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How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  577 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
Elizabeth Taylor has never been short on star power, but in this unprecedented biography, the spotlight is entirely on her—a spirited beauty full of magic, professional daring, and wit.

Acclaimed biographer William Mann follows Elizabeth Taylor publicly as she makes her ascent at MGM, falls into (and out of) marriages, wins Oscars, fights studio feuds, and combats America's
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published October 21st 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 578)
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Petra X
Jan 02, 2016 Petra X rated it it was amazing
I don't find many movie stars interesting. Quite the reverse. The desperate attempts for publicity of people like Angelina Jolie from her vampire routine to her present reinvention as mother earth, or Tom Cruise's fake madness (view spoiler) neither interest nor impress me. Anything their agents can concoct for celebrity, for brandi ...more
Jan 05, 2010 judy rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
Relax. This is not some sappy tale about the inner Elizabeth Taylor and her feelings on her life and loves. With the exception of the end, where Elizabeth really isn't performing anymore, its a fascinating study of how Hollywood operated back in the day. Elizabeth might be at the center but what you're really seeing is the people around her. I'd compare it to pulling back the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. Where Elizabeth, who had every advantage even before she became a child star, comes in is ho ...more
Richard Kramer
Aug 04, 2014 Richard Kramer rated it it was amazing
HOW TO BE A MOVIE STAR is William J Mann’s miracle of a book that is both about Elizabeth Taylor and not about her, too. Its actual subject is how Taylor, who began as a pretty piece of MGM chattel, managed to author the story of her stardom over the twenty-five-plus crucial years that Mann investigates, from NATIONAL VELVET to VIRGINIA WOOLF, with an agreeable epilogue for her successful stage turn in THE LITTLE FOXES, (Re WOOLF ... it’s hard to believe she made the film when she was 33. Albee ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Tara rated it liked it
Looks at Taylor's career in terms of how she was promoted during the studio era, and how she made the transition into the celebrity culture we recognise today. Interesting material on Hedda Hopper, her shifting relationship with Taylor and her impact on public opinion during the more scandalous moments in the star's many marriages. I liked how the author focussed on the highlights (and lowlights) of Taylor's very public life, though I was a bit disappointed that he stopped at The Little Foxes. A ...more
Aug 15, 2010 Meghan rated it really liked it
Mann's writing style when it comes to biographies could be seen as manipulative and even fictional at times; I certainly understand the negative reviews on Amazon saying as much about this book and his Katharine Hepburn bio, which I'm also currently reading. But leaving aside his tendency to re-enact conversations he could not possibly have witnessed, Mann paints a thorough and excellently-documented picture of his subjects. He doesn't make up any facts. The theme examined in this portrait of El ...more
Feb 11, 2016 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
A rich and wonderfully well-written book on the iconic Elizabeth Taylor. It doesn't have a year by year timeline of her life, but it hits all the important parts and made me feel like I had gotten to know her. I loved reading this book and highly recommend it to Liz fans or for anyone who has an interest in how Old Hollywood morphed into New Hollywood.
Nov 09, 2015 Moppet rated it really liked it
Shelves: hollywood
William J. Mann's book is less a biography, more a study of Taylor's public image over the decades. As such, he chooses to focus on key moments in her career and has space to devote to the workings of the publicity machine which made her a star.

MGM trained Taylor from childhood to play a sanitised, glamorised version of herself. Mann describes her first wedding to hotel heir Nicky Hilton as "more like an extended photo opportunity for a picture that needed to be promoted." The trousseau was prov
Kat Hagedorn
Jan 10, 2011 Kat Hagedorn rated it it was ok

I actually agree with this author's thesis: that the studio system, the actress's own proclivities, and the public created the star we know as Elizabeth Taylor. I just found it difficult to wade through the gossip to get there.

Normally I would never pick up a book like this because of all its dish, but my book club foisted it on me. (Don't kill me, TS!) I wasn't all that interested in it for the same reason I'm not all that interested in Us Weekly. Actually I loathe Us
Jul 31, 2010 Bookworm1858 rated it liked it
How to Be a Movie Star by William J. Mann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
406 pages
3/5 stars

Summary: Not a traditional biography, How to Be a Movie Star examines Elizabeth's life in the star system taking particular interest in how she became a movie star while also touching on her infamous love affairs.

Thoughts: I just reviewed Furious Love about Elizabeth and Richard but I wanted to read this too because I've always been fascinated by her. In fact my favorite Barbie as a child was named
Sarah  Battersby
Sep 13, 2016 Sarah Battersby rated it really liked it
Quite fascinating, and a bit of breath of fresh air after reading the snarky Kitty Kelley bio of Liz.
Feb 19, 2011 Robin rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle, 2011
This book offered an interesting take on the story of Elizabeth Taylor. The author focused on the business of Hollywood and the way that Taylor seemed to blaze the path from the tightly controlled studio system of press manipulation to modern media saturation and the art of spin so ubiquitous today. Frankly, I got the impression that Ms. Taylor was not much of a spin master, but the people around her truly worked the system to her advantage. So I'm not sure how much of a trailblazer she was in t ...more
Apr 07, 2012 Kristin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
2.5 stars
I am plodding through this; I find Elizabeth Taylor fascinating and I am loving the anecdotes, so I am not sure what I am finding troublesome about this writer's style. It may be that the chapters are a little too long, or it could be that he skips around chronologically. I don't usually have trouble with fiction that jumps around in a timeline, but keeping up with all the people that surrounded Liz and the ones that are being quoted is somewhat difficult. Overall, though, very interest
Laurel Beth
Jul 05, 2013 Laurel Beth rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
This book taught me Hedda Hopper is a stone cold ugly chapeaux'd bitch!

My mom surprised me on Xmas with this book. Surprising because I knew nothing about it, even though it combines many of my interests - namely, knowing the correct order of all Elizabeth Taylor's husbands, bombshell behavior, and feminism through the lens of the Hollywood star machine. This book has plenty of gossip anecdotes, but the truly phenomenal part of this book is that it doesn't presume to be a full biography, just a
Dec 09, 2015 Benjamin rated it it was amazing
William J Mann is one of the best Hollywood historians, if not the best. This is not a biography in the traditional sense, but rather focusses on important passages in Elizabeth Taylor's career to examine her ascendance to becoming one of the most famous movie stars and celebrities in the world. Mann vividly presents how Taylor's stardom evolved and bridged the transition from the old studio system to a more contemporary form of celebrity, which she has defined like no other. He also argues that ...more
Shawn Thrasher
Jun 30, 2012 Shawn Thrasher rated it it was amazing
Early on, Mann writes that this isn't going to be a traditional birth-to-death biography with everything in between; there were plenty of those about Elizabeth Taylor. This was -- and indeed and gloriously is - the biography of Elizabeth Taylor's stardom. It's handbook really - on how to court publicity, cut movie deals, conduct various affairs, seduce the paparazzi, keep the public alternately in love and in hate with you, and maintain your glamor. When we think of today's celebrities, most of ...more
Aug 15, 2010 Eleanor rated it really liked it
This is not a how-to book. Rather, it is a fascinating business-oriented (but still, deliciously entertaining) look at Elizabeth Taylor's life.


My favorite part was the author's account of Debbie Reynold's reaction to Eddie Fischer leaving her for Liz. Apparently, Debbie called Eddie from Los Angeles (he was in New York City) and he told her that yes, he was in love with Liz and he wouldn't be returning to LA the next day as he had planned. In a master move, Debbie showed up, the papara
Daniel Freedman
Aug 25, 2012 Daniel Freedman rated it really liked it
If there is such a thing as a superstar Liz was it. This biography goes into all the graphic details of the making of a child star who was fully mature by age fourteen. She was one of those people that the Studio was always challenged how to market. Almost too beautiful to play some parts, and even when she was three inches too short for National Velvet she went on a growing campaign to get her the added height. Nothing stopped her. The first chapter with Elizabeth, Eddie Fisher and Burton is hi ...more
Jan 20, 2013 Jan rated it really liked it
This book is fascinating for those who are over about 50-55 or those who are in the film industry and interested in the history of the studios and the old movie stars, or... those who are transfixed by Elizabeth Taylor and her life and loves. She basically grew up on the studio lot, never out of the limelight, a la Michael Jackson or Jody Foster. She loved food, expensive things, living a life of extreme consumption, and having her own way. She also understood the relationship between her public ...more
Jan 26, 2012 Ariadna73 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Check out what I wrote in my spanish blog:

I liked the way the author tried to give every aspect of Elizabeth's life a new sense of goal: everything she did since the moment she woke up to the moment she went to sleep was intended to perfect her status as a movie star. It is just fantasy and theory; but it is very interesting to see how an exercise like this gives a total new sense to everything she did in her life. She had a goal; she had a business; and s
Brenda Mannino
Jan 15, 2010 Brenda Mannino rated it liked it
This book is mostly a rehashing of information about Liz Taylor previously written up in the movie magazines of yesterday, which I read as a very young teeenager thanks to a friend's older sister who passed her old magazines on to me. I grew up reading celebrity news that was 5 years old by the time I read it. It gave me a head start on understanding some of the issues discussed in this book. Living so close to the Canadian border , I was also able to read more detailed accounts of the lives of ...more
Aug 04, 2012 Randy rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the exploration of Elizabeth Taylor as a star who moved our culture into the celebrity drenched culture of the present moment. It is an interesting thesis that Elizabeth Taylor moved us from a sense of stars as not being like us to way too much information about star's lives. Ms. Taylor's long and positive association with gay men is also interesting. What is missing is much information about her relationship to her children and what they have become in the limelight of their mother's ...more
Nov 13, 2014 Abby rated it liked it
I thought the Hedda Hopper angle was pretty unique. Other than that, it was a pretty standard Liz biography. I felt that some things were skipped past or hardly mentioned, while others, like the filming of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf were covered in depth. I knew enough about her life to fill in the gaps, but it may have been confusing for readers who weren't as familiar. The look at how Liz became a star, and stayed a star was an interesting take rather than the book being a standard biograp ...more
Aug 05, 2015 Deodand rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this but it shouldn't be the first book you read about Taylor's life. Mann focuses on her first 40 years, and hits the highlights, so if there are gaps in your knowledge of La Taylor's timelines you may find this book confusing.

This was appropriately juicy and rich, and it gives us a view of the savvy people working behind the scenes with Taylor to create and sustain her stardom. Plus, it is full of detail about Taylor's desire for the most and best of everything, which is some good gr
Apr 08, 2011 Jamie rated it really liked it
In light of her recent passing, I picked this up because is there a more glamorous, actual true real movie star? The book basically goes through her movie career so it is not an actual biography. I was a little disappointed because it did not go into much detail with the Richard Burton marriages, which to me are the most interesting...but, it provides ample information on the other marriages, which lasted longer, I guess. Fascinating glimpse also, of how she defied the studios frequently and got ...more
Aug 03, 2010 Patricia rated it liked it
As a Liz Taylor fan I found this an interesting read. Neither a dish-the-dirt read ala Kitty Kelly nor an adoring fan tribute it shows Ms Taylor as a resilient strong woman. Insights and background about her many marriages and romances (ends with Burton) and how they were influenced by and influenced her career. Liz to her credit is no self pitying victim, despite being a child star of the old Hollywood system. No modern actress has ever achieved her glamour and beauty. Sorry Angelie et al, you ...more
Mar 22, 2012 Valerie rated it really liked it
Enjoyed it, wished it covered more of her life instead of stopping after 'Little Foxes'. But it was an interesting take on the years it did cover, showing Liz in a unique light for sure. Feel the last of an era is really gone with her passing. I grew up reading about these Studio system stars, how many of their lives were managed...and what they lived like, and it was certainly a far different time for them.
Mar 20, 2010 Karen rated it liked it
A peek inside a ridiculously glamorous life. This isn't really biography, it says here, but rather a study of how Elizabeth Taylor expertly navigated Hollywood -- a clever premise that allows the author to skip the boring parts and jump right to the juicy stuff. I approve. I do think he gives ET a smidge too much credit, making it sound as if her emergency tracheotomy was essentially a canny career move that just happened to have life-saving side-effects. Overall, though, a super fun read.
Summer Lane
Jan 17, 2012 Summer Lane rated it it was amazing
Mink, diamonds and ridiculous drama created the phenomenon that was Elizabeth Taylor. In Mann's biography, 'How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood," the book reads like a novel. Elizabeth's strange lifestyle - sometimes glamourous, sometimes outrageous or shocking - is a captivating read, regardless of whether or not you're a fan. A really interesting read. It will leave you off feeling terribly happy that you're not a movie star, too.
Merja Pohjola
Sep 18, 2011 Merja Pohjola rated it liked it
Hmph, I read this "new" book on Liz to find out about her later life, since the one I read before was written 20 years before this.... oh well. Seems like the author did not find her later life more than worthy of a mention, and if her friendship with Michael Jackson was "embarrasing" to him -well, it isn't that to me and no doubt it wasn't embarrasing to Liz. Let alone her charity work, especially to cure HIV/AIDS. Disappointed. 2,5 stars...
Leslie Goddard
Jun 05, 2016 Leslie Goddard rated it liked it
Not a full biography, but rather an exploration of the creation and maintenance of Elizabeth Taylor the Movie Star. Fascinating as a study of how movie celebrity works, although the author seems to relish the gossipy bits (he seems obsessed with her breasts and she never just "laughs" but "giggles" or "simpers") and shies away from exploring much of her inner world.
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Also writes children's books under the pseudonym Geoffrey Huntington.
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