Elizabeth Taylor, whose career has taken her from child stardom in Hollywood to the political hustings in Virginia, announced yesterday she is separating from her sixth husband, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), after five years of marriage.
Taylor's departure from the role of political wife will remove a colorful participant -- and one of the most famous actresses in the world -- from the Washington scene, although Republican party officials in Virginia said they believe the separation will have little impact on Warner's career.
Announcement of the separation came from Taylor's spokeswoman, Chen Sam, after an agreement made Sunday night between Taylor and Warner. She was in Los Angeles, where she has recently purchased a house, and he was in Washington tending to his political duties.
The couple said they do not intend to seek a divorce, and Sam said they will spend Christmas together in Los Angeles with Taylor's children. A spokesman for Warner said, however, he plans to spend Christmas at his Virginia farm near Middleburg with his 92-year-old mother and his children.
Warner called his Senate staff together at the Russell Office Building yesterday afternoon to announce the news, adding no details to Sam's statement. Warner's spokesman, Irene Ford, said "It's a joint statement. It speaks for itself."
"I don't know the reason they are separating," said Sam. "Nobody knows but them. It is a private matter."
In her statement Sam said, "Each party accepts this change in their relationship with sadness but with no bitterness between them."
Virginia Republican party officials greeted the announcement with mild concern. "We have to look at Elizabeth Taylor's past history," said State party chairman Dr. Alfred Cramer. "This does not come as a great surprise."
Taylor, 49, has previously been married to and divorced from Conrad (Nicky) Hilton, Michael Wilding, Eddie Fisher, and Richard Burton (twice). She was also married to Mike Todd, who was killed in an airplane crash when she was 25.
Taylor is Warner's second wife. He was divorced in 1973 from the mother of his three children, Pittsburgh heiress Catherine Mellon. He received a settlement of more than $3 million from the Mellons, funds he used to help finance his 1978 Senate race.
The Warners -- Taylor insisted on being called Elizabeth Taylor Warner -- have been separated for much of the past year as she has pursued her latest passion, making her stage debut last spring in "The Little Foxes."
Taylor has been linked romantically to the man who produced "The Little Foxes," Israeli-born Zev Bufman. He announced last week that he and Taylor were forming a theater company in which she would star in one play a year. Sam said that rumors of a romance were "utterly ridiculous."
A spokeswoman for Bufman, who is vacationing in Aspen, said yesterday that they had a "professional relationship," and that he did not know about the separation. Bufman's wife Vilma, is involved with his extensive theater operations, mostly in Florida.
When Taylor arrived on the political scene on the arm of Warner, 54, who was then fresh from chairing the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration and eyeing a political career in Virginia, she seemed rather out of place. Plumper than in earlier years, she gamely shook hands with hundreds and traveled around the state to be gawked at. Her presence brought out hundreds to fund-raisers and rallies -- at which she usually arrived late. Although she was denounced from some conservative pulpits as an immoral film star, her overall impact was to help the politically unknown Warner. He first lost the senatorial nomination by a small margin, but the nominee, Richard D. Obenshain, was later killed in a plane crash. Warner then was nominated by the party and went on to narrowly defeat Democrat Andrew P. Miller, a former state attorney general, in the 1978 elections.
"In l978 there were a good number of people who called him 'Mr. Elizabeth Taylor,' " said Virginia Republican Party spokesman Neil Cotiaux. "Now they're calling her 'Mrs. Elizabeth Taylor Warner.' John Warner has successfully made that transition to a respected politician of substance." Rep. William G Whitehurst (R-Va.), a friend of the senator, said "John Warner is going to be judged on his record."
Dr. Cramer, head of the state GOP, agreed. "Once upon a time divorce for a politician was tantamount to defeat. It doesn't work that way anymore."