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Divorce Elizabeth Style, Part I

Elizabeth Taylor's divorce from Nicky Hilton -- It was her first divorce, and certainly not her last

Only 205 days after saying ''I do,'' 18-year-old Elizabeth Hilton, thin, pale, her gorgeous violet eyes brimming with tears, undid her marriage to hotel heir Conrad ''Nicky'' Hilton Jr., 24, on Jan. 29, 1951. In a deed that would come to be as much her hallmark as her porcelain beauty and glamour, the budding movie star told a Santa Monica, Calif., court that her first husband had been ''indifferent to me and used abusive language,'' won a divorce on grounds of mental cruelty, refused alimony, and took back her maiden name: Elizabeth Taylor.

When they met at L.A.'s Mocambo nightclub in October 1949, Liz Taylor had already been engaged — and disengaged — to Army football hero Glenn Davis and millionaire Bill Pawley. The beloved child star of 1944's National Velvet had blossomed into a voluptuous (but still chaperoned) leading lady, and she was eager to play an adult in real life. Hilton, a renowned playboy, gambler, and son of innkeeper Conrad Hilton, was smitten instantly. During their courtship, Taylor graduated from high school and made Father of the Bride. They wed on May 6, 1950, with 3,000 fans outside the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills and 600 guests — columnists, hotel and Hollywood execs, a bevy of stars — inside. Milking the nuptials for the simultaneously released Father, MGM picked up the tab, including $3,500 for its star's curve-conscious gown.

But on a three-month European honeymoon, the two fought hard: Hilton bristled when called Mr. Taylor, preferring all-night gambling to his bride's canasta games with the duchess of Windsor. Taylor consoled herself with shopping binges, realizing that her vision of marriage had been, as she later told LIFE, ''very naive.'' She came home haggard, smoking heavily, and in December moved out of their Pacific Palisades home.

Hilton wooed such glamour-pusses as Mamie Van Doren, and, in 1958, he took another 18-year-old bride, oil heiress Patricia McClintock. When he died of a heart attack 11 years later, Hilton was fated to be identified in headlines as ONCE WED TO LIZ TAYLOR. In time, he shared that distinction with six others. Indeed, Liz launched her second marriage, to actor Michael Wilding, little more than a year after that first, tearful failure. By 1995, she had gone through her least likely mate, 43-year-old contruction worker Larry Fortensky — husband No. 8.

Originally posted Jan 26, 1996 Published in issue #311 Jan 26, 1996 Order article reprints
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