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Elizabeth Taylor: Reluctant Star in Oscar-Winning Role

Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, A Place in the Sun
Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun

Elizabeth Taylor can be found in 11 movies to be presented on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, Aug. 23, as part of TCM's “Summer Under the Stars” series. (See below TCM's full Elizabeth Taylor schedule.]

Curiously, even though Taylor is one of the biggest movie stars ever, she did appear in a few (to the best of my knowledge) still hard-to-find titles. Is Franco Zeffirelli's Young Toscanini (1988) available on home video in the US? Are Night Watch (1973) and Ash Wednesday (1973) easily available?

Unfortunately, none of those titles will be shown on TCM, but there's one that most people probably haven't heard of despite its stellar cast: Brian G. Hutton's X, Y & Zee (1971), a bizarre psychological drama in which Taylor co-stars with Michael Caine and Susannah York.

Though hardly what I'd call a great film, X, Y & Zee is an intriguing, cynical portrayal of dysfunctional human relations: married couple Caine-Taylor, lovers Caine-York, and seducer/seducee Taylor-York. It's definitely worth a look, especially since both Taylor and York are excellent. As a plus, the supporting cast includes Margaret Leighton and John Standing.

In spite of Joan Bennett's presence, Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride (1950) is the sort of family movie that could only be saved by an invasion of flesh-eating zombies. As far as I'm concerned, the old MGM's Andy Hardy sensibility is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

On the other hand, Life with Father (1947) – a Warner Bros. release – has enough oddball humor to make it quite enjoyable. The fact that the film's production values are first-rate, and that William Powell (as the unreligious father) and Irene Dunne are in top form surely helps.

Clarence Brown's National Velvet (1945) left me cold, but Fred M. Wilcox's Lassie Come Home (1943) left me misty-eyed. I cared more about that collie than about most humans in most MGM movies. Ah, I cared about two-legged Dame May Whitty, too.

Taylor is both beautiful and surprisingly effective in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951), co-starring Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters. (Despite a Best Actress Oscar nomination, she was less effective in another pairing with Clift, Raintree County, MGM's attempt to create a second Gone with the Wind. Clift's disfiguring car crash took place during filming.)

Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?Taylor is less beautiful but even more effective in Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, right), the kind of family movie that requires no zombies.

In fact, I'd say the complex, engrossing, disturbing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? probably hasn't aged one day since it first came out nearly half a century ago.

Adapted by Ernest Lehman from Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? also stars Richard Burton, George Segal, and Oscar winner Sandy Dennis.

Elizabeth Taylor Butterfield 8

Elizabeth Taylor was reluctant to star in Daniel Mann's Butterfield 8 (1960), the film that was to eventually win her a Best Actress Academy Award. (Taylor would win her second Oscar statuette for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

“It's a terrible mean thing they've done to me,” the MGM contract player told UPI. “They have the power to keep me off the screen for the next two years unless I agree to do Butterfield and it looks as if that's what they're going to do.”

Taylor finally agreed to star as the tragic high-class sex worker Gloria Wandrous so she could be free to travel to Rome to film Cleopatra for 20th Century Fox.

Her co-stars in Butterfield 8 were Laurence Harvey, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Room at the Top (1959), and Eddie Fisher, whom Taylor had married following a scandalous affair – when it all started, Fisher was Debbie Reynolds' husband.

Butterfield 8 turned out to be a box office success, but reviewers were unimpressed. Yet, that year enough Academy members felt Taylor gave the best performance by an actress in a leading role that the actress found herself among the five nominees for 1960's Best Actress Oscar.

A serious illness that led to a tracheotomy all but guaranteed her the statuette. According to Damien Bona and Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar, fellow nominee Melina Mercouri considered asking the other Best Actress nomineesDeborah Kerr, Shirley MacLaine, and Greer Garson – to drop out of the race with her so Taylor could win unanimously, but ultimately decided against the idea.

Mercouri explained: “I was afraid to suggest it because then everyone would think I was just trying to make publications.”

Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, <em/>Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” width=”500″ height=”345″ title=”Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, <em>Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</em>” /><br />
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton in Mike Nichols' <em>Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</em></p>
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<p>Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:</p>
<p>3:00 AM <em>Lassie Come Home</em> (1943)<br />
A faithful collie undertakes an arduous journey to return to her lost family. <em>Cast:</em> Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp. <em>Dir.:</em> Fred M. Wilcox. Color. 89 min.</p>
<p>4:30 AM <em>National Velvet</em>  (1944)<br />
A British farm girl fights to train a difficult horse for the Grand National Steeplechase. <em>Cast:</em> <a href=Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Color. 124 min.

6:45 AM Life With Father (1947)
A straitlaced turn-of-the-century father presides over a family of boys and the mother who really rules the roost. Cast: William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Color. 118 min.

8:45 AM Father Of The Bride (1950)
A doting father faces mountains of bills and endless trials when his daughter marries. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett. Dir.: Vincente Minnelli. Black and white. 93 min.

10:45 AM Place in the Sun, A (1951)
An ambitious young man wins an heiresss' heart but has to cope with his former girlfriend's pregnancy. Cast: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters. Dir.: George Stevens. Black and white. 122 min.

1:00 PM Last Time I Saw Paris, The (1954)
A writer recalls his turbulent marriage to an expatriate heiress. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Donna Reed. Dir.: Richard Brooks. Color. 116 min.

3:00 PM Butterfield 8 (1960)
A party girl ruins her life when she falls for a married man. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Eddie Fisher. Dir.: Daniel Mann. Color. 109 min.

5:00 PM Raintree County (1957)
In this sumptuous Civil War story, a willful southern belle goes mad out of fear that she may be part black. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint. Dir.: Edward Dmytryk. Color. 173 min.

8:00 PM Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
An academic couple reveal their deepest secret to a pair of newcomers during an all-night booze fest. Cast: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis. Dir.: Mike Nichols. Black and white. 131 min.

10:30 PM V.I.P.S, The (1963)
Wealthy passengers fogged in at London's Heathrow Airport fight to survive a variety of personal trials. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Margaret Rutherford. Dir.: Anthony Asquith. Color. 119 min.

1:00 AM X Y & Zee (1972)
A possessive woman fights to end her husband's affair with a younger woman. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Susannah York. Dir.: Brian G. Hutton. Color. 106 min.

 

Elizabeth Taylor movies' schedule and synopsis via the Turner Classic Movies website.

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