What Elizabeth Taylor Told Hedda!
I’ve known Elizabeth Taylor since she was six years old; and one of my first impressions of her has been the most lasting. Her mother, ambitious for her daughter to have a movie career, brought her to my home. She was but a child, with no particular interest in me, a career, and certainly not men. On that visit she concentrated on playing with a chipmunk which to Elizabeth’s glee scrambled all over, the place while her mother and I talked. Since that day, I’ve written much about her—her screen work, romances, marriage, divorce, and a bewildered young lady trying to find a pattern for her life.
I’ve praised Elizabeth, criticized her, and given her advice to which she listened but seldom heeded. Through the years I’ve been alarmed with her seeming flightiness—particularly in the romance department—and disappointed with her lackadaisical attitude toward her film career, because she has what practically every girl dreams of having: great beauty, talent, and opportunity. But I’ve also loved her as a mother does a child. To me she’s still a little girl gleefully laughing at the chipmunk perched saucily on her shoulder. That is Elizabeth essentially—the girl that stole America’s heart in National Velvet and almost overnight became a movie personality who made headlines. We’ve had our differences, especially when I’ve tried to protect this wilful young woman from following her own careless impulses. But through the years we have remained friends. She has never refused me an interview and has always answered my questions as frankly as a child. It’s hard for me to believe that she’s been twice married, and is now an expectant mother at twenty.
Shortly after her divorce from Nicky Hilton, I had a heart-to-heart session with her in the small apartment she was living in. She received me in a gorgeous lace negligee; but like an impish little girl, she was barefooted. It was the first time I’d ever seen Elizabeth in a serious mood. There was no laughter in her violet eyes, which usually dance, and she was as tense as a violin string. Life had descended upon her, leaving her hurt and confused.
“Hedda,” she told me then, “I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been riding through life on a pink cloud. But the whole thing now seems like a dream with everything so right and perfect on a fantastic scale. But I fell off that cloud with a bang. I’m glad I did. One can’t go through life being a romantic—at least the way I was. You see I’m just a normal girl with the average faults and virtues. But, being a movie actress, I wasn’t allowed to develop on normal lines.
“I was thrown with older people instead of kids my own age. I’m still scared of young people. The older ones protected me—perhaps in the wrong way. They said I was fine when I wasn’t fine. They gave me praise when I needed criticism. I know little of responsibility; and ’m going to have to learn it the hard way. I’m even having to teach myself to pick up my clothes and put them away. You see, being a movie actress, I had all these little things done for me and took them for granted.”
At that time she was dating Stanley Donen. Hollywood predicted a quick, impulsive marriage. I asked Elizabeth if she was in love with the guy. She thought the matter over carefully before answering. “No,” she finally said, “I don’t love him. We’re good friends who have a lot of likes in common.” She was obviously speaking the truth as subsequent events revealed.
Then she went to New York and was frequently seen with Montgomery Clift. The press tried to cook up a romance between them; but I laughed at that one. If they wanted romance, they had plenty of time for it while making A Place In The Sun together. I saw them do a love scene before the camera that was so passionate and realistic it shocked even me. When the scene was over, I asked, “Where in the world did you learn to make love like that, Elizabeth?” She grinningly replied, “Oh, Hedda, you ask such funny questions.” It wasn’t Monty. It’s true that he escorted her to the premiere of The Heiress in a rented tuxedo with a studio limousine at his disposal. But he thought so little of the event that he stopped at a drive-in for a hamburger on his way to pick up Liz; and his chief concern was how the studio press agent who accompanied him was to get home after delivering him to Liz’s door.
But Liz was born for romance. She went to London to make Ivanhoe and came up with Michael Wilding, who was 20 years her senior. I said, “Ye gods, here we go again. Taylor is off on another tangent!”
When Michael came to Hollywood, I had them both visit me for a very frank talk. Having gone through the same situation of marrying a man much older than I, I warned Liz in Mike’s presence of the hazards of such a situation. She looked at me with those great eyes and said, “What do you think I am? A child?” I couldn’t help but smile, because at that time she was 19 years old.
I then mentioned the fact that her predecessor in Mike’s affections had been Marlene ear and going from a grandmother to a debutante was romance in reverse. Without boasting, Mike said, “I’ve gone with many women in my time.”
At that Elizabeth gave him a sharp glance and asked, “Many?”
“Of course, darling,” he replied. “You know how old I am.”
I then broke up something that might have been a quarrel by saying, “Elizabeth, you haven’t done badly for a 19-year-old girl Remember Glenn Davis, Bill Pauley, Nicky Hilton, and Stanley Donen.” Mike giggled.
After that we settled down and I gave Mike a going over that he won’t forget. “I happen to be very fond of this child,” I told him. “And even though she thinks she’s mature, she’s not. You’re an experienced man of the world. You’ve been around, indulged, had experience.” Again I pointed out the failure of my own marriage by wedding such a man. This was for Elizabeth’s benefit, but she laughed in my face. “No matter what you or anybody else thinks, I love this man, and I’m going to marry him. I love him, I love him, I love him.”
“You were probably saying the same thing to Stanley Donen a few months ago,” I said. The idea didn’t seem at all strange to her. She said; “Stanley and I are friends. I shall always be grateful for his help when I was going through a difficult time after divorcing Nicky. But Mike I love.”
It was Liz who kept bringing up the subject of love. Mike was reticent about expressing his feelings. But I must say ‘this for him. Despite my trying to talk Elizabeth out of marrying him, he held no enmity toward me. Before leaving for Europe, he called up to say, “I want to thank you again for your frankness and to say goodbye.”
Liz was back on that pink cloud again, but this time more substantially so. When Mike said in New York that he didn’t consider himself engaged, it made no difference to her. She followed him to London and got her man. Immediately after the ceremony, he sighed, “Marriage is such a tiring affair,” and allowed a London bobby to carry Liz through a jostling throng to a waiting limousine while he trailed along behind. When a reporter asked where they intended to spend their honeymoon, he replied, “Together, I hope.” Evidently Liz just skipped such quips.
Then came the startling news that she was expecting a baby in December. I say startling because she returned home ahead of Mike to do a picture for MGM. Rumor had it that one thing that broke up her marriage to Nicky was that she didn’t want a baby and he did. Liz, the talk went, was too interested in her career to take on the added responsibility of children.
This was not true. “A month after my wedding I knew we’d made a mistake. Our marriage couldn’t last. So I didn’t want to bring a child into the world under those circumstances,” Liz explained to me. “I know about that rumor and the criticism I got. But I couldn’t tell anyone the real reason for my not wanting a baby then. I hardly dared tell myself, because I wanted, oh, so very much for our marriage to succeed. I kept telling myself that it had to last, even when in my heart I knew it was ended.”
Liz returned to Hollywood alone; and quickly the gossip that she and Mike were having difficulties started floating around. The fact is that MGM had given Liz a four-months honeymoon, and now the studio wanted her to come back to work. Michael couldn’t come along, because he had to wait for passport clearance to come to America. This time he intends to settle in Hollywood, as MGM has him under long-term contract. The ugly rumors had it that MGM had signed Mike, because it feared Liz might take a permanent suspension to remain with her husband in England. This is also false. The studio was negotiating with Mike long before the officials knew that Liz had fallen in love with him. I went straight to the top to get this. information. Dore Schary, head of production at MGM, has much to do with the hiring and firing at that studio. He told me, “We signed Wilding because he has personality, charm, and can act. He’ll be very good in comedy parts: and we think we have a winner in him.”
I asked Liz if she wanted to co-star with Michael in films. “Naturally,” she replied.
I seem to be always popping into Liz’s life when important things happen to her; so as soon as I learned she was expecting a baby, I went to see her. She was sharing her apartment with her companion-secretary, Peggy Rutledge. When I walked in, three animals were bounding around the living room. One was a miniature wire-haired dachshund; another was a French poodle. Sharing their rompings was a cat that was apparently alley bred.
Liz may have Mike, but she still can’t bear not having animals, too. Apartment rules forbid pets, but I’m not letting her down by revealing her secret. By the time this article hits the stands, Liz and Mike plan to be living in their own home. And all the ex-landlord can do is scratch his head and ponder the thought that he’d harbored a miniature menagerie.
Peggy opened the door for me, and Liz emerged from the kitchen, looking radiant and smiling at her brood of animals. I could see immediately that she was her old impish, happy, carefree self. She certainly didn’t appear to be an expectant mother. She wore a low-necked, white piqué dress with a full skirt and ruffled petticoat beneath. But, miracle of miracles, she was also wearing shoes. Her hair was poodle cut and she kept tousling it all during my visit. Her waistline was still something all girls dream of having.
“Are you excited about the baby?” I asked.
“Oh, gad, yes,” she replied. “Thrilled is no word to describe my feelings. We wanted very badly to have a child.”
“Then you won’t do your picture,” I said.
“I probably will,” she said. “But the studio wants to re-write the script again, and delay the starting date two months, which may complicate things.”
“What did the-heads of the studio think of your having a baby with a picture coming up?” I asked.
“They’re in sixth heaven, especially Benny Thau and Nick Schenck. They loved the idea.”
“And your mother?” I asked.
“She’s in seventh heaven,” Liz replied. “I don’t care whether it’s a boy or a girl. If it’s a boy, we’ll call him Michael; if a girl, Michele. Don’t you like that? Michele is the feminine equivalent for Michael.”
Peggy brought us slices of watermelon. I gave a bite of mine to the cat. “Freaka, the dachshund, will eat anything—cucumbers, radishes, endive,” said Liz. “We just grew this watermelon in the backyard. Do you like it?”
“I got the seediest slice in the lot,” I said. Liz giggled. She had seated herself with her feet on a coffee table, and started fondling a cross that hung from a chain around her neck.
“When I come to see you, you have to work, young lady, I said. I brought a photographer along.”
“Well, let’s get him in here,” said Liz. I gave him the high sign through a window to enter; and Liz greeted him like an old friend. He suggested that we pose together with the animals. “You’d better take the poodle,” said Liz. “She’s jealous of the dachshund.” While I held the poodle, Liz cradled the cat and dachshund in her arms. The two dogs started sizing each other up. “Get this shot over quickly before somebody gets killed,” said Liz.
So you know what married life is all about now?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I feel married. I’m all for it.”
“What do you like about it?” I asked.
“Look straight into the camera,” said the photographer.
“That was a mean question,” said Liz. “I like the happiness of being married. I haven’t been so happy since I was 12 years old. I never expected to have that feeling again. I like the companionship. Use all the adjectives you know and you won’t have enough. I like the closeness of it and most of all the contentment. I feel just like an old cow—just sitting here gloating away. Life is so peaceful.”
“But don’t you miss all the excitement of running around and all the intrigue?” I asked.
“Oh, cripes!” she said.
Lady Tailspin (the cat) tired of playing with the dog, went into the dining room, jumped up on the table, and began eyeing a caged love bird. “Aren’t you afraid the cat will get the bird?” I asked.
“It’s a bit of a problem,” said Liz. “Watch out for the kitty. She scratches.”
“I don’t like ’em,” I said. “They always scratch me.”
“Oh, they know whom to scratch,” Liz roared.
She was right. Lady Tailspin gave up trying to get the bird out of the cage, moved up on a ledge, and began sniffing the flowers on my hat. Then she scratched me.
“Are you going to teach Liz to play golf?” I asked Peggy, who’s very good at the game. “Now that she’s expecting, she’ll need exercise.”
“Do I? Oh, dear!” said Liz.
“I took her to the links one day, and after three holes she was finished,” said Peggy.
“I do take walks—from the living room into the bedroom,” said Liz. “You can’t ride horseback when you’re pregnant, can you?”
“Noooo, dear,” I said.
“I’ve just learned you’re not supposed to travel either during the first three months. And here I’ve been flying halfway around the world.”
“When did you learn that you were going to have a baby?” I asked.
“About a month ago,” she said. “I wanted a baby so bad; and then I got the idea that I couldn’t have one. I thought I was only half a wife, because I couldn’t have children for Mike, and I’d cry on his shoulder about it.”
“You’re so happy, I do believe you’d give up your screen career,” I said.
“I wouldn’t mind giving it up,” she replied. “Fortunately, however, things can be worked out so I can have both a career and a family. But it wouldn’t bother me if I had to quit movies.”
“Your career was never a matter of life and death with you anyway. For a 19-year-old girl . . .”
“Twenty,” she corrected. “I was 20 on my honeymoon.”
“Youth! It’s wonderful,” I said. “What happened on your honeymoon?”
“What can you print that happens on a honeymoon?” she said. “It was beautiful. There was snow 12 feet deep everywhere, but the temperature in the daytime was around 90 degrees. Everybody skied in bathing suits. We were in the French Alps, and the only English speaking people at the hotel. It was very cold at night. But with the white snow, bright sunlight, and that blue, blue sky, the days were more beautiful than you could imagine.
“We had a little balcony outside our rooms, and each day we’d go there and sit in the sun with towels around us. A friend of ours who ran a bar nearby told us later that the people trained their binoculars on that balcony when we were there. And when we’d go inside and close the shutters, they’d all drink a toast to us.”
The photographer finished his work, and the animals were released. The cat and dachshund started playfully batting their paws at each other. Liz was intrigued. “I love Freaka. We saw her picture In a paper when I was sick in bed with the flu. Mike loves dogs, too. So he rushed all over London trying to locate this particular puppy for me. He found it finally around midnight and brought her home to me.
“We had no name for that cat. The headwaiter at the 500 Club gave it to us. The pilots and stewardesses on the plane coming home gave her a new name—Lady Tailspin. Peggy, do you know what I did with that thing they signed?”
Peggy got up and found the paper. It was labeled: “Flagship Flying Report. Flying Crew. Flight 5. One small English kitten. Lord (or Lady) Tailspin. May she always land on all fours.”
“She’s a girl,” said Liz, “so I’m calling her Lady. As soon as I have this baby, I want another. That way they’ll be companions to each other without too much differences in their ages.”
“Sister, wait’ll MGM hears about that little scheme,” I said. “The studio likes to keep their box office stars working. Maybe you shouldn’t have told about your going to have this baby until you started your picture.”
“I can’t keep a secret,’ she said. “You know that. Besides, by the time it started, I’m sure they would have guessed. Maybe they’ll rush the picture, so I can do it.”
The white poodle was down under the coffee table chewing on something. Liz investigated, retrieved the object, and said, “Here, you can’t gnaw on that Buddha. A soldier in Japan sent it to me.”
“Would you like to live in England?” I asked.
“I’d love to live there in the spring,” she said. “It’s like no other place in the world then. But Mike can’t go back for three years. He has to stay here to establish residence. Mike’s sold his apartment in London and most of the furniture. The furniture was antique and we’re going to get a modern house. We’ve both got five-year contracts at MGM.”
“I hear you got a big hike in pay when you signed your new contract,” said I.
“That’s right,” she replied. “More money. More taxes. But I don’t mind.”
She can use the cash. A year ago she was practically broke. She asked for no alimony from Nicky Hilton.
“Do you remember when you called me in New York, the day I flew to England?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “The King of England had just died. And there were stories in the British papers that Mike’s parents weren’t too keen on your marrying their son.”
“They’re the sweetest people in the world—very old World type,” said Liz. “The English people were wonderful to me. But when you called me in New York, I was in a real panic. After hanging up the phone, I started to cry. So I called Mike and told him I couldn’t come over because people were saying it didn’t look right. He said he’d try to get permission to come to America, but that we’d have only five days together. He promised to call me back. But something went wrong with the telephone and my plane was leaving in 45 minutes. So I said, ‘To heck with it! I’m going to England.’ The plane was already warming up when I got a call at the airport; and a man came running out to tell me that Mike was on the phone. I said, ‘Tell him I’m on my way to London.’ So we had four wonderful months together instead of just five days.”
“Doesn’t Mike have any qualities that irk you?”
“None. We’re both a little lazy.”
“Do you still leave your clothes lying around on the chairs and floors?” I asked. “Or does Mike pick them up for you?”
“Are you kidding?” she said. “He picks his things up, but leaves mine lying there. But I’m better about that than I used to be. If I leave things lying about, they accumulate and I can’t get through the room. So I figured it was easier to pick them up as I went along.”
“Have you done any cooking?” I asked.
“Just one dish—bacon and eggs,” she said. “But that’s Mike’s favorite dinner. Lucky me.”
“Why don’t you go to cooking school like Shirley Temple did?”
“I don’t want to be too precise with my cooking. I want to experiment. Just take a cook book and figure it out myself. But I’ll need plenty of time to daddle and throw pots and pans around.”
“How often do you talk to Mike?” I asked.
“Every day,” she said. “We just like to hear the sound of each other’s voices. He’s so generous. He gave me this cross, a sapphire and diamond pin, and some long diamond earrings.”
“Well, let’s get a load of the loot,” said I.
She brought out the jewelry and said, “I can wear the earrings long or short. They’re in two pieces.” She tried very hard to put the two sections together. “I can’t make them stay in place. I’ll have to send for Mike. He knows how they work.”
“Will you have your servants call you Lady Wilding like the Douglas Fairbanks’ do? They call him Sir Douglas.”
“Sir Michael, Lady Wilding,” she said pertly. “Oh, just call me Queenie!”
With that, I picked up what the cat had left of my hat and departed.
This is the picture of Elizabeth Taylor as of today. Quite a contrast from the confused young girl, bordering on a nervous breakdown that I interviewed just a little over a year ago. She’s the little girl with—not a chip—but a chipmunk on her shoulder again.
—BY HEDDA HOPPER
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1952