Eat Like The Stars – Elizabeth Taylor

by Jenny Hammerton

It would be a massive understatement to say that Elizabeth Taylor loved her food.  Some might say she was greedy, but I say that she was a gastronome. She absolutely adored chowing down.


Elizabeth Taylor on location with James Dean for Giant (1955)



Legendary columnist Liz Smith wrote a wonderful piece of gonzo journalism— “POPCORN; Starving Actors”— about Elizabeth’s eating habits in the late 1960s. It gives a rollicking glimpse into the relish and gusto with which she approached anything to do with food. The Burtons were in Paris, where Elizabeth was filming The Only Game in Town and Richard was co-starring with Rex Harrison in Staircase. Liz Smith was hanging out with the legendarily extravagant couple, accompanying them on jewelry shopping sprees, and enjoying many long, elaborate lunches and boozy, swanky dinners. The journalist vividly described a scene in Elizabeth’s dressing suite at the Boulogne-sur-Seine film studios. John Lee was Elizabeth’s secretary.

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“John Lee is now frying bacon for an afternoon snack, and Elizabeth soon hovers by the stove, waiting for a piece to be done.  A tremendous pancake discussion ensues while I check the larder.  It is crammed with Dinty Moore canned stew, Sara Lee cakes, Ritz crackers, Aunt Jemima mixes, Green Giant cream-style corn, B & B brown betty, Wilson’s dried beef, Heinz pickles, V8 juice, Triscuits, Heinz ketchup, canned hominy, popcorn, Betty Crocker corn bread mix. And Bumble Bee tuna.”


The relish with which the Burtons enjoyed food and drink is palpable.  At one point in a Parisian restaurant Elizabeth says: “Do you want any more of this?  Good. I’m going to take all of this kidney-juice gook then. God, I love food – and wine, I adore wine.  Listen, I think I’ll have a hot fudge sundae.” She does.


milk and vodka?.jpgGrapple-snapping was a nickname invented by Elizabeth’s brother Howard to describe a type of semi-conscious extra-curricular eating that many of us succumb to. Grabbing whatever looks tasty in the fridge, biscuit barrel or candy aisle and snapping it up. When Elizabeth was on the Washington campaign trail with her 6th husband John Warner in the late 1970s, grapple-snapping became the norm. After years of yo-yo dieting, the pounds really began piling on, and staying on. Checking in to the Betty Ford Center in 1983 to tackle her drug, drink and food dependencies marked the turning point.  By the time she left the Center, she said that she may have still been fat, but she was mentally and emotionally fit. It was time to diet.


Back in LA after her stint in Washington, Elizabeth was in the place she felt most at home. Single and living in a new house she loved in Bel Air, she decided to follow a sensible eating regime from BirthOrderPlus. As she put it: “No crash diets and no more binges.” She developed a diet that suited her, which she later shared in her brilliant self-help book Elizabeth Takes OffLiz takes off book.jpg

The “Taylor-Made Diet” is a low fat, high protein diet and features lots of chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. It’s a sensible and nutritionally sound diet, designed for slow and steady weight loss. As she puts it: “I wasn’t prepared to deal with constant hunger.  Life’s too short to court misery, even for a good cause.”


When Elizabeth was at her largest (in 1982 the 5’ 3” actress weighed 179 pounds) she became the target of many cruel jokes about her weight. She was publicly ridiculed by many well-known comedians, both in the press, and on television.  In her book Liz says: “I could understand the fascination, I myself was eventually amazed at the way I looked,” but what she couldn’t understand was the deliberate cruelty.  “The jokes were often vicious and served no other purpose than to incite laughter over my misfortune.”

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One wisecrack from the 1980s continues to have a life on the internet to this day.  Joan Rivers famously said, “Elizabeth Taylor’s so fat, she puts mayonnaise on aspirin.”

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“Eat this Joan.”

Well, Elizabeth wasn’t afraid to include three different mayonnaise recipes in her diet plan, and I share them here to redress the balance the echo of Joan’s mean joke has around the internet. Let’s all eat mayonnaise on aspirins if we choose to!

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Richard Burton, Claudia Cardinale and Elizabeth Taylor at the 28th Venice Film Festival, September 1967


Liz’s Special Mayonnaise

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

I tablespoon tarragon or other vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

8 fluid ounces safflower oil [I use sunflower oil]

Salt substitute

Artificial Sweetener

4 fluid ounces skimmed milk

Place egg and egg yolk, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce in blender and whir till well mixed. With blender on high speed, add oil a little at a time. (Mixture will be very thick.) Remove to a bowl, add a little salt, pepper and artificial sweetener to taste.  Pour in skim milk and stir to mix thoroughly.  Store in airtight container in refrigerator until needed; will keep for 6 weeks.

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Liz and her mother prepare for a barbeque

Note: the eponymous Liz of Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite mayonnaise recipe, is in fact Liz Thorburn, a cordon bleu chef Elizabeth worked with to develop the recipes in her diet.

It’s probably my technique rather than the recipe, but my mayonnaise made to this recipe is more like salad cream. It’s delicious though!


Curried Mayonnaise no. 1


-8 oz Liz’s Special Mayonnaise or commercial low-cal mayonnaise

-2 tablespoons safflower oil

-2 tablespoons vinegar

-1 small onion, finely chopped

-2 teaspoons curry powder

-2 teaspoons lemon juice

-salt substitute, or salt and pepper

Combine first six ingredients and stir well until blended.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill and use as a dip with crudities or as a dressing for vegetables or salad.  Can also be used in Curried Chicken Salad and Curried Egg Salad.

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Curried Mayonnaise no. 2

-8 oz Liz’s Special Mayonnaise or commercial low-cal mayonnaise

-2 teaspoons curry powder

-1 teaspoon low-cal apricot preserves

-juice 1/2 lime or lemon

Combine ingredients.  Stir to mix thoroughly.  Use to make Curried Chicken Salad and Curried Egg Salad or as a dip.


Eddie Fisher with two wives: Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds

Actress Debbie Reynolds kept a photo of Elizabeth at her fattest on the refrigerator door, as a warning not to overeat.  Instead of being upset by this, Elizabeth thought, “if it works for Debbie, it might work for me,” and did the same.  I love her self-deprecating humor when she says: “If you think a picture of me as Miss Lard will inspire you, go ahead and put it on your refrigerator, go ahead, I have no objection.”

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At a “fat farm” in Florida from Vanity Fair article

So, if you are struggling with your weight, why not stick a picture of Elizabeth on your fridge and try her diet?  She gives sensible and sound advice about slimming down, and my favorite part about her regime?  Her advice that once you have reached a weight you are happy with, that you should have a “controlled pig-out” once a week!

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Donuts and tea in her dressing room, 1950

jenny-hammerton-headshot-e1404883614726Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5,500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters. You can read about and buy her new book Cooking with Joan Crawford here.

For Liz’s Curried Chicken Salad recipe visit Jenny’s Silver Screen Suppers website.


Fried chicken .jpg

Cooking fried chicken at her Atoka farm, Middleburg, Virginia, 1977. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes were her favorite food, after caviar.






Richard and Liz champagne.jpgYou might enjoy Kate Mickere’s blog where she cooks every recipe in Elizabeth Taylor’s diet cookbook, Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image, and Self Esteem. She also discusses her plan for this project here.

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