On March 23, 2011, Elizabeth Taylor died at the age of 79. An actress who was always synonymous with glamour and class she won two Oscars and at the pinnacle of her career, was the highest paid actress in the world. Taylor also distinguished herself as a businesswoman with her own line of perfume.
Click ahead to see some of the most notable moments in the life and profitable career of the late, great Elizabeth Taylor.
By Daniel Bukszpan, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 23 Mar 2011
The 1944 film National Velvet is widely considered Elizabeth Taylor’s breakout film. The story of a 12-year-old girl who rides a horse named “Pie” to victory, it was a big hit, earning $4 million in the U.S. alone, or more than $50 million today.
Although her salary for the film was $100 a week, Taylor, who had also starred in Lassie Come Home, recognized the important role that the film had played in career, and she was later quoted as saying, “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”
Although she had become famous as a child star, Elizabeth Taylor transitioned easily into adulthood and was never stigmatized as a child actress. One of her standout roles was in Giant, opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean, and she earned $175,000 for her performance, her highest payday yet.
The film was well received by critics and nominated for multiple Academy Awards, and in 2005 it was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry, for its status as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" film.
1963’s Cleopatra was an epic movie of unprecedented scale. Starring Elizabeth Taylor and two-time future husband Richard Burton, it was beset by production problems that delayed its release and exploded its cost, and upon release it was a resounding dud with most critics. Regardless, audiences lined up to see it, and the film earned a $57 million at the box office, the equivalent of $412 million today.
In production, the film had gone massively over budget, so despite its box office performance, it still lost money, marking the first time that the highest-grossing film of the year would perform such a feat. Taylor made out just fine for herself though; she became the first woman ever to earn $1 million for a movie role, and she also earned 10% of the movie’s box office gross.
1966’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was another film that paired Taylor with Richard Burton. An ensemble piece based on the 1962 play by Edward Albee, the film became instantly notorious for its use of coarse language and for Taylor’s depiction of Martha, the sloppy drunk wife of college professor George.
The film became the only one in Oscar history ever to be nominated in every one of its thirteen eligible categories at the Academy Awards, and Taylor went home that night with her second best actress statuette—her first was for Butterfield 8.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? went on the earn $28 million domestically, or $191 million today, and it is still considered a classic.
Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times, twice to actor Richard Burton, whom she had met on the set of Cleopatra. In 1969, Burton expressed his love by buying her one of the world’s largest diamonds, a 244 carat South African stone from Cartier with the hefty price tag of $1,069,000.
It was fittingly named the “Burton-Cartier Diamond," and it was featured on an episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucille Ball’s character gets the ring stuck to her finger. Sadly, the union between Taylor and Burton didn’t last, and ten years after their second and final divorce, she auctioned it off and used the money to fund a hospital in Botswana.
Although the glory years of Elizabeth Taylor’s film career were behind her by 1980, she still managed to find lucrative projects. One was The Mirror Crack'd, a film based on the 1962 Agatha Christie novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, in which she played a formerly legendary actress making her comeback film after years out of the industry due to illness.
The ensemble cast included Angela Lansbury, Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson, and it performed well at the US box office, earning $11 million, or $30 million in today’s dollars.
In 1981, Elizabeth Taylor appeared in five episodes of General Hospital, the ABC daytime soap opera that she claimed was her favorite show. There was not a huge payday involved — her salary for the entire five-episode run was $2,000. However, she was given the star treatment nonetheless, and the show’s producer Gloria Monty vacated her own office to make room for the actress.
Rumors circulated that Taylor made all sorts of unreasonable demands, such as insisting that Monty’s office be repainted to match her own eyes. But in truth, the entire cast claimed that she had been very professional and very easy to work with, and when it was all over she donated her salary to two Virginia hospitals in which she had received treatment.
Apart from her work as an actress, Elizabeth Taylor also made a name for herself with her acts of philanthropy on behalf of people with AIDS.
After her Giant co-star Rock Hudson was diagnosed with the disease in 1985, Taylor co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or amFAR, and organized "A Commitment to Life," a star-studded celebrity benefit that featured Burt Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Shirley MacLaine and raised over $1 million.
The organization went on to raise $83 million in its first twelve years alone, and has invested over $300 million in advocacy, education and research.
Elizabeth Taylor’s final theatrical film was also her highest-grossing. The Flintstones was a 1994 live-action film based on the television cartoon that starred John Goodman and Rosie O’Donnell, and featured Taylor in a small role as Wilma Rubble’s mother.
Critically speaking, Taylor went out on a bad note. The Flintstones was poorly received by critics and won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay. However, she was paid a handsome $2.5 million for her appearance, and the movie earned over $130 million, or $195 million in today’s dollars.
Elizabeth Taylor had been the subject of paintings by pop artist Andy Warhol, and the work had always fetched a high price at auction. For example, one painting from 1963 known as Silver Liz sold for almost $24 million to an anonymous bidder at a November 2007 auction at Christie’s in New York City.
However, a painting from 1962 called Men in Her Life - which depicted the actress alongside third husband Mike Todd and future husband Eddie Fisher - sold in November 2010 for over $63 million at Phillips de Pury & Company's, more than twice the price paid for Silver Liz three years earlier. As in the 2007 auction, the winning bidder remained anonymous.