Slovenia’s Elizabeth Taylor caught Malta fever from her dogs: book

Slovenia’s Elizabeth Taylor caught Malta fever from her dogs: book

When Elizabeth Taylor was the biggest movie star in the world, she was also one of the most confused. Things were so bad that he lived in filth and even got sick from it, according to a new book.

In 1958, Taylor was cast in 20th Century Fox’s Cleopatra — becoming the first movie star to be paid $1 million for a role.

Filming in England immediately ran into problems, including Taylor’s seemingly unstoppable health problems.

In October 1960, things got so extreme that her husband, leading man Eddie Fisher, was paid $150,000 by the studio to have Taylor come to the set, monitor her diet and walk her entourage of dogs.

Fisher said Taylor was “taking pills and drinking most of the day,” according to the new book “Erotic Vagrancy” by Roger Lewis. Meanwhile, Fisher himself was reportedly addicted to methamphetamine.

When author Truman Capote visited, he found Taylor’s rooms “full of unhousebroken cats and dogs and a general atmosphere of mischievous paraphernalia”.

Elizabeth Taylor, seen here with her husband Richard Burton, was a mess – in more ways than one. Sygma via Getty Images
Elizabeth Taylor reportedly contracted Maltese fever from “whining” about her “innumerable and terrible pets, who shared her bed,” according to a new bed. The Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Taylor, seen here with husband Richard Burton, is said to have kept the rooms “full of unhousebroken cats and dogs and a general atmosphere of mischievous paraphernalia”. Getty Images

The slovenly atmosphere apparently affected Taylor’s health, Lewis writes, as the actress was taken to a London clinic, placed in an iron lung and diagnosed with “Malta fever” or “brucellosis, which is caused by ingesting animal secretions – unpasteurized of milk or undercooked meat.’

Taylor likely contracted the unusual disease from “snoozing” with her “innumerable and terrible pets, who shared her bed,” Lewis writes.

The actress was released, only to return to the clinic the following month with severe migraines. Filming stopped – but Taylor’s health woes worsened.

Filming on “Cleopatra” was delayed, in part, due to Taylor’s endless health problems. Getty Images
Taylor’s husband at the time, Eddie Fisher, was paid by the movie studio to make sure the troubled star made it to the set of Cleopatra. Getty Images

In March 1961, she came down with a severe case of pneumonia that left her in a coma. The news media wrongly reported that the ‘National Velvet’ actress had died.

By the end of the month, she was released and the demolition of the “Cleopatra” sets began. All existing footage was cut. The production moved to Rome and a new director, Joseph Mankiewicz, took over.

Seven million dollars had been wasted.

When filming resumed on Cleopatra, Welsh actor Richard Burton joined the cast alongside Taylor.

Burton and Taylor began a relationship on the set of Cleopatra while both were married to other people. Getty Images
Fisher (center) held a press conference denying that Taylor and Burton were having an affair. Bettmann Archive

The book describes a mink-clad Taylor arriving on set with Fisher, “two secretaries, two maids, make-up artist and hairdressers”.

Burton later wrote in his diary that “her breasts [were] emerging from this half-asleep limp body.’

The two began a torrid affair behind the backs of Fisher and Burton’s wife, Sybil, who shrugged it off: “He’s had affairs like this before,” she told Fisher of Burton, “and he always comes home to me.”

As the lovers/co-stars became more outspoken, even the Vatican weighed in on their relationship – calling it “romantic vagrancy”.

Burton apparently did not have a positive influence on Taylor’s cleaning habits. Lewis writes: “… the cleaning of animal excrement from carpets, curtains, mirrors and furniture in [the couple’s room at] the Four Seasons Hotel, New York, took days.” Getty Images

But Taylor, Lewis writes, was afraid Burton would break up with her when she once attempted suicide “by trying to break through a glass door and had to be restrained.”

When Burton tried to end things — saying, “It was fun while it lasted” — Taylor overdosed on Seconal and had to have her stomach pumped.

The two eventually left their husbands and married in 1964, but their fights were legendary.

Among Burton’s compositions for the actress: “Mss T-ts” and “that fat little tart.”

Taylor called Burton “a drunken, burnt-out Welshman!”

Burton and Taylor’s rocky road to marriage included at least one suicide attempt. Getty Images

He often mocked Taylor for her lack of formal education and lack of knowledge of Shakespeare.

Her answer was cool: “I don’t know anything about the theater, but I don’t need to. I am a star.”

Meanwhile, Taylor’s cleaning habits apparently didn’t change during the marriage.

Lewis writes how, “in their wake was the plunder of an invading army—dog poop and dinner trays in the Plaza in New York, the usual mess of dog poop and empty bottles in the Grand Hotel in Rome. Cleaning animal droppings from carpets, curtains, mirrors and furniture at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel took days.”

Burton and Taylor were married for nearly 10 years, divorcing in 1974, before remarrying in 1975 and divorcing again a year later.

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