All in the Family

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Huge numbers of Americans have always loved following a good soap opera on radio, and later on TV. Most of them have seemed to love it even more when it is in real life. And from the earliest days of the American Revolution, most Americans have also seemed to want “idols” to admire. The Hollywood “Star System,” developed very early in the history of the film industry with the likes of Rudolph Valentino, gave Americans both.

And “tabloid” scandal sheets (like the modern National Enquirer)…which were invented not in the mid-20th century but in the early 1800s!…have fed both interests.

One of the most popular objects of this desire for “Soap Operas of the (Pseudo-) Gods and Goddesses” has been film star Elizabeth Taylor, who was born 2/27/32, and made her first film at age 9. Taylor, who died in 2011 at the age of 79, was still giving the tabloids fodder for front page stories when on her deathbed.

The two pics above are a sample of the reason so many star-struck Americans were fascinated with the soap opera of Liz’s life. Lots of female stars had “serial affairs” that were chronicled in the tabloids. But no one had the litany of “serial marriages” like Liz. The pics above show her with hubbies four, five, and six. Wait…there are only two men shown! Yes, after trading in hubby four, Eddie Fisher, for hubby five, Richard Burton, she eventually divorced Burton. But they couldn’t stand to be apart for long, so they remarried and he became hubby 6.

That only lasted a year, though, and soon she traded him in and found hubby 7. Hmmm…this reminds me of the old British Herman’s Hermits song from the ’60s, “I’m ‘Ennery the Eighth, I am!” about the lady who married eight men in a row named Henry. Liz didn’t pick all ‘Enneries, but she did go through eight marriages.

When asked why she married so often, she replied, “I don’t know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me,” but also said that, “I was taught by my parents that if you fall in love, if you want to have a love affair, you get married. I guess I’m very old-fashioned.” Taylor’s husbands were:

 Conrad “Nicky” Hilton (May 6, 1950 – January 29, 1951): Taylor [age 18] believed that she was in love with the young hotel heir, but also wanted to escape her mother. Hilton’s “gambling, drinking, and abusive behavior”, however, horrified her and her parents, caused a miscarriage, and ended the marriage in divorce after nine months. [Hilton was son of Hilton Hotel founder Conrad the First. Nicky’s other claim to fame was having an affair with his step-mother, Zsa Zsa Gabor, when he was 18 in 1944.]

Michael Wilding (February 21, 1952 – January 26, 1957): The “gentle” Wilding, years older than Taylor [20 at the time], comforted her after leaving Hilton. After their divorce Taylor admitted that “I gave him rather a rough time, sort of henpecked him and probably wasn’t mature enough for him.” [Like Liz’s later husband Richard Burton, Wilding was a British stage and film actor—but without Burton’s fame and charisma.]

Mike Todd (February 2, 1957 – March 22, 1958): Todd’s death ended Taylor’s only marriage not to result in divorce. Although their relationship was tumultuous, she later called him one of the three loves of her life, along with Burton and jewelry. [Todd was a film producer, most famous for the 1956 Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days.]

Eddie Fisher (May 12, 1959 – March 6, 1964): Fisher, Todd’s best friend, consoled Taylor after Todd’s death. They began an affair while Fisher was still married to Debbie Reynolds [Liz’s good friend], causing a scandal; Reynolds eventually forgave Taylor; she voted for her when Taylor was nominated for an Oscar for BUtterfield 8, and starred with her in These Old Broads. [Eddie was a popular crooner/teen idol of the early 1950s, with his own TV show—until it was cancelled in the wake of the Liz Scandal.]

Richard Burton (March 15, 1964 – June 26, 1974): The Vatican condemned Burton and Taylor’s affair, which began when both were married to others, as “erotic vagrancy”. The press closely followed their relationship before, during, and after their ten years of marriage, due to great public interest in “the most famous film star in the world and the man many believed to be the finest classical actor of his generation.” Taylor wanted to focus on her marriage rather than her career, and gained weight in an unsuccessful attempt to not receive film roles. [Burton was a Welsh actor who came to fame in Hollywood and was at one time its highest paid actor.]

Richard Burton (October 10, 1975 – July 29, 1976): Sixteen months after divorcing—Burton said, “You can’t keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up”—they remarried in a private ceremony in Kasane, Botswana, but soon separated and redivorced in 1976.

John Warner (December 4, 1976 – November 7, 1982): As with Burton, Taylor sought to be known as the wife of her husband, a Republican United States Senator from Virginia. Unhappy with her life in Washington, however, Taylor became depressed and entered the Betty Ford Center. [A celebrity re-hab center famous for treating alcohol and drug addictions.]

Larry Fortensky (October 6, 1991 – October 31, 1996): Taylor and Fortensky met during another stay at the Betty Ford Center and were married at the Neverland Ranch [the home of Liz’s good friend Michael Jackson. Fortensky was a construction worker, who had a pre-nuptial agreement with Liz that he’d receive $1 million from her if they ever divorced…IF the marriage lasted five years. It did, but just barely. In addition to the $1Mil for the marriage, Liz left him $800,000 in her will.]

Liz-a-thon:

Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages:

Michael Todd (#3), Richard Burton (#6),

Conrad Hilton (#1)

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More:

Richard Burton (#5), Eddie Fisher (#4)

John Warner (#7) Larry Fortensky (#8) top small pic, Michael Wilding (#2) bottom small pic

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Lest you think I was a Liz groupie and that’s why I have all this info, nah. I looked it all up via Google just now. I did grow up during the heyday of Liz’s career in the 50s/60s, and thought she was a pretty lady. But I never cared much for any of her films, and didn’t care at all for Richard Burton either. Nor was I ever a fan of “Fan Mags”…or the National Enquirer. I followed her scandals mostly by just seeing the covers of the Enquirer and its sister tabloids on the racks at grocery store checkouts over the years.

But I am a big fan—and long-time student—of Social Psychology, and the Liz Saga is an excellent source of material for exploring the Social-Psych of 20th Century Pop Culture!

 

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