Sept. 1, 1959

Elizabeth Taylor is a million dollar baby.The erstwhile Hollywood beauty earned a record-setting paycheck for an actor of either sex when she signed onto Cleopatra for a cool million in 1959. The story goes that Liz had no interest in playing the Egyptian queen but was pursued relentlessly being the "It" girl of the moment.

When producer Walt Wanger called, she responded in jest with the ultimatum, "Tell him I’ll do it for one million dollars and 10% of the gross. "Lo and behold, he agreed, but probably wasn’t expecting to give up six more. Notorious for its production problems, cast changes and near-death illnesses (Liz contracted pneumonia and had a tracheotomy), the actress eventually incurred $6 million dollars in overtime dough, bringing her final payday to $7 million.

Twentieth Century Fox was out way more than $7 million though. The four-hour epic had a final budget of $44 million. Chump change nowadays, but back in the ’60s, that was the equivalent of $295 million — topping the list of most expensive films ever made. And if Liz hadn’t struck that cushy deal, she probably wouldn’t have met Richard Burton (Marc Antony). The two began a torrid love affair on-set and the late great has the distinction of being the only man the star has married twice.

By Joyce Eng

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