International Best Seller Colin Falconer

stories of romance and epic adventure

THE REAL CLEOPATRA. or, as she’s better known, ELIZABETH TAYLOR

Few women in history have captured popular imagination like the last pharaoh of the Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt – Cleopatra.

Yet so much of what we know – or think we know – about her is informed by legend, myth – and Elizabeth Taylor.

For instance, many historians have suggested she had a fair complexion, that she was possibly even blonde.

Yet, ask anyone in the street and they will tell you: she was a brunette with a bob!


Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

It’s fifty three years since the iconic movie about Cleopatra was released. It’s practically history.

Remarkably, the making of the film contained as much drama and tragedy as there was in its namesake’s lifetime.

Here are some things you should know about the Cleopatra – the movie and the woman:

1. The film was the highest grossing film of 1963, it played to 
full houses for four months and earned US $26 million - yet it 
almost bankrupted Fox Studios - because it cost $44 million to make (the equivalent of about a third of a billion today). The original budget was 2 million. So a slight overshoot then.

2. It was originally intended as a vehicle for Joan Collins. Audrey Hepburn, Susan Hayward and Dorothy Dandridge were also mooted. And the first choice for Caesar was Peter o’Toole with Marlon Brando as Antony.

3. When Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher answered the phone and called out to her that Fox wanted her to play Cleopatra, she said, as a joke: "Sure, tell them I'll do it for a million dollars." It was an astronomical amount in those days. But Fox took her seriously and paid up.

4. Elizabeth Taylor was the first woman to be paid one million dollars for a movie. After extra payments for delays in the shooting schedule, she pocketed seven million, the equivalent of almost fifty million today.

5. Taylor fell ill during shooting in London and almost died. 
Surgeons performed an emergency tracheotomy to save her life. The 
scar can be seen in some shots.

6. Filming began in London but it was too cold and wet. All the exotic plants died so the shooting was relocated to Rome. The original set was finally used for the British comedy, Carry on Cleo.

7. When they sacked the first director, Rouben Mamoulian, the 
studio wanted Hitchcock to replace him. He made The Birds instead.

8. Burton showed up on the first day of shooting so badly hungover that Taylor had to help him drink a cup of coffee. At first he couldn’t stand her – he referred to her as ‘Miss Tits.’

9. The production required so much lumber that building 
materials became scarce throughout Italy.

10. A group of female extras who played Cleopatra’s slave girls went on strike to demand that the Italian male extras stop pinching their butts. The studio eventually hired a guard to protect them.

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

11. Fox had fresh chili from Chasens in Los Angeles air freighted to Italy for Taylor, just to keep her happy.

12. Taylor and Burton began an adulterous love affair on the set, and it soon made headlines around the world. Even the Vatican weighed in.

13. In Mark Antony's bath scene, you can see a bright yellow 
plastic sponge floating on the water. (At least it wasn’t a rubber duck!)

14. Filming of Cleopatra’s triumphant entry into Rome, requiring thousands of extras, had to be re-shot because one of the extras could be seen selling ice cream.

15. While building the set of Alexandria in Anzio, several 
construction workers were killed by an unexploded mine left over 
from World War II.

16. Egypt initially refused to let Elizabeth Taylor into the country because she was Jewish. They relented when they realized how many dollars they could make out of it for themselves.

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

17. The scene showing Cleopatra's navy required huge numbers of 
ships. It was said at the time that Twentieth Century-Fox had the 
third largest navy in the world.

18. Taylor and her female extras went through eight thousand pairs of shoes in the course of the year while shooting the movie. (Beat Kim Kardashian by one!)

19. There is no final battle sequence, as in the shooting script, 
because Fox ran out of money.

20. Director Joseph Mankiewicz was fired after shooting but rehired for the editing because no one else could work out how to cobble the six hour mess of a movie together.

21. Taylor won a Guinness World Record for most costume changes in a film, which she held until Madonna pipped her thirty three years later in 'Evita'.

22. The finished script was as thick as the Beverly Hills phone book.

23. The original cut of the movie was 6 HOURS LONG!! Mankievicz wanted the film released as two separate pictures, “Caesar and Cleopatra” and “Antony and Cleopatra,’ each of 3 hours, but the studios wanted to instead cash in on the moral outrage over Burton and Taylor’s affair. The film shown at the premiere was just over four hours.

Sadly, the deleted two hours is now missing …

And if you’re interested in Cleopatra the woman, you might be interested in this:

“This is the riveting story of Egypt’s last and greatest queen … creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman who thrived and triumphed in a world ruled by men.”

– Publishers Weekly

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  1. Reblogged this on Official Site of Alex Laybourne – Author and commented:
    Interesting Facts about Cleo (and Liz)

  2. Frank Langella wrote a memoir a few years ago in which he recounted (among other things) his romance with Elizabeth Taylor. This is where we relearn actors and actresses are often out of touch with reality and lead dysfunctional lives.

  3. Very Interesting blog about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I’m a student of Ancient History and Scriptures. I can appreciate the knowledge about Mrs. Taylor, she was indeed a great actress. Cleopatra, however, was recent history and she was infamous during the last days of ancient Rome but she was not the ‘last greatest Queen’ of Egypt. Because of her mixed ethnic Macedonian heritage the Egyptian government has never recognized her dynasty the ‘Ptolemies’. They considered them to be ‘foreigners’. We in the west recognize the ‘Ptolemies’ but it’s not our country. It’s known as ‘cultural relativism’ in Anthropology(the study of humans) to insert your values and beliefs into another culture. Learn to accept a country or cultures ‘aboriginal’ facts about their ‘Land’. How would you feel if Russian tried to re-write American History?

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