Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Simply put, Elizabeth Taylor was the biggest star of the LIFE era. She appeared on the magazine’s cover a record 14 times, starting when she was just 15 years old, and over the following decades many of LIFE’s finest photographers Paul Schutzer, Peter Stackpole, Allan Grant and George Silk among them captured the quintessential movie star in love, at work and basking (with consummate grace) in the kind of international fame, comprised of equal parts respect and adulation, that most entertainers today can only dream about.

But a magazine only has so many pages and countless pictures by LIFE’s peripatetic photographers never made it into print. Here, LIFE.com presents a selection of the very best photographs of the Hollywood icon some that appeared in the magazine, and many that were never published in its pages including shots from her very first wedding, when she was just 18 years old; from the sets of Giant and Cleopatra; from studio backlots (with her dear friend and soul mate, Montgomery Clift); and from her tumultuous romance with two-time husband and bigger-than-life star in is own right, Richard Burton.

[Buy the LIFE book, Remembering Liz: 1932-2011]

What’s especially enlightening and, for film buffs, thrilling about digging through LIFE’s archives is not only the astonishing photography that so often comes to light, but the supporting materials that accompany the photos, negatives, contact sheets and prints.

For example, a March 30, 1962, memo sent by LIFE reporter George Caturani in Rome to the LIFE offices in New York reads, in part:

Herewith seven rolls of undeveloped black and white shot by [Paul] Schutzer . . . on the set of “Cleopatra” and inside Burton’s dressing room. . . . Liz on set looks absolutely relaxed. Whatever relationship there is between Liz and Burton [their affair while filming “Cleopatra” is now the stuff of Hollywood legend], they’ve decided to make the fact they enjoy each other as obvious as the famous nose on famous Cleopatra’s face.

With those sorts of insights and with that sort of access, it’s no surprise that, through the years, LIFE managed to so closely chronicle the public and private world of Liz Taylor as a teen, a young woman and later, at the very height of her career, as quite simply the biggest movie star in the world.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1945

In 1945, at age 13 and already a veteran of five films, Elizabeth Taylor signs autographs during a charity cricket match at Los Angeles’ Gilmore Stadium.

Peter Stackpole The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor in 1947, age 15

Elizabeth Taylor in 1947, at age 15.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor 1948

Liz Taylor gazes into the distance while wearing an “All America” sweatshirt, 1948; the pin she wears belonged to Glenn Davis, a 1946 Heisman Trophy-winner she was dating at the time.

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor 1948

Taylor and her mother, Sara, a former stage actress, in 1948.

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor in 1948.

Elizabeth Taylor at home in 1948

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor with West Point in the background, 1948

Elizabeth Taylor with West Point in the background, 1948

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor at Hollywood University High School, 1950

Elizabeth Taylor sits at a desk in a classroom at Hollywood’s University High School in 1950.

Peter Stackpole The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor 1949

Elizabeth Taylor plays opposite Robert Taylor (no relation) in a scene from the 1949 movie, Conspirator.

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor 1949

Elizabeth Taylor plays opposite Robert Taylor (no relation) in a scene from the 1949 movie, Conspirator.

Mark Kauffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, 1950

During a break in filming A Place in the Sun, Liz Taylor chats with her costar Montgomery Clift on the Paramount lot in 1950.

Peter Stackpole The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, 1950

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, 1950.

Peter Stackpole The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor wedding to Nicky Hilton, 1950

Just 18 years old, Elizabeth Taylor arrives to marry hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton at the Bel-Air Country Club in 1950.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor wedding to Nicky Hilton, 1950

Liz Taylor on her (first) wedding day, May 6, 1950. The marriage to Nicky Hlton would last less than one year.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of 'Giant,' 1956

In Marfa, Texas, on the set of the film, Giant, Liz Taylor lassos director George Stevens as her costars Rock Hudson and James Dean look on.

Allan Grant The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1962 on the set of Cleopatra.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1962 on the set of Cleopatra. At the time, Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher, but had begun a tempestuous (and highly public) affair with Burton.Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton 1962

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor, 1962

During a break in the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor ruffles the hair of Liza Todd, her daughter with her third husband, Mike Todd.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, 1962

In costume, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor share a look on the set of Cleopatra.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor and Joseph L. Mankiewicz on the set of Cleopatra, 1962

Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz chats with Liz Taylor on set.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Liz Taylor 1964

In February 1964, on the set of a Broadway production of Hamlet, a surprised Elizabeth Taylor cuts her birthday cake, as Richard Burton (starring in the show) leans in for a kiss.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Liz Taylor, Hume Cronyn 1964

Hume Cronyn, who won a Tony for his performance as Polonius in the 1964 production of Hamlet, gently holds Liz Taylor’s famous face in his hands.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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