When Mike Todd (b. Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen) was killed in a plane crash, Elizabeth found comfort in Judaism. “I am absolutely Jewish now in my beliefs and feelings,” she said.
At her conversion, Elizabeth Taylor took the Jewish name Elisheva Rachel.
In the compulsively readable Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger report on the frequently drunken arguments in which Richard Burton and Taylor indulged over—get this—their respective Jewishness.
“My great-grandfather,” Burton told a reporter, “was a Polish Jew named Jan Ysar, and that was the family name until they changed it to Jenkins. [Burton’s real name was Richard Walter Jenkins.] It’s true. I’m one-eighth Jewish. Elizabeth hasn’t a drop of Jewish blood. I’ve told her so. It makes her furious.” During the making of “The Night of the Iguana” (’63) in a thatched roof bar in Puerto Vallarta, a drunken Burton announced, “I was born a Jew. I am perhaps the very oldest of the really ancient Jews.”
Of course, according to halacha, classical Jewish law, Judaism is determined through matrilineal descent or through a proper, halachic conversion.
Burton, as much as he adored Taylor, felt himself in competition with his wife. She was a true star, and he was often referred to as, “Mr. Elizabeth Taylor.” Diminishing her stature was an obsession with Burton. After all, he was a classically trained actor who could recite Shakespeare from memory. Elizabeth, according to Burton, had no technique, and couldn’t tell Hamlet from Macbeth.
And yet when Burton saw Taylor on screen, he marveled at her stillness, her ability to do so much with the smallest gesture. She was, he knew, deep in his heart, a brilliant movie actress. The camera read her thoughts. Bug-eyed, he shouted speeches.
Thus, it’s no surprise, that Burton denigrated her Jewishness, for Judaism gave Elizabeth Taylor an identity beyond movie star, owner of fabulous jewels, and notorious adulterer.
“You’re not Jewish at all,” he taunted Elizabeth in one of their very public fights—which members of their staff had taken to timing. “If there’s any Jew in this family, it’s me!”
“I am Jewish,” she raged. “And you can f**** off!”
Friday Photos is appearing on Thursday because tonight begins the final days of Passover which run right into Shabbat. Seraphic Secret will be offline until Monday.