Her Life’s Companion?—Elizabeth Taylor & Michael Wilding
On February 21, 1952, Elizabeth Taylor stood in the registry office at Caxton Hall, London, and became a bride for the second time. With an expression of radiant happiness on her face, she held out her left hand to 40-year-old Michael Wilding who slipped a plain gold band on her third finger. The ceremony lasted ten minutes. Then, propelling Liz lightly by the elbow, Mr. Wilding headed her into a mob of 3,000 Londoners who had massed outside the building.
“Hya Liz!” shouted her fans, pressing closer. “Are you happy?”
“Yes, yes, very happy,” Liz replied, laughingly, waving and smiling to those near her.
As she approached the waiting limousine, a husky bobby swept her up in his arms and carried her to it while he husband trailed behind. Seemingly delighted by the flurry and excitement, Liz’s parting words before the car door closed were a tremulous, “This is the beginning of a happy end . . .”
But if ever a bride entered the sacred state of marriage followed by predictions of disaster, that bride was Elizabeth Taylor.
There is no answer to that question. If there is one, Elizabeth Taylor would like to know it. The London-born 20-year-old woman who became Hollywood’s most exciting glamor queen in less than a year has never hurt anyone in her entire life, and she has a few questions of her own she’d like to ask:
“Why does everyone keep harping on the fact that Michael Wilding is old enough to be my father? Why do they say behind my back that this marriage won’t last a year? Why do they constantly circulate rumors about my relationship with my parents? Why do they try to hurt me?”
Well, Elizabeth, thanks to you, we have the answers to those questions and a lot more. So, as you have often said in a moment of high ‘anticipation—let’s get with it!
People are saying that Michael Wilding is old enough to be your father, Mrs. Wilding, because it’s true. He is 40 and you are 20. And the contrast doesn’t end there. Like a million other men, he has a receding hairline. Photographed from some angles, he looks very nearly bald, which has nothing to do with anything in a man’s life, if he is not an actor. But Mike is an actor, so you’ll have to go right on reminding him, as you have so often, to put on his hair piece when you go out in public places.
In this respect, you’ll have something in common with Mrs. Bing Crosby and Mrs. John Wayne. Bing and the Duke hate like the devil to go the toupee route, but the whole world knows and nobody minds. Matter of fact, in their own particular way, these two guys are just as romantic to their wives, and the public, as Mr. Michael Wilding is to Mrs. Michael Wilding.
Let’s take this thing apart, Elizabeth. Not many weeks ago, you became a bride for a second time. When you emerged from the Caxton registry hall in London—and the crowd pressed around you, exclaiming, “Are you happy?” you told them, from your heart, that you were, at last. But it was not like that a little more than two years ago when you and Nicky Hilton rushed breathlessly away from the huge church wedding. Your first marriage was everyone’s dream of happiness but your own.
No one, then, was trying to hurt you. They just didn’t know you, for you were a woman and had been for a long time while your family and friends looked upon you as a lovely, if somewhat vague and irresponsible teen-ager.
Remember the big party your folks gave for you when you were 16? The guests were largely your studio co-workers. Charming, adult show people who considered a party without cocktails like a waltz without music. It must have seemed a little strange to you that every now and then couples drifted outside to their cars. And when they came back the aroma that wafted in with them had nothing to do with the fruit punch your mother was serving. No. They knew in advance that this was to be a little girl party, so some of them had brought their own liquor.
Remember how your mother felt about this, and the general behavior of some of the guests? You probably agree, now, that she was right. The trouble was not with the party, but with the people who attended it. They came to be amused, and they were, at your expense.
Memories like this can sink in, turning a normal girl like you into a hard-shelled sophisticate. And in your life there were dozens of little episodes that pointed you in this direction. Like the time a, photographer was busily engaged in shooting pictures of you in a somewhat daring sweater pose. While your mother was explaining how carefully you had been brought up, you looked up at the photographer a little wearily and said, “What sort of a look do you want now—one that says I’m waiting for time to go by?”
Frankly, no one can blame you for the resentments that began to build inside you. Many another young. actress has grown up happily, allowing everyone to live her life, but from the start you wanted independence. Outwardly, you covered up your emotions with a vague and delightfully confused attitude toward everything.
People were constantly saying, “Oh, that Elizabeth Taylor! She’s beautiful and unspoiled, but she’s in love with love, and doesn’t know what she’s doing!” The echoes of these remarks must have reached your ears many times in all their senseless cloying sweetness.
The Elizabeth Taylor-Nicky Hilton married was this fictional character, not you. And while Nicky was courting you, he had to approach you as though you were a Dresden doll. That’s how it happened that you and your friends and family never discovered that Nicky was like most other young men. He liked to drink. He liked to gamble. He didn’t mean to lie to you about himself, nor you to him. The trouble was that the whole story of the two of you was created out of the vast enthusiasm of people who wanted you to be their idea of Elizabeth Taylor.
So it was a great shock to both of you to discover that you were strangers. Perhaps it’s going too far to say that you were simply “too much woman” for Nicky. At least it can be truthfully said that neither of you knew—not each other—but yourselves well enough to give the marriage a chance. People simply couldn’t understand how a honeymoon couple with a present of $15,000 in cash to blow in on a European honeymoon could fail to have a good time. Both you and Nicky soon learned that $15,000 is like a bag of peanuts when it collides with the Monte Carlo gaming tables.
If you want to date your factual arrival at adulthood you might put it at the time you dug into your personal resources and paid for the trip home. Even then both you and Nicky tried to make a go of your marriage. But when you came home, you were plopped right back into the old fiction, and the people who hoped to help “this little girl” straighten things out merely made a hopeless mess.
It’s just human nature for friends and relatives not to blame themselves for what happened. That’s why, today, they ask the brutal question, “Why is Elizabeth marrying a man old enough to be her father?” But you needn’t allow this to hurt you. After all, it’s only a set of words, spoken by many of those who should have learned not to interfere.
Your husband, Michael Wilding, is not even distantly related to the Hollywood wolves who made your life so miserable, just after you divorced Nicky. They sent you flowers and expensive gifts. There was not a proposal in the lot, but there were some bluntly suggestive notes. Yet not one of these dubious gentlemen go as your front door.
You lived alone with your friend Peggy Rutledge in your modest Wilshire Boulevard apartment, with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis for neighbors. You had a light and meaningless romance with director Stanley Donen which was important only to those who make a living dramatizing the lives of exciting people.
Then came Michael Wilding, a quiet, slender chap, with great personal charm, Mike appeared unobtrusively on the Hollywood scene. We all saw at small parties now and then, usually among reporters and writers and not with the big money crowd, although Mike Wilding was well-known and acceptable even in the veddy social gatherings. What he most liked to do was sit on the floor at parties, meet new people and enjoy the exchange of creative ideas.
And that’s just about the whole story, except that this time you ruled out all the people who had “helped” you before. You made life very tough for reporters who were used to explaining your every move. You spent most of your courtship in the company of the Stewart Grangers, and no newshounds were able to penetrate the curtain around your private life.
When you went to Palm Springs, you cleverly let the word slip that you were headed for New York. And about the time the news finally leaked out that Mike had asked you to marry him and the event would take place any minute, you made reservations in Acapulco. That, Elizabeth, was a cute trick. You completely stumped the editors of MODERN SCREEN. They sent a photographer and reporter all the way to Mexico where they cooled their heels for ten days waiting for you to check into the hotel room on your wedding day.
Now, for awhile at least, you’ll have to get used to predictions and rumors that hurt when you see them in print. Frankly, you had to hurt a few people yourself. Like the friends you seemed to drop so abruptly. Perhaps now they realize that this was the only thing you could do. They represented a threat to your happiness, for if they had been in on your plans the world would have been, too. And you can hardly be blamed for not wanting to make a circus of your second marriage.
So you’ve come to the happy ending, and it can be just that, provided you don’t feel that you should continue the drastic measures you’ve employed. For example, you and Mike have a big problem to face. He must spend almost half his time in England, fulfilling his contracts. That means that it will be difficult for you to create a permanent home. There will be long months during which you will be working in Hollywood, alone. That means that there will be inevitable rumors about a separation. But, if you and Mike realize that you have sincere friends among the press, what the other people say won’t bother you at all.
As for your studio, it is only natural that with a little more than.a year left on your contract, they will seek to renew it. And, with men like Dore Schary interested in your future there should be
a way in which you can make plans that will allow you to spend the greatest share of your time with your husband.
Summing it up, Elizabeth, you’ve had a rough trip though Hollywood, emotionally speaking. You’ve earned your present happiness, conducting yourself with grace and dignity. And your answer to those who say, “It can’t last” should be simple.
Just tell them, “Nothing in this world is but Mr. and Mrs. Michael Wilding hope to come awfully close to it!”
—BY SUSAN TRENT AND HOLCOMB SMITH
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE MAY 1952