Growing Up In The Spotlight


Going to school at MGM was a nightmare. It wasn't really like going to school. No two kids were the same age. You couldn't even cheat and look over someone's shoulder. I was a total daydreamer, and I was constantly rapped on the knuckles: "Elizabeth, stop daydreaming!" I'd go into the bathroom and do my daydreaming there. My teacher would say, "Elizabeth, you were in the bathroom 15 minutes." I would say, "Oh, Miss McDonald, if you don't believe me, I suggest you go in and smell."

I was 14 or 15. When you were not shooting, you went to school. They made you do dancing lessons, singing lessons--things that were supposed to improve you as a performer. And when you were shooting you did your [school] work in a little black felt room on the set between takes. You were given 10 minutes of dedicated concentration. Then they came and knocked on the school shack, and you'd do your acting. When you'd go home at night, you'd have homework and lines to work on for the movie. It was very crazy. My best friend was Roddy McDowall--he was my friend all my life. In the morning I got up very early and went to the Riviera Country Club and rode my horse for an hour. That was my joy for the day. By 9, I was in makeup.

[Later, in 1956, Taylor made "Giant."] George Stevens, the director, was kind of predictable. On each film he would have a pet and a patsy. On "A Place in the Sun," I was the pet. Halfway through "Giant," I was the pet, halfway the patsy. I'd known Rock before we made "Giant," but not very well. We'd meet at studio parties--young people's parties. I hadn't met Jimmy Dean. I adored them both. I'd sit up with one of them until 4 in the morning talking, then sit up with the other. Then go straight to work. They both confided in me. But Jimmy and Rock didn't get along. Jimmy was thoroughly "Method." Rock was riddled with an inferiority complex.

On "Giant," Rock felt he was in with the big boys. And he was brilliant in it. But his looks hurt him a lot. It was like being a beautiful woman in Hollywood. If you were considered pretty, you might as well have been a waitress trying to act--you were treated with no respect at all. If you were ugly as sin, people were taken seriously. It was pretty awful in those days.

Jimmy was very introspective. He was very shy. He used that shyness. People took it as him being recalcitrant, but it wasn't. He was a very sweet, deep, intelligent and funny young man. And he had suffered so much in his life--a horrendous childhood. You just wanted to put your arms around his wounds, and kiss all the harm away.