Oscar Scandals: Taylor, Elizabeth

Most of Elizabeth Taylor's nominations and first Best Actress also were more dependent on events in her life offscreen than on-screen. Taylor's chances to win the award for her second nomination, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, were good, because MGM's publicity had started an early campaign for her, and it was an estimable performance. Furthermore, the 1958 death of husband Mike Todd in a plane crash earned Taylor the sympathy of the industry and the press.

However, a few months prior to the 1959 ceremonies, she broke up Eddie Fisher's marriage to Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood's most celebrated unions, immediately changing her public stature over her rush to marry Fisher. The National Association of Theater Owners also changed their mind and instead of conferring on her the “Star of the Year” Award, they gave it to Deborah Kerr. Even so, Taylor was nominated in the following year for Suddenly Last Summer, but lost out to Simone Signoret in Room at the Top.

But again, personal factors that had denied Taylor the 1958 Oscar operated in her favor in 1960, when she was up for Butterfield 8. This time around, it was Taylor's almost fatal illness that brought sympathy–and the Oscar. The Academy, the press, and the public had “forgiven” Taylor for her sins, and her bout with death restored her to favor.

Taylor herself believed that “the reason I got the Oscar was that I had come within a breath of dying of pneumonia.” And although the Oscar “meant being considered an actress and not a movie star,” she still felt that she won “for the wrong picture, since any of my three previous nominations was more deserving.” In hindsight, Taylor's performance in Butterfield 8 was not that bad–contrary to popular notions, it is not the worst performance ever honored by the Academy! Still, Taylor was delighted when she won her second Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf As one critic noted, “this time, it was for what happened on the screen rather than off.” In this picture, Taylor demonstrated once and for all to those who still doubted that she could really act.