London - Elizabeth Taylor was a 14-year-old star with the MGM studio.
She melted hearts playing sweet little girls in films such as Lassie Come Home.
Two years earlier, she had been propelled to stardom at 12 when she played the plucky young heroine of National Velvet. The Oscar-winning film classic had co-starred 24-year-old Mickey Rooney as an ex-jockey who helps her.
It was not unnatural that the two actors would remain friends but, even so, Rooney’s pregnant second wife Betty Jane was somewhat taken aback when she opened the door to his dressing room at a Hollywood film studio in June 1946.
According to a close friend of Betty Jane, the 14-year-old Taylor was on her knees engaging in a sex act with her former co-star.
“After that, all hell broke loose,” said Pam McClenathan, a confidante of Mrs Rooney who revealed the affair to authors of a new biography of Rooney.
“Betty Jane was pregnant with their second son. She got a top attorney and a big settlement, but she was not happy. She wanted a faithful husband.”
She went to the wrong man, then, as Rooney was one of Hollywood’s most notorious womanisers. He married eight times, as did Taylor.
The British-born star was, of course, to carve out one of the most tempestuous love lives in showbusiness historybut the idea that she started her sexual conquest of Hollywood in her early teens will jolt many fans.
Elizabeth Taylor: There Is Nothing Like A Dame, a recent biography of Taylor, claims that as a teenager she lost her virginity at 15 to British actor Peter Lawford, had flings with Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn, was seduced by Orson Welles and enjoyed a threesome involving John F Kennedy.
The authors – Danforth Prince and Darwin Porter – also allege Taylor was just 11 when she was taught by her close friend, the gay British actor Roddy McDowall, how to satisfy men without sleeping with them.
These jaw-dropping claims were unsourced, involved only people who were dead, and were frankly too outrageous for many to credit.
Taylor spent nearly 20 years contracted to MGM, describing herself as the studio’s “chattel”: it controlled what she wore, where she went and even picked her dates. But insiders agreed she always had a strong rebellious streak.
Could the studio system’s vice-like grip on publicity have stopped scandals about their most valuable child star from leaking out?
In the absence of racier alternatives, biographers have generally chosen to accept the “official” version that she was a virgin when she married her first husband, socialite Conrad Hilton Jr, when she was 18.
In interviews, the teenage Taylor gave little indication that she was even interested in boys, claiming that those her own age were too scared to approach her anyway.
But if she had an affair with pint-sized Mickey Rooney at 14, then surely anything might be possible.
What has never been denied is that the young Taylor, though small for her age, was deeply ambitious and sexually precocious.
She was only 11 when she auditioned for the role of Velvet Brown in National Velvet. When the producers told her she was too flat-chested to play an adolescent, Taylor defiantly replied: “Don’t worry. You’ll have your breasts.”
Three months later she returned and, showed off a newly acquired B-cup bust which she believed she had achieved by using “fast-grow” creams, a special high-fat diet and rigorous chest development exercises.
It did the trick and she got the part. Time magazine commented on Taylor’s “pre-adolescent sexuality” on the screen. They weren’t the only ones to notice. Those who had worked with her in previous films said the sudden stardom from National Velvet robbed Taylor of her childish sweetness and shyness.
Even as other girls her age were still playing with dolls, Taylor suddenly became very aware of her effect on men.
As Mary Astor, an actress who worked with the young Taylor, put it: “There was a look in those violet eyes that was somewhat calculating, as though she knew exactly what she wanted and was quite sure of getting it”.
By the time she was 14, Taylor was painting her nails scarlet and wearing peasant blouses with plunging necklines. She would squeeze in her already tiny waistline and thrust out her breasts.
Taylor admitted she “wanted to be a woman … I flaunted an hourglass figure at a stage when most young girls were still developing”. At night, she would lie awake practising her French kissing on her satin pillows.
When she discovered how much attention she got by wearing an off-the-shoulder blouse in the MGM dining room – she became “impossible”. That was the verdict of Ann Strauss, a studio executive ,who advised MGM actors what to wear and enforced its strict ban on starlets showing cleavage.
Although forced to sit at the ‘‘children’s table’’, Taylor would “have herself paged during lunch and then she would pull her shoulders down and walk through the commissary – the entire length – so everyone could see her,” Strauss recalled.
And far from discouraging her young daughter from being treated as a sex object, her hugely ambitious mother, Sara, appeared to encourage it.
A witness remembers Sara Taylor dressing the 13-year-old like a “Joan Crawford hussy” – black velvet dress, white fur coat and nylon stockings – for a trip to the White House.
Men were left gasping in her wake. “She is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen in my life,” said the writer JD Salinger after meeting her.
Even on film sets, men had difficulty controlling their feelings – Robert Taylor, who gave a 16-year-old Elizabeth her first on-screen romantic kiss while making the British thriller Conspirator, became so excited filming one scene he urged the cameraman to shoot him only from the waist up.
When she was 15, she told a radio interviewer that boys her own age “bored” her but admitted she “wanted to do crazy, silly things” with “men” who were a little older.
She had just turned 15 when Orson Welles saw her in the MGM dining room. She was “unbelievable”, he said many years later. “Unlike other figures in Hollywood, I have never found myself attracted to young girls,” said the Citizen Kane director.
“Elizabeth Taylor had something which transcended age. I will never forget how she moved down the commissary aisle, holding her food tray. I lusted for that young girl and felt, for the first time in my life, like a dirty old man.”
He denied, however, ever following up on his lustful thoughts.
That wasn’t the verdict of authors Prince and Porter, who claimed Welles was among a string of famous men who had their way with teenage Taylor.
The book claimed Taylor was 15 when she lost her virginity to the aristocratic British actor Peter Lawford, the future brother-in-law of John F Kennedy and a man on whom she had a huge crush.
It reportedly happened as Lawford and Taylor shared a large limo on the way to the home of the media mogul William Randolph Hearst. The age of consent in California was 18, meaning Lawford would have been guilty of rape.
It is claimed Taylor met Ronald Reagan when she was trying to get a starring role in a 1947 film called That Hagen Girl. The actor and future US president, then 36 and estranged from wife Jane Wyman, reportedly seduced her on his sofa after inviting her over for dinner at his Hollywood home.
Reagan was hardly one of Hollywood’s notorious skirt-chasers, so can this possibly be true? Taylor apparently didn’t tell friends the story until the 1980s, prompting sceptics to conclude she invented it in anger over Reagan’s failure as president to do more to fight Aids.
As for Welles, Taylor reportedly said he forced himself on her in his dressing room after luring her there with the promise of a film role.
Errol Flynn, Hollywood’s consummate philanderer, was also an early notch on Taylor’s bedpost, the book claims. Taylor joined the director Michael Curtiz at a film screening at Flynn’s Hollywood home, only to find – when the lights went on at the end – Curtiz had disappeared and she was alone with the actor.
She was still 15 and they allegedly ended up in bed after he got her tipsy on Champagne.
Taylor was nearly 16 when she made the film musical A Date With Judy. Robert Stack, one of her co-stars, allegedly became another lover and re-introduced Taylor to a friend, a young congressman named John F Kennedy.
According to Porter and Prince, Taylor had briefly met JFK as a little girl when her parents were invited to the US ambassador’s residence in London where his father was then ambassador.
They say Taylor told friends that on their second encounter she ended up in a threesome in Stack’s swimming pool with him and JFK.
Reagan, Flynn, Lawford, Kennedy – the claims mount up. It’s quite a stretch to believe none of this would have come out before, but then again it’s also quite hard to accept that a teenage beauty as highly sexualised and dead set on stardom as Taylor would have remained a virgin in Hollywood until her wedding night.
At 16, Taylor was pursued by the tycoon Howard Hughes who offered to pay a $1 million dowry and set up her own film studio if she would marry him. He even spilled an attaché case of jewels over her but she couldn’t bear him.
A year later, she became engaged to a handsome rich oil heir, Bill Pawley.
One famous actor who did admit to friends that he had taken a teenage Liz Taylor to bed was the gay icon Montgomery Clift. She fell in love with the handsome star while they were making the film A Place In The Sun.
Taylor was then 18 and friends say that – as with Rock Hudson and James Dean – she may have been attracted to Clift because her father was also a homosexual.
That same year, Taylor married Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr, an alcoholic, and a heroin and gambling addict.
The marriage lasted all of eight months before Taylor left him, blaming his “gambling, drinking and abusive behaviour”.
It was the beginning of decades of marriages and affairs to some of the world’s richest and most famous men.
“I stopped being a child the minute I started working in pictures,’’ Taylor told the writer Paul Theroux.
If the story about the shock that awaited Mickey Rooney’s poor wife in his dressing room is even half true, how honest Liz Taylor was.