In 1959, at the age of 27, Elizabeth Taylor converted to Judaism in a ceremony at Temple Israel in Hollywood. She considered converting to Judaism prior to her marriage to theater and film producer Mike Todd, but it wasn’t until after Todd’s death that she began to study with Rabbi Max Nussbaum at Temple Israel. Taylor remained an ardent supporter of Jewish causes throughout her life. she even served on the board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, ” Taylor said of her decision to convert and adopt Elisheba Rachel as her Hebrew name. She continued her devotion to Judaism and Jewish causes long after her marriages to Jews disintegrated.
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Prior to her wedding to playwright Arthur Miller, 30 years-old Marilyn Monroe expressed interest in converting to Judaism. She was impressed with Jewish ideals and she studied with Miller’s rabbi, Robert Goldburg, to learn more about Judaism. Rabbi Goldburg performed Monroe’s Ceremony of Conversion preceding the couple’s wedding in June 1956. Although Monroe and Miller divorced in 1961, Monroe expressed to the rabbi her unwavering commitment to the Jewish faith.
On view at The Jewish Museum from September 25, 2015 to February 7, 2016, Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn presents a close look at two of Andy Warhol’s muses,
and Marilyn Monroe, exploring the Jewish identities of Warhol’s most celebrated subjects.
Warhol was fascinated by their star power and used publicity stills to create his now iconic portraits in the early 1960s. This intimate, single-gallery exhibition features several portraits of these renowned actresses alongside a large selection of photographs, letters, and ephemera, shedding new light on their relationships with Judaism and Warhol’s interest in celebrity culture.
Divided into three sections—“Celebrity, ” focused on Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor’s public image; “Conversion, ” detailing their personal lives and Jewish identities; and “Myth & Legend, ” exploring Andy Warhol’s fascination with these celebrities and the impact of his work on their iconic status.
The “Celebrity” section features photographs, newsreels, and magazine covers demonstrating the public’s fascination with Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Highlights include video clips of Elizabeth Taylor’s Oscar speech, Marilyn Monroe performing for American troops in Korea, and fan magazines such as Modern Screen, Screen Stories, and Motion Picture that surfaced in the 1950s to feed the public’s hunger for celebrities. Photographs and newsreel excerpts illustrate the public’s obsession with the actresses’ movie feats, love affairs, and broken hearts, as well as their struggles with the limelight.
“Conversion” traces the Jewish journeys of Monroe and Taylor, featuring a case of conversion-related material including a rarely-heard audio recording of Elizabeth Taylor’s conversion ceremony and a facsimile of Marilyn Monroe’s Certificate of Conversion.
This section will also explore the actresses’ Jewish lives through ephemera such as Marilyn Monroe’s musical menorah, letters from Rabbi Goldburg describing his relationship with the Marilyn Monroe and the Miller family, and documentation of Elizabeth Taylor’s lifelong commitment to Jewish philanthropy.
The exhibition concludes by examining the legacy of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor through the lens of Andy Warhol’s now-iconic portraits. Featuring four Warhol works—two paintings and two prints—the “Myth & Legend” section reveals how the portraits reflect the glamorous yet complex identities of these subjects. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor represented themes of great interest to Warhol: glamour, beauty, scandal, death, and media spectacle.
His canvases of the actresses in the early 1960s coincided with his initial explorations of silkscreen painting and serial imagery. The repeated use of a single image altered slightly, either at the hand of the artist or due to the silkscreening process, enhanced Warhol’s exploration of the celebrity persona as illusion. Warhol’s artistic process in creating these portraits is explored through photography and ephemera from his studio, further demonstrating the artist’s obsession with celebrity and with Monroe and Taylor in particular.