BUtterfield 8 (1960): How Elizabeth Taylor Won her First Oscar for Playing a Prostitute?






BUtterfield 8, a glossy and trashy melodrama features a star performance from Elizabeth Taylor, who won her first Best Actress Oscar not so much for her acting but for nearly dying of Pneumonia; she survived due to an emergency tracheotomy performed in London.

Reportedly, when Taylor saw the first screening, she threw her high-heel shoe at the screen, ran to the bathroom and threw up. True or not, it’s a mythic rumor that just adds to the movie’s dubious as a guilty pleasure.

“BUtterfield” represents the kind of junk that Hollywood used turned out regularly in the 1950s and 1960s until the genre was appropriated by TV soaps.

Butterfield 8
Butterfield8 movieposter.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Loosely based on John O’Hara’s novel, the screenplay is co-written by Charles Schnee (who did a much better job on Minnelli’s Hollywood melodrama “The Bad and the Beautiful”) and John Michael Hayes (who did great work for Hitchcock).

The protag is Gloria Wandrous (Taylor), a “model” searching for understanding, love, and domesticity with the right man. Predictably, she falls for a married rake, Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), a heel who likes Liz in the bedroom, but not outdoors.

p_14439.jpgThe opening scene shows a typical morning in Gloria Wandrous’ life; who can forget Taylor’s using her lipstick as pen on a mirror, leaving a nasty note.

Producer Pandro Berman and director Daniel Mann have improved the production with good supporting actresses, like Mildred Dunnock, as Taylor’s mother, Mrs. Wandrous, Betty Field as Mrs. Fanny Thurber, Kay Medford as Happy, and Jeffrey Lynn as Bingham Smith

The supporting cast includes Eddie Fisher, who got the role as a favor to Taylor, and Dina Merrill as Harvey’s classy wife, Emily Liggett.

The weakest part (and performance) is that of Eddie Fisher’s long-time girlfriend, Norma (Susan Oliver) who is even blander and duller than he is.  Having dated for three years, she gives him an ultimatum.

The movie was released at the height of the scandal of Taylor stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds, thus wrecking one of Hollywood’s presumably happiest marriages. The scandal made the movie a bigger hit than it would have been, or had the right to be.

Most critics and viewers were disappointed by the lack of chemistry between Taylor and Fisher, who project the image of siblings rather than lovers.  There is no erotic tension between them, and the charmless Fisher continues to exhibit his “nice Jewish boy,” or “boy next door” persona.

The film may be too personal than Taylor was willing to admit. Taylor followed up this movie with another scandalous movie event, “Cleopatra,” during which she fell for her very married co-star Richard Burton, thus wrecking another marriage (but that’s another story).

Lines to remember

Gloria confronting her meek mother, “Mama, face it: I was the slut of all time.”

Or Laurence Harvey’s apologies to Gloria: “I can only think of one apology: Will you marry me I’ve arranged for a divorce. Wait for me, and, in time, I’ll make you forget every word I uttered last night.”

Or Harvey grieving to his wife Dina Merrill about mistress Taylor, after she dies in a car accident: “I don’t suppose that anybody would think that Gloria was a good person. Strangely enough, she was. On the surface, she was all sex and devil-may-care, yet everything in her was struggling toward respectability. She never gave up trying.”

Oscar Alert:

The film won Liz Taylor her first Best Actress Oscar, at her fourth nomination, though the polls predicted that Deborah Kerr would win for “The Sundowners.”

“BUttefield 8” was also nominated for Joseph Ruttenberg and Charles Harten’s Color Cinematography. The winner, however, was Russell Metty for Stanley Kubrick’s epic adventure, “Spartacus.”


Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor)

Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey)

Steve Carpenter (Eddie Fisher)

Emily Liggett (Dina Merrill)

Mrs. Wandrous (Mildred Dunnock)

Mrs. Fanny Thurber (Betty Field)

Bingham Smith (Jeffrey Lynn)

Happy (Kay Medford)

Norma (Susan Oliver)

Dr. Tredman (George Voskovec)


Directed by Daniel Mann
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Charles Schnee, John Michael Hayes, based on Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Cinematography: Charles Harten, Joseph Ruttenberg

Edited by Ralph E. Winters
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: November 2, 1960 (Paramount Theatre, Los Angeles)

Running time: 109 minutes
Budget $2.8 million
Box office $10 million