Elizabeth Taylor’s Fight For Life
At the dinner table in the Todds’ twenty-three room estate at Westport, Conn., Liz Taylor sat, smiling gaily. Suddenly, her lovely face contorted with pain. Casting one helpless, pleading look at Mike, she collapsed, dark hair tumbling on the white cloth.
Mike rushed her to the hospital . . . “she’ll rest until it’s safe to perform a Caesarean,” he said . . . two days later, at 9:00 a.m. an emergency consultation . . . at 12:00 noon, the operation . . . at 12:03 p.m., the birth of Elizabeth Frances Todd. For fourteen minutes, she did not breathe. The doctors worked feverishly, desperately, to save her mother . . .
During the exciting months that preceded the crisis, Mike and Liz knew it was coming. For that reason, they had gone into seclusion on the Riviera, barring all photographers. For that reason, so much about their hectic, fabulous life can be explained . . .
Mexico . . . New York . . . Hollywood . . . Palm Springs . . . the Riviera . . . Paris . . . London. Halfway round the world and back again, the Todds have traveled, with Mike scattering Yankee dollars as if he had a private mint and Liz swathed in luxury such as even she had never imagined.
Catching up with the dynamic Mr. Todd, who goes on his whirlwind way at a pace that leaves others panting, is no mean feat. So, when he finally consented to an interview, it was a very exciting prospect. Would Mike go into details about his fabulous marriage to Liz?
Seated across the table at dinner in a swank restaurant, Mike minced no words. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Just about every newspaper and magazine from Moscow to Tokyo has been after me for a marriage story, but I won’t do it. I don’t want our marriage reduced to the what-they-eat-for-breakfast and who-leaves-the-cap-off-the-toothpaste level. I think you can understand that.”
Of course. Mike and Liz are no Average American Couple. Liz, for all her youth, is one of the most beautiful and glamorous women in the world, with all the sophistication that goes with it. Fifty-year-old Mike is one of the most successful business men in the world, with all the dignity that goes with it.
But—there was also another reason, about which Mike would—or could-not speak. It was the secret he and Liz had hid bravely for months under a show of the most glamorous high living the public had ever seen. An envious public, that did not know the truth. For who could blame the Todds for living it up, who could blame Mike for showering Liz with costly gifts and pleasures, when their lives were constantly shadowed by the knowledge that Liz’ health—even her life, were in danger?
When Liz learned that the baby they both wanted so much was on the way, they were supremely happy. And there was nothing to cloud that happiness. Although Liz still suffered some pain, the operation for a spinal condition had been a complete success, and a good recovery seemed certain.
But as the Todds went on their fabulous way, a painful pattern was repeated again and again—Liz, glowing and gay one moment, seized with shattering agony the next. Mike, calling doctors frantically, and rushing his wife to the nearest hospital.
As the months passed, fear gripped their hearts—fear that the recurring pain had weakened Liz so much that the birth of her baby would be very difficult.
When the Todds cut short their Riviera stay and rushed back to New York, they tried to cover up the real reason: An alarmed Mike wanted his Liz close to the Harkness Pavilion, where they had made reservations for the delivery of the baby in October.
He acted not a moment too soon. On shipboard, Liz had the first, terrifying warnings of premature labor pains. Mike took her straight to the hospital, but the pains subsided and she was released.
They settled down in the swank Westport home, and for a few days, all was well—until the pains came on again. Another rush to the Harkness Pavilion. This time, an ominous announcement: “We will know in the next forty-eight hours whether the baby can be saved.” Forty-eight hours of pain for Liz. Forty-eight hours of sleepless torture for Mike.
But again, Liz pulled through. And as soon as she felt stronger, she begged Mike to take her home. She even managed a weak “I’m all right, thank you,” to a thoughtless reporter who accosted her as Mike was bundling her into his Cadillac for the trip back to Westport.
Then, the terrible nightmare that began at the dinner table. Tenderly, Mike carried his prostrate bride to a couch, then leaped to the phone. He tried to keep his voice calm as he told the doctor, “Elizabeth just collapsed at the dinner table.” The doctor replied with the words that made Mike’s heart sink like a lead weight in his chest: “You must bring her to the hospital immediately.”
The heavy, humid air stifled him as he drove through the dark countryside, and sweat poured down his face. Still, he felt cold. Slowing down at an intersection, he turned to glance at Liz. Strange, that she looked more beautiful than ever, lying there against the pillows. He turned back, and pressed the accelerator as far as it would go. Why wouldn’t the car go faster? If he could only find a motorcycle cop to give him escort. What if he couldn’t make it? What if . . .
Then, the endless time of waiting, when they put Liz on a stretcher and carried her away from him. The quickstab of joy when he got the news: “She’s all right now, but she must stay here until a Caesarean operation can be safely performed. It must be done at the earliest possible moment—two weeks from now.”
Day and night he stayed by her side, amply rewarded for his faithful vigilance by the touch of her limp hand and the wisp of a smile. “I’ll stay right here every day of those two weeks, honey,” he told her.
Two days had passed . only two days . . . when, late at night, a sharp cry came from the darkened room, “Mike, MIKE. Please help me. Please!”
The rest was a blur of horror. Nurses and doctors, bustling in their starched white uniforms, whispering. “Hurry! Hurry!” Liz, moaning, white and helpless. So helpless.
Seven doctors convened to make the fateful decision: Operate immediatly. From then, through the terrible hours of waiting, there was nothing Mike Todd could do, but pray. This was a battle Elizabeth had to fight—alone.
After it was over, Mike said simply, “Liz and I are eternally grateful for the miraculous job all the doctors have done. From now on, she is going to be an extremely well and happy girl.”
Now, a serious Mike talked about his plans for bringing that about. For, although he refuses to make the marriage public property, he can no more stop talking about the girl he loves so much, the girl who paid such a high price for love of him, than he can stop breathing.
“With another baby, I want Elizabeth to retire,” Mike announced flatly. “She’s a great actress, one of the best, but I want her to retire because there is no such thing as a happy actress and I intend to see to it that she’s the happiest woman on earth.”
This was a surprise! It’s been known that Mike takes a dim view of Liz’ continuing her career, but he had never expressed himself so strongly, nor set a definite time when he would like her to retire.
“What can a career give her that I can’t?” Mike demanded. “She’ll have the children. She’ll have the world in her pocket with new places to see and new people to meet every day of her life.” He certainly had a point.
“We already have a penthouse in New York, and my friends there. Liz has her friends in Hollywood and we will buy a house there as soon as we can find the ultra-modern one that’s big enough for us, three children, and Liz’ menagerie.”
He chuckled. “You know, I don’t like cats,” he confided. “But Liz does, so we have two cats. And several dogs. And a duck, and whatever else has turned up in the animal line since I left this morning. Liz is probably the only girl who ever flew to New York holding a duck in her lap!”
Mike is the only man in the world who can carry on three telephone conversations and pick out a new diamond bracelet at the same time, but even he has to pause for breath once in a while. It was a good opportunity to sound him out on the question of how Liz feels about retiring. After all, her career has meant a great deal to her. Can she leave it behind so
easily? Does she want to?
“Liz isn’t one of those actresses with whom the career comes first,” Mike said. “She has always put a home and children before that.”
His eyes clouded a bit, and his face was full of concern. “Besides, right now, her health isn’t as good as it should be. I want to look after her. It’s a fine task, looking after her,” he added softly, with feeling.
It was obvious that if it took every one of the fifty million dollars that his hit film, “Around the World in 80 Days” is expected to make, Mike Todd would do just that.
Then he brightened, and grinned. “I have the picture of the year, the bride of the year, and the baby of the year. What man could want more?”
And what woman could want more than Liz, for whom Mike leaves no diamond unbought, no car in a show-window?
In April, the Todds, with Liz’ two sons, Michael and Christopher Wilding, sailed for Europe on the Queen Elizabeth, one of the plushiest ships afloat. They were bound for the Riviera, where Mike had rented a villa. There, he said, the now-pregnant Liz could rest and relax and sun-bathe while he attended to his multitudinous business affairs.
The Villa Fiorentina is one of the most luxurious estates in the South of France. At Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, little more than a stone’s throw from Monte Carlo, it has its own private dock on the blue Mediterranean, a huge swimming pool into which water from the nearby sea is perpetually pumped, acres of wooded forests dotted with stone benches along carefully manicured paths.
Along the Italian marble floors, Liz skipped happily. In the gardens, the pride and joy of the estate’s owner, Lady Kenmade, she sun-bathed. Along the wooded paths she strolled with her two small sons. There was fishing, too, in the waters near the villa. There were boats of assorted sizes tied up at the Todds’ pier. There was everything any girl could dream of.
Never for a moment did Todd neglect his bride in favor of the roulette wheel or the baccarat table. The slightest suggestion that Liz was tired and off they would go, with Mike driving slowly and carefully along the Grand Corniche, the winding mountain road that leads from one town to another along the Mediterranean.
From the day he took her to a New York hospital Mike has watched over Liz’ health. When she became pregnant, his watchfulness was doubled. There have been doctors on call everywhere, visits to specialists, and the tiniest sign of fatigue, while they were at the villa, brought a physician post-haste from Nice.
Mike has watched, just as carefully, over her happiness. Was life at Villa Fiorentina getting dull? There would be a flying | trip to Paris—for a party, or for shopping.
And what shopping! Just a few short blocks from the George V Hotel in Paris, within walking distance even for a lady in a “delicate condition,” are the salons of Dior and Balenciaga, where Liz had only to utter an enraptured “oooh” to acquire a new gown. A short ride away is the Rue de la Paix, with its shops filled with furs and jewels and perfumes. Liz bought and bought. Mike bought and bought. As one man-about-Paris quipped, “The only French phrase Liz knows is ‘Van Cleef and Arpels.’ ”
Liz and Mike flew up to Paris to attend the auctioning of Aly Khan’s collection of modern French paintings. A moody self-portrait by Degas aroused Liz’ int Mike bought it—and two other paintings—and immediately wrote a check for $30,000.
“They’ll think I’m crazy when they hear about this in Hollywood,” he said to Aly Khan, “to pay that much , money for pictures that don’t even move.”
Mike grinned broadly when questioned about Liz’ luxury diet. “Look,” he explained, “a good friend of mine just collared me and told me he thought Liz might be getting a little spoiled. I told him and I’ll tell you that I’ve never had so much fun spoiling anybody and I intend to keep it this way.”
So it was Nice . . . London . . . Paris . . . with new gowns, new furs, new jewels. At the Villa Fiorentina Liz had not closets, but rooms, filled with fabulous clothes.
Visitors came—saw—and gasped.
Liz’ father and mother spent a few weeks with their daughter, saw the sights from the window of a Rolls Royce, and admired the beautiful villa, with its rare furniture, over which Liz’ three poodles gamboled. Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were there, wide-eyed over the pool with its modern dressing rooms and the sun room where Liz kept her canaries. And Michael Wilding arrived for a visit.
“And why not?” said Todd. “Sure, I invited him. It’s natural that a guy wants to see his own kids. He’s a nice guy and I like him. Where else do you want him to stay? In a hotel, maybe, when we have that big villa?”
The months at Cap Ferrat were quiet ones—by Todd standards. Because of Liz’ recent operation, and her pregnancy, they gave only one big party. That was during the film festival and their guest list would have made a blue-book of the V.I.P.’s in attendance.
There was, of course, the opening of Mike’s “Around the World in 80 Days” in Paris, where Liz was, as usual, a sensation in a yellow tulle evening dress—and the new jewel which Mike adds to her collection before each premiere.
And in London, there was the party to end all parties which Mike threw for “2500 intimate friends” following the premiere. For this shindig, Liz had a new Dior chiffon, ruby red, with a new necklace and earrings of rubies and diamonds to match.
“Mike bought it for me on his birthday,” Liz explained.
Todd, having taken a good look at the jewels worn by the Duchess of Kent, cracked: “Liz will probably throw hers in the Thames tomorrow.”
It was a dream affair, except for one incident that might have turned it into a nightmare, when a guest bumped into a table, which struck Liz in the stomach. Furious Mike kept his temper, grasping the man by the shoulders and growling, “My wife is pregnant. Please be a gentleman.” But this might well have caused the serious premature labor pains that sent Liz into the hospital in New York.
Only a week before the premiere, the Todds had been photographed at the London airport in the midst of a heated argument. Mike had been late. . . . They had missed their plane to Nice. . . . Mike had chartered a plane but wanted to stop over in Paris . . . Liz wanted to go direct to Nice. “Todds Tiffing,” the headlines had blazed.
The night of the London premiere there were rumors of another quarrel.
“Sure we had a fight,” says Todd. “A real good one. Better than the fight at the airport. . . .
“You see, I love my wife, and I wanted to protect her. I didn’t want her to walk up and down stairs and bow to a lot of dukes and duchesses at the opening.
“You see, she was a little pregnant and I have to look out for her.
“I wish every couple could have fights like we do,” he said later. “You fight and make up and you’re more in love. But seriously, the most I could wish for any friend of mine would be to be as happy as Liz and I are.”
“Neither of us is inhibited,” explained Liz. “We simply speak freely to each other. The really important thing is that we happen to love each other.”
Just as Todd gave in after the quarrel at the London airport, and lost the bout to keep Liz from the London premiere of his picture, he’s softened a bit on her moviemaking, after all.
“If Liz wants to make a picture now and then,” he said later, “it’s all right. As a matter of fact, I want her to play Dulcinea in ‘Don Quixote’ for me. But an actress with a real career has no time to look after the man she loves. If she tries to do this, struggle as she may, she isn’t going to be as great as she used to be—and she doesn’t like it.
“Liz is basically a woman,” he went on, as he expanded on the subject he refuses to talk about, “very wholesome and with a quality of warmth that’s wonderful. In fact, she’s so wonderful that she’s unbelievable. But I’m older than Elizabeth. I’ve grown up, acquired some wisdom, and I plan a life full enough to keep both of us busy and interested.”
And Elizabeth Taylor Todd, with a sample of the fabulous, fairy-tale life as Mike’s wife behind her, continues to say, “I like it. I like it.”
What girl wouldn’t?
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1957