The attention always goes straight to her violet eyes, and why shouldn’t it? Violet eyes don’t show up every day, and when magnified on screen, they will knock you off your feet. But Elizabeth Taylor was so much more than those mesmerizing irises, and her beauty did not hold her back from delivering passionate, believable performances.

Born in London in 1932 to American ex-pat art dealers, Taylor was the recipient of one of those lucky biographical accidents when WWII loomed over Europe and her family returned to the States to evade its shadow. Taylor’s mother’s family had landed in Los Angeles, so the young Liz’s did too.

Not surprisingly, her burgeoning beauty, with her astonishing eyes, pale skin and dark hair, won her a screen test at the age of ten. That same year, she made her first appearance on screen in “There’s One Born Every Minute” (1942).

But it was as equestrienne Velvet Brown in “National Velvet” (1944) that she became famous, and from then on (despite a few inevitable flops), Elizabeth Taylor was one of the biggest stars in the world.

Hers was a tempestuous life: eight marriages  two to actor Richard Burton; a young widowhood (third husband Michael Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958); plus dramatic illnesses and near-death experiences.

She enjoyed deep friendships with other icons, including Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, and Michael Jackson. And then there were the jewels, the furs, the glamour, the glitz, and all that came to represent stardom in the second half of the twentieth century.

It was also a generous life, and it was Taylor, in response to the death of dear friend Hudson from AIDS in 1985, who became the face of AIDS awareness at a time when a compassionate — and globally famous — face was most needed.

Complicated, courageous, and oh, so gorgeous, Elizabeth Taylor still fascinates.

Like one of the famous diamonds she possessed, she reflected perfection in the “four c’s” of gemology: color, cut, clarity, and carat.

And now, here she is, in settings that catch the light just right.

With James Dean. Two timeless icons in a rare relaxed moment.

Horsing around, with James Dean again.

Reflections in a violet eye. You can’t look away, and who would want to?

Free from the makeup, hairspray, and corsets that made a star a star in the 1950s.

“All America” is right. Two of our finest cultural exports.

Like attracts like. “Kitten” was one of Liz’s nicknames.

Even in humble gingham, she exudes world-class magnetism.

The young starlet catches up on her reading. Dig those fishnets!

A great face  even when she's making one!

As Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958). Slips would henceforth become sexy fashion staples  and no wonder.

Earrings, rings, necklaces, and bangles  Elizabeth Taylor was the girl who really was a diamond’s best friend.

Especially with a tan, Taylor’s luminous beauty shines. White bathing suits don’t hurt either.

Tousled, sleepy, divine. This is bedhead of the gods.

In a bikini with Burton. Whatever he's saying here, he's probably having trouble completing the thought.

Romancing the stone: Taylor loved jewelry, and jewelry loved her back.

Frisky, with a pup  or is that a mophead she's holding?

  Au naturel suits her.

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