MIAMI -- In 1949, a radiant 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor and her mother vacationed in Miami Beach as guests of millionaire William Pawley Sr., an aviation entrepreneur who was also an influential U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
During her stay at Pawley's waterfront mansion on Sunset Island II, the starlet spent time around the pool with Pawley's 28-year-old son, also named William, and fell head over heels.
"My first mature love," she described their relationship in one of the more than 60 letters she wrote Pawley once she flew back home to Hollywood.
Now, more than three weeks after Taylor's death at 79, the never-before seen love letters are up for auction. They offer a glimpse of a girlish Taylor awash in romantic illusions, with her fame, scandals and epic loves (Richard Burton, Eddie Fisher, Mike Todd) still in her future.
Pawley, 90, now of Pembroke Pines, Fla., kept Taylor's letters.
They will be sold online May 12-19 by RR Auction. Before Taylor's death, they were valued at $25,000 to $30,000, said Bobby Livingston, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
On Tuesday, they were on display at the Miami Beach mansion where the lovebirds began their courtship and a photograph shows them tanning by the pool. The property, which no longer belongs to the Pawleys, is for sale for about $13.9 million by The Jills of Coldwell Banker.
Private collectors were also given a viewing of the letters at Joe's Stone Crab. They were allowed to touch and read the letters Taylor wrote 62 years ago.
Pawley attended the event, telling people: "I never got over Elizabeth."
The bundle of letters are written on pink, blue and ivory paper -- some on Taylor's MGM studio stationery, or on her private stationery, which has Elizabeth embossed on top.
"They are a fantastic find and capture a complete period of time, a relationship, a slice of Taylor's life," Livingston said. "For someone who led such a public life, they are rare."
The letters chronicle the couple's long-distance romance, which stretched from March to November 1949 and included the announcement of their engagement. Pawley is credited with giving Taylor the first white diamond engagement ring.
The teenage Taylor showed a flair for the romantic, declaring her undying love. "I just want to be your wife for the rest of my life."
She talks of giving up her movie career for Pawley. She vows to make him happy on their wedding night. Their relationship was not consummated, Pawley said.
The first letter arrived in an envelope postmarked March 22, 1949, on Delta Airlines stationery, written as Taylor flew out of Miami, separating from Pawley for the first time after meeting. "My Darling Bill," it begins.
By October 1949, Taylor's fervor is waning. As she's filming "A Place in the Sun," which would seal her fate as a Hollywood adult star, she writes, "I'm sorry I didn't answer your letter before this. But I'm so tired. Bill, I know you understand."
Pawley flew to Hollywood to escort Taylor to actress Jane Powell's wedding and found out by chance that Taylor had extended her contract with MGM for two more years. He fumed.
"He wanted her to give up Hollywood," Livingston said of Pawley.
In November 1949, he received a long letter from Taylor's mother, Sara, telling him he was too possessive and not to see her daughter anymore. Taylor returned the white diamond ring.
"He said she had loved the ring, but she was an honorable person and returned it," Livingston said.
Pawley didn't marry until age 50. When his wife died a decade ago, he contacted Taylor. They quickly realized they had little in common.
"They had religious differences," Livingston said. Pawley is a devout Christian; Taylor had converted to Judaism. "Nonetheless, he was very saddened by her death."
Now, all that's left of a love that began in Miami Beach is Taylor's letters.