Elizabeth Taylor Regretted Marrying Eddie Fisher, Stealing Him from Debbie Reynolds: 'Friggin', Awful Mistake'

"I never loved Eddie," the star says in the new HBO documentary 'Elizabeth Taylor: The Lost Tapes', which explores her life and loves, in her own words

<p>Frank Worth/HBO</p> Elizabeth Taylor.

Frank Worth/HBO

Elizabeth Taylor.

More than a decade after her death, Elizabeth Taylor is getting candid about her life and loves.

The new HBO documentary Elizabeth Taylor: The Lost Tapes — which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11, ahead of its Aug. 3 streaming premiere on Max — tells the Oscar-winning star's life story in her own words. Eschewing traditional narration, the documentary presents images, videos and film clips accompanied by audio from a recently discovered series of interviews with journalist Richard Meryman beginning in 1964 (and a later 1985 interview with Dominick Dunne) to revisit the life of the enduring star, who died in 2011 at age of 78.

The result is a surprisingly revealing portrait of one of the great icons of Hollywood's Golden Age. Taylor is refreshingly candid in her responses to Meryman's often-pointed questions, especially compared to the manner in which modern stars tend to live behind veils of carefully crafted interview responses and curated social media content, only occasionally revealing the reality of their lives in court documents.

<p>Bettmann Archive</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 film 'Cleopatra'

Bettmann Archive

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 film 'Cleopatra'

"My public image? Oh oh. I would think it was an untrustworthy lady, completely superficial — and too pretty," she says in response to Meryman's question at the start of the film, adding. "Maybe because of my personal life I suggest something illicit, but I am not illicit, and I am not immoral. I make mistakes, and I have paid for them.... I know that I will never be able to pay the bill, but that is not something you can put in the story."

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Only the first four of Elizabeth Taylor's seven husbands are accounted for here. She accuses the first, hotel heir Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr., of mental and physical abuse. She says he kicked her in the stomach while she was pregnant, causing her to lose the baby. As for her second marriage, to actor Michael Wilding, she says it failed because "I need someone to dominate me."

Related: Elizabeth Taylor’s Wedding Dresses: See the 8 Colorful Gowns She Wore Down the Aisle

"I was attracted to him but not overly," she says about her third husband, movie producer Mike Todd (Around the World in 80 Days), who died in a plane crash in 1958. And that led her to her fourth husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, who was Todd's best friend and married to actress Debbie Reynolds when he and Taylor started their affair.

"I was keeping Mike alive by talking about him because Eddie, he was a great friend of Mike's. That was the only thing we had in common, was Mike," Taylor says in the documentary. "I never loved Eddie. I liked him. I felt sorry for him. And I liked talking [to him]. But he was not Mike."

<p>Archive Photos/Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher at the Academy Awards in 1961.

Archive Photos/Getty

Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher at the Academy Awards in 1961.

They ended up getting married in 1959 ("just three hours after his divorce from Debbie Reynolds," a voice announces in audio from a newsreel). "As a matter of fact, I don't remember too much about my marriage to him, except it was one big, friggin' awful mistake. I knew it before we were married and didn't know how to get out of it."

Related: Remembering Hollywood's Queen, Elizabeth Taylor, in Photos

And then there was Richard Burton, the esteemed Welsh actor whom she met on the set of the 1963 flop Cleopatra, while she was married to Fisher and he to his first wife, Sybil Williams. Her initial impression of him after their very first encounter was not exactly the stuff of fairy-tale romances. "I’d never seen a gentleman so hungover in my life," Taylor says of the infamously hard-drinking actor.

<p>API/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the set of 'The Sandpiper' in 1965.

API/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the set of 'The Sandpiper' in 1965.

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The Lost Tapes isn't all about romance. Taylor discusses her career, her famous costars (including Roddy McDowall, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson, all of whom were gay), and later, her AIDS activism.

In her early career, she fought to be taken seriously as an actress (George Stevens, who directed her in A Place in the Sun and Giant, told her she'd never be a real actress because she was too pretty), and she roundly dismissed her first Oscar win, for 1960's BUtterfield 8, which came after a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia while filming Cleopatra. "I won the award for my tracheotomy," she says in the documentary.

Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. Despite scoring a second Oscar for 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor's dramatic, soap-operatic personal life may have prevented her from gaining the respect she deserved as an actress. The Lost Tapes is a gorgeous reminder that she nonetheless will always be one of Hollywood brightest stars.

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