Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most famous actresses of her era, and her private life always drew plenty of comment. She ended up being married eight times, including two failed marriages with the same man, Richard Burton. And some of those relationships resulted in children, and later grandchildren. One of these in particular looks a lot like Taylor.
Taylor’s eight marriages became legendary, but a lot of them weren’t happy relationships. Though she began her career as a child star Taylor grew up in a strict household, and she believed marriage was a ticket out of there. There was a lot of interest in her. After a failed engagement to William Pawley Jr., she married Hilton Hotels heir Conrad ‘Nicky’ Hilton Jr. in 1950.
At the time of the wedding, Taylor was a mere 18 years old. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the studio to which she was signed, helped turn the ceremony into a massive media circus. If Taylor had wanted to back out, there was virtually no chance of doing so. And only a few weeks into that first marriage, things started to turn sour.
Taylor claimed that Hilton was abusive and an alcoholic. Just eight months after the wedding, the woman who had briefly been Elizabeth Hilton requested a divorce and got it. At a Santa Monica courthouse she told the press that her husband had been “indifferent” to her and had “used abusive language.”
The next husband for Taylor was a man from her own walk of life, a British actor named Michael Wilding. He was 20 years older than her, but Taylor claimed to find that a plus rather than a minus. There was a small wedding this time, a quiet ceremony at a London hall in February 1952. And after that two children followed.
The children were Michael, born in 1953, and Christopher, who followed two years later. But the marriage was fraught with scandal; in 1955 while Taylor was filming the movie Giant, a magazine reported that Wilding had invited strippers into the family home. The following year the couple announced that they were splitting.
The Taylor-Wilding divorce went through in January 1957, and by February Taylor was married again. This time it was to producer Mike Todd, and they had one daughter together, Elizabeth “Liza” Frances. But no-one will ever know if that marriage too would have ended in divorce. In March 1958 Todd died in a plane crash.
Needless to say, Taylor was totally overcome with grief at her loss. But amongst it all she was comforted by Eddie Fisher, the husband of actress Debbie Reynolds… and she fell in love with him as well. As he was still married, this caused another scandal, and it was a huge one. Taylor was branded a homewrecker who’d stolen away another woman’s husband.
Taylor and Fisher got married in Las Vegas in 1959. But perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t last. In 1962 just as Taylor was planning to adopt a child alongside Fisher, she was photographed getting rather too close to her Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton. Another massive scandal had kicked off: they were having an affair.
Burton too was already married, to a woman called Sybil Williams. There was absolute disgust and outrage in the media. But for Taylor and Burton, everything seemed to work out, at least at first. They both divorced their spouses and wed in March 1964. The child Taylor wanted to adopt, Maria, came to live with them and took the last name Burton.
Taylor and Burton became arguably the first Hollywood supercouple. The media couldn’t get enough of them and their luxurious lifestyles, and nicknamed them “Liz and Dick.” They also appeared in multiple movies together, some of them especially created to take advantage of the affair scandal which still hung over them.
In 1964 Taylor gave an interview to Life magazine about Burton and her marriages so far. She had some ideas about why so many of them had failed. She told the publication, “I only had two ways of running away from everything. Go to college or get married… I really did think that being married would be like living in a little white cottage with a picket fence and roses.”
Regarding her extremely controversial affairs, Taylor told Life, “No-one will believe it – and I guess I don’t blame them – but I think I ended up being the scarlet woman partly because of my rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs. At first, I guess I didn’t know what was love and what was not.”
The movie star went on, “I always chose to think I was in love and that love was synonymous with marriage. I couldn’t just have a romance; it had to be a marriage. And I really don’t believe in divorce. I know that sounds pretty funny coming from me. When I was first divorced, I was 18 and had only been married nine months. I was very naïve and really totally crushed.”
And Taylor regretted her marriage to Fisher. She told the magazine, “I let myself go into marriage with Eddie because I felt so sick and dead and cold after Mike’s death. I felt I had loved and there would be nothing in my life like that again. But you have to try to survive, make contact with people.”
Taylor elucidated, “I really thought for some idiotic reason that Eddie needed me, and I should make somebody happy. It turned [out] all we had in common was Mike, who’d been his best friend. It was untenable – for both of us, I’m sure.” And then she began talking about how she believed she had finally found happiness with Burton.
On her latest husband Taylor said, “Richard, unless he wants to divorce me, will never be divorced by me. There will be times in ten years or 15 years when probably Richard and I will go through a time when… I really don’t think anything will happen… when whatever will be called for to keep our marriage together – I think I will have the guts to do.”
Of course, as it turned out those comments were just tempting fate. By June 1974 the couple were divorced. Rumor had it that the pair were constantly fighting, that Burton had strayed romantically, and that both had problems with drink. That could have been the end of it… but the separation didn’t stick. In October 1975 they got married again.
Letters from around that period indicate that Taylor was optimistic the second marriage would work. In 1975 she wrote to Burton, “Dearest Hubs, How about that! You really are my husband again, and have news for thee, there bloody will be no more marriages – or divorces, either. Yours truly, Wife.”
But, of course, she was not correct. Though Burton and Taylor clearly loved each other, they just couldn’t make it work. Both were still heavy drinkers and Taylor had developed an addiction to painkillers thanks to body pains which plagued her. Burton embarked on another affair, this time with the pretty blonde Suzy Hunt.
And so the second Taylor-Burton marriage collapsed as well. By 1976 they were divorced once more. Burton wed Hunt, and Taylor jumped into the arms of her sixth husband, politician John Warner. Taylor helped him with his electoral campaign, but once he was actually elected she began to get bored. Her addictions were also taking a toll on her.
Taylor divorced Warner in 1982. She had a couple of false-start engagements after that, once to lawyer Victor Luna and once to businessman Dennis Stein. But her seventh husband came in the form of builder Larry Fortensky, who she met in 1988 in rehab while undergoing treatment at the Betty Ford Center.
In 1991 Taylor wed Fortensky, and there was a lot of interest in the media, especially since the ceremony took place at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Taylor decided to use all the attention for a good cause. She sold the wedding photographs to People magazine for a million dollars, and used the money to create an AIDS foundation.
Taylor and Fortensky ended up divorcing too. In October 1996 it was all over, but they did remain friends. And in the years that followed, Taylor’s health took a turn for the worse. She stopped making public appearances, and had surgery on both her heart and her brain. In 2011 she passed away at the age of 79.
Taylor’s four children were, according to a statement released by a spokesman, all with her when she died. And Michael Wilding gave a statement of his own to breakfast TV news show Good Morning America, which read, “My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest with great passion, humor and love.”
Michael’s statement went on, “Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contributions to our world.” At the time of her passing, Taylor’s extended family ran to ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. And apparently they were all a big, happy family.
Not long after her death, Taylor’s biographer William J. Mann spoke to ABC News about how the actress handled motherhood. He told TV reporters, “I don’t think we heard a lot about her as a mother because we don’t tend to think of mothers as so glamorous. She was this globetrotting beautiful siren who kept them out of the spotlight – she wasn’t pushing them onto TV shows as some famous parents do.”
Indeed, none of Taylor’s children became movie stars, although some did work in the industry.Michael Wilding acted for a bit on the soap opera Guiding Light; Christopher Wilding became a photographer and editor; Liza Burton Tivey is a sculptor and Maria Burton once ran a talent agency with her husband.
As for the ten grandchildren, they prefer to lead mostly quiet lives, although many are also in the entertainment and arts industry. For example, Quinn Tivey is an artist; Tarquin Wilding is a filmmaker; Rhys Tivey is a musician and Andrew Wilding is a cinematographer. Along with their siblings and cousins they contribute to maintaining their grandmother’s legacy.
In 2017 some of the Taylor grandchildren did an interview with Town & Country magazine about how they were working to keep Taylor’s AIDS Foundation up and running. Laela Wilding, the first-born grandchild, said, “When she was alive, her foundation was such that she didn’t really need our help. It wasn’t until she passed away that there came a need for people to carry on what she had started.”
Her sister Naomi Wilding added in, “I think I can speak for the family in saying that it’s an opportunity we were always hoping would come to us… As time goes by, there will be people who don’t know who our grandmother was. What we’re trying to do is to make issues around HIV and AIDS more visible using her name, and with luck people will come to know what she did for that community.”
Also interviewed for Town & Country was grandson Quinn Tivey. Quinn is one of the most visible of the Taylor grandkids, and he happens to look a lot like her as well. He’s the eldest son of Liza Todd and Hap Tivey. And he inherited those huge, distinctive peepers which helped turn Taylor into a megastar.
Taylor was one of the few lucky people whose eyes were naturally a violet color, thanks to an unusual amount of melanin pigment in them. Quinn’s eyes aren’t exactly that same shade, but the resemblance is still clear. And the grandson also shares his grandmother’s dark hair and sharp nose.
Quinn also contributes his time to the AIDS Foundation. In 2017 he told Town & Country that upon hearing about it, “I immediately thought, I need to get more involved. I want to dive into the deep end of this. Through that experience we had the opportunity to see how crucial it was for her family to be participating in her legacy.”
Over the years Quinn has shared many memories of Taylor. In 2017 he told Town & Country’s Philanthropy Summit, “A lot of people do not know this, but Grandma could be really raunchy.” And he remembered that she was a woman who “had more fun talking to the waiter than the senator she was sitting with.”
In July 2019 Quinn helped auction off some of his grandmother’s property to benefit the AIDS Foundation. He told magazine The Hollywood Reporter, “Grandma devoted so much of her life to her foundation. Her work with HIV/AIDS, and her fight against all of the social injustices that run alongside HIV/AIDS, is such an important part of her legacy.”
Later on that year, Quinn also spoke about his grandmother to TV program The Morning Show. He remembered, “She was an amazing matriarch, and she would bring us together on the holidays. You knew it was something special, especially coming from a rural town where I grew up – it was very different than what I was used to.”
Quinn talked about why Taylor had started the foundation in the first place. He said, “She could not stand to see social injustice or unfairness around her. She could not stand to see stigma or the marginalization of any community of people. And she noticed at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that there was very little being done.”
The young man went on, “But she knew she had the capacity to do a lot. She had a platform by virtue of her celebrity, and she knew how to use it. She always had the courage to speak her mind and stand up for what she believed in, so that’s what she did. She turned her public persona into an activist role and really dove into the beginning of the epidemic with radical compassion.”
Quinn concluded with, “I hope folks will not only remember her amazing career as an actress and a businesswoman, but also as the activist that she was.” Elizabeth Taylor may have lived a very scandalous life for her era, but now her grandson is working to show the world the woman behind the headlines.