By the time they met in 1962 on the set of Cleopatra—after the production's lengthy, expensive delays, a costly move from London's Pinewood Studios to Rome's Cinecittà, and a shuffling of studio heads, producers, directors, writers, and actors—Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had already lived several lives. Elizabeth had survived child stardom, with all its demands and excesses. Having been wrenched from a bucolic childhood in Hampstead, England (complete with a pony), resettled in Los Angeles by her doting parents to escape the gathering storm of World War II, and thrust into filmdom by her ambitious mother, the former stage actress Sara Sothern Taylor, Elizabeth found herself famous at the tender age of ten, the diminutive costar of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Lassie Come Home, and National Velvet the following year. (She would always have a fondness for animals, especially horses; since the age of three, she could jump without a saddle.) She learned early the value of her preternaturally beautiful, eerily adult face, though she treated her beauty cavalierly and had almost no personal vanity. She learned how the business worked: the fussing over by wardrobe and makeup and hair stylists and studio publicity agents, the constant fawning, the power struggles, the peaks and valleys of popularity. She became used to, and came to require, an entourage of helpers that would sink most ships. (Her even more beautiful brother, Howard, had wanted no part of it, so at fifteen he shaved his head the day before being hauled into Universal Studios to be tested for a boy-with-horse Western, thus assuring his escape into normalcy.) Elizabeth's rewards—fame, money, attention, studio animals to play with—balanced out her punishment: putting up with relentless control by her mother and her directors and tyrannical studio chief Louis B. Mayer, and a complete lack of privacy and independence. "I was so totally chaperoned," she recalled, "that I couldn't go to the bathroom alone." She was taught how to look and to speak and to walk and to stand and to breathe. But through it all, she learned about power: who had it, how to get it, how to keep it. When Louis B. Mayer once swore at Elizabeth's mother in a fit of rage, eleven-year-old Elizabeth shouted back, "You and your studio can go to hell!" She refused to apologize, and—amazingly—Mayer didn't fire her on the spot. Truly, at that moment, a diva was born.
Excerpt from Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger copyright HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.