The Two Ways Elizabeth Taylor Ruined Her Marriage—
Liz went to the airport to see Michael off to Sweden on his new venture—a film called, ironically enough, Long Live The King. They posed under protest. Of course they might have said their goodbys at home, in which case they needn’t have posed at all. But this was a friendly parting. Why shouldn’t Liz drive friend Mike to the airport?
So they posed under protest, and the protest showed. His hand rested tentatively on her shoulder. He forced a mirthless smile. Liz didn’t even try to smile. Arms crossed as though in defiance, she stared back at him, marble-faced. It was a tense and awkward picture, melancholy with overtones. Melancholy with memories of the same face, five years ago come February, softly luminous then in the joy of a great love that would never die.
Despite bitter denials, the love’s been dying for a long time. Formally on July 18th when the Wildings announced a legal separation. No immediate divorce. “Much careful thought has been given to the step we are taking. It is being done so that we will have an opportunity to thoroughly work out our personal situation. We are in complete accord in making this amicable decision.”
The truth was that it was Liz who cried quits. Mike must have hoped against faltering hope to the end. Just a week earlier he’d been offered the Rex Harrison role in the road company of My Fair Lady—a plum to make any actor drool. But Michael said no. He was unwilling to leave his wife and sons. Now he’s left them for good. He’s had to. Why? Well, here’s reason number one, the first way Liz ruined her marriage. Liz gave it out herself just a little while before the split, though she didn’t know it.
Liz Taylor was just a chubby little girl with very black hair and very big eyes when she made her first picture—did it start her on the merry-go-round she’s riding now?
“It’s garbage,” declared Elizabeth, “to say we don’t fight. Until a year ago we didn’t.” And went on to describe what happened in one of their quarrels. It seemed Mike pulled his seniority on her and she wasn’t having any. “If you tell me black is red, I won’t believe you, regardless of your age. I’m not your daughter, I’m your wife,” she shouted.
And Michael, describing the same stormy scene to a friend, shook his head in bewilderment. “I thought I’d guide this trembling little creature along life’s stony path. Not at all. Lately, I’m simply told to shut up.”
How did two intelligent people, once lovers, still supposedly friends, reach such a point? Simple. Liz pushed them there.
The chubby little girl grew up—into beauty that was too captivating to be foot-loose for. Long. Nicky Hilton was the young knight who captured her fancy. . . .
When she met Mike he was the sophisticate, experienced, worldly-wise, ex-boy friend of that perennial charmer, Dietrich. She was little Liz Taylor, international beauty with an internationally broken heart. She’d been married to Nick Hilton and he had mistreated her. She was miserable, a divorcee before she was twenty-one. All her life she’d been the center of a little world that revolved around her. She was incredibly beautiful, she was talented, she was bright and gay and affectionate and sweet. She met Nicky and he was handsome and charming and he knew just how she felt about everything because he too had been the center of a group of admiring friends for a good deal of his life. Obviously they were meant for each other. The only trouble was, they hadn’t decided in advance who was going to be the pivot of the new little world known as married life.
And they hurt each other badly, left each other bewildered, almost stunned. Neither wanted to play adoring parent to the precocious darling child. Miserably lonesome, Liz went to London to make The Conspirator. It was a good chance to grow up, to live on her own, take care of herself, do without a retinue. If she hadn’t renewed acquaintance with Mike Wilding, whom she had idolized three years before, she might have taken it. But Mike was there. And he fell in love with Liz.
Someone to watch over her
Only what Liz wanted wasn’t really love. She wanted protection, care, a loving, indulgent somebody to look after her.
Never get the idea that it didn’t scare Mike. It did. He weighed his qualms carefully, pondered over their chances of success. More than their twenty-year age difference, the different way they looked at love frightened him. But Liz wasn’t scared. Mike was exactly what she wanted. Finally she did the proposing.
“You’re too young,” he protested: “You’ll change your mind.”
“Let’s wait and see.”
Liz refused to wait. Hardly was the ink dry on her decree from Hilton before she sprang the news of her engagement to Wilding. A move that caught him off-guard. He said so—to a British reporter. “It came as a surprise to me. My idea was to give it time.” He was sure of his love. He wanted to make sure of hers. He might have been firmer. He might have put his foot down. He might have insisted that they learn to know each other better. Yes, and he might have been a man of iron. Being flesh and blood, he caved in. He even sounded cheerful about it. “She wants to be married to someone who’ll love and protect her. That someone, by heaven-sent luck, turns out to be me. I won’t let her down.”
It was the only way he could have Elizabeth and he took it.
Director Stanley Donen began squiring Liz to premiéres and night spots, and it looked like a ‘thing’—but MGM sent Liz to England, and to Mike Wilding.
If she’s happy, he’s happy
As for Liz, she was perfectly honest. She believed in her love. She always does. She’s always convinced that no girl before her ever felt so real an emotion, nor ever will again. Three years before that, even while making eyes at Michael, she wrote wistfully: “I don’t know what I’d do without Glenn’s letters.” Of Pawley she breathed: “What a year! It brought me Bill!” Of Hilton she said: “Your heart knows when you meet the right man. There’s no doubt in my mind that Nicky’s the one I want to spend my life with.” And of Wilding in triumphant crescendo: “I don’t care if I never work again. All I want is to be Mike’s wife and have a baby right away.”
Mike, enchanted, capitulated entirely.
What Nicky couldn’t give, Michael gave in abundance. It was his pleasure to indulge this beguiling creature. Not that he blinded himself. “She’s a seething mass of feminine wiles,” he sighed—and surrendered to them. Nothing was worth a battle. Michael hates to fight. Especially over minor irritations. Liz was wildly untidy—dropped her clothes on the floor and housebroke her animals on the new rug. She spent money like a whole fleetful of sailors. She never got anywhere on time. At most, he’d offer mild protest. “To keep people waiting is a form of discourtesy.” The answer was easy. She’d bat those double-fringed violet eyes at him and he’d throw in the towel. And Elizabeth would be happy again. If she was happy, he was happy. He literally threw his career away by coming to Hollywood, which just couldn’t be bothered making proper use of one of the best light comedians in the business. But he had Elizabeth. They had not one baby but two, and if his child-bride burst into tears every time the kiddies did—well, they could afford a nurse who wouldn’t. If Liz was happy—
. . . and so they were married and lived happily ever after—for too few years. Liz and Mike—who thought he was not the type at all—had wooed and won each other, learned to like each other’s friends, worried together over their children’s sniffles—but it wasn’t enough to hold them together.
Liz asserts herself
And then came the blow. Some say it came out of the blue, at a party. There was a crowd, and Liz got separated from Mike. Hunting for him, she bumped into a friend. “Where’s Michael?” she asked.
The friend took her arm. “Let me talk to you, kid,” he said. “It’s damned stupid of you to keep following your husband around. Assert yourself. Be something in your own right. Stop being a shadow!”
He was only telling her what everyone knew and most people approved—that Liz was dependent on Mike. What wasn’t true was that anyone who looked like Liz Taylor and sparkled like her could be anyone’s shadow. But maybe Liz had never heard anything like it before. Maybe it scared her. She stopped suddenly in her tracks. She didn’t finish looking for Michael.
Whether such an incident could be a major turning point in a life—or in two lives—is anybody’s guess. But one thing is certain—whether it was sudden or had been coming for a long time, things were very different after that night. It wasn’t long before Liz was telling people, “When I married Michael, I couldn’t detach myself from his apron strings. I’d follow him from group to group like a puppy dog.” The implication was that she wasn’t, any more. She seemed to find it very amusing. But it was only a short step from that to: “Don’t tell me what to do! I’m your wife, not your daughter!” Only a short step to Michael, bewildered, wondering what suddenly went wrong.
Liz had handed out the roles, told Mike how she wanted it played. Now she had changed her mind. She didn’t like the parts. Mark it down—the first way Liz destroyed her marriage.
The second way was equally tragic.
Liz and Montgomery Clift were co-starred in a movie—and he became a close friend of the Wilding family. Is he the reason Liz and Mike aren’t a family any more?
In love with love
The other thing Mike hadn’t counted on was that Elizabeth was and is in love with love. The thing that terrifies her more than anything else, and the thing that comes most easily to a girl who has been surrounded too long by too much of everything, is “I only feel alive when I’m in And after five years of marriage and two babies, some of the first delirious enchantment has of necessity gone out of love. That is something it takes a good solid marriage with its companionship, trust and understanding, to replace. When the foundations of the Wilding marriage turned out to be sand, the lack of thrill became a big thing.
Late in the Wilding marriage, when Liz decided she didn’t want a father after all, she began to look for that long-lost thrill. A year ago while she and Rock Hudson were making Giant down in Marfa, Texas, there were rumors. On any set, and especially on location, comradeship flourishes. But bystanders reported that the warmth between Liz and Rock flourished beyond the call of comradeship. From all parties a smoke-screen of denials rolled up. Rock, maintained Liz, was merely her second-best friend, the first being Montgomery Clift. Nevertheless, Mike hied himself to Texas. Maybe to show a united front with his wife, maybe to find out what all the shootin’ was for.
Monty, Jimmy, Kevin. Where’s Mike?
There was talk about Elizabeth and Jimmy Dean, and when the news of his death hospitalized her, the rumors burst out louder and louder. There was talk of Liz and Monty, her first-best friend, and that didn’t die down when she held his head, weeping, all the way to the hospital when he was in the auto accident.
Home from England where Michael was making a picture, she didn’t seem to care much what anybody thought. Blithely she went dancing at the Mocambo with Kevin McClory, John Huston’s assistant. The management tried to cover up for her. “What you saw,” they asserted, “was a couple of other girls.” It was nice of them but they needn’t have bothered. At a race track Nick Hilton gave her a flock of winning tickets. Squealing, she flung her arms around him. “Honestly, Nicky, you’re insane. I guess that’s why I married you in the first place.” It was a harmless impulse. Only, thousands were watching and misinterpreting. In a wife and mother of two, impulse is excusable but dignity’s more becoming.
And then, with one of those about-faces that makes her charming, that makes you see why Mike loved her enough to risk what he risked, she did show dignity at a trying time. A smear magazine sank its fangs into Mike. While Liz was away, Mike’s supposed to have carted a couple of strip-teasers home to entertain himself and a nameless pal. Let Liz tell how it hit them. “By the time the magazine came out, I was back home in Hollywood. Neither Michael nor I knew about the article until it had been on the newsstands for three days. Then a columnist phoned poor Mike at home to know how Id acted about it. Horrified, he rushed out and bought the magazine. Then he called me on the set. He was aghast and his voice was so pale gray that I couldn’t help giggling.” The giggles over, she made a sober statement. “Whether it’s true or not, you can’t let an article like that break up your marriage.” Spoken like a wise woman.
She was right in another sense, too. Whether or not it was true about Mike, it wasn’t going to break up the marriage. That had already been done.
The death of a marriage
Meantime, two little boys pay a price for what they never bought. The tall smiling father who scooped them to safety on his shoulders after a tumble won’t be around. He’ll see them, of course. There’s no. drop of malice in Liz. She’s not the kind to erect any wall between Mike and his sons. But he’s no longer a part of their everyday background. Right now he’s oceans away while Liz works in Raintree County with best-friend Clift. She loves her kids dearly but, between work and play, she can’t have much time to give them companionship. From the set, sift tales of her tantrums. Happy, she’s easy to get along with. Unhappy, she’s not. Maybe she’s going through the same kind of turmoil that followed her break with Hilton. Monty must be a comfort. “I’ve told him everything,” she said once. “Even things I’m ashamed of.”
The wayward wind is a restless wind that yearns to wander. It’s been suggested that Liz will now create more headlines than Turner or Hayworth—that beauty like hers wasn’t meant for domesticity but for the excitement of changing romance. They used to call her the girl who has everything. Everything is just what you can’t have. You can’t have variety and a steadfast love. Turner found that out the hard way and seems to have reached safe harbor at last. Hayworth’s still learning the hard, lonely way. Ditto Ava Gardner. Ditto Elizabeth Taylor? It’s anyone’s guess.
In this whole sorry business, there’s just one thing for sure. So far as her heart’s concerned, King Michael is dead And one hope. Long live the next king
—BY EDITH GLASS
Liz Taylor will soon be seen in George Stevens production of Giant to be released by Warner Bros. and in MGM’s Raintree County.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1956