Featured January 2024

Meet the Taylors: How Elizabeth’s Family Landed in Los Angeles

Before the name “Elizabeth Taylor” carried the weight that it does today, the young girl baring it was being carefully crafted in the London suburb of Hampstead. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London on February 27, 1932, to American parents Sara and Francis. 

Elizabeth’s parents were childhood friends in Kansas City, Kansas but lost touch when Francis moved to New York to work for his multimillionaire art-dealing uncle, Howard Young, while Sara pursued an acting career. After flipping through the phone book with her mother in search of suitable stage names, Sara changed her last name from Warmbrodt to Sothern and removed the h in “Sarah.” Despite the lovely alliteration of a stage name, Sara’s most successful role was playing Mary Margaret, a twelve-year-old homeless girl with a disability, in the play The Fool.

Years later, Sara and Francis ran into each other at the glamorous Mayfair Ball held at the Ritz-Calrton in New York. She decided that evening in 1927 that he was the man she was going to marry, and within two weeks they were engaged at Sara’s suggestion. Once she became Mrs. Francis Taylor her acting days and all thoughts of a career left her mind. This was, in her words, “just as it should have been!” — or so she said. After the Taylors were married, they lived an affluent lifestyle thanks to the generosity of two benefactors, Francis’ Uncle Howard and British MP Victor Cazalet. When Howard asked his nephew to manage his London gallery, the Taylors moved abroad to a beautiful home with a lush garden and tennis court. They named the house Heathwood.

Sara would have two children: Howard followed by Elizabeth, though it was clear to everyone around who she favored the most. Upon recognizing Elizabeth's beauty, paired with her love of performance, Sara saw a way to see her unfulfilled dream of becoming a star come true through her daughter. With the startling effect Elizabeth’s beauty had on people, Sara made sure that her daughter was given every opportunity to mingle with the elite, but life changed suddenly and drastically with the approach of World War II. Elizabeth’s childhood in the rolling green hills of the English countryside was over. If the war had not happened, Elizabeth later said, she probably would have become an English debutante, stayed married to one man with a solid job, and had lots of children. However, fate had other plans.  

After having tea with Winston Churchill, who was not yet prime minister but who was at the time an influential politician, Cazalet took Francis aside and told him that he should send Sara, Elizabeth, and Howard to the United States immediately. Like thousands of other Americans who fled England, the Taylors ran for their lives. In 1939 Sara boarded the SS Manhattan with her two young children, with a plan for Francis to join them as soon as he wrapped up business in London. During their weeklong trip, Elizabeth watched The Little Princess, starring Shirley Temple, and fell in love with movies – an appropriate foreshadowing of what her life would become in the States. 

Their relocation to Los Angeles was a narrow escape from the war that England would declare on Germany just five months after their departure. They cut down on living expenses, the biggest sacrifice being living without red meat, which was nothing compared to the deprivation some people faced during the war. Elizabeth was desperately homesick. She sat in her room listening to classical music and wept when she thought about England and the countryside she had loved. Francis eventually rejoined them and came home to a wife who was singularly obsessed with making her daughter a more successful version of herself. Amidst the loss and change quickly thrown upon them, Los Angeles became the birthplace of the Elizabeth Taylor who took the world by storm. We can thank her mother, Sara, for the huge role she played in making Elizabeth Taylor a star.