Elizabeth Taylor: Her legacy in ‘National Velvet’ — Film actor Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday at the age of 79 at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Ms. Taylor had been hospitalized for several weeks before her passing for congestive heart problems, a condition she had battled for some time. Hollywood mourns the loss of one its most enduring stars as it also looks back on the legacy of her life and work.
One of Ms. Taylor’s earliest roles was in the movie National Velvet, in which she starred at the young age of 12. National Velvet was a 1944 film based on the 1935 novel by Enid Bagnold.
In 2003, National Velvet was chosen by the Library of Congress to be part of the United States National Film Registry. Films selected for inclusion are viewed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Ms. Taylor’s co-stars in the film were Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, and Anne Revere. The film also featured performances by Angela Lansbury, Reginald Owen, and Terry Kilburn. Anne Revere won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mrs. Araminty Brown in the film.
A story beloved by horse-lovers and horse-book readers alike, National Velvet is about a young British girl, Velvet Brown, who rescues and trains a horse she names Pie. She trains Pie for the Grand National steeplechase and is helped by her father’s hired hand, Mi Taylor, played in the film by Mickey Rooney. When Velvet Brown discovers that the jockey slated to race Pie does not have faith in the horse, she disguises herself as a male jockey and rides the horse to victory.
National Velvet was directed by Clarence Brown from a script adapted by Helen Deutsch. National Velvet was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two. It was nominated for Best Director, Best Art Direction (color), and Best Cinematography. In addition to Ms. Revere’s Oscar, the film also won an Oscar for Best Film Editing.
The film was actually not Ms. Taylor’s first film role, though it is usually cited as such (it was her first break-out role). She had actually appeared in four films before National Velvet — two uncredited. She played Gloria Twine in There’s One Born Every Minute (1942) and Priscilla in Lassie Come Home (1943). Her uncredited roles were as Helen Burns in Jane Eyre (1943) and as the 10-year-old Betsy Kenney in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944).
This means that the actress began working in film years before she turned 12. She had already performed in several films adapted from books, as well, as she would continue to do throughout her career.
The studio that worked the young actress so hard at an early age gave her the horse that played Pie in National Velvet as a gift after filming.
PHOTOS: See pictures from Elizabeth Taylor’s life and career here.
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