Up on settling in Los Angeles, Taylor's mother discovered that Hollywood people "habitually saw a movie future for every pretty face." Some of her mother's friends, urged her to have Taylor screen tested for the role of Bonnie Blue, Scarlett's child in “Gone with the Wind”. Her mother refused the idea, as a child actress in film was alien to her. In any regard, they would return to England after the war.
In 1942, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper introduced the Taylors to Andrea Berens, the fiancée of John Cheever Cowdin, chairman and major stockholder of Universal Pictures. Berens insisted that Sara take Taylor to see Cowden who, she assured, would be dazzled by her breathtaking beauty.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer also became interested in Taylor. MGM head Louis B. Mayer reportedly told his producer, "Sign her up, sign her up! What are you waiting for?" As a result, she soon had both Universal and MGM willing to place her under contract. When Universal learned that MGM was equally interested, however, Cowden telephoned Universal from New York: "Sign her up, he ordered, don't even wait for the screen test." Universal then gave her a seven-year contract.
Taylor appeared in her first motion picture at the age of nine in “There's One Born Every Minute”. It was her only film for Universal. After less than a year, however, the studio fired Taylor for unknown reasons. Some speculate that she did not live up to Cowden's promise.
But Walker admits that "this was not so far off the mark as it may appear now." He explains:
“There was something slightly odd about Elizabeth's looks, even at this age – an expression that sometimes made people think she was older than she was. She already had her mother's air of concentration. Later on, it would prove an invaluable asset. At the time, it disconcerted people who compared her unfavorably with Shirley Temple's cute bubbling innocence or Judy Garland's plainer and more vulnerable juvenile appeal.”
Taylor herself remembers that when she was a child in England, adults used to describe her as having an "old soul," because, as she says, "I was totally direct." She also recognized similar traits in her baby daughter:
“I saw my daughter as a baby, before she was a year old, look at people, steadily, with those eyes of hers, and see people start to fidget, and drop things out of their pockets and finally, unable to stand the heat, get out of the room.”
Taylor's father served as an air raid warden with MGM producer Sam Marx, and learned that the studio was searching for an English actress for a “Lassie” film. Taylor received the role and was offered a long-term contract.
She chose MGM because "the people there had been nicer to her when she went to audition," Taylor recalled. MGM's production chief, Benny Thau, remained the "only MGM executive" she fully trusted during subsequent years, because, "he had, out of kindly habit, made the gesture that showed her she was loved."
Thau remembered her as a "little dark-haired beauty...[with] those strange and lovely eyes that gave the face its central focus, oddly powerful in someone so young."
MGM was considered a "glamorous studio," boasting that it had "more stars than there are in heaven." Before Taylor's mother would sign the contract, however, she sought certainty that Taylor had a "God-given talent" to become an actress. Walker describes how they came to a decision:
“[Mrs. Taylor] wanted a final sign of revelation...Was there a divine plan for her? Mrs. Taylor took her old script for The Fool, in which she had played the scene of the girl whose faith is answered by a miracle cure. Now she asked Elizabeth to read her own part, while she read the lines of the leading man. She confessed to weeping openly. She said, 'There sat my daughter playing perfectly the part of the child as I, a grown woman, had tried to do it. It seemed that she must have been in my head all those years I was acting'.”