When Crystal Pacey asked me if I would be interested in writing something for her blog honoring the birthday of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, I had just finished reading a fun article about Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding in the December 1953 issue of Movieland magazine. It seemed so much of a coincidence that I agreed to write about the marriage of Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor and her second husband, Michael Charles Gauntlet Wilding, which I think as far as her marriages go, has been somewhat neglected. I call Wilding the “forgotten husband.” He was bridegroom No. 2 after her disastrous marriage to Nicky Hilton, a marriage orchestrated by the studio, MGM.
The name of the article in Movieland is “A Couple of Characters” and highlights some of the madcap things the Wildings did as newlyweds. The Wildings were well, wild. In one story they are living in their house in Beverly Hills at 1775 Summit Ridge Drive. The house was painted yellow and decorated with wood paneling and purple furniture.
“We will have the outside painted yellow, with white shutters, the living room will be in grey with periwinkle blue—my favourite colour.” decreed Elizabeth.
Taylor said she was pregnant at the time and unlike other expectant mothers who crave pickles and ice cream, she craved colors. One time when the Wildings were driving in their neighborhood they saw a fabulous house for sale behind theirs. They decided to get a closer look so they scaled a brick wall, she skinning her knee, and then found a window open and crawled in. They proceeded to make frequent visits to the house and began almost squatting there. When the realtor would bring prospective buyers she would see Elizabeth and Michael on the floor playing cards and drinking beer. They had stocked the refrigerator. I suppose no one minded because it was Elizabeth Taylor! They kept pulling up the “for sale” signs and ended up buying the house with a loan from MGM. The house was designed by George McLean, an acclaimed mid-century modern architect. I can’t find any photos of the interior of the McLean house, but I have included photos of the Summitridge Drive house, with its garish colour scheme. Elizabeth Taylor claimed that she did a complete reverse with the new house and decorated in earth tones to reflect the indoor/outdoor nature of the house.
Michael Wilding was one of the most popular stars in England when he met Elizabeth Taylor. They first met each other on the set of “Conspirator” (1949) which sixteen-year old Elizabeth was filming with Robert Taylor in England for MGM, but it was three years later when Elizabeth was again in England filming “Ivanhoe” (1952) that she fell in love with Wilding and pursued him. He is probably most famous for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright,” (1950) but he is wonderful in “The Law and the Lady” (1951) with Greer Garson.
In a kind of “A Star is Born” fashion, her star was in the ascendance, especially after “Giant” (1956) while his was falling. He was 20 years her senior when they married and although he was also on contract with MGM, he was not receiving the types of roles he had in the past. Plus the influential Hedda Hopper didn’t like him and actively tried to persuade Taylor not to marry him. Hedda Hopper also unfairly accused him of being a homosexual in her column, which didn’t help his career at MGM. He sued her newspaper for 3 million dollars and won. Eventually their marriage ran out of steam. Elizabeth Taylor claimed later that she henpecked him, but the combination of the age difference, her work schedule (for the most part she was very obedient to the studio), and his waning star, all contributed to the end of their marriage. They had an amicable divorce after five years in 1957.
Taylor and Wilding had two children, Michael Howard (Elizabeth’s brother’s name) Wilding Jr., an actor who appeared on “Guiding Light,”and Christopher Edward Wilding, a photographer/film editor.