How Elizabeth Taylor Out-Diva-ed Princess Margaret

The respective royals were supposed to meet during Princess Margaret’s 1965 trip to Hollywood—but as seen in PBS’s upcoming documentary Margaret: The Rebel Princess, diva antics got in the way.

Princess Margaret’s diva antics are the stuff of royal legend. This was a woman who was waited on hand and foot every day of her life—receiving all the palace perks and royal trappings of her sister, Queen Elizabeth, without any of the expectations or responsibilities. But what happened when this princess collided with the Hollywood equivalent of coddled royalty, during a 1965 visit to Los Angeles?

A new PBS documentary Margaret: The Rebel Princess—airing in two parts on February 10 and 17—recalls, in part, this now-forgotten tour taken by the 35-year-old princess and her photographer husband, Lord Snowdon. It was Margaret’s first trip to America, and the princess—who had a fashion-forward taste for pop culture—made her mark, meeting stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews while visiting the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Torn Curtain. But hard partying during the evenings of this trip left Margaret and her husband with epic hangovers and bad press—so much so that British diplomats reportedly barred the princess from making a return visit to the U.S. in the 1970s. The climactic event of this 1965 trip, as told in The Rebel Princess, was a Beverly Hills dinner party hosted by Sharman Douglas, an American socialite and friend to Margaret. The party’s elite guest list included Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Judy Garland, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Natalie Wood, Dorothy McGuire, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, and Mia Farrow. But when Taylor and Burton arrived to the party, they weren’t happy with the seating arrangements.

At that moment in time, Taylor and Burton were, inarguably, the biggest movie stars in the world. Just three years earlier, the actors—each married to someone else—had begun a sensational affair while making Cleopatra, the most expensive film in contemporary Hollywood history. Their romance made headline news around the world, and it was this type of lead billing that the stars had come to expect when they stepped into Bistro Restaurant. According to the documentary, Taylor and Burton were the first celebrities to arrive at the dinner party—where they quickly made a disappointing discovery: the evening’s host had not seated them at the primary table with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. Even worse: they were seated next to the kitchen.

“[This] did not sit well with Elizabeth and Richard,” explains a friend of the princess’s in the documentary. “Everywhere they went, they were the most important people in the room. And here they were not the most important people in the room. So they up and left. And they left before the princess got there. And they didn’t come back.”

According to Taylor biographer Kitty Kelley, Burton got “extremely drunk” before leaving. “Now accustomed to imperial treatment himself, he was infuriated” by the seating, Kelley wrote, and behaved badly before his early exit, publicly accusing Garland of being inebriated. His behavior was so disconcerting that, after the couple left according to Kelley, Joanne Woodward commented, “I thought they would never leave.” When Burton recovered the next morning, he sent the princess an apology for missing her, blaming the early exit on the duo’s early call time for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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What did they miss at this particular party? According to The Telegraph, the princess offended Judy Garland by having an aide ask whether the triple-threat could perform on the spot. (“Tell her I’ll sing if she christens a ship first,” Garland reportedly retorted.) She also ruffled the feathers of Grace Kelly by telling the beauty, “You don’t look like a movie star”—to which Kelly is said to have responded, “Well, I wasn’t born a movie star.” There was also an uncomfortable situation in the women’s restroom between the princess and Steve McQueen’s wife, Neile Adams, who did not realize that royal protocol calls for royalty to have complete privacy in bathrooms. (If this sounds good, just wait—The Crown’s new season will chronicle this incredibly-disastrous-sounding trip.)

Taylor and Burton did end up meeting the princess on other occasions; Taylor biographer Kitty Kelley stated that the movie-star couple courted the British couple socially (and donated to the royal family’s favorite charities) in the hope that Queen Elizabeth might bestow a knighthood on Burton, who was born and raised in Wales. In 1967, Burton and Taylor hosted Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, along with 150 relatives and friends, at the London premiere of their film The Taming of the Shrew. They also occasionally intersected at social events, such as a wedding in London where Taylor happened to be wearing the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond ring Burton had purchased her. According to Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s book Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton: The Marriage of the Century, Princess Margaret asked Taylor, “Is that the famous diamond? It’s so large! How very vulgar!”

“Yes,” Taylor responded. “Ain’t it great?”

“Would you mind if I tried it on,” the princess asked.

Once she did, Taylor replied that the ring suddenly didn’t seem so vulgar when the princess was wearing it.

Taylor reportedly loved telling that story to friends—affecting the princess’s British accent in the process. Other times, she boasted that she had out-diva-ed the royal on a different occasion. When people complained about Taylor’s tardiness, the actress would allegedly respond](https://www.thedailybeast.com/booze-soaked-shoots-hot-gay-sex-and-elizabeth-taylors-poop-problems-behind-the-scenes-of-dominick-dunnes-infamous-last-film) that she had kept the Queen of England waiting 20 minutes, and Princess Margaret 30 minutes—so, logically, “They can damn well wait for me a few minutes!”

In spite of these occasional social collisions, Burton never grew comfortable around the famously prickly royal. In 1969, the actor wrote in his diary about his dread ahead of one meeting. “We have to see Princess Margaret again at the opening night of Staircase,” Burton wrote, in reference to the film he starred in opposite Rex Harrison. “[A]nd she is infinitely boringly, uncomfortable to be around, and I don’t know how I can suffer to see myself in the film in front of such a snob-ridden load of shits as one always gets [around her].”

Judging by Burton’s diaries, however, he and his wife preferred the company of Monaco’s royals—Prince Rainier III and Hollywood export Grace Kelly.

“Prince Rainier and Grace are coming to lunch today and Rainier is bringing either a tiger or a panther as a present for E,” wrote Burton, two months after the dreaded Princess Margaret run-in. “That’s all I need. . . . I love the Prince and I love his wife and I love Monaco, but if every time we come here we are going to be given a lion I’d rather write bad books at home.”

Maybe Princess Margaret should have brought a gift?

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