Overcoming Grief on the set of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
The 1958 film adaptation of Tennesee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a box office success and earned six Academy Award nominations. Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, the play-turned-film was well-received by both critics and audiences, despite the emotional stress going on behind the scenes. Underneath Elizabeth’s staggering beauty in her role as Maggie, she was processing an insurmountable amount of grief over the death of her third husband, producer Mike Todd. Though Richard Burton is often crowned as Elizabeth’s one true love, she was always clear that she was lucky enough to have two great loves, the other being Mike Todd.
Only three weeks into filming, production stopped for a few days when Elizabeth caught a cold. During this hiatus, Mike boarded a flight (one Elizabeth would have been on had she not fallen ill) to accept the Friar’s Club Showman of the Year award in New York. However, tragedy struck when his plane crashed in New Mexico, leaving Elizabeth to care for their newborn daughter Liza and her two young sons all by herself. The tension between MGM Studios and Elizabeth ignited when the studio adopted the “show must go on” mentality, fearing that Mike’s death would derail the film.
Overeager fans also played a destructive role in Elizabeth’s lack of space to grieve.. After Mike’s service, a crowd surrounded Elizabeth as she wept on her way to the car, grabbing for her and tearing the black veil she wore from her face. For a month after Mike’s death, a devastated Elizabeth stayed in bed heavily medicated as she struggled to face her new reality amidst pressure on all sides. With encouragement from friends and family, Elizabeth returned to work only five weeks later, finished production, delivered MGM's most successful release of 1958, and was nominated for an Oscar — all while going through one of the most trying times of her life.
Resilience has a way of showing itself when we’re at our lowest point. The loss of Mike wouldn’t be the first time Elizabeth faced hardship, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but through her example of grace and tenacity, we are inspired to see how it’s possible for the courage to show up in our own lives even during our darkest times.