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By all accounts, Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd were peas in a pod. While she was filming Raintree Country, the charismatic producer fell for her and, through a series of social outings, charmed her in a round-about-way until she felt the same.
The pair were married on February 2, 1957, and head over heels in love, Taylor even began considering giving up her career. Then came Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“The opportunity to appear in a production based on a work by our greatest living playwright, Tennessee Williams, precludes the possibility of refusal,” Elizabeth said.
While initially hesitant at her taking the part, Todd eventually saw it as a chance for her to finally win an Academy Award – something she had hoped for after her performance in Raintree County.
Filming started in March 1958, but after a few weeks, Taylor’s health took a hit when she contracted pneumonia. Production paused for her to recover, and she remained at home.
At the same time, Mike Todd was planning to travel to New York for a Friars Club International Dinner where he would be roasted. Originally to travel with Elizabeth, he attempted to find another traveling partner and asked Kirk Douglas, Eddie Fisher, director Joseph Mankiewicz. When they declined, he decided to go alone, over his wife’s objections.
Tragically, on March 22, the Lucky Liz, their private plane, crashed, and Mike Todd died. Elizabeth was devastated, and production for Cat paused to give her time to grieve.
Eventually, Taylor eased back into work, taking it slow. But her grief was obviously still evident to her co-stars.
While filming, Judith Anderson’s line about “I guess things never turn out the way you want them to” hit hard.
“Liz just broke down and fell apart,” said director Richard Brooks. “Someone took her to her dressing room.”
Madeleine Sherwood said, “She looked so grief stricken, so sad, and yet so contained. Elizabeth is such a pro in whatever she does. She never let her fellow actors down or her director or her crew.”
The film was a huge success, and it earned six Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth.
Still, despite the triumph of Cat, the tragedy left a permanent mark on the actress and her memory of the production.
Brooks said, “She found and lost a great love in the person of Mike Todd.”