Just days after her death, battle begins over Liz Taylor memoirs

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The Independent Culture

Elizabeth Taylor lived her life with vigour: jewels, men, and legal action. Following her death on Wednesday, book projects have been brought forward to take advantage of a renewed interest in her career – and the opportunity to publish revelations without being sued.

British publishers Mainstream, JR Books, Macmillan and Faber are all prioritising biographies about Taylor to be published in the coming weeks. Mainstream's book, Elizabeth Taylor: The Lady, The Lover, The Legend: 1932-2011 by Hollywood biographer David Bret, is being released "imminently" with Mainstream's managing director Bill Campbell claiming the author feared legal reprisals from Taylor because of its contents.

The other three releases are either paperbacks or reprints, whose release dates have also been shifted forward. "We are the only new book," said Mr Campbell. "We have been holding it back because it is controversial in parts. Current libel laws would have prevented it. I would call it as much a tribute as it is revelatory."

Bret's book claims Taylor "was the most controversial Hollywood icon since Mae West" and is known to contain revelations about the glamorous grande dame's mother, who it is alleged had lesbian affairs and romances with directors to win her daughter parts. There are also allegations surrounding Taylor's ex-husband Richard Burton's "bisexuality" and the millions the former actress blew on houses, diamonds and yachts.

Mr Campbell said the book would have a "big print run", adding: "It is fairly opinionated. David had known her for some years and had been in regular contact. She had expressed admiration for his work."

Taylor's litigiousness was as protracted as her celebrity career. In 1960, she and her fourth husband Eddie Fisher sued seven US fanzines for £2.5m, alleging "malicious libel". In 1990, the actress sued The National Enquirer for claiming she had brought alcohol into a hospital room when she was suffering from one of her many illnesses.

The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Though the subject of numerous biographies throughout her life, Taylor's aversion to intrusion meant she never wrote a comprehensive autobiography.

Now, JR Books is bringing forward the paperback release of its 2010 title Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century. Pan Macmillan is reprinting 25,000 copies of its 2007 biography, Elizabeth. Faber has brought forward by a year the paperback release of William J Mann's How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, originally scheduled for July 2012. "She didn't co-operate with our book, I don't think she liked co-operating with them," said Faber editor Walter Donohue. "William spoke to people around her, people who had worked with her or her parents. There had been so much written about her private life, but ours was not about that."

Last year there was speculation that JR Books' title was being adapted into a film with Angelina Jolie playing the lead role and Mike Nichols directing – although Nichols' agent Leslee Dart yesterday dismissed it as "pure nonsense".

"David Bret told a colleague of mine a funny story about being on a radio station in Chicago when Elizabeth Taylor herself called in to say that 'David Bret may be a shit but he's a loveable shit'," added a Mainstream spokesperson. "David was very fond of her, but was well aware that she would have tried to stop the book being published so preferred to wait."

A life in biographies

For decades, books about Elizabeth Taylor's life reflected her public persona's surface sparkle – and lacked the underlying grit. Her first memoir, 1946's Nibbles and Me, discussed her "adventures with her pet chipmunk", while Elizabeth Taylor, her second autobiography that was published in 1964, was widely derided as bland and unrevelatory.

But the first unauthorised work about the actress, by Kitty Kelley in 1981, was mainly rumour, and led to Taylor branding Kelley "a liar" and the pair becoming lifelong enemies.

All of these efforts pale in comparison with 1988's Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image and Self-Esteem. The book was ghostwritten, but netted her a reported $750,000 advance.