For years Leigh Taylor-Young seemed less an actress than an answer to a trivia question; an eternal starlet about whom people knew she had been married to Ryan O'Neal, had once been on "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1966-1967), and little more. Then, as Taylor-Young reached age 50, it turned out there had been an actress there all along, as she won new respect, new fans, and an Emmy playing Mayor Rachel Harris on the CBS series "Picket Fences". Still youthful, with slightly pouty lips and come-hither eyes, Taylor-Young was in the original cast of the NBC daytime drama "Sunset Beach" when it premiered in 1997 playing Elaine Stevens, earth mother and coffee shop owner.
Born in Washington, DC, Taylor-Young was raised in affluence, but her parents divorced when she was young. When she began her acting career in the mid-1960s, the actress adopted a hyphenated surname in honor of both her father and her stepfather. After studies at the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC, Taylor-Young made her Broadway debut in the short-lived Gower Champion-directed play "Three Bags Full" (1966). Traveling to California for health reasons, she auditioned and was cast in the primetime ABC serial "Peyton Place" in 1966 as Rachael Welles, a young woman claiming to have information about the disappearance of Allison Mackenzie (Mia Farrow), During her run on the series, she became romantically involved with co-star Ryan O'Neal, whom she married in 1967. After the birth of their son, Taylor-Young was tapped to play the free-spirited, free-loving hippie who changes Peter Sellers' outlook on life in her debut "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" (1968). Other plum feature roles followed, including the female lead alongside Jerry Orbach and Robert De Niro in "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" (1971) and opposite Charlton Heston in "Soylent Green" (1973). The very public break-up of her marriage to O'Neal (who was conducting an affair with his "What's Up Doc?" co-star Barbra Streisand) caused Taylor-Young to leave Hollywood. After a spiritual quest that took her to India and a second marriage to agent and film executive Guy McElwaine (who preferred she not work), Taylor-Young returned to the big screen in "Can't Stop the Music" (1980). She played Kelly Preston's confused mother in "Secret Admirer" and had a small but pivotal role in "Jagged Edge" (both 1985). More recently, she had cameos "I Can't Lose" (1997) and "Bliss" (1997), directed by her brother Lance Young.
Still popular among Hollywood insiders from her days as an ingenue, Taylor-Young turned to TV, playing secretary to Rock Hudson in the short-lived "The Devlin Connection" (NBC, 1982) and returned to primetime soaps as the wife of a department store heir in the summer series "The Hamptons" (ABC, 1983), During the 1987-88 season, Taylor-Young joined the cast of CBS' "Dallas" as the wife of one of J.R. Ewing's nemeses. She joined the cast of CBS' "Picket Fences" in 1993 in the regular role of Rachel Harris, who becomes mayor after her predecessor dies of spontaneous combustion. The role was supposed to be just for a season, but when she was the surprise winner of a Best Supporting Actress Emmy, the character was written back into the series briefly. Taylor-Young then landed the recurring role Naomi, the mother of the partner of "The Sentinel" on the UPN series. Long-time friend Aaron Spelling then offered her the role of earth mother Elaine Stevens on the daytime soap "Sunset Beach" (NBC).