Hollywood’s Youngsters Mother—Elizabeth Taylor
On the late side of one morning, a few weeks ago, Elizabeth Taylor Wilding stretched out her five feet, four inches and 123 pounds on her oversize bed, clad mainly in a mass of turkish toweling from which her home-cut, black poodled curls protruded at one end and her pink toes wiggled protestingly from the other. Between those extremities a masseuse kneaded her tissues like a pastry cook attacks dough. Having vanquished 20 of the 40 superfluous pounds acquired bearing her baby, Mike, Liz was on the homestretch of a reducing campaign with 15 more to lose before she’d be fit for the cameras in her next MGM picture, Rhapsody.
At this interesting juncture, a slightly pixy-ish male face with quizzical eyebrows and a little boy’s grin—belonging to her husband, Michael Wilding—poked inside the door, coughed discreetly, said, “Oh, excuse me!” and started to pull back out again. But muffled laughter smote its ears and the face popped through the opening again, like a turtle’s.
“What’s so funny, Mrs. Birdnose?” Mike inquired.
“Everything,” chuckled his loving wife.
“Correct,” Michael approved, “but philosophy aside, what’s especially droll this morning?”
“I was just thinking,” explained Elizabeth, “that here I am, married, now a mother, and already having weight pounded off me like a dowager—but as of today I’m just eligible to vote for the first time!”
“You can now also be sued, run for office, and be hanged for murder, if that’s any comfort,” advised her mate. “Happy birthday!” And when she was presentable, he gave her a big kiss and a small gold buckle ring to celebrate the majority attained by the girl he had married.
The date of that intimate scene was last February 27th, at which time Elizabeth Taylor turned 21 years old and became at long last officially, legally and irrevocably an adult. Later in the afternoon she slipped into her latest Amelia Grey dress and snapped on her pearls. Michael Wilding poured a round of very special champagne cocktails for his wife, himself, and Liz’ brother, Howard and wife, Mara, who strolled in from the pool house where they’ve been staying ever since Private Taylor came back from Korea last Christmas Eve. After special toasts were drunk, they all set out for a special evening—Mrs. Wilding’s first one out since her baby arrived and her first appearance in public.
They went to Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills and as they entered, the tables buzzed. They buzzed again as the quartet strolled out, after Liz had gorged herself on a lean lamb chop, a spoonful of unbuttered peas, melba toast, tea and a reckless slice of high caloried birthday cake.
The prevailing myth about Elizabeth Taylor is that she’s the helpless, flighty, spoiled, beautiful-but-dumb child bride of a sophisticated, worldly wise British actor who knows all the answers.
People are funny that way. Often they prefer outworn fiction to current fact. But the up-to-date truth about Elizabeth Taylor Wilding’s present existence is twice as interesting as her lingering legend—and that truth is that at an age when most girls are still toying with fraternity pins and chanting rah-rah songs, Elizabeth is already a purposeful and mature young woman running her own house, caring for her baby, making herself and the man she married ecstatically happy, and continuing her adult screen career. In the face of doubts, relentless publicity and head waggings ever since she flew to England to marry Michael Wilding, all Elizabeth has done is to record the most personally successful, fruitful and meaningful year of her entire life. As such she rates a 21 gun salute from MODERN SCREEN—not only as Hollywood’s youngest mother, but its most triumphant young mother. Because Elizabeth’s victory has been won against odds and under harrassing fire, with the weapons of courage, confidence, good sense, and the native wisdom and sure instincts of her sex. And with the help of a husband who as a close friend puts it, “is the first man Liz ever knew who treated her like the woman she was instead of the kid she was not.”
“Liz has always wanted a home and children,” says another girlhood friend. “She always mothered everything that came her way, whether it was birds, mice, kittens or puppy dogs. She was a little woman in a lot of ways before she ever had a date. Nobody ever called her domestic or mother’s helper, because she was raised with servants, she’s still untidy in a lot of ways and has no idea whatever of time. But emotionally she was prepared for motherhood the minute that was possible.
“As for Nicky Hilton and his complaint that he wanted to have kids but Elizabeth didn’t, that’s probably right. But the reason Elizabeth didn’t was because she didn’t want to have Nicky’s children. She knew only too soon that her marriage couldn’t last. She discovered her mistake on her honeymoon. Nobody in the world could have guessed that Nicky wasn’t the nicest, steadiest, most sincere boy in the world before Elizabeth married him. Then almost the minute he shook the rice off his collar, he changed into a wild Indian whom Liz didn’t recognize. But you notice what happened when she met a real man and married him, don’t you?”
“It was hard for us who’d watched Elizabeth grow up the petted darling of the lot,” says Helen Rose, her close friend and studio dress designer, “to believe that she was having her first baby. She acted as if she’d already had six.”
But there was one thing Liz was particular about at that point—a home for her baby. Until Mike joined her in Hollywood she stayed with her secretary, Peggy Rutledge, in a furnished Beverly Hills apartment and Mike replaced Peggy when he arrived. The minute he did, the house hunt began. “I’m not going to bring my baby back to any furnished fiat,” Elizabeth stated. “I’m going to bring him home.” But the search went on until a spare two months before the big event. They didn’t find the right place until last November.
The reason was that in this project Elizabeth exhibited a surprising new trait. She set a strict price limit, very modest by Hollywood standards, from which she refused to budge, and she amazed brokers and Mike as well with her shrewd sizeups of properties which as any young couple knows, are deceptive to figure, unless you’ve had tons of experience or are an expert. For example, at the-same time that they spotted their mountaintop eyrie, Elizabeth and Mike discovered another place for sale right on the beach at Santa Monica, a beautiful house with the right rooms and a front yard running down to the waves. Both the Wildings are beach bugs, especially Mike who looks on Southern California as the next best thing to his favorite spot, the French Riviera. Actually, both preferred the ocean front site, and besides the price was appreciably less. But Elizabeth thought beyond the seaside lure and shook her head.
“No, sir,” she decided, “we can’t afford it,” which statement didn’t make sense to the broker. “I know,” explained Elizabeth. “We had a summer beach house once. You have to paint every year. Everything rusts. Your clothes fall apart. The linen mildews. The sand ruins your carpets. Too expensive.”
She was just as sure-footedly practical about the prospective arrival of her son. Much to the confusion of her dithering mate. “Before, during and after her baby none of us worked up a wrinkle over Liz,” smiles Barbara Thompson. “But we’ve had a few anxious moments about Mike.”
That’s always the way it is with first fathers. Michael Wilding was no exception. On the other hand, having babies is what little girls are made for and very obviously Elizabeth is not styled inadequately there, although she had the bad luck of a Caesarian delivery. Before that news broke however—three weeks before little Mike was due—his prospective dad had things meticulously figured out for the hospital dash. He’d already made a dozen speed trial runs up and down the twisting road, but there are some turns with sheer drops on the steep descent for which Liz’s Cadillac had to slow down. He wasn’t quite satisfied. One day Mike burst in with an inspired look on his face.
“I’ve got it,” he cried, “the Jaguar. It’s tiny, it really holds the road, and I can whiz you down with that in no time!”
“Have you figured out how you’re going to squeeze me in the Jaguar?” inquired Liz.
That’s how impractical husbands can get in the emotional stress of approaching fatherhood, and that’s the way it was with Mike Wilding—nervous as a witch while Liz stayed relaxed as a tabby cat. When the doctor summoned her for X-rays at last and announced that the baby was turning, that a dangerous breech-birth might develop, that a Caesarean seemed wise, Mike almost had to be carried out of the place, while Liz stayed as cool as a cucumber and the only complaint she made was, “I wanted five children and now my limit’s three!” As if to comfort her, her poodle, GiGi, had the same trouble and had to have a Caesarean first.
Caesarean sections, of course, are no joke; in every respect they’re a major operation. But while Mike rented a special room next to Elizabeth’s for himself at the hospital saying, “I don’t want him in the nursery. You know, they do mix up babies at hospitals now and then,” (once in maybe 500,000 times!), Liz travelled for her encouchement as if she were going out to a party. Besides her own family and Mike, their good friends Michael and Maggie Rennie, and Barbara and Marshall Thompson gathered festively in her hospital room to wish the stork a happy landing. At that time, Elizabeth was scheduled for her delivery the next morning at eight. But at ten o’clock the doctor came in, shooed out the guests and rather apologetically asked if Mrs. Wilding would mind having her baby an hour from then. “Some emergency cases are coming in tonight. Tomorrow the operating room will be busy,” he explained.
“Sure,” said Liz, without batting an eye. So at 11 o’clock Michael Howard arrived, got obstetrically spanked and let out his first protesting squawk.
He’s emitted plenty of those since then, you can bet, and 99 per cent of them his mother has heard. She had him right in the bed with her the morning after he was born, even though groggy with sedatives for the pain. “She really shouldn’t have her baby yet, you know,” the maternity nurse told Sara Taylor when she peeped in. “I’ve seen lots of mothers in my time, but I’ve never seen one so in love with her son as this one. I just couldn’t deny her.”
But while Liz is indeed foolish about Little Mike or “Boy,” as his dad still calls him (from the lettering beads ‘Boy Wilding’ on his identification bracelet) she’s not foolish with him. Not half so much as his Old Man is, and has been ever since he carefully steered the Cadillac with the bassinette inside back up the hill and home. Until recently he hadn’t missed the awesome sight of a feeding. Recently when Liz and Mike started to get back in circulation, they were asked to an early dinner at the Thompsons one night and showed up at a quarter to six. But no sooner had they stepped inside the front door than Mike shot a look at his wrist watch, gasped, “I forgot—say, I’ve just got time!” and whirled again out the door to leap in his play sports car. Politely, he yelled back, “Sorry, but he’s getting his first solid food tonight at six. Can’t miss that, you know. Be right back,” and roared off. Liz watched him go with a smile but she stayed where she was.
“Having both Mikes, Junior and Senior, as the most constructive and developing experience of Elizabeth’s life,” her best friend, Barbara Thompson, believes. “In different ways they both rely on her completely and need her. This has given Liz a confidence she used to lack and wiped out her long-standing inferiority complex better than a squad of psychiatrists could. Elizabeth has always been wanting the chance to prove she’s more than a beautiful face and now she has it.”
“I know this may be a hard opinion to sell,” says one of their best pals, Marshall Thompson, “but between the two, Elizabeth actually seems more grown up to me than Mike—a funny thing to say maybe about a chap who was raised in the biggest city in the world, has lived all over Europe, and looks as sophisticated as Leslie Howard used to on screen. But Mike’s so disarming, ingenuous and naive in his manner that sometimes, even I have almost a paternal feeling toward the guy.”
The key to Michael Wilding’s Ponce de Leon personality perhaps lies in what Stewart Granger said about his pal: Mike’s an artist, not only in temperament but in fact. He was a professional artist before he ever turned actor, as he states blithely, “to make an easy living.” He admits he doesn’t like acting, he loves painting. Artists are notoriously young in heart and ageless in outlook.
Mike paints ,beautifully (he’s done a knockout oil of Liz) when he isn’t drinking in the view from the terrace through a spy glass which Liz’ Uncle Howard gave him, a view that takes in half of Southern California including Catalina Island on a clear day. Or dipping every hour on the hour in their new pool. In her first chance to catch up on leisure hobbies in years Liz has cleaned up her brushes, too, and started some canvases. This mutual art kick, oddly enough, is what brewed the lone spat between the Wildings since they made a team. One day, when Mike left the unfinished portrait of Elizabeth lying around, Liz, lonesome and bored, grabbed a brush and finished it. Coming home that night Mike really hit the low roof of their home. “Don’t ever do that again!” he raved, and Liz hasn’t. Artists are funny that way—loving husbands or not. Your most devoted pup will bite you if you grab his bone.
Of course, their idyll is over by now and both Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding are back in circulation and in movie make-up, Liz happily, Mike comparatively so. She’s making Rhapsody at MGM, he’s there in The Scarlet Coat. Whether that first Hollywood starring job will make Michael Wilding the standout success in America that he was in England, no one yet can say. Nor at this point can anyone accurately predict what two active careers in one household will do to a marriage which hasn’t run into that hurdle before. But the smart Hollywood money is betting on continued bliss.
Elizabeth, of course, is really just getting started on that adult career and the only thing which seems likely to slow her down is what did last time—another baby. This, she says, is exactly what she intends to have soon, maybe next year, if the Good Lord wills it, so little Mike won’t grow up a lonely, only child. And anyone who knows Liz is pretty sure she’s not just popping her pretty lips on the subject, career or not.
Meanwhile, Mister and Mrs. Wilding are sitting pretty in a pretty little nest over which the Hollywood magpies don’t fly much any more—or the mocking birds, either.
Maybe in time the scatterguns will stop rattling birdshot on the window panes of the girl who has everything—for the love of Mike. In only a year she’s proved pretty satisfactorily that if she had any pin feathers left, they’re gone by now and her wings are spread to match her mate’s.
—BY JACK WADE
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JUNE 1953