This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When growing up, Christopher Wilding and his brother Michael were allowed to play with their mother’s Golden Globes awards, but Elizabeth Taylor never let them touch her Oscars. “I guess the Globes didn’t have as much cachet as they do now,” says Christopher, 61. Nearly five years after his mother died of heart failure at age 79, the retired film editor displays the first of her three Oscars in the book-lined living room of the midcentury modern house that he shares with his wife, Margie, in Calabasas, Calif. “I’m thrilled to have the Oscar,” says Wilding. “She was so beautiful, some people tended to overlook her great acting chops.” One of those people might have been fellow nominee Shirley MacLaine, who quipped, “I lost to a tracheotomy,” referring to the sympathy votes Taylor allegedly received for surviving a life-threatening bout with pneumonia.
Christopher, whose father was Taylor’s second husband, English actor Michael Wilding, was only 5 when she won her first statuette but says: “We were living at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I have a memory of her [and then-husband Eddie Fisher] coming home and having a celebration.” Years later, during her marriage to Richard Burton, Taylor won an Oscar for Mike Nichols’ 1966 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which lives with Michael, 63, and his wife, Brooke Palance (daughter of Jack Palance) in Santa Fe, N.M. By then, says Christopher, “We were in our chalet in Gstaad, and both of the Oscars lived there.”
Taylor, who co-founded amfAR, was honored in 1993 with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, now bequeathed to her former manager Jason Winters. Says Christopher: “I think if she were around today, she’d be most pleased with her philanthropic work.”
Taylor at the 1961 Academy Awards with her ‘Butterfield 8’ Oscar.