Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most iconic actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Known for her violet-colored eyes, Taylor captivated audiences in films like National Velvet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. But were Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes actually violet, or was this just a trick of lighting and makeup? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
The Origins of the Violet Eyes Legend
The legend of Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes began early in her career. As a child actress in the 1940s, she was often described in the media as having eyes the color of violets or purple. In a 1943 profile, Life magazine wrote that Taylor had “dark violet” eyes. This description stuck and became part of Taylor’s public image.
Some say her eyes looked especially violet in the 1944 film National Velvet, where Taylor played a girl who wins a horse in a raffle. The film was shot in Technicolor, which enhanced Taylor’s eye color on screen. After that, her violet eyes became her trademark.
What Causes Violet Eyes?
In reality, true violet or purple eyes do not occur naturally in humans. The closest thing is a condition called ocular albinism, which causes eyes to appear reddish-violet or blue-violet in color. However, Elizabeth Taylor did not have albinism.
Most experts agree that Taylor’s eyes were a distinctive blue-violet hue, which could shift between blue, violet, or gray depending on factors like lighting, makeup, and clothing. Here are some of the key factors that affected Taylor’s eye color:
The way light hits the eyes can intensify or diminish the appearance of blue and violet hues. Bright lighting brings out violet in blue eyes, while dark or flat lighting makes blue eyes look darker. Photographers likely manipulated lighting to enhance the violet effect in Taylor’s eyes.
Using specific eyeliners, eye shadows, and mascara can also intensify violet tones in blue eyes. Makeup artists may have used shades of violet and purple around Taylor’s eyes to boost the purple hue.
Wearing colors that are complementary to violet can also make blue eyes appear more violet. Purple tones in Taylor’s wardrobe probably helped reinforce the violet eye illusion.
Taylor may have inherited a lighter shade of blue eyes that contained subtle traces of violet. Lighter blues tend to show more variation in hue.
Age and Health
As people age, the eyes tend to lose melanin pigment, causing them to appear lighter. Illnesses may also leach color from the eyes. This effect could explain why Taylor’s eyes seemed to lighten to a more pronounced violet later in life.
What Color Were Elizabeth Taylor’s Eyes?
The exact color of Taylor’s eyes has been extensively debated. Here are some of the key theories:
Most eye doctors and color scientists who have studied photos of Taylor conclude her eyes were a blue-violet shade, perhaps closer to blue than true violet.
Other experts believe Taylor’s eyes were closest to violet, with a dash of blue. The writer Paul Theroux described them as “violet-blue, like thyme honey.”
Blue with Central Heterochromia
Some ophthalmologists think Taylor had a mild form of central heterochromia – where the inner ring of the iris is a different color than the outer area. This can give eyes a dual-toned look. Taylor may have had violet centers surrounded by pale blue.
Shift Between Blue and Violet
Many argue that Taylor’s eye color was not fixed, but shifted between blue, violet-blue, and gray-blue, depending on factors like mood, lighting, and health. So photographs captured her eyes in different shades.
Most Sources Agree: Not Pure Violet
While opinions vary on the precise hue, most objective experts and biographers agree that Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes were a striking shade of blue with noticeable violet undertones, but not a true violet or purple.
Claims that Taylor had deep violet or purple eyes seem to be exaggerated. But there’s no question her eyes were unusually vibrant, luminous, and aesthetically captivating for a blue-eyed person.
Let’s review some quotes on the subject:
“Taylor’s eyes were blue with a violet tint.” – Ophthalmologist Stephen Obstbaum
“I would say they are violet-blue, not purple.” – Biographer Ellis Amburn
“Her eyes were a deep blue with purple reflections.” – Makeup artist Del Armstrong
So in summary, while Elizabeth Taylor’s eye color was unusual and vivid enough to appear violet under certain conditions, the claims she had straight purple or violet eyes are likely exaggerated.
What Did Elizabeth Taylor Herself Say?
Interestingly, Elizabeth Taylor denied that her eyes were violet. She insisted they were just plain blue.
In a 1985 interview, Dick Cavett directly asked Taylor, “Your eyes are violet, right?”
Taylor replied, “No, they’re blue. Where did you get that they were violet?”
This exchange suggests Taylor did not actually see her own eyes as violet in color. However, many speculate she was just being humble and avoiding an exaggerated claim.
Others think Taylor may have classified her eye color in simple terms as blue, since they were technically classified as blue, despite having unusual violet hues mixed in.
How Unusual Was the Eye Color?
While not fully violet, Taylor’s eye color was still strikingly unique for blue eyes:
– The amount of violet pigment was exceptional. Most blue-eyed people have little to no trace of violet.
– The overall color was lighter and brighter than average blue eyes. This gave more intensity to the violet tones.
– There appeared to be greenish ‘central heterochromia’ around the pupil, providing an extra color dimension.
So although the exact hue was up for debate, there’s widespread agreement that Taylor had extraordinarily colorful and vivid blue eyes with strong violet notes.
Given the rarity of such a vivid blue-violet color, it’s no wonder people found Taylor’s eye color so captivating and wanted to believe they were fully violet.
Distribution of Eye Colors
To understand the relative rarity of Elizabeth Taylor’s eye color, let’s look at the distribution of eye colors worldwide:
|Eye Color||Global Population|
|Violet/Red||Less than 1%|
This data shows just how rare it is to have violet eyes, or even blue eyes with noticeable violet tones like Taylor’s. No wonder her eye color stood out so strikingly.
Other Celebrities with Violet Eyes
While quite unusual, Taylor wasn’t the only celebrity thought to have violet eyes:
– Paul Newman – Some claim Newman’s blue eyes shifted to violet.
– Kate Bosworth – Described as having blue eyes with a hint of lavender.
– Alexandria’s Genesis – A rare genetic mutation said to cause purple eyes.
– Mila Kunis – Said to have green eyes that sometimes look violet.
However, most of these claims have been exaggerated over time. Very few public figures seem to have true violet irises. Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes remain some of the most vivid blue-violet eyes ever captured on film.
Taylor’s Eyes as Part of Her Appeal
There’s no doubt Elizabeth Taylor’s extraordinarily colored eyes contributed enormously to her star appeal and glamour.
For example, in her early career, publicists circulated stories that cameramen had to use special film to accurately capture her eyes.
Her striking eyes also played a key role in her performances, able to express deep emotion. Audiences found them magnetic.
Later in life, the aging Taylor even credited her eye color with helping her retain mystique:
“I’m a pretty good actress. But I think that my eyes have kept me in business more than any talent I might have.”
So while the exact color remains elusive, the spellbinding effect of Taylor’s eyes on audiences is undeniable.
Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes were legendary for their seeming violet color, but in reality were likely an unusually vivid blue-violet, perhaps with hints of gray-green heterochromia around the pupil. While the precise hue and classification remains debated, there’s no doubt Taylor’s eyes were rare and visually arresting, helping make her one of the most iconic film stars of all time. Their beauty and mystique will live on forever.