The Exquisite Heart of Elizabeth Taylor
By Charles Casillo, Author of Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship
What comes to mind when you think of Elizabeth Taylor?
Legendary beauty? Classic movies? Romantic pursuits? Extravagant jewels? All of these things helped define her as the icon we know today. But, really, there was so much more to Elizabeth Taylor.
Because of her enormous lust for life, some of Elizabeth’s more endearing traits are often overshadowed by her passions. Mike Nichols, who directed her in one of her biggest hits, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, said, “There are three things I never saw Elizabeth Taylor do: Tell a lie, be unkind to anyone, and be on time.”
Her inability to be unkind is the thing her close friends remember most about her. In truth, Elizabeth was fiercely loyal to her friends, and she also responded to the wounded souls of the world.
In the last terrible months of Marilyn Monroe’s life, when the legendary blonde goddess was in despair, Elizabeth reached out to her and offered help. The two screen beauties were hardly friends—they barely knew each other—and the tabloids were constantly trying to promote a feud between them. Elizabeth was on the set of Cleopatra, a Fox production, when she heard the news that the studio had fired Marilyn from her film Something’s Got to Give.
Elizabeth immediately placed a long-distance call. “Look, Marilyn,” Elizabeth began, “I know we’re not friends, but what’s happening to you now has been happening to me for a long time over this Cleopatra situation. The financial problems that are going on with the studio are not the fault of either one of us, but they need to put the blame on someone for their desperate problems, and they seem to be using the two of us. So I wanted to tell you, if you’re in a bad position and you need any help financially, I will send some money to you.”
Then Elizabeth went even further. She told Marilyn that she was willing to walk off the set of Cleopatra in solidarity with her blonde contemporary. She promised to tell the press, “They are putting the blame on Marilyn just as they tried to put the blame on me.” This would have been a tremendous sacrifice by Elizabeth—she had been having ongoing problems with Cleopatra for three years. Marilyn was deeply touched by Elizabeth’s offer, but she assured her she’d be alright and that there was no need to damage their reputations any more than the studio already had.
When Marilyn passed away several months later, Elizabeth told the press, “I didn’t know her very well, but what I did know of her I liked very much.” There was no mention that she actually offered Marilyn help, and Elizabeth didn’t even discuss it until decades later.
That was very much Elizabeth’s way. When her best friend, Montgomery Clift, could no longer get work in Hollywood because his physical decline made him uninsurable, Elizabeth used her power, insisting that he be cast as her costar in Reflections in a Golden Eye—and she even offered to put up her own one million dollar salary to cover his insurance. “Everyone has abandoned me except for her,” Monty told friends.
Of course, she is well known for her dedication to charitable causes. But what went unreported was that during her many tours promoting her perfumes, Elizabeth always made it a point to stop in hospices in each city to spend some time with patients.
There are countless untold stories of Elizabeth’s good deeds, but maybe that’s why she endures. In a world of stunningly beautiful women, behind Elizabeth Taylor’s face was an exceptionally tender heart—adding that special glow that makes her beauty so unforgettable.
About the Author
Charles Casillo is the author of the biographies Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon and Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy, the novels The Fame Game and The Marilyn Diaries, and the short story collection Boys, Lost & Found. His profiles, short stories, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He has appeared in Monroe documentaries such as Behind the Headlines: Marilyn and Her Men on Lifetime and Scandalous: The Death of Marilyn Monroe. His movies include Let Me Die Quietly. He divides his time between New York and Los Angeles. Find him online @CharlesCasillo on Facebook and Twitter or @charles_casillo on Instagram.
Violet-eyed siren Elizabeth Taylor and classically handsome Montgomery Clift were the most gorgeous screen couple of their time. Over two decades of friendship, they made, separately and together, some of the era’s defining movies—including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The Misfits; Suddenly, Last Summer; and Cleopatra. Yet, the relationship between these two figures—one a dazzling, larger-than-life star, the other hugely talented yet fatally troubled—has never truly been explored until now.
“Monty, Elizabeth likes me, but she loves you.” —Richard Burton
When Elizabeth Taylor was cast opposite Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, he was already a movie idol, with a natural sensitivity that set him apart. At seventeen, Elizabeth was known for her ravishing beauty rather than her talent. Directors treated her like a glamorous prop. But Monty took her seriously, inspiring and encouraging her. In her words, “That’s when I began to act.”
To Monty, she was “Bessie Mae,” a name he coined for her earthy, private side. The press clamored for a wedding, convinced this was more than friendship. The truth was even more complex. But he found acceptance and kinship with Elizabeth. Her devotion was never clearer than after his devastating car crash near her Hollywood home, when she crawled into the wreckage and saved him from choking.
Monty’s accident shattered his face and left him in constant pain. As he sank into alcoholism and addiction, Elizabeth used her power to keep him working. In turn, through her own challenges, he was her constant.
Far more than the story of two icons, this is a unique and extraordinary love story that shines new light on both stars, revealing their triumphs, demons—and the loyalty that united them to the end.