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Elizabeth Taylor had a love-hate fling with Oscar

Never mind Elizabeth Taylor's seven steamy marriages and many romances. She had a much more tempestuous love-hate relationship with Oscar.

The first three times Elizabeth Taylor was nominated, Oscar jilted her for other lead actresses. When she was up for "Raintree County" (1957), the academy's Golden Boy embraced Joanne Woodward ("Three Faces of Eve"). She deserved to win for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), but Oscar tossed her aside for Susan Hayward ("I Want to Live!").

Elizabeth Taylor news Butterfield 8Thank goodness she didn't win for "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959) –- she didn't deserve to. All Taylor did was mug, whine and weep too extravagantly about her wayward cousin, Sebastian, that impossible Sebastian, while being upstaged by Katharine Hepburn, who was also nominated and seemed to suffer Taylor's histrionics with a stealy jaw. (By the way, I own Hepburn's Oscar nomination plaque, which is on display at the Hollywood Museum where you can also see Taylor's costumes and sets from "Cleopatra"). The award went to the undeserving Simone Signoret ("Room at the Top").

One year later, Taylor finally won for an undeserved performance as a high-class call girl in "Butterfield 8" (1960). She beat Greer Garson ("Sunrise at Campobello"), Deborah Kerr ("The Sundowners"), Shirley MacLaine ("The Apartment") and Melina Mercouri ("Never on Sunday").

In later years, Taylor would use profanity to slam and dismiss "Butterfield 8," which she agreed to make only because she was eager to fulfill her contract obligations to MGM and move on. She costarred opposite Eddie Fisher, whom she had recently stolen away from Debbie Reynolds, triggering a national outcry.

As the next Oscar derby began, it looked like Taylor was too engulfed in scandal to win, but she suddenly became a sympathetic figure when she came down with pneumonia and doctors said her condition was "grave." An emergency tracheotomy was performed so she could breathe, Taylor rallied and she showed up on the Oscar red carpet looking frail. When she won, she gasped at the podium, "I don't know how to express my gratitude for this and for everything. All I can say is thank you, thank you with all my heart."

Six years later Taylor was nominated for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and it was obvious that she was going to win –- rightfully -– for the greatest performance of her career. But she refused to attend the gala. Her then-husband Richard Burton had already lost four Oscar bouts, and it was obvious that he was about to lose again, this time to Paul Scofield ("A Man for All Seasons"). Taylor and Burton stayed in Paris in protest. Taylor claimed that the reason she remained in France was because Burton was afraid of flying, and she wanted to support him, but everyone knew the real reason. And it became painfully clear what her feelings were when she refused to issue a statement thanking the academy for her win.

Taylor would kiss and make up with Oscar in later years, of course. At the ceremony honoring 1992 films, she received the honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Three times she presented the trophy for best picture: "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), "The Sting" (1973) and "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991).

Related:

Elizabeth Taylor: An appreciation

Elizabeth Taylor obituary: Legendary actress dies at 79

Five Elizabeth Taylor performances we’ll never forget

 -- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Elizabeth Taylor in "Butterfield 8" (MGM)

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What did you mean by "The undeserving Simone Signoret". As I remember, and I do remember that year very well, Simone was heavily favored, going into the derby with great reviews. The award was really a two way race between Audrey Hepburn and Signoret.

Just curious ? What did you mean "The award went to the undeserving Simone Signoret."

Amazingly, Elizabeth had not appeared in person at the Oscars since getting the Hersholt Award in 1993. The last Best Picture she announced was Silence of the lambs with Paul Newman. She announced GLADIATOR as Best Picture on the Golden Globes, not the Oscars. And she was a last minute drop-out from the 75th Oscar Family Album causing Frank Pierson to lobby Tom Hanks to appear to make the exact number of former winners who had rehearsed the segment.
Taylor presented Best Picture to Midnight Cowboy in 1970 and was upstaged by her own California tan and that diamond necklace. It was her first Oscar appearance since winning for BUtterfield 8 nine years prior. it would be 11 years before she appeared again to present Best Director to Oliver Stone.
The Streaker was in 1974 when she presented Best Picture to THE STING. In 1976 after Audrey Hepburn announced Best Picture, Gene Kelly introduced Elizabeth who memorably 'forgot' the lyrics to America, The Beautiful. Amazingly, Elizabeth made only 6 Oscar appearances since 1960 and none in the last 18 years!
BTW, for those who are interested...when she won for Virginia Wolfe, her Oscar was accepted by Anne Bancroft.

P.S. If simone Signoret was underserving, who in your opinion should have won?

You forget her appearance on the 1976 Oscars when first she was upstaged by the streaker but presented the finale salute to the USA with "America, the beautiful" with the USC Trojan Marching Band. RIP Elizabeth!

In 1969, Taylor presented the Best Picture award right after the Best Actor was announced --- and Burton lost again, this time to John Wayne. Taylor was furious and you could see that as she presented.

As beautiful in B&W as Taylor was in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, I agree her ranting was a bit monotone, so I have a similar problem with it.

But her Oscar for BUTTERFIELD 8 "underserved"?? She might heartily agree with you, but I sure don't. It was a soap, to be sure, and a rather tawdry one at that (for the time) and MGM was clearly trying to capitalize on Taylor's incresing bad girl image... But whether it was fury over being forced into the part by the studio or just sheer professionalism, her performance is TERRIFIC in it. She sails above the material.

"Great trash" is the phrase. And without Taylor's star turn, it would have simply been trash, albeit of the harmless variety.

Tom, it's spelled "steely" not "stealy." Do you have a spell-check? Because the latter is not a word. Does the LAT have a copy editor? I liked your piece, however, and I hadn't been aware of her snub of the Academy when Burton was predictably shafted yet again for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I also agree that was, easily, her best acting performance. But I disagree about "Suddenly, Last Summer." Yes, she was histrionic. That's exactly what Williams' play called for, and any story that pivots on a character being the victim of cannibalism has got to be considered over the top. Don't you think? I haven't seen the film in years but I will never forget the fever pitch of emotion that Taylor built to, whereas Hepburn was her usual magnificent self but I can't remember any specific moment she had in that film. I'm surprised that so many critics are recommending "A Place in the Sun" as THE film to watch for those unfamiliar with Taylor's immense acting talent. Shelley Winters stole that movie and it was Montgomery Clift who carried it, not Taylor. And then there's the issue of it having been a pretty nasty hatchet job on the original masterpiece of a novel by Theodore Dreiser, "An American Tragedy." The most amazing thing about her in that film is that she was just 19 years old when it was released. That's impressive. The only actress I can think of in recent memory who has been so good at such a young age is Jennifer Lawrence in last year's "Winter's Bone." But for my money, anyone who hasn't seen Taylor and Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" has truly missed out. R.I.P., Ms. Taylor.

Markus, that was at the Globes.

You forget that she also presented the Best Picture Oscar to GLADIATOR....

Missing in the chronology is the fact her grave illness, coincidentally occurring 50 years ago this winter, was what prompted the Academy to give her the Oscar for Butterfield 8, as compensation for her prior snubs, in light of her recent near-death, which headlined the papers throughout the voting period: She would receive the Oscar, said they, postumously, at least, as she had deserved to. Oh, the drama, when she followed the script and practically limped to the stage, as if from her deathbed, milking the sympathy she couldn't receive for having taken Eddie from Debbie and her two little ones. A performance to near-die for.

One of the greats. Nobody today can compare to Ms. Taylor. Who cares about Angelina, Julia and all those others....Just compare one of today's scenes to that intense, incredible, hot "Tell Mama all" closeup in A Place in the Sun" or Maggie the Cat or Martha in "Virgina Woolf"....lovely lady, flawed but incredible screen presence...



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