 50 feet.
The park assigned an escort to each of the several hundred reporters and photographers and required them to wear yellow bracelets. Disney officials said reporters and photographers from 65 newspapers, television and radio stations and magazines from as far away as Germany, Italy and Japan thronged the event.
Mark French, 23, a tourist from Nowra, Australia, said he was rushed along by Disney officials who were counting down the minutes at the end of the day.
“I was trying to get a picture with Mickey and they told me I had to leave,” he said. “I knew Liz Taylor was going to be here, so I thought about hiding someplace so I could see her. . . .”
The Federal Aviation Administration restricted airspace over the park until midnight, letting news media helicopters swing over the park two at a time.
Taylor said before the party that she invited “everyone I know and like and respect” for a “wild and fun” evening to contrast with her marriage to Fortensky, whom she met in a drug rehabilitation clinic. Those nuptials, at the ranch of entertainer Michael Jackson, near Santa Barbara, were “very small and controlled,” Taylor said.
Lisa Del Favero, a Taylor spokeswoman, said the actress wanted her birthday “to be a joyous occasion,” but it took planning fit for “a small army maneuver” to make it work.
Likenesses of Taylor and Mickey Mouse graced the party invitations, which were dispatched by the Fox studios and numbered to make sure not just anyone got them. Some guests said they were asked to sign pledges that they would not discuss the party with the press.
Guests were told to dress casually but leave their children at home.
Taylor was born on Feb. 27, 1932, outside London to Americans living abroad. Her father was an art dealer, her mother a former stage actress.
The family moved to America in 1939, and in 1942, at age 10, Taylor made her first movie, “There’s One Born Every Minute.” Two years later came the movie that made her a star, “National Velvet.”
She was 18 when she married her first husband, hotel heir Conrad (Nicky) Hilton. In subsequent years, as the world watched in fascination, she married Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton, Sen. John Warner and Fortensky.
Over the years she has had major health problems, always well-chronicled. Back pain and bronchitis have plagued her for decades; when she suffered a severe bout of flu, doctors had to cut a hole in her throat so she could breathe. She says her weight has yo-yoed between 120 and 160 pounds, taking her from an object of admiration to the subject of ridicule.
Twice she entered the Betty Ford clinic to battle problems with drugs she consumed to help her sleep and battle pain. It was at the clinic that she met Fortensky, a construction worker who is 20 years her junior.
She won the best actress Oscar twice, in 1960 for “Butterfield 8" and in 1966 for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Her last feature film was “The Mirror Crack’d,” in 1980, with Kim Novak and her longtime friend, Rock Hudson. Her last television movie was “Sweet Bird of Youth,” shown in 1989.
In recent years Taylor has been an activist in raising money to fight AIDS, in part, according to friends, because of her anguish when Hudson died of the disease.
Times staff writers Ann Conway and Kevin Johnson and correspondent Bill Higgins contributed to this story.
GUEST LIST: B9
Liz’s Guest List
Here is a partial list of those who attended Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th birthday at Disneyland Thursday night: David Bowie
Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney
Mr. and Mrs. Rick Dees
Mr. and Mrs. John Forsythe
Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford
Jack Haley Jr.
C. Thomas Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Alan Ladd Jr.
Shirley MacLaine and Carl Bernstein
The Gregory Pecks
The Tony Pecks (Cheryl Tiegs)
Carole Bayer Sager
Eva Marie Saint and Jeff Hayden
The Tom Sellecks (Jillie Mack)
The Robert Stacks
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Roeg (Theresa Russell)