Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932 - March 23, 2011) was a major Hollywood star known for starring in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963) as the titular character, along with her spouse at the time, Richard Burton, as Mark Antony.

Cast as the Lead CharacterEdit

Prior to Taylor being cast as Cleopatra, the role was originally going to be played by Joan Collins. However, due to certain circumstances in delays, Collins was unavailable for the role. Eventually, the producer, Walter Wagner, offered Taylor the lead role, complete with a $1 millon contract [1].

Love Affair(s)Edit

Besides being famous for her beautiful appearance and acting in the film industry, Taylor was also unfortunately known for her love life; having seven husbands and eight marriages in her life time. One marriage ended up with the death of her husband, while the remaining seven marriages ended in divorce; one of which she divorced twice [2].

The most well known was Richard Burton, who co-starred with Taylor in several films, starting with Cleopatra. In Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor starred as the titular character while Richard Burton played as Mark Antony who would later appear in the film and replace Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) as Cleopatra's love interest.

Attention on Taylor and BurtonEdit

During the filming of Cleopatra, the love-affair between Taylor and Burton affected their performances as a large amount of scandals, or le scandale as Burton dubs it, accompanied the set since the two of them were already in a relationship with others [3]. At the time of the filming, Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher, in which he divorced actress Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, only for the two of them to get a divorce eight months after the release of Cleopatra [2].

Taylor and Burton engaged in activities that have caught the attention of the paparazzi, along with the Vatican; images and reports of the two stars on the movie set, going shopping, seen in towels and swimsuits while engaged in sexual activity, and other behaviors in the set. Even while filming scenes for the film, the two stars didn't stop kissing when the director ordered them to stop. The affair was well-known (or rather infamous), that the couple weren't even allowed back into the U.S under the order of congressmen, and their behavior was viewed as inappropriate [3].

Yet despite this, the scandal between Taylor and Burton not only enhanced the popularity of the two, but also as free advertisement for the film. Not only that, the love affair caused the studio to link it towards the ancient romance between Cleopatra and Antony, with various of magazines, tabloids, and press conferences all over the world to catch the attention of the real life and ancient affairs [3].

As the Ancient Queen Edit

Playing as the most complicated woman in ancient history, Elizabeth Taylor successfully captured Cleopatra as the two have similarities with power and riches to further enrich the role.


While the beauty of the real Cleopatra is questionable to historians, the beauty of Taylor was perfectly captured on camera. This is especially shown well with the fact that Taylor had about 65 outfits in the entire film, totaling to about $194,800 in her costume budget; one of which her dresses were made out of a 24-carat gold cloth that was valued at about $6,500 [1].

The critics were mixed about Taylor in the movie, claiming that she's the best yet worst thing in the film. Taylor displays the power of the ancient queen with her presence alone, aided by the lavish gowns in colors such as orange, yellow, and emerald green, along with simulating the queen's superior authority by informing Caesar's guards about the dark corridors that she'll be with them and urges them to not feel afraid. During the crowning scene, her scar is visible to the audience, though she was "at her finest" by critics when getting to do challenge scenes. Yet in the second half of the film do critics note that Taylor's performance was lacking when providing genuine emotion; mainly love scenes with Burton leading up to the suicide taking place at the end of the film [1].

But Taylor has accomplished with playing a challenging role of a complicated woman in ancient history with a performance that stood out.

Sexual Themes Edit

In the Hollywood world, Elizabeth Taylor was known not only for her infamous love affairs with seven other men, but also her luxurious and reckless lifestyle. When the reporters took note between the connections of the actress and Cleopatra, there were questions popping up involving the role of women, mostly involving their sexual freedom and behavior.

In previous films such as Quo Vadis and Spartacus, the sexuality on women has been questioned before, though in different themes. In Quo Vadis, it mainly focuses on the female body that's the subject of erotic and sexual gazes with Marcus falling in love with Lygia at first sight when he first meets her, and gets Poppaea jealous, wanting Marcus for her own and getting rid of Lygia. With Spartacus, the gazing of the females are glossed over for the males, though the sexuality is present in the film with a barely nude shot of Varina in the forest river, announcing her pregnancy to Spartacus.

However in Cleopatra with the lead being a female, the focus of the female gaze is more relevant and obvious than previous Sword and Sandal films at the time. Examples that appear in the film were the various of outfits (65 outfits to be precise) she wore, especially the golden dress when she arrives in Rome in a lavish display that catches Julius Caesar's attention and the attraction of Antony. Another example is where she and Caesar are together in bed, ready to make love while Cleopatra comments about her own body, comparing it to the Nile River [3].

Besides appearance, Elizabeth Taylor's behavior has caught the attention of some people concerning about her aggressive sexual behavior at the time, especially for the females. One notable example of her behavior presented in the film is her character's first meeting with Caesar, persuading Caesar in aiding her to be the sole ruler of Egypt; demonstrating her fiery personality that wasn't usually seen for a female protagonist at the time and was usual reserved for female antagonists such as Poppaea in Quo Vadis [3]. Characters in the film comment that Cleopatra is indeed smart, witty, and powerful and would be respected if she was a man instead of a woman, almost similar to how people at the time period (in the 1950s) would think.

Legacy Edit


Unfortunately, Cleopatra is the only Sword and Sandal film that Elizabeth Taylor has starred in her entire acting career. However, there are influences loosely based on the actress and the movie.

The most obvious would have to be the extravagant make-up and jewelry that Taylor has worn throughout the movie, though mostly it's the eyeliner and the head jewelry that's represented. A popular example of the inspired Cleopatra look that appeared in the media would have to be in Katy Perry's music video, for the song "Dark Horse", where the whole video had her in various of outfits/looks that are heavily inspired by Cleopatra, along with Egypt; though it's more for entertainment aspects rather than historical accuracy as there's modern presentations featured in the video such as Hot Cheetos and Twinkies; food items that shouldn't be there in ancient times.

There have been other media that displays Cleopatra outside of the film, mostly in television. One example that is titled after Elizabeth Taylor's character, sort of, is a Sci-Fi fantasy show titled Cleopatra 2525 starring Jennifer Sky as Cleopatra (or Cleo), alongside with Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt, where they fight against robots that have taken over the futuristic world. The show lasted two seasons, going from 2001 to 2002, and had a mixed reception towards reviewers, stating that the story, characters, and effects were awful and cringe worthy, but noted that the creators did try something new for a television show [4].

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Cleo de Nile

Along with being an influence to music stars such as Katy Perry and a slight inspiration to a television show, parts of Cleopatra's looks and personality also comes into contact to a popular doll line from Mattel called "Monster High". Released in 2010, Monster High features characters based on well known monsters/scary creatures from popular media (mainly movies and books) attending the titular fictional school such as Frankenstein's monster, the werewolf, Dracula, and many more. One character, Cleo de Nile, even if she's stated to be the daughter of a mummy, is clearly based on Cleopatra for her looks (partly) and her personality, though the latter commonly translates to the stereotypical mean girl/queen bee in the modern day. The Monster High franchise, to Mattel's surprise, became popular to the target audience (girls ages 6 to 12), increasing the company's sales by 56%, and even eclipsed sales for one of Mattel's longest running brands, Barbie, which started to lose some sales [5].

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Cyrino, Monica Silveira. Big Screen Rome. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. Print. Pg(s). 139-157