March 29, 2011

1950s screen idol Farley Granger dead at 85

Farley Granger, the 1950s bobby sox screen idol who starred in the Alfred Hitchcock classics "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train," has died. He was 85.

Granger died Sunday of natural causes, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office.

Granger, who died at his Manhattan home, was an overnight Hollywood success story. He was a 16-year-old student at North Hollywood High School when he got the notion that he wanted to act and joined a little theater group.

Talent scouts for movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn saw the handsome youngster and signed him to a contract. His first movie was "The North Star" in 1943, a World War II story that starred Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews.

"It was one of those miracle careers," he said. "I had no talent and no training whatsoever and suddenly I was thrown ... (in) with Walter Huston, Erich von Stroheim, Anne Baxter, Ann Harding and Walter Brennan."

A decade later, at the height of his Hollywood stardom, he walked away from it to really learn his craft. He spent the rest of his career in a mix of movies, television and stage work.

Granger was born on July 1, 1925, in San Jose, Calif., where his father was a car dealer. The business went bust during the Depression and in 1933 the family moved to Los Angeles where he was subsequently spotted.

His career halted for U.S. Navy service during World War II — "I was chronically seasick." But when he was mustered out he returned to Hollywood and the Goldwyn publicity machine.

"Goldwyn firmly believed in big hype and hoopla for his stars, so he'd publicize me in projects that were never even written just to get space in the fan magazines," Granger once recalled.

The magazines ran pictures of Granger in swim trunks cavorting with such stars as Debbie Reynolds, Ann Blyth and Jane Powell. But he said the only serious romance he had with a woman was with Shelley Winters.

In the 2007 memoir "Include Me Out," written with his partner Robert Calhoun, Granger says he was bisexual.

He writes about a Honolulu night that epitomized his life. A 21-year-old virgin and wartime Navy recruit, he was determined to change his status. He did so with a young and lovely female prostitute. He was about to leave the premises when he ran into a handsome Navy officer. Granger was soon in bed again.

"I lost my virginity twice in one night," he writes.

His lifelong romance with Winters was "very much a love affair."

"It evolved into a very complex relationship, and we were close until the day she died," he said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press.

A briefer affair with Ava Gardner began when both quarreled with their dates at a Hollywood Christmas party. "We met at the bar and left together," he recalled in the interview. "It was a short but pretty intense and enormously fun affair."

He also writes about his same-sex celebrity affairs. For a time, he lived with Arthur Laurents, writer of the stage and movie versions of "West Side Story" and "Gypsy." In New York, Granger says he had a two-night fling with Leonard Bernstein.

Granger made "Rope" in 1948 and "Strangers on a Train" in 1951. In the latter, based on the classic novel by Patricia Highsmith, he played a tennis star who meets a man on a train. The other man, played by Robert Walker, turns out to be a psychotic who proposes that each of them murder the other's troublesome relative. He tells Granger's character, "Some people are better off dead — like your wife and my father, for instance."

Walker's character proceeds to carry out his part of the bargain, killing the tennis star's estranged wife and trapping the Granger character in an ever-tightening circle of suspicion.

Beside the two Hitchcock thrillers, Granger appeared in "They Live By Night," "Roseanna McCoy," "Side Street," "The Story of Three Loves," "Edge of Doom" and "Hans Christian Andersen."

But he wasn't happy with most of the films he was offered. "I was on suspension most of the time for turning down scripts," he recalled. Finally, in 1953, he effectively fired his boss and headed for New York.

"I bought out my contract from Goldwyn, which had two years to go. It took every penny I had. It helped that I didn't live a big fancy life, that I'd saved my money for a rainy day. Because that was a rainy day.

"I left Hollywood because I didn't know my craft," he said. "I was a star, but I knew nothing of the techniques of acting. I figured I'd better learn or I'd be in trouble when the star aspects of my career wore off."

In New York, he studied with Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner, among the top and most famous acting coaches.

"What saved my life then was live television, the so-called Golden Age of television drama," Granger said. "I did a lot of it and loved it. Most movie actors were afraid to go into live TV because they weren't used to it. I had to, just to make a living, but I also wanted to because it was the closest thing to theater."

He made his Broadway debut in 1960 in "First Impressions," a musical version of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." He later did two years with Eva Le Gallienne's repertory troupe and a considerable stint as the lead in the long-running thriller "Deathtrap."

Granger continued to make films over the years, including "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," "The Serpent," "The Man called Noon," "The Imagemaker" and "The Whoopee Boys." He made several movies in Italy including Luchino Visconti's "Senso."

He also appeared in several daytime soaps, including "As the World Turns," "Edge of Night" and "One Life to Live," for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination.

But he said he preferred the stage: "I feel I'm much more relaxed in front of an audience than a camera. I feel the response. The live audience really turns me on and I like it.

March 23, 2011

TCM: Elizabeth Taylor Memorial Program on 4/10

Turner Classic Movies will remember the life and career of two-time Academy Award®-winning actress and beloved humanitarian Elizabeth Taylor on Sunday, April 10. The 24-hour memorial tribute, which is set to begin at 6 a.m. (ET/PT), will include both of Taylor's Oscar®-winning performances, with Butterfield 8 (1960) at 8 p.m. (ET) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) at 10 p.m. (ET).

TCM's tribute will also feature Taylor in such memorable films as the family classics Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944); the delightful comedies Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951); the historical epic Ivanhoe (1952); and the powerful dramas Giant (1956), Raintree County (1957) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Also included is the spy drama Conspirator (1949), with Taylor in her first adult role.

The following is a complete schedule of TCM's April 10 memorial tribute to Elizabeth Taylor (all times Eastern):
6 a.m. - Lassie Come Home (1943), with Roddy McDowall and Edmund Gwenn; directed by Fred M. Wilcox.
7:30 a.m. - National Velvet (1944), with Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere and Angela Lansbury; directed by Clarence Brown.
10 a.m. - Conspirator (1952), with Robert Taylor and Robert Flemyng; directed by Victor Saville.
11:30 a.m. - Father of the Bride (1950), with Spencer Tracy, Billie Burke, Joan Bennett and Don Taylor; directed by Vincente Minnelli.
1:15 a.m. - Father's Little Dividend (1951), with Spencer Tracy, Billie Burke, Joan Bennett and Don Taylor; directed by Vincente Minnelli.
2:45 p.m. - Raintree County (1957), with Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor and Agnes Moorehead; directed by Edward Dmytryk.
6 p.m. - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with Paul Newman and Burl Ives; directed by Richard Brooks.
8 p.m. - Butterfield 8 (1960), with Laurence Harvey and Eddie Fisher; directed by Daniel Mann.
10 p.m. - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), with Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis; directed by Mike Nichols.
12:30 a.m. - Giant (1956), with James Dean and Rock Hudson; directed by George Stevens.
4 a.m. - Ivanhoe (1952), with Robert Taylor and Joan Fontaine; directed by Richard Thorpe.

In addition to TCM's on-air tribute to Taylor, the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood will feature a special 60th anniversary screening of her brilliant performance opposite Montgomery Clift in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951). The TCM Classic Film Festival takes place April 28-May 1.


There may be other contenders for the honor, but if you want the definitive picture to put next to the phrase "movie star" in the dictionary, there's only one person who truly fills the bill -- Elizabeth Taylor. One of the last of the great studio stars, Taylor encompasses all of the glamour and all of the contradictions of stardom. A beautiful child who never went through an awkward phase, she grew up to become one of the most desired women in Hollywood. Even as she matured as an actress of surprising depth, she was generating headlines that made her the focus of unbridled idolatry and unreasoning hatred.

In her 79 years, she has dazzled audiences with her talents for acting and living large, and inspired them with her refusal to give in to heartache or illness. Like every great star she has re-invented herself as needed, ranging from child beauty to budding actress to fallen woman to diva to respected leader in the fight against AIDS. Through it all, the studio manipulations, the broken marriages, and the constant headlines, her greatest accomplishment is simply being her own woman.

Taylor's legendary beauty preceded her first films. According to legend, a talent scout spotted her playing as a child and tried to interest her mother in putting her up for the role of Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939). She started dancing at three in her native London, where she performed in a recital for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. When World War II started, her art dealer father sent the girl and her mother to California to escape the Blitz.

As more and more people commented on the child's beauty, her mother finally decided to make the rounds, winning her a screen test at Universal, where she made her big-screen debut opposite "Our Gang" star Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in There's One Born Every Minute (1942). When the studio didn't have any other roles for her, Taylor's father, now in the U.S., ran into MGM executive Sam Marx while volunteering as an air warden. That led to another test and a contract. Studio head Louis B. Mayer kept a stable of child stars that at various times included Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Lana Turner to play out variations on his dreams of the perfect American family. With her dark hair, perfect face and violet eyes, Taylor was a welcome addition to Mayer's vision. Her first Metro film was Lassie Come Home (1943), which started a lifelong friendship with co-star Roddy McDowall.

Taylor worked out for months to win the role of Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944), a project that years earlier had been planned for Katharine Hepburn. At 13, however, Taylor was perfect as the young girl devoted to her horse. She so loved the film that the studio gave her the horse that played Pie after the picture wrapped. The critical and box-office success made it clear that Taylor was a very special child indeed. The studio didn't always heed that lesson. Some of her early films, like Cynthia (1947), were pedestrian at best. But in the right vehicle, as when she tried to rehabilitate Lassie after wartime service in Courage of Lassie (1946), she was dazzling.

Taylor matured early. By the time she was 16, she seemed adult enough to win Robert Stack from Jane Powell in A Date with Judy (1948), even though both leading ladies were cast as high-school girls. At 18, she graduated to adult roles as Spencer Tracy's daughter in Father of the Bride (1950), a film that got a big publicity boost out of her marriage to hotel heir Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, and as Robert Taylor's wife in Conspirator (1949). While filming the latter, she also had to deal with her co-star's very adult ardor for her.

Taylor's first grown-up roles were mainly built around her beauty. All she had to do was look good while Robert Taylor fought for her honor in Ivanhoe (1952) or Stewart Granger tried to make his fortune in Beau Brummell (1954). But the talents that had made National Velvet so successful were still there, waiting for the right vehicle. She found one such part when MGM loaned her to Paramount for A Place in the Sun (1951). She showed surprising passion and subtlety as the wealthy young woman who falls for social-climbing Montgomery Clift and even impressed her very serious co-star, who became another close friend. Taylor would credit the F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) as the first film in which she realized how much she wanted to be respected as an actress, but there are hints of a more mature approach to her work in Rhapsody (1954), in which she plays an heiress involved with the classical music world, and Elephant Walk (1954), as a plantation owner's wife torn between her husband and his plantation manager. In the latter, she replaced an ailing Vivien Leigh and had to match footage already shot with the other actress. The film made her more beautiful than ever, which may have blinded critics to the quality of her work.

MGM finally realized they had an actress on their hands when a loan to Warner Bros. for Giant (1956) earned her critical raves. The studio began developing projects to exploit both her beauty and her acting, helping her to her first Oscar® nomination with Raintree County (1957), a Civil War tale about a Southern belle who goes mad.

When Grace Kelly retired from films to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco, the studio projects she left unfilmed included Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Taylor's third husband, showman Mike Todd, convinced the studio to cast her in the role, and she scored another triumph. Making her accomplishment more amazing was the fact that she shot the film while mourning for Todd, who was killed in a plane crash during the making of Cat. By the time the film came out, Taylor was making headlines again, this time as the scarlet woman who had stolen Todd's friend, singer Eddie Fisher, from wife Debbie Reynolds. Although she was denounced by some, the publicity drove ticket sales for the adult drama, and the film brought her a second Oscar® nomination.

Taylor took another stab at a Tennessee Williams adaptation, co-starring with Clift and Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Again, she turned in a surprisingly good performance, pulling off a lengthy final monologue about her cousin's tragic fate. The film brought her third Oscar® nomination. 20th Century-Fox had offered her the title role in their epic Cleopatra (1963), prompting her to jokingly demand $1 million, the highest fee ever paid an actor at that time. When they compromised on $750,000 and a percentage, she couldn't say, "No." But she still owed MGM one more film. With no time to turn anything down, they stuck her in Butterfield 8 (1960), a turgid adaptation of John O'Hara's novel about a high-priced call girl. Taylor hated the film. When the studio screened it for her, she threw a drink at the screen. Still, she gave a respectable performance and won her fourth Oscar® nomination in as many years.

By the time Butterfield 8 came out, she was already working on Cleopatra in England. The harsh English winter gave her a cold that turned into pneumonia. Suddenly headlines proclaimed that she was at death's door. She survived, and the publicity brought her first Oscar® win against some very strong competition. At last, the world seemed to have forgiven her "stealing" Fisher from Debbie Reynolds.

By the time she returned to work on Cleopatra, there had been some changes. Director Rouben Mamoulian had dropped out and been replaced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and leading men Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd had gone off to work on other films. To replace them, Fox hired Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. That's when the headlines started all over again. A few days after they filmed their first scenes as legendary lovers Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Taylor and Burton were engaged in a passionate affair. Before long, Fisher left the location in Rome, followed later by Burton's wife. By the time the film ended, both marriages were over, and Taylor was a pariah once again. The bloated production's box office failure didn't help, either, and Fox tried to sue her for slowing production and causing bad publicity.

As soon as Taylor and Burton had finished Cleopatra, however, they played an estranged couple in The V.I.P.s (1963), a Grand Hotel in an airport with an all-star cast including Orson Welles, Margaret Rutherford, Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith. Critics hated the film, but audiences bought tickets thinking they were getting an inside look at the infamous couple. The same attraction worked with The Sandpiper (1965), a turgid romance with bohemian artist Taylor falling for married priest Burton, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), their best film together. For her role as the slatternly wife of a college professor, Taylor gained weight, grayed her hair and had the makeup men add rather than hide wrinkles. Her searing performance brought her a second Oscar®, and this time she could feel that it was deserved.

After Virginia Woolf, however, their box office popularity started to decline. By now married, the pair continued to generate headlines with their expensive purchases and jet-set socializing, but their films grew steadily worse. For one thing, she and Burton priced themselves out of many interesting mid-budget films. For another, his drinking impaired his judgment. Scripts like Boom (1968) and Hammersmith Is Out (1972) had critics lamenting the betrayal of both stars' abilities and talent. Oddly, when they announced their separation in 1973, they each got some of their best reviews for their TV movie, Divorce His - Divorce Hers; Taylor also received plaudits for the plastic surgery drama Ash Wednesday (1973) but it wasn't enough to restore her waning career.

As film work dried up, Taylor explored other acting opportunities, guesting on the soap opera General Hospital and starring in an acclaimed revival of The Little Foxes on Broadway. She even reunited with Burton for a stage tour of Private Lives. But she soon found a more productive outlet for her talents. The death of her friend Rock Hudson from AIDS complications in 1985 put Taylor in the center of the controversy over the disease. She soon became a tireless worker for AIDS-related charities, eventually winning a third Oscar®, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for her efforts.

Even in semi-retirement, Taylor has remained a star and will always be one even after more acclaimed actors are long forgotten. She died at the age of 79 at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Hospital on March 23, 2011.

Film legend Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79 in LA

Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed film goddess whose sultry screen persona, stormy personal life and enduring fame and glamour made her one of the last of the classic movie stars and a template for the modern celebrity, died Wednesday at age 79.

She was surrounded by her four children when she died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks, said publicist Sally Morrison.

"My Mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love," her son, Michael Wilding, said in a statement.

"We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts."

"We have just lost a Hollywood giant," said Elton John, a longtime friend of Taylor. "More importantly, we have lost an incredible human being."

Taylor was the most blessed and cursed of actresses, the toughest and the most vulnerable. She had extraordinary grace, wealth and voluptuous beauty, and won three Academy Awards, including a special one for her humanitarian work. She was the most loyal of friends and a defender of gays in Hollywood when AIDS was new to the industry and beyond. But she was afflicted by ill health, failed romances (eight marriages, seven husbands) and personal tragedy.

"I think I'm becoming fatalistic," she said in 1989. "Too much has happened in my life for me not to be fatalistic."

Her more than 50 movies included unforgettable portraits of innocence and of decadence, from the children's classic "National Velvet" and the sentimental family comedy "Father of the Bride" to Oscar-winning transgressions in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "Butterfield 8." The historical epic "Cleopatra" is among Hollywood's greatest on-screen fiascos and a landmark of off-screen monkey business, the meeting ground of Taylor and Richard Burton, the "Brangelina" of their day.

She played enough bawdy women on film for critic Pauline Kael to deem her "Chaucerian Beverly Hills."

But her defining role, one that lasted past her moviemaking days, was "Elizabeth Taylor," ever marrying and divorcing, in and out of hospitals, gaining and losing weight, standing by Michael Jackson, Rock Hudson and other troubled friends, acquiring a jewelry collection that seemed to rival Tiffany's.

She was a child star who grew up and aged before an adoring, appalled and fascinated public. She arrived in Hollywood when the studio system tightly controlled an actor's life and image, had more marriages than any publicist could explain away and carried on until she no longer required explanation. She was the industry's great survivor, and among the first to reach that special category of celebrity — famous for being famous, for whom her work was inseparable from the gossip around it.

The London-born actress was a star at age 12, a bride and a divorcee at 18, a superstar at 19 and a widow at 26. She was a screen sweetheart and martyr later reviled for stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds, then for dumping Fisher to bed Burton, a relationship of epic passion and turbulence, lasting through two marriages and countless attempted reconciliations.

She was also forgiven. Reynolds would acknowledge voting for Taylor when she was nominated for "Butterfield 8" and decades later co-starred with her old rival in "These Old Broads," co-written by Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

Taylor's ailments wore down the grudges. She underwent at least 20 major operations and she nearly died from a bout with pneumonia in 1990. In 1994 and 1995, she had both hip joints replaced, and in February 1997, she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In 1983, she acknowledged a 35-year addiction to sleeping pills and pain killers. Taylor was treated for alcohol and drug abuse problems at the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Her troubles bonded her to her peers and the public, and deepened her compassion. Her advocacy for AIDS research and for other causes earned her a special Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1993.

As she accepted it, to a long ovation, she declared, "I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being รข€” to prove that we are a human race, to prove that our love outweighs our need to hate, that our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame."

The dark-haired Taylor made an unforgettable impression in Hollywood with "National Velvet," the 1945 film in which the 12-year-old belle rode a steeplechase horse to victory in the Grand National.

Critic James Agee wrote of her: "Ever since I first saw the child ... I have been choked with the peculiar sort of adoration I might have felt if we were in the same grade of primary school."

"National Velvet," her fifth film, also marked the beginning of Taylor's long string of health issues. During production, she fell off a horse. The resulting back injury continued to haunt her.

Taylor matured into a ravishing beauty in "Father of the Bride," in 1950, and into a respected performer and femme fatale the following year in "A Place in the Sun," based on the Theodore Dreiser novel "An American Tragedy." The movie co-starred her close friend Montgomery Clift as the ambitious young man who drowns his working-class girlfriend to be with the socialite Taylor. In real life, too, men all but committed murder in pursuit of her.

Through the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, she and Marilyn Monroe were Hollywood's great sex symbols, both striving for appreciation beyond their physical beauty, both caught up in personal dramas filmmakers could only wish they had imagined. That Taylor lasted, and Monroe died young, was a matter of luck and strength; Taylor lived as she pleased and allowed no one to define her but herself.

"I don't entirely approve of some of the things I have done, or am, or have been. But I'm me. God knows, I'm me," Taylor said around the time she turned 50.

She had a remarkable and exhausting personal and professional life. Her marriage to Michael Todd ended tragically when the producer died in a plane crash in 1958. She took up with Fisher, married him, then left him for Burton. Meanwhile, she received several Academy Award nominations and two Oscars.

She was a box-office star cast in numerous "prestige" films, from "Raintree County" with Clift to "Giant," an epic co-starring her friends Hudson and James Dean. Nominations came from a pair of movies adapted from work by Tennessee Williams: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Suddenly, Last Summer." In "Butterfield 8," released in 1960, she starred with Fisher as a doomed girl-about-town. Taylor never cared much for the film, but her performance at the Oscars wowed the world.

Sympathy for Taylor's widowhood had turned to scorn when she took up with Fisher, who had supposedly been consoling her over the death of Todd. But before the 1961 ceremony, she was hospitalized from a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia and Taylor underwent a tracheotomy. The scar was bandaged when she appeared at the Oscars to accept her best actress trophy for "Butterfield 8."

To a standing ovation, she hobbled to the stage. "I don't really know how to express my great gratitude," she said in an emotional speech. "I guess I will just have to thank you with all my heart." It was one of the most dramatic moments in Academy Awards history.

"Hell, I even voted for her," Reynolds later said.

Greater drama awaited: "Cleopatra." Taylor met Burton while playing the title role in the 1963 epic, in which the brooding, womanizing Welsh actor co-starred as Mark Antony. Their chemistry was not immediate. Taylor found him boorish; Burton mocked her physique. But the love scenes on film continued away from the set and a scandal for the ages was born. Headlines shouted and screamed. Paparazzi, then an emerging breed, snapped and swooned. Their romance created such a sensation that the Vatican denounced the happenings as the "caprices of adult children."

The film so exceeded its budget that the producers lost money even though "Cleopatra" was a box-office hit and won four Academy awards. (With its $44 million budget adjusted for inflation, "Cleopatra" remains the most expensive movie ever made.) Taylor's salary per film topped $1 million. "Liz and Dick" became the ultimate jet set couple, on a first name basis with millions who had never met them.

They were a prolific acting team, even if most of the movies aged no better than their marriages: "The VIPs" (1963), "The Sandpiper" (1965), "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967), "The Comedians" (1967), "Dr. Faustus" (1967), "Boom!" (1968), "Under Milk Wood" (1971) and "Hammersmith Is Out" (1972).

Art most effectively imitated life in the adaptation of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" — in which Taylor and Burton played mates who fought viciously and drank heavily. She took the best actress Oscar for her performance as the venomous Martha in "Virginia Woolf" and again stole the awards show, this time by not showing up at the ceremony. She refused to thank the academy upon learning of her victory and chastised voters for not honoring Burton.

Taylor and Burton divorced in 1974, married again in 1975 and divorced again in 1976.

"We fight a great deal," Burton once said, "and we watch the people around us who don't quite know how to behave during these storms. We don't fight when we are alone."

In 1982, Taylor and Burton appeared in a touring production of the Noel Coward play "Private Lives," in which they starred as a divorced couple who meet on their respective honeymoons. They remained close at the time of Burton's death, in 1984.

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London on Feb. 27, 1932, the daughter of Francis Taylor, an art dealer, and the former Sara Sothern, an American stage actress. At age 3, with extensive ballet training already behind her, Taylor danced for British princesses Elizabeth (the future queen) and Margaret Rose at London's Hippodrome. At age 4, she was given a wild field horse that she learned to ride expertly.

At the onset of World War II, the Taylors came to the United States. Francis Taylor opened a gallery in Beverly Hills and, in 1942, his daughter made her screen debut with a bit part in the comedy "There's One Born Every Minute."

Her big break came soon thereafter. While serving as an air-raid warden with MGM producer Sam Marx, Taylor's father learned that the studio was struggling to find an English girl to play opposite Roddy McDowall in "Lassie Come Home." Taylor's screen test for the film won her both the part and a long-term contract. She grew up quickly after that.

Still in school at 16, she would dash from the classroom to the movie set where she played passionate love scenes with Robert Taylor in "Conspirator."

"I have the emotions of a child in the body of a woman," she once said. "I was rushed into womanhood for the movies. It caused me long moments of unhappiness and doubt."

Soon after her screen presence was established, she began a series of very public romances. Early loves included socialite Bill Pawley, home run slugger Ralph Kiner and football star Glenn Davis.

Then, a roll call of husbands:

• She married Conrad Hilton Jr., son of the hotel magnate, in May 1950 at age 18. The marriage ended in divorce that December.
• When she married British actor Michael Wilding in February 1952, he was 39 to her 19. They had two sons, Michael Jr. and Christopher Edward. That marriage lasted 4 years.
• She married cigar-chomping movie producer Michael Todd, also 20 years her senior, in 1957. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Francis. Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958.
• The best man at the Taylor-Todd wedding was Fisher. He left his wife Debbie Reynolds to marry Taylor in 1959. She converted to Judaism before the wedding.
• Taylor and Fisher moved to London, where she was making "Cleopatra." She met Burton, who also was married. That union produced her fourth child, Maria.
• After her second marriage to Burton ended, she married John Warner, a former secretary of the Navy, in December 1976. Warner was elected a U.S. senator from Virginia in 1978. They divorced in 1982.
• In October 1991, she married Larry Fortensky, a truck driver and construction worker she met while both were undergoing treatment at the Betty Ford Center in 1988. He was 20 years her junior. The wedding, held at the ranch of Michael Jackson, was a media circus that included the din of helicopter blades, a journalist who parachuted to a spot near the couple and a gossip columnist as official scribe.

But in August 1995, she and Fortensky announced a trial separation; she filed for divorce six months later and the split became final in 1997.

"I was taught by my parents that if you fall in love, if you want to have a love affair, you get married," she once remarked. "I guess I'm very old-fashioned."

Her philanthropic interests included assistance for the Israeli War Victims Fund, the Variety Clubs International and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

She received the Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious award, in 1987, for her efforts to support AIDS research. In May 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made Taylor a dame — the female equivalent of a knight — for her services to the entertainment industry and to charity.

In 1993, she won a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute; in 1999, an institute survey of screen legends ranked her No. 7 among actresses.

During much of her later career, Taylor's waistline, various diets, diet books and tangled romances were the butt of jokes by Joan Rivers and others. John Belushi mocked her on "Saturday Night Live," dressing up in drag and choking on a piece of chicken.

"It's a wonder I didn't explode," Taylor wrote of her 60-pound weight gain — and successful loss — in the 1988 book "Elizabeth Takes Off on Self-Esteem and Self-Image."

She was an iconic star, but her screen roles became increasingly rare in the 1980s and beyond. She appeared in several television movies, including "Poker Alice" and "Sweet Bird of Youth," and entered the Stone Age as Pearl Slaghoople in the movie version of "The Flintstones." She had a brief role on the popular soap opera "General Hospital."

Taylor was the subject of numerous unauthorized biographies and herself worked on a handful of books, including "Elizabeth Taylor: An Informal Memoir" and "Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry." In tune with the media to the end, she kept in touch through her Twitter account.

"I like the connection with fans and people who have been supportive of me," Taylor told Kim Kardashian in a 2011 interview for Harper's Bazaar. "And I love the idea of real feedback and a two-way street, which is very, very modern. But sometimes I think we know too much about our idols and that spoils the dream."

Survivors include her daughters Maria Burton-Carson and Liza Todd-Tivey, sons Christopher and Michael Wilding, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A private family funeral is planned later this week.

March 12, 2011

'Merry Little Christmas' songwriter Martin dies

Hugh Martin, the composer-songwriter whose works included "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song," died Friday. He was 96.

He died from natural causes at his home in Encinitas, Calif., said Martin's niece Suzanne Hanners.

Martin and songwriting partner Ralph Blane co-wrote such catchy tunes as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Trolley Song" and "The Boy Next Door" from the musical "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Martin, who hailed from Birmingham, Ala., also crafted songs for several other film and Broadway musicals, including "Best Foot Forward," "Make a Wish," "High Spirits" and "Hooray for What!"

He was nominated for best original song Academy Awards for "The Trolley Song" in 1944 and "Pass the Peace Pipe" from "Good News" in 1947. He wrote about his exploits in show business in his 2010 autobiography, "Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door."

Martin is survived by his brother Gordon Martin; nephews Gordon Martin Jr. and Hugh Martin III; and nieces Hanners and Lua Martin Wells.

March 01, 2011

Jane Russell, star of '40s and '50s films, dies

She was the voluptuous pin-up girl who set a million male hearts to pounding during World War II, the favorite movie star of a generation of young men long before she'd made a movie more than a handful of them had ever seen.
Such was the stunning beauty of Jane Russell, and the marketing skills of the man who discovered her, the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.
Russell, surrounded by family members, died Monday at her home in the central coast city of Santa Maria. Her death from respiratory failure came 70 years after Hughes had put her on the path to stardom with his controversial Western "The Outlaw." She was 89.
Although she had all but abandoned Hollywood after the 1960s for a quieter life, her daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield said Russell remained active until just a few weeks ago when her health began to fail. Until then, she was active with her church, charities that were close to her heart and as a member of a singing group that made occasional appearances around Santa Maria.
"She always said 'I'm going to die in the saddle, I'm not going to sit at home and become an old woman,'" Waterfield told The Associated Press on Monday. "And that's exactly what she did, she died in the saddle."
It was an apt metaphor for a stunningly beautiful woman who first made her mark as the scandalously sexy and provocatively dressed (for the time) pal of Billy the Kid, in a Western that Hughes fought for years with censors to get into wide release.
As the billionaire battled to bring the picture to audiences, his publicity mill promoted Russell relentlessly, grinding out photos of her in low-cut costumes, swimsuits and other outfits that became favorite pinups of World War II GIs.
To contain her ample bust, the designer of the "Spruce Goose" airplane used his engineering skills to make Russell a special push-up bra (one she said she never wore). He also bought the ailing RKO film studio and signed her to a 20-year contract that paid her $1,000 a week.
By the time she made her third film, the rollicking comedy-western "The Paleface," in which she played tough- but-sexy Calamity Jane to Bob Hope's cowardly dentist sidekick, she was a star.
She went on to appear in a series of potboilers for RKO, including "His Kind of Woman" (with Robert Mitchum), "Double Dynamite" (Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx), "The Las Vegas Story" (Victor Mature) and "Macao" (Mitchum again).
Although her sultry, sensual look and her hourglass figure made her the subject of numerous nightclub jokes, unlike Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and other pinup queens of the era, Russell was untouched by scandal in her personal life.
During her Hollywood career she was married to star UCLA and pro football quarterback Bob Waterfield.
"The Outlaw," although it established her reputation, was beset with trouble from the beginning. It took two years to make, according to its theatrical trailer, and director Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood's most eminent and autocratic filmmakers, became so rankled under producer Hughes' constant suggestions that he walked out.
"Hughes directed the whole picture — for nine bloody months!" Russell said in 1999.
It had scattered brief runs beginning in 1943, earning scathing reviews. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of the weirdest Western pictures that ever unreeled before the public."
Russell's only other notable film was "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," a 1953 musical based on the novel by Anita Loos that cast her opposite Monroe.
She followed that up with the 1954 musical "The French Line," which — like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" — had her cavorting on an ocean liner. The film was shot in 3-D, and the promotional campaign for it proclaimed "J.R. in 3D. Need we say more?"
In 1955, she made the sequel "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes" (without Monroe) and starred in the Westerns "The Tall Men," with Clark Gable, and "Foxfire," with Jeff Chandler. But by the 1960s, her film career had faded.
"Why did I quit movies?" she remarked in 1999. "Because I was getting too old! You couldn't go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30."
She continued to appear in nightclubs, television and musical theater, including a stint on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's "Company." She formed a singing group with Connie Haines and Beryl Davis, and they recorded gospel songs.
For many years she served as TV spokeswoman for Playtex bras, and in the 1980s she made a few guest appearances in the TV series "The Yellow Rose."
She was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921, in Bemidji, Minn., and the family later moved to Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Her mother was a lay preacher, and she encouraged the family to build a chapel in their back yard.
Despite her mother's Christian teachings, young Jane had a wild side. She wrote in her 1985 autobiography, "My Paths and Detours," that during high school she had a back-alley abortion, which may have rendered her unable to bear children.
Her early ambition was to design clothes and houses, but that was postponed until her later years. While working as a receptionist, she was spotted by a movie agent who submitted her photos to Hughes.
The producer was famous for dating his discoveries, as well as numerous other Hollywood actresses, but his contact with Russell remained strictly business. Her engagement and 1943 marriage to Waterfield assured that.
She was the leader of the Hollywood Christian Group, a cluster of film people who gathered for Bible study and good works. After experiencing problems in adopting her three children, she founded World Adoption International Agency, which has helped facilitate adoptions of more than 40,000 children from overseas.
She made hundreds of appearances for WAIF and served on the board for 40 years.
As she related in "My Path and Detours," her life was marked by heartache. Her 24-year marriage to Waterfield ended in bitter divorce in 1968. They had adopted two boys and a girl.
That year she married actor Roger Barrett; three months later he died of a heart attack. In 1978 she married developer John Peoples, and they lived in Sedona, Ariz., and later, Santa Barbara. He died in 1999 of heart failure.
Over the years, Russell was also beset by alcoholism. She was able to rebound from troubles by relying on lessons she learned from her Bible-preaching mother.
"Without faith, I never would have made it," she commented a few months after her third husband's death. "I don't know how people can survive all the disasters in their lives if they don't have any faith, if they don't know the Lord loves them and cares about them and has another plan."
Survivors include her children, Thomas K. Waterfield, Tracy Foundas and Robert "Buck" Waterfield, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
A public funeral is scheduled March 12 at 11 a.m. at Pacific Christian Church in Santa Maria.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in her name to either the Care Net Pregnancy and Resource Center of Santa Maria or the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Santa Barbara County.