Elizabeth Taylor's Unseen Role: Mother

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We all know about Elizabeth Taylor the movie star, the glamour queen, the AIDS activist.

But what about Elizabeth Taylor, the mother?

In all the coverage of Taylor's life, her children seemed like little more than a footnote. She had four of them: two sons by her second husband Michael Wilding, a daughter by her third husband Mike Todd, and an adopted daughter with her fifth and sixth husband Richard Burton.

"I don't think we heard a lot about her as a mother because we don't tend to think of mothers as so glamorous," said William J. Mann, author of "How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood." "She was this globetrotting beautiful siren who kept them out of the spotlight -- she wasn't pushing them onto TV shows as some famous parents do. there wasn't a lot of use of her children in the media."

Even so, their lives, like hers, took dramatic turns.

Michael Howard Wilding, 58, acted for many years, most prominently as Jackson Freemont on the now-off-air soap opera "Guiding Light." In his teens and twenties, he showed a rebellious streak, decamping to India and then England to form a rock band, and fathering two daughters with two different women before settling down with his current wife, Brooke Palance, the daughter of actor Jack Palance.

Christopher Wilding, 55, works as a photographer and film editor. He famously married oil heiress Aileen Getty in 1981. Before their wedding, Taylor threw a star-studded party for the couple, hosting Sissy Spacek, Carol Burnett, Dudley Moore and more of her A-list friends at the home of home of Aileen's divorced mother, Gail Harris Getty.

Christopher Wilding and Aileen Getty's marriage also didn't last -- they divorced in 1989, and two years later, Aileen Getty revealed that she was HIV positive.

From left to right: Michael Howard Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Maria Burton and Liza Burton Tivey at Elizabeth Taylor's 75th birthday party.

Liza Burton Tivey, 53, went to a tony private school in Gstaad, Switzerland and dabbled in acting. Considering her upbringing, it was a natural pursuit. "When Elizabeth was making 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,' she had Liza on the set with her quite a bit," Mann said.

But even from an early age, it seemed clear that Burton Tivey didn't want to stay in the spotlight. At a party Taylor and Burton threw after one of her school performances, a reporter from Britain's The Daily Mail asked Burton Tivey if she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who became a star at age 12. Her reply: "An actress? Urggh." She chose instead to work as a sculptor in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, two sons and their horses.

Taylor began the process of adopting her second daughter, a German orphan, with her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher. After they divorced, Burton helped Taylor adopt the little girl, whom they named Maria Burton.

Taylor reportedly had Maria go through nearly two dozen surgeries to correct a genetic defect in her hips. In her teens and twenties, she tried out modeling and fashion design, and later started a talent agency with her first husband, Steve Carson. Their marriage soured in 2000, and when Maria fled to Taylor's home with her 2-year-old son, Carson publicly blamed Taylor for using her star power to tear his family apart.

"Elizabeth becomes the mother hen when those kids were threatened," Mann said. "She took Maria's side and bore the brunt of the criticism through that ordeal."

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