How Elizabeth Taylor Became a Star
The idea of being self-made is appealing to many, yet attainable for few. There is always a guiding force behind the scenes, big or small, from the circumstances of your life to winning the lottery, that can be accounted for. Elizabeth Taylor had all the natural ingredients needed to succeed, but every recipe has its secrets – its enhancers, if you will. Hers was a fierce and driven force neatly packaged into the ladylike picture of Sara Sothern Taylor, also known as Elizabeth's mother. Sara and Elizabeth were in no way the first mother-daughter duo to push through studio doors, but they would be the first to make a lasting impression on American cinema.
As war was approaching the Taylor’s home in Hampstead Heath, they decided it was best to leave for America, ultimately settling in the Pacific Palisades. Elizabeth had always been an instinctive performer with a healthy motivation for entertaining others. For her, it was an act of giving that always gave back, usually in the form of applause. Sara had high aspirations for her daughter, and once Elizabeth expressed interest in professional acting after watching a Shirley Temple film, Sara went into full “momager” mode. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was desperate to be at MGM, intuitively expressing at the age of eight, “I know it’s right for me to be here.”
Despite Elizabeth’s gut feeling, Sara wanted to keep their options open and met with both MGM and Universal Studios. Some would say that Sara Sothern happened to be in the right places at the most advantageous times, but the truth is that she made sure her daughter was seen and noticed by the correct people. For one audition, after all the pianists had left for the day, she even stepped in to play piano while Elizabeth made up her own lyrics. In the end, Universal Studios offered a $200 per week contract, while MGM offered $100 with no room for negotiation. Sara would take the deal from Universal Studios because of the studio’s smaller size, feeling it would be a better fit for Elizabeth.
The early days of movie studios were rather different than they are now. Talent was treated as merchandise and they were expected to take singing and dance classes on the lot while roles were found. The competition was rough and while most girls conformed to the gold-ringlet, Shirley Temple look, Sara didn’t temper with her daughter’s natural looks. Knowing when and where to bend the rules was crucial. Unfortunately, after being forced to take singing lessons from an instructor who failed to see Elizabeth’s talents, her voice was ruined. The casting director, Dan Kelly, didn’t know what to do with Elizabeth’s impaired voice and unusual looks, stating, “She doesn’t have the face of a child.” After one year at Universal Studios Elizabeth Taylor was dropped.
By a stroke of luck, Elizabeth would eventually make her way to MGM and star in Lassie Come Home, as a replacement for the actress who could no longer be in the film. By the age of twelve, she was already a full-fledged star. Sara and Elizabeth worked their magic together for ten years, but their ambition and quiet tenacity would outlive them both through Elizabeth’s legacy. Through it all, Sara demonstrated her flair for going through obstacles in a respectable fashion – a trait that didn’t fall too far from the tree when it was Elizabeth’s turn to advocate for herself as an entertainer.