With any authorized biography, there's always the niggling suspicion that the author is going easy (because there but for the grace of the subject's estate goes the book). But Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon, which had the cooperation of the Hollywood legend's family, is no hagiography: Kate Andersen Brower doesn't gloss over Taylor's infidelities and "complicated relationships" with her children. Nevertheless, it's a rare reader who won't leave the book besotted with its subject.
Two-time Oscar winner Taylor (1932-2011) was born in London to well-to-do American parents: an art dealer and an aspiring actress. When the threat of World War II grew, the Taylors moved to Los Angeles. Elizabeth's mother projected her artistic ambitions onto her daughter, who became a child star with 1944's National Velvet and then successfully transitioned to adult movie roles by dint of her talent, fortitude and traffic-stoppingly beautiful face. Brower (Team of Five; First Women; The Residence) devotes as much ink to Taylor's philanthropy and ahead-of-the-pack AIDS activism as to her eight marriages, which were manna for the tabloids. She convincingly portrays Taylor as a proto-feminist unashamed of her sexual appetite: "She would be punished for perceived moral failings, a standard no male star had to live by, and her refusal to apologize only further infuriated her critics."
Taylor is quoted in the biography as having said, "My life has lacked dignity, let's face it, for the most part." To this the happily enthralled readers of Elizabeth Taylor will reply: "Thank goodness." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer