Childhood & Early Life
Leigh Taylor was born on January 25, 1945, to Pauline and US diplomat Carl Taylor, in Washington, DC. Her mother later married a Detroit corporate executive named Donald Earle Young and moved to Oakland County, Michigan, where Leigh was raised with her siblings, Dey Young (now an actor and a sculptor) and Lance Young (now a film director).
Leigh was 5 when she was sent to stay with her paternal grandfather, Dr. Carl Taylor, for a summer. There, she was ushered into the world of faith and spirituality through books and her grandfather’s insights.
At home, however, Leigh experienced a more academic and intellectual life, with little room for spiritual exploration, but it simmered deep inside her throughout those formative years. She found solace in classical ballet, which became the focus of her devotion. From age 5 to 17, Leigh was an extremely disciplined dancer. After graduating from ‘Wylie E. Groves High School’ in 1962, Leigh went to ‘Northwestern University,’ where she took up economics.
With an unquenched spiritual thirst, Leigh stepped into the world of theater, revealed to her by Alvina Krause, a famous theater teacher at the university. Acting became the source of inspiration and self-reflection that Leigh had been searching for. She soon changed her major from economics to theater. Impressed by her new student’s dedication, Krause allowed Leigh to be the youngest member of the prestigious ‘Eaglesmere Summer Repertory Theatre.’
In 1964, during her sophomore year, Leigh quit theater studies to return to Michigan, as her favorite teacher, Alvina Krause, was leaving the university. She implored her parents to let her move to New York to pursue a career in theater. After contemplating for almost 6 months, Leigh’s parents allowed her to move to New York City, where she studied acting under another great teacher, Sanford Meisner.
More interested in studying than in practicing her art, Leigh registered at the ‘Neighborhood Playhouse’ in the fall of 1965. She was befriended by a former collegemate named Lucy, who persuaded Leigh to audition for Stark Hesseltine, a famous agent known in the circuit to have an eye for talent.
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Leigh Taylor-Young did not have to wait too long to be launched on ‘Broadway.’ Six months after Stark signed Leigh, she was cast in a lead role in Gower Champion’s production of ‘Three Bags Full’ (1966), an Irish detective story of a herd of anthropomorphized sheep looking for its shepherd’s murderer. Unfortunately, due to a severe transport strike in the city, the show was called off in the spring of 1966.
After a spell of encouraging events in her budding theater career, Leigh found herself lost and disoriented due to an early cancellation of her first ‘Broadway’ show. She soon succumbed to a severe case of pneumonia, which made her leave for a health retreat in Palm Springs, California.
Leigh’s agent insisted she visit Los Angeles during her stay in California. Though reluctant to try any other form of acting, Leigh met Stark’s West Coast partner Wally Hiller. On her third day in Los Angeles, Hiller set up a meeting with the producers of ‘Peyton Place,’ a soap opera that was already a TV phenomenon in 1966.
The producers of the show, Paul Monash and Ernie Chambers, were essentially looking for a replacement for Mia Farrow. Leigh, however, reacted as a theater puritan on the suggestion of a screen test and a 7-year long contract with ‘Fox Studios.’ Stark and Hiller, in all desperation, had to bring Leigh’s mother into the equation to convince her to accept the role of ‘Rachel Welles,’ which not only marked the beginning of Leigh’s TV career but also heralded a new chapter in her personal life.
Due to a prolonged leave of absence as a result of some life-changing events in her life, Leigh’s contract with ‘Fox Studios’ was terminated in 1967. By then, she was a young TV star and a familiar face that had been featured in many publications. However, Leigh was still far from being a Hollywood diva. That changed after she played a hippie girl in the ‘Warner Bros.’ cult comedy ‘I Love you Alice B. Toklas,’ alongside the master comedian Peter Sellers, in 1968.
Leigh received a ‘Golden Globe’ nomination for ‘New Star of the Year’ for her role in ‘I Love you Alice B. Toklas.’ She was introduced to stalwarts such as Andy Warhol and was photographed for ‘Vogue’ by Richard Avedon. Soon, she starred in ‘The Big Bounce’ (1969), alongside her real-life husband and co-star from ‘Peyton Place,’ Ryan O’Neal.
Until the early 1970s, Leigh starred in major big-budget films such as Lewis Gilbert’s ‘The Adventurers’ (1970) , Robert Miller’s ‘The Buttercup Chain’ (1970), John Frakenheimer’s ‘The Horsemen’ (1971, alongside Omar Sharif), James Goldstone’s ‘The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight’ (1971), and Richard Fleischer’s cult fiction ‘Soylent Green’ (1973).
At the peak of her career, Leigh took a sabbatical from films for almost a decade, only occasionally appearing on TV shows for episodic stints. Needless to mention, her film career never fully recuperated from that hiatus. However, she made a name for herself on TV during the 1980s. She started with a recurring role in the short-lived crime drama series ‘The Devlin Connection’ in 1982 and ended the decade with the ‘CBS’ soap opera ‘Dallas’ (1987–1989).
It took more than a decade for Leigh to return to her glorious days of ‘Peyton Place,’ which came with the drama series ‘Picket Fences’ in 1993, for which she won the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series’ in 1994 and a ‘Golden Globe’ nomination in 1995.
Few of her notable films in the 1980s and the 1990s were ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ (1980), ‘Jagged Edge’ (1985), Honeymoon Academy’ (1990), and the direct-to-video cult film ‘Addams Family Reunion’ (1998).
After the success of ‘Picket Fences,’ Leigh was seen on numerous big-budget TV shows, such as ‘JAG’ (1995), ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (1995), ‘Malibu Shores’ (1996), ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ (1998), and ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ (1999). She had a 109-episode run in the ‘NBC’ daily soap opera ‘Sunset Beach,’ from 1997 to 1999. She joined the cast of the popular TV soap ‘Passions’ in 2004 and continued till 2007.
Personal & Family Life
Leigh married her first love and co-star Ryan O’Neal in a hasty ceremony in Hawaii while on a promotional tour for ‘Peyton Place,’ in 1967. Leigh gave birth to her only child, Patrick O’Neal, on September 14, 1967. The couple parted ways in 1970, and the divorce was finalized in 1973.
Leigh was married to her long-term friend and talent agent Guy McElwaine from 1978 until 1984. In 2003, she married actor Craig Sheffer. The marriage lasted only a year.
Leigh’s life fell apart after the failure of her first marriage, which sent her on a spiritual quest from New Mexico to India. She later got associated with John-Roger and the ‘Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness,’ where she met her current husband, John Morton, whom she married in 2013. She became an Ordained Minister in 1975 and currently serves as the vice president of ‘John Morton Ministries.’