Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Stylish Films of Liz Taylor

While much has been written about the late Liz Taylor this past week in terms of her life, films, jewelry, trials and tribulations (and yes, her many husbands),  I thought this would be a good time to
look at some of the design-rich films she appeared in during her career.

From a design standpoint, one of my favorite films was director George Stevens saga A Place in the Sun (1951) which many critics consider one of Taylor's best performances. Co-starring her close friend Montgomery Clift, the film was shot on location in Lake Tahoe and set decorator Emile Kuri designed some very chic fifties interiors for the story of an ambitious up and comer who falls for a beautiful debutante.

Taylor and Clift above and below

A Place in the Sun above and below

Also directed by George Stevens, the film Giant spanned the life of the Benedicts, a Texas ranching family portrayed by Rock Hudson and Taylor. Shot on location in Marfa, Texas, the epic western and melodrama all rolled into one prominently featured the Benedict house, a stately Victorian mansion that represented the family's wealth and emotional distance. Designed by Boris Leven, only the front porch and sides of the mansion were erected while the rest was shot in the Warner Brothers soundstage. The film was nominated for best picture and best art direction in l956.

Taylor and Hudson as the Benedicts in early years....

and in later years.

The Marfa, Texas house

Tennessee Williams acclaimed drama of life, marital problems and family living under the same roof is tackled in the Pulitzer Prize winning play turned film Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Taylor starred as the sexually frustrated wife Maggie (the cat) with Paul Newman as ex-football player/alcoholic/husband Brick. Her performance is incredible considering husband Michael Todd died in a plane crash just three weeks into filming. Contrary to popular belief, the film was not shot in the middle of the South but on the Coleman Estate on Long Island's Oyster Bay and the MGM soundstage.

Taylor with Newman

Taylor as Maggie the Cat above and below

Other noteworthy films for both their style and costumes were Butterfield 8 (1960), Elephant Walk (1954), X, Y and Zee (1972) and The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954). Perhaps one of my favorite period interiors is  from one of Taylor's earliest films Julia Misbehaves (1948). The story of a showgirl who returns to her rich and stuffy husband when her daughter gets engaged, many of the furnishings hold up today. I love the chintz slipper chair! If you would like to read more about one of her biggest films Cleopatra, this was covered in an earlier post on Cinema Style. See the Tale of Four Cleos.

Farewell La Liz. Thankfully your work lives on.

Taylor as a lady of the evening in Butterfield 8

Butterfield 8

Sixties period bathroom in Butterfield 8

Co-starring with Dana Andrews in Elephant Walk

The Last Time I Saw Paris with Van Johnson

Lots of great sixties interiors in  X, Y and Zee

Set still for Julia Misbehaves
If you are in Atlanta or Memphis, I will be speaking this week at the Margaret Mitchell House on Tuesday, March 27th at 7:00 pm on the designs of Gone With the Wind to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the film. You can read more here. I will also lecture on Designs on Film at the Memphis Brooks Museum on  Saturday, April 2nd at 2:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

Photo Credits: MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures.


  1. Loved this post. I love "A Place in the Sun" and "The Last Time I Saw Paris"...well I love all these movies. I have not seen Butterfield 8 but must soon.

  2. Liz never looked better than Butterfield 8. Also check out the VIPS - very soap opera-ish but great clothes!

  3. I have not seen "Julia Misbehaves" but that set is interesting. Decorative Arts Trust is looking forward to your presentation and book signing on Saturday!

  4. Splendid post on an important but often overlooked aspect of Elizabeth Taylor's films, when the art dept. was often tasked with creating a frame for her beauty as well as her character's worlds.

    One film that I would add to your list: National Velvet, with the carefully chosen, windswept Northern California locations subbing for England and complemented by the warmth and cluttered coziness of the family home's interiors and the village sets, imbued with a glowing, prosaic comfort that seems an extension of the Brown children's mother and father (Anne Revere and Donald Crisp).

    The meticulousness of Cedric Gibbons and associate Urie McCleary's work, along with, Edwin Willis and Mildred Griffith's set decoration earned the team an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color as well as an well-deserved nomination for the burnished Technicolor cinematography of Leonard Smith.

    I am midway into your wonderful book,Designs on Film, and savoring every page! It is wonderful. Thank you so much for writing it and for maintaining this site.

  5. Moira,

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments and glad you are enjoying the book! I also left out Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend.


  6. Liz is a great artist. And a beautiful one.

    Homeowner Insurance

  7. Cathy, I'd like to nominate your blog for a Stylish Blogger Award! Your blog is terrific and as stylish as they come.

    Please see my post at for what you'll need to do next. Just like I did. Keep up the great work!

  8. Thank you for this! There are a few of these I have not seen but need to.

  9. Thank you to all! And right back to you Christian!

  10. So this has nothing to do with your actual post, but I've nominated you for a Stylish Blogger Award. Check out my post here for instructions and all that.

  11. Katy,

    Thank you so much! I will add yours in a future post -- thanks for reading.