A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor

Donald Spoto, Author
Donald Spoto, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (401p) ISBN 978-0-06-017657-0
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At once scathing and sympathetic, Spoto's biography presents Elizabeth Taylor as ``the ultimate star--both as achiever and as casualty,'' a quintessential romantic who came to perceive all her relationships through the prism of movies and whose life's work has been to try to grow up. Biographer of Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, Spoto blames this pattern on Taylor's dominating, ambitious mother, Sara, a retired British actress transplanted to Hollywood in 1939 who saw her pampered daughter as ordained to fulfill her own aborted dreams of stardom. In each of her eight marriages, Taylor assumed a new role, according to Spoto. Her first husband, hotelier Conrad Nicholas Hilton, represented freedom from her parents and the studio, but by this account he was a drinking, gambling wife-beater. Fifth husband Richard Burton, the smooth, cultivated British actor, completed ``the transformation of Elizabeth the child into Elizabeth the woman,'' yet their neurotic codependency, cemented by drug and alcohol addiction, ultimately proved destructive. Spoto provides acute commentary on Taylor's films as well as a filmography in a revelatory portrait of a self-styled femme fatale beset by self-destructive impulses and feelings of emptiness. Photos. $100,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.)
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