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Liz And Mike’s Madcap Marriage

“I think Mike Todd is the only man Liz has never had a ‘crush’ on. This is no schoolgirl affair. I think she is deeply in love for the first time.” This was an old friend talking, a woman who had known Liz since her first “crushes” when she was barely into her teens. She was one of a handful of guests who had been invited to Mike and Liz’s wedding in Acapulco. And she added, “I think it’s the only time I have ever seen Liz look really grown-up.”

Mike and Liz were married at a civil ceremony in the home of Fernando Parra Hernandez, a wealthy attorney and onetime intimate friend and business associate of Mexico’s former president, Miguel Aleman. Parra Hernandez’ house is one of the showplaces of Acapulco. It is perched high up above the bay with a striking view of the blue Pacific. Terraces lead down to the sea. Stately coconut palms, like sentinels, flank the driveway and hibiscus and bougainvillea grow everywhere in profusion.



For the ceremony, Liz wore a simple cocktail-length hydrangea blue dress that set off her deep tan and black hair, which gleamed through a sheer chiffon kerchief draped over her head. While she was animated and gay throughout the evening, Liz appeared visibly tired and weak from the eight painful weeks she had spent in a New York hospital undergoing treatments for her spine. And it was only with some effort that she managed a swing around the room with Mike later in the evening.

But nearly as tiring as the hospital experience were the seven days spent in Mexico for the purpose of getting her divorce from Mike Wilding. Nothing seemed to go as planned and up to the last minute it looked as if the divorce wouldn’t be granted and that the wedding would have to be called off. Mike Todd, who thought he had everything neatly lined up in advance, hadn’t known he would have to contend with a balky judge in Acapulco who just three days before the scheduled event loftily declared that he wouldn’t get himself mixed up in a “quickie” divorce. The fact that elections were Corning up a couple of months later may have influenced his decision. But, in any case, Todd was wild. He grabbed the telephone and lined up a full battery of Mexican lawyers and told them to find somebody who would grant the divorce. But there was a studied indifference to Mike’s plight. Even Cuernavaca, which is known as the home of speedy divorces in Mexico, turned a deaf ear to Todd’s pleas.

However, Mike and his beautiful bride-to-be continued issuing wedding invitations. “We’re going to be married Saturday night here in Acapulco,” he declared, “and that’s that.”

What Liz thought of all of this one will never know. She seemed to listen with pleasure to Mike’s outbursts and he in turn was extremely solicitous, even tender, with her. But while she and Mike toured around Acapulco in a white Thunderbird that had been loaned to the couple by Cantinflas, the Mexican comic who plays a leading role in Mike Todd’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” another Mike, her husband, was gloomily waiting in Mexico City for the divorce to be granted. To be on hand in case there were any snags.

Only a couple of days before, Wilding had talked with both Elizabeth and Todd in Acapulco. He had flown in from Mexico City to sign the divorce papers and was greeted at the airport by his wife and Todd and Cantinflas, who had been acting as official host for the visitors. They too had arrived by plane just a few minutes before.

The Mikes greeted each other cordially and the group then sped into town in a large black limousine. Their destination was the Villa Vera, an exclusive ten-room hotel run by Teddy Stauffer, a one-time globe-trotting sidekick of Errol Flynn. When they arrived, Liz, who was tired from her trip, went to her room while the two Mikes went down to the beach for a swim. A member of the wedding party hearing about the incident said ruefully, “It gave Wilding a chance to wash his marital problems away.”

When Wilding and Todd came back to the hotel they seemed very friendly and had a drink together while waiting for the divorce papers to be signed.

It must have been a painful day for Wilding. A charming and courteous man, he made a great effort to be casual and lighthearted but there was a noticeable coolness toward Liz. Whenever he talked to her there was no bitterness in his voice but neither was there much feeling or emotion. He seemed glad that it was all over.

The day before, talking to reporters in Mexico City, he had said, “I came to Mexico for one reason, to sign the divorce papers. After all, it’s my divorce, too, and I can’t very well get it without coming here.” Reporters claim that he didn’t exactly say that he was glad to get rid of Mrs. Wilding via the divorce route, or any other, but there was a tone in his voice that implied as much. Too, when asked if he was in Mexico to see Liz in an attempt to make a bid for a reconciliation, his reply was an emphatic, “Good God, no!”

Wilding spent exactly four hours that day in Acapulco. He had come down for business and when it had been transacted he left. Todd saw Wilding to the limousine which was to take him back to the airport. Guests reported that there seemed to be a kind of understanding between the two men when they parted. There would certainly always be a bond between them. Liz had seen to that. One conjectures at what Mike Wilding’s parting words were to Mike Todd, what bit of advice he had to offer. Being a gentleman he probably didn’t say anything, but one can wager what Wilding was thinking at the time even if he didn’t voice the thought: “Mike, she’s all yours. I hope you can do more for her than I did. I certainly hope you can make her happy.”

After Wilding departed for Mexico City, Mike and Liz, whenever Todd wasn’t on the telephone to one of his lawyers, took rides around Acapulco in the Thunderbird, stopping at a silver or curio shop here and there to buy something. Liz never looked lovelier. Most of the time she wore very short, white cotton shorts, sleeveless cotton blouses and babushkas over her dark hair. Whenever they got out of the car Mike was very careful to help Liz negotiate the tricky cobblestone pavement from the car to the shop. Whenever he was seen with Liz, the tough little showman seemed tender and affectionate. Liz appeared radiantly happy.

But their romantic idyll was constantly interrupted by Mike’s refusal to be pushed around by recalcitrant divorce officials. He bellowed and roared and he acted as if it was his divorce that was involved, rather than Elizabeth’s and Wilding’s.

Todd was so enraged over the delay and so determined that he would manage to get Liz divorced from Wilding that at one point he picked up the telephone and called Chicago and bought two theatres as a wedding gift for Liz—one to be named after him and one after her.

On Friday morning, the day before the wedding was scheduled, Mike stopped pacing. Instead he jumped for joy. The divorce had been granted in Mexico City.

The wedding took place, as Todd had said it would, the following afternoon at six o’clock.

The wedding list was small—family and a few old friends. Among the former were Liz’s parents and her brother Howard and his wife. Commenting on the wedding the day before to reporters, her father had said simply, “I wish for my daughter the same thing that every father wishes—that she will find happiness. I hope that this time her dreams will come true.”

Todd’s son, Mike, Jr., was there with his wife as, of course, was Cantinflas, who appeared this time in the role of Mike’s best man.

But next to Mike and Liz, the guests who drew the most attention were Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Debbie had come down from Hollywood to be Liz’s matron of honor. For Liz this was the culmination of an old, old friendship that began back on the M-G-M lot several years ago. At the time, Liz was an accredited star with all the trappings that go with it, while Debbie had only begun to make her presence felt. She was shy about dining in the commissary with the studio bigwigs, and, as a result, she usually brought her lunch from home, a sandwich and some fruit. One day on her way to a fancy lunch, Liz spotted Debbie munching on a sandwich in the darkened corner of a set. It was just a plain old ham and cheese on rye but it looked so good to Liz, who was tiring of filet mignons, that she asked Debbie if she would like to exchange a sandwich for a steak. Sharing meals fostered a lasting friendship and it was natural that Liz ask Debbie to officiate at her wedding.

Following the civil ceremony performed by the mayor of Acapulco, of which Liz couldn’t understand a word but was heard to exclaim, “How interesting,” a huge wedding cake was wheeled in, a tower of white topped by two diminutive figures. One was a Mexican charro (a gentleman horseman) and the other depicted China poblana (the legendary Chinese lady who traveled to Mexico bearing good luck).

While the cake was being cut, a native orchestra struck up a romantic ballad, “Only once.” The lyric begins, “Only once does love come in a lifetime—only once and nevermore.”

The romantic mood was severed a few moments later when Mike Todd discovered that somebody had forgotten to order champagne. He was enraged (as only Mike Todd can be enraged!) and it was only after a scouting party had returned with several bottles that peace reigned once again.

While corks popped and glasses were raised in toasts to the bride and groom, the sky over the harbor was suddenly lit up by a great display of fireworks, a surprise gift from Cantinflas, which reached its climax when two hearts appeared in the sky bearing the initials MT and ETT (Elizabeth Taylor Todd).

Initials and hearts also played a part in Mike’s wedding gift to the guests. He presented everybody with a Tarascan Indian Wedding Shirt on which was embroidered a heart and the initials ET and MT.

The fireworks were followed by a performance of African dances put on by a local troupe from one of the Acapulco night clubs. Liz watched enchanted, and her eyes sparkled as brightly as the diamond earrings, bracelet and ring that Mike had given her as a wedding present. (When reporters asked Liz earlier in the day what she had given Mike, she had replied, “My eternal love.”)

The party broke up shortly after ten o’clock when Liz and Mike bade their guests good night and left for the cottage on the estate where they spent part of their honeymoon.

After they left, one guest was heard to say, “Well, I guess Mike always gets what he wants.”

Getting what he’s wanted has been Todd’s way of doing things from the day he was born to Polish immigrants in the slums of Minneapolis anywhere from forty-five to fifty-seven years ago. Mike is deliberately vague about the year he was born, particularly so since he met Liz. He doesn’t want to be accused of cradle snatching. Wedding documents indicate he is fifty-seven. But even if he were sixty-seven, he has the drive and vitality of a twenty-year-old. He started running when he was old enough to walk and he’s never stopped. When other boys were starting to grade school with primers under their arms, Mike was peddling potato peelers on Chicago Street corners. When this became too tame he worked in carnivals where he acquired his first taste for show business. By the time the kids he grew up with were thinking of voting, Mike had already made and lost a million dollars. He found his niche as an impresario and showman by giving the customers the best entertainment for their money they had ever seen at both the Chicago and New York World’s Fairs. He made and dropped a fortune on Broadway. Profits from such hit shows as “Something for the Boys,” “Up in Central Park,” and “Mexican Hayride” were used as a “kitty” for gambling and playing the horses. While married to Joan Blondell, who prefers not to discuss this period of her life, he went into bankruptcy to the tune of a million dollars. While his enemies were cheering and his friends commiserating, Mike took the only kind of action he is capable of. He fought back. When competitors in show business were counting him out, Mike presented “This Is Cinerama,” then “Oklahoma!” in his own Todd-AO process. When the biggest extravaganza of Mike’s highly extravagant career, “Around the World in 80 Days,” was launched he was patted on the back for at least making a good try. “Around the World” may gross more than any picture ever made. Estimates range between thirty and fifty million dollars.

This is the man Liz has married. The man about whom Liz announced publicly, practically from the moment she laid eyes on him, “I’m passionately in love with Mike Todd.”

This was a different kind of a man from any that Liz had ever known. From the moment she blossomed into a woman when she was hardly more than a child (“I have the body of a woman and the mind of a child,” she once blurted out to reporters after her marriage failure with Nicky Hilton) she was pursued by men. She reacted toward them as a child does to a new toy or pet (she had a childish love for dogs and horses at the time). But admirers came in droves just to eat out of her hand, to be seen with her. She was a spoiled darling, and when the equally spoiled son of rich hotelman Conrad Hilton asked her to marry him, she consented, thinking it would be “fun.” It turned out to be just the other way around. On a honeymoon to Europe, Nicky deserted her for the gambling tables. He’s reported to have said at one point, “You bore me.”

When they returned to Hollywood, she sued for divorce. What followed was a very painful period for Liz. For the first time in her life she had known what it feels like to be rejected. It seems hard to believe that this exquisite girl who was idolized by millions of fans was suddenly filled with self-doubts. After Nicky she had a mad rash of dates, as if she were trying to prove to herself that she was capable of romantic feelings.

About this time Liz went to England and one of the first persons she met was an old beau on whom she had a crush when she was sixteen. “I really had a thing on Michael,” she said later. “We were working at the same studio and I followed him around like an adoring puppy. One day he took his hand in mine and said, ‘Liz, one day you should marry me.’ ”

Liz was nineteen when she saw Mike Wilding again and the twenty years difference in their ages didn’t seem so important. What was important for Liz was that here was an old friend she could rely on—a fellow Englishman, a fellow actor, somebody she felt warm and comfortable with. Many claim that Liz asked Mike to marry her.

At first it seemed like an ideal marriage for both. Mike was deeply in love with his wife and, as any other man would be, flattered to be married to a young beautiful girl. Liz, on the other hand, had great respect for Mike. There seemed to be a solid foundation in their relationship that indicated it would last. At first, Liz leaned on Mike’s words as much as she leaned on his arm. She regained confidence in herself, and with that came happiness. And the children seemed to make their marriage complete.

What brought about a change is hard even to speculate on. Perhaps they spent too much time apart. Maybe they were too casual, too sophisticated. At any rate, Mike Wilding and Liz Taylor drifted apart and it was over.

Over in spirit, if not in fact, even before Liz met Mike Todd. And when she did, it was just about all over in fact, as well. Todd saw Liz and knew right then and there he was going to marry her. Mike’s a man who gets what he wants and Liz was what he wanted. If she resisted him, it’s not on record anywhere. And did she want to, anyway? This was the first man who ever made Liz feel really wanted—who was willing to fight for her. The men Liz had known in her past had been at best, gentlemen, at worst, weaklings. Todd is ruthless and he’s tough but to his very core he’s every inch a man.

What the future will hold for them is anybody’s guess but it’s not news that Liz has long wanted to give up her career. She’s often said that she never wanted one, that it was forced on her. Mike, on the other hand, has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want any wife of his to be an actress. In a recent interview he elaborated on this point. “If Elizabeth should want to make a picture now and then as a hobby, maybe . . . but an actress with a real career has no time to look after the man she loves. I’m older than Elizabeth and I think this is fine. I’ve grown up, acquired some wisdom and I plan a life full enough to keep both of us busy and interested.”

Perhaps, through this man who knows what he wants, Elizabeth will find what she wants, too, and what she is meant to be. It will be enough if Mike can help her find happiness.


SEE: Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens’ “Giant” tor Warners and M-G-M’s “Raintree County.”

It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1957



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