I Do…Love Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy*

It’s day three here in Hollywood, and first up this morning, TCM is going to the chapel with bride Elizabeth Taylor in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950). Screened at the Egyptian Theatre, in a gorgeous 35mm print from Warner Bros., the charming domestic comedy played to a receptive 9 AM crowd. On hand to introduce the movie was film historian Cari Beauchamp who praised Spencer Tracy, spilled on Joan Bennett’s career ending extra-marital scandal and called Elizabeth Taylor “absolutely stunning.” And that certainly proved true at today’s screening. You may have seen FATHER OF THE BRIDE countless times on TV, but you never realize just how beautiful Taylor was until you see her projected on the big screen.

fatherofthebride3Elizabeth Taylor began her career in Hollywood at age ten in Universal’s There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). She soon moved to MGM, where her very next film would be the perennial family favorite Lassie Come Home (1943), opposite Roddy McDowall and Pal (as Lassie). Over the next decade, Taylor grew up before viewers’ eyes on screen, in a string of memorable child and teen roles including: girl jockey Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944), teen dream girl in Life With Father (1947) and the simple but lovable March sister Amy in Little Women (1949). Taylor turned eighteen in 1950 and she was eager to tackle more adult parts. FATHER OF THE BRIDE was a big step in that process – it was one of the first, and certainly the best early film, to cast Taylor in a more mature light.

But the growing up for Taylor wasn’t only on screen. Just before MGM announced she was to appear in FATHER OF THE BRIDE, Taylor made an announcement of her own—her engagement to hotel heir Nicky Hilton. The off screen developments created a frenzy of publicity around the film. Taylor and Hilton were married on May 6, 1950, about six weeks before the film premiered in June. The film’s release date was a clearly orchestrated move on MGM’s part. In fact, much of the wedding had the weight of MGM behind it. Beauchamp explained in today’s introduction that MGM paid for the wedding and sent out the invitations. Costume designer Helen Rose was also assigned to create Taylor’s wedding dress. The gown was such an extensive project (and priority to MGM) that fifteen people worked full time on it for two or three months. And when the big day finally arrived, MGM was well represented. The Hollywood spectacle included A-list classics stars like Greer Garson, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Van Johnson. And of course, Taylor’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE parents, Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, were front and center.

Many credit the hype surrounding Taylor’s real life nuptials with making FATHER OF THE BRIDE such a success. And MGM continued to cash in on the hot property the following year—a sequel called Father’s Little Dividend, in which Taylor’s character has a baby, was released in 1951.

But regardless of the off screen whoopla, FATHER OF THE BRIDE remains a great movie in its own right. It stands the test of time, is still funny today and continues to shed a truthful light on family dynamics. And most importantly, it speaks to that special bond between father and daughter. Sadly, the Taylor-Hilton marriage wouldn’t have the staying power of the film. It was over by the time most of Europe saw FATHER OF THE BRIDE in February 1951.

*And by the way, Joan Bennett ain’t bad either!