HORSEATHON 2012: Elizabeth Taylor and “The Pie.”

Following up on the success of the Dogathon a few months back, our friend Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood has set aside these few days, May 25-28, as days to blog about our favorite film horses–in the 2012 Horseathon. There is certainly no shortage of horse movies in Hollywood. From Trigger to Black Beauty, from cowboy movies to war movies, horses are some of the most prominently featured animals onscreen, likely due to their versatility of use and their prevalence in many aspects of our lives. Pick a movie at random, and there is a good chance there is a horse in it somewhere.

But there is a difference between a horse making an appearance in a movie, and a “horse movie.” That is, there are certain films that feature the horse as a central character, and the horse drives the story forward, films like Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka that exalt the horse and treat him as a noble creature deserving of respect and admiration.  Perhaps the gentlest and most sincere dedication to the place horses have in so many lives–and definitely the movie with the most stellar cast–is the lovely National Velvet (1944). Central to the film’s story is Velvet’s relationship to her horse, The Pie, one that was mirrored in real life by Elizabeth Taylor’s bond with the horse that played The Pie.

At this point in her career, Elizabeth Taylor was still a rising child starlet. Her appearance in Lassie Come Home the previous year had given her a good bit of screen time, and she had a prominent (though uncredited) scene of about 10 minutes in the Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre. But to audiences at the time of National Velvet, Elizabeth Taylor was simply a face that might look vaguely familiar, though she was already developing a name for herself on the MGM lot as a child star with a great deal of potential, and also, offscreen, as a quirky girl who seemed to always have animals around her. Elizabeth Taylor’s pet chipmunk, Nibbles, became almost as big a star on the MGM lot as his owner. Various stars who had been under contract at MGM recall Nibbles in interviews, and how young Elizabeth would not be seen without him. In 1946, while she was making The Courage of Lassie , Elizabeth found that Nibbles had been cast in a bit part in the film. Nibbles’ scene was ultimately cut, prompting Elizabeth to remark “He was too good. It didn’t look real.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Nibbles.

Other than her love for Nibbles, Elizabeth was known for her love of horses. As a toddler in England, she was so drawn to horses that she was given a small pony to keep as a pet, and recalled that the happiest moments of her life were when she was riding her horse. She always had animals throughout her life, and it was this obvious love of animals that drew the producers to cast this relative newcomer as the horse-smitten Velvet Brown in their upcoming production of National Velvet.

The Pie was a 7-year-old thoroughbred named King Charles, a descendant of famed racehorse Man O War. He was owned by a society woman at the Rivera Country Club in Los Angeles who had trained him as a show jumper, and she offered to let Elizabeth Taylor ride him while at the country club. Elizabeth immediately fell in love with the horse, and he was acquired by MGM for $800 to star in National Velvet with her. She undertook a rigorous training routine to prepare for the movie, and rode King Charles for 90 minutes every day while also feeding and bonding with him at the Rivera Country Club for the rest of the day.

From the beginning, King Charles was a difficult horse to get along with. He wouldn’t listen to commands, and he regularly bit crew members, once seriously injuring a trainer who was trying to make him play dead for a scene. The only person he would listen to was Elizabeth. The two had developed a special bond, which is very evident in the final film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After filming wrapped, on the occasion of Elizabeth’s 13th birthday, she found that she had received King Charles as a gift. She and the horse stayed together until King Charles died, and remained wonderful and loyal companions to one another for as long as he lived.

On the set.

Thank you to My Love of Old Hollywood for sponsoring this Horseathon!

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7 responses to “HORSEATHON 2012: Elizabeth Taylor and “The Pie.”

  1. Margaret Perry Movies

    What a lovely story! I loved this film as a kid. I thinks it’s especially cool that the mother was an olympic medalist. And of course Angela Lansbury is also a treat. But the story about how Taylor and horse bonded just makes it all the more fun to enjoy! Thank you!
    http://thegreatkh.blogspot.com/

  2. I had no idea that “Pie” was a descendant of Man O War! What a great backstory on Elizabeth and this gorgeous equine. I can only imagine Elizabeth’s cute little face when she was gifted with King Charles post filming.

    Even at such a young age you could clearly see that Elizabeth was very comfortable around horses. When we look ahead to “Giant” so many years later she was probably the most comfortable around them than Rock or Dean. (I’m a huge fan of Giant and I make it a point to watch it at least once a year) Thanks for touching upon Taylor’s relationship with Nibbles too.

    Thanks for participating in the Horseathon with such fun info on one of the most iconic film horses. When I thought about doing the Horseathon I couldn’t think of which film I would do myself because there are just 100’s to choose from as you mention here. Even if you don’t love horses there’s surely a film out there with a horse in it that you remember well.
    Page

  3. What a warm and informative post! I like how you focused on the background of making the film. I didn’t know the very cute story about La Liz and her chipmunk pal, Nibbles. Thanks for sharing that. It’s also nice to know that King Charles got to live out his life in comfort and style with his special friend, Ms. Taylor.

  4. I bow to no one in my admiration for Liz…but I’m just not a National Velvet fan, and it’s because of Mr. Rooney. I wish M-G-M had considered the idea of doing a movie called National Nibbles, in which Mickey would have contracted rabies from the titular star.

    Honestly, I’m not always this mean. I just don’t like Mickey Rooney.

  5. YOU ARE MY NEW HERO. I think there really should have been a National Nibbles, that would have been phenomenal.

  6. Mickey Rooney and Butch Jenkins really grate on me now in National Velvet. When I was a kid I didn’t notice, but now I fast forward through scenes featuring those actors. However, at the age of 9, that’s the movie that got me hooked on steeple chasing. I didn’t want to be a ballerina when I grew up, I wanted to be a steeple chase rider! Well, now that I know a lot about steeplechasing and watch the real Grand National every year, I see how fake the racing scenes are and….. but it’s OK, because Taylor is just so sweet and enthusiastic in this movie it’s still fun to watch.

  7. wonderful info….love horses…they know things we cantperceive…..glad liz got to care for the pi after film over…as a kid i often worried what happened to that lovely huge horse….hope you have more horseathones…remember the appolusa in cat ballew film with lee marvin…did liz hurt her back making natl velvet. best wishes…take care…ruby d. in old abilene,tx

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