wed 18/09/2019

Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, Channel 4

Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime, Channel 4

How Hollywood's quintessential superstar measured her worth in jewellery

Auctioneers take bids for Ms Taylor's spectacular collection

As far as Elizabeth Taylor was concerned, it was the movies that got small as her brand of sumptuous diva-ishness became almost more than even Hollywood could support. Her jewellery collection, however, grew ever more grandiose, and when it was auctioned last year it fetched a record-breaking $135m. One piece alone, the historic La Peregrina Pearl (which had been worn by a string of Spanish queens and by Mary Tudor), sold for more than 11 million bucks.

Michael Waldman's shrewd and witty film craftily used this parade of Taylor's priceless baubles as an index of her triumphs and affections. Signed to MGM as an ambitious adolescent, Taylor rocketed into the limelight with National Velvet in 1944. She was given a horse as a present, which seemingly triggered a lifelong compulsion to be rewarded with lavish gifts. Having warmed up with her first couple of husbands, Nicky Hilton and Michael Wilding, she hit her full glittering stride with Mike Todd, who swaddled her in diamond tiaras, diamond earrings and a ruby and diamond necklace.

After Todd's death in a plane crash, Eddie Fisher did his best to keep her satisfied with yellow diamond ear pendants from Bulgari, but then she met Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra (pictured right), and Eddie was left on the cutting room floor without a backwards glance (aggrieved, he sent her a bill for the earrings). The world was gripped by the tempestuous heavings of the Taylor-Burton psychodrama, and it was permanent Christmas for Gianni Bulgari as the couple kept popping in for an emerald and diamond necklace or perhaps some emerald earrings. "Elizabeth Taylor was the Elizabeth Taylor show," Bulgari smirked greasily, noting that everybody else became merely her supporting cast.

Nonetheless, there were some droll walk-ons from the little people. Ward Landrigan, from Sotheby's in New York, had some excellent tales about how he would be summoned to deliver Taylor's latest acquisition instantly by hand to wherever in the world she happened to be. He had to take the La Peregrina Pearl to Las Vegas, where Burton plied him with "salty dogs" (clam juice with vodka) while Taylor offered breathtaking views of her frontage. "Her belle poitrine was ... belle," Landrigan recalled. Meanwhile she'd managed to lose the priceless gem, though it had not been swallowed up in her décolletage. After frantically crawling around the carpet ("it was Pepto-Bismol pink shag") they found La Peregrina being chewed by the diva's dog (Taylor and Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, below).

Actor Robert Hardy, a good friend of Burton, was despatched to Elizabeth's bedside when she was convalescing in a London clinic. She showed him the immense Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (another present from Burton), set into a ring which she was wearing in bed, but Hardy was appalled by its filthy condition. He cracked open one of the bottles of vodka from the case parked at the end of the bed, and furiously used it to restore the diamond's lustre.

Taylor was so much larger than life that separating the real woman, whoever she was, from the formidably-constructed myth was impossible. Various acquaintances said things like "Elizabeth Taylor is a brand that defies gravity" or "she's true fabulosity... she was the real bling bling", but you might as well say "I like Ferraris because they're expensive". I was intrigued, though, by the idea that Taylor, always a greater star than Burton, may have purchased some of his gifts to her herself when he could no longer afford them. And I loved the guy who argued that Taylor wasn't promiscuous, but just married everyone she slept with.

Mike Todd swaddled her in diamond tiaras, diamond earrings and a ruby and diamond necklace

Explore topics

Share this article

Comments

Elizabeth Taylor was a very beautiful woman.She was also extremely insecure,as only women so exquisite can be, This may have been the reason for her many marriages,lust for jewellery,gifts and physical affection.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.