News of the death of actress Elizabeth Taylor at the age of 79 brought me back to memories of how her life was filled with dogs. The lovely actress with violet eyes is known for such classic films as Cleopatra, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Butterfield 8 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Yet for some of us we first became aware of her when as a child she costarred in the very first Lassie film, Lassie Come Home, as Priscilla, the daughter of the Duke of Rudling. Three years later
Elizabeth Taylor and Lassie
she again appeared on screen with that famous collie in The Courage of Lassie
. For her 60th birthday she was given a Collie puppy as a gift, and this puppy was, in fact a great grandchild (seven generations back) of Pal, the dog who played the original Lassie. When Taylor ended her marriage with construction worker Larry Fortensky (her eighth husband) this dog became an issue since Fortensky wanted the dog, but Taylor liked it enough to successfully sue for custody. Collies, however, have never been her first choice in dogs.
Throughout her life she had many dogs including spaniels and dachshunds, however during the era in which she was one of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood, she was usually surrounded by Pekingese. At any one time she would always have at least two dogs, and often more. Taylor was so fond of her Pekingese that she would go out of her way to accommodate them. Once, during a time that she was married to actor Richard Burton, the two of them were supposed to co-star in a film that was being shot in England. She often insisted upon bringing her dogs along with her when she went out on location. The problem was that England has a six month quarantine period for any dog brought into the country. Taylor found a clever, if rather expensive, solution to this dilemma. She and Burton obtained a yacht, and moored the boat on the Thames.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton with Pekingese
They lived on board the boat for the entire time that the film was being made, along with her Pekingese dogs. In this way her dogs never needed to step on English soil, and thus they avoided spending the usual time in quarantine.
Taylor was always quite good with dogs, and was able to get along with them quite well. When she would call the dogs, or give them any commands, they would always respond to her but they seemed to ignore Burton. This was an annoyance to him, since he also liked dogs. Then one day Burton showed up with a Pekingese, named E'en So. The dog was blind in one eye and Burton claimed that he had "rescued it". Now E'en So was friendly enough, but Taylor seemed to have a lot of trouble communicating with it. She could never get it to respond as well to her as it did to her husband. The dog seemed to pay rapt attention to Burton when he spoke, but responded to Taylor as if she wasn't there. She could not figure out what she was doing wrong to be treated so shabbily by E'en So. It was some time later that Burton admitted that he had actually purchased the dog fully trained, but only to commands spoken in Welsh--a language that he spoke fluently, and Taylor spoke not at all.
Shortly after Taylor divorced Burton (for the second time) she not only went through a couple of new husbands, but also some new dog breeds, beginning with a Lhasa Apso named Elsa. Lhasa Apsos are little dogs from Tibet. There they are known as Abso Seng Key which translates to Bark Lion Sentinel Dog. This name pretty much sums up their functions; they were supposed to be watchdogs who sounded the alarm and they were also supposed to look like the celestial lion.
Elizabeth Taylor and Maltese Daisy
Most recently Elizabeth Taylor's dogs have been beautiful white Maltese. These are tiny dogs, 8 to 10 inches at the shoulder and weighing only around 4 to 7 pounds, with a long silky coat that hangs to the floor. There are records of identifiable Maltese going back to 1500 BC, when Phoenician traders brought them from Asia Minor. It was common for them to accompany sailors as a pet and good luck charm on long journeys. Taylor's Maltese have names such as Sugar and Honey. During her period of convalescence, following brain surgery, one of these dogs could be seen as her constant companion, nestled on her lap or beside her. Since her recovery she continued the practice of always having one of these little white dogs with her at interviews and public appearances. She always seemed to draw comfort from their presence.
Taylor was once quoted as saying "Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses." We now have a ninth generation of her canine co-star Lassie, but there will never be another Elizabeth Taylor.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome
Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission