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Archive for the ‘Richard Burton’ Category

Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

Engaged to be married, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner visit his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well as visiting nearby Virginia Military Institute. November 11, 1976

They made their debut as a couple at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, on Founders’ Day on November 11, 1976, where John Warner gave a speech and Elizabeth Taylor looked up adoringly at her fiancé – rugged yet stately, tall, muscular, with “marvelous silver hair.” John then introduced Elizabeth, who promptly stood up and saluted the cadets. The men temporarily forgot their military bearing and tossed their hats up into the air.

John Warner had been appearing at functions around Virginia, testing the political waters for a possible U.S. Senate run in 1978. Elizabeth’s name recognition lent star power to his possible candidacy, raising his political profile.  He amused audiences with this oft-repeated anecdote:

I feel just like Ben Franklin. He was born in Boston. Moved to Philadelphia. Met a lady on the street. They got engaged. And then he discovered electricity. Ladies and gentleman,’ he would conclude, turning toward wife Elizabeth, “allow me to share some electricity with you.” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth Taylor, 44, and John Warner, 50, prior to their marriage, December 1978.

Elizabeth was bowled over by Warner from the start, when he was her blind date to a British Embassy ball in honor of Queen Elizabeth II of England on July 8, 1976. Elizabeth was in the middle of a second bruising divorce from Richard Burton. Three years earlier, Warner had divorced Catherine Mellon, the daughter of billionaire Paul Mellon. Their divorce was so friendly that she lived next door to his 2,600 acre farm outside Middleburg, Virginia, in Atoka, to more easily share the care of their three children. Elizabeth was worth $50 million; Warner, $10 million, a result of his hefty post divorce settlement. Warner was one of the nation’s most eligible bachelors – a playboy, definitely – who unabashedly selected dates and debutantes out of the Social Register and Washington, D. C., Green Book, copies of which he kept on his desk at all times. He had dated many desirable women, including TV host Barbara Walters, remarking to her that

A woman like you could probably get me elected senator. “

She declined his proposal. (2)

But Barbara Walters was no match for the celebrity and mega-glamour of super-sexy La Liz.

British

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, first date, July 8, 1976, at a reception for Queen Elizabeth II at the British Embassy. At the time, John Warner was the Director of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, appointed by President Gerald Ford.

There was much speculation about this power couple. Was John using Elizabeth to advance his career? Would she boost his chances of winning the 1978 U.S. Senate seat from Virginia? Or, rather, would her five previous marriages and scandals drag him down?

Elizabeth Taylor, 39,  in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971

Elizabeth Taylor, 39, in a scene from X, Y, and Zee, 1971. Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful and talented woman with a name known around the world.

Elizabeth was ready to leave behind the showbiz life, marry this country gentleman farmer/lawyer, and become the Lady of the Manor. Warner’s farm at Middleburg was a little over an hour away from Washington:

It sat at the end of a mile-long drive, amid spacious fields where a herd of 600 pedigree Hereford cattle grazed….Elizabeth was enchanted by the duck ponds….The farm won her heart….She married John Warner for his roots.” (2)

There were horses there, too, evoking Elizabeth’s idyllic childhood in England. Although Elizabeth owned homes in Mexico and Switzerland, she had spent the bulk of the last fifteen years living on her and Burton’s yacht, the Kalizma, and in hotels around the world. She had made over fifty films, had four children, and had been married six times, twice to Richard Burton. Elizabeth, a star since childhood, had been a vagabond her entire life. She needed a change. A marriage to John Warner would bring with it a home, something sorely lacking in her chaotic world.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner exchange wedding bands on Dec. 4, 1976

Five months after their first date, they tied the knot. On Dec. 4, 1976, Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner were married at the top of a hill on the farm, in a simple Episcopalian ceremony, at sunset. Only Warner’s son, the rector, and a few friends were also in attendance. Elizabeth wore a purple turban, a dress of lavender grey, with gray suede boots and a matching coat of silver fox. She carried a bouquet of lavender and her husband’s gold wedding band in her glove.

Elizabeth relaxed into her new role. “I’m so happy to just be John’s wife. I finally feel that I have a home. My search for roots is finally over.” (3)  John called her his “Little Heifer” and “Pooters.”

She was now Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner but she called herself “Mrs. John Warner.” The wedding was international news, one paper shouting:

Here She Goes Again, Number 7 for Liz

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, 2011.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

 

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Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

On July 4, 1973, American film actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) issued the following press release:

“I am convinced it would be a good and constructive idea if Richard [Burton] and I separated for a while. Maybe we loved each other too much. I never believed such a thing was possible. But we have been in each other’s pockets constantly, never being apart but for matters of life and death, and I believe it has caused a temporary breakdown of communication.

I believe with all my heart that the separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be – and that’s together. I think in a few days’ time I shall return to California, because my mother is there, and I have old and true friends there, too.” (1)

Leaving Richard at the Long Island estate of his lawyer Aaron Frosch, Elizabeth checked out of her room at the Regency Hotel, Park Avenue, New York and flew to Los Angeles. She had to put distance between herself and Richard’s endless drinking, their endless quarreling. She hid from the paparazzi at the Hollywood home of her old and dear friend, Edith Head, the legendary fashion designer for Paramount Pictures. Upon Elizabeth’s arrival, “Edie” got out the bottle of Jack Daniels  for the two of them to share.

Elizabeth considered Edith to be like a second mother to her. Edith returned the affection. In her Spanish-style home in Coldwater Canyon that she shared with her husband Bill, she had placed a plaque at the bottom of the stairwell that read,

ELIZABETH TAYLOR SLEEPS HERE

 

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head (1897-1981) had won one of her eight Oscars for best costume design for “A Place in the Sun” (1951) in which Elizabeth played socialite Angela Vickers. Taylor’s costumes were so beautiful in that film that they set fashion trends for prom and ball gowns that year. (2)

One evening gown, in particular, was a huge sensation and remains an iconic dress today. It was strapless, to show off Elizabeth’s gorgeous shoulders, which Edith considered one of her best assets, with a sweetheart neckline that showed just a trace of virginal décolletage.

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor's white tulle gown in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor’s white tulle gown in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

The bodice was highlighted by clusters of tiny fabric violets. Below the nipped in waist, a full skirt erupted in countless yards of white tulle studded with white velvet violets. It was a flattering silhouette for Elizabeth who Edith considered “one of the prettiest human beings I’ve ever seen.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

Eighteen years later, Elizabeth wore another of Edith’s designs to the 1970 Academy Awards, at which she presented the Best Picture Award to “Midnight Cowboy.” It was a chiffon dress – in violet, to match Elizabeth’s famous violet eyes – with a plunging V-neckline. Nestled in Elizabeth’s tanned cleavage was the famous 69-carat, pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond, a diamond as big as the Ritz that cost well over a million dollars. It was one of many outstanding pieces in the Elizabeth Taylor Jewelry Collection.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in "Anne of a Thousand Days" but did not win.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in “Anne of a Thousand Days” but did not win.

Elizabeth had a love affair with jewelry. She had long admired one piece that Edith Head often wore, a gold and ivory necklace made up of Victorian opera tokens.

Edith Head with sketch

Film costume designer Edith Head wearing her Victorian opera token necklace.

The Edith Head Necklace

The Edith Head Necklace

In 1981, Edith passed away, leaving her necklace to Elizabeth in her will.

E Taylor and e Head necklace

Elizabeth Taylor wears a Victorian opera token necklace of ivory and gold, a gift from her friend Edith Head. Undated photo

I had the opportunity to see the Edith Head Necklace in 2011 at the Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection in New York. It was my favorite piece of all of Elizabeth’s jewelry. The necklace was estimated to sell at between $1,500 and $2,000, but it sold for $314,500!

(1) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

(2) Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. New York: Lifetime Media, 2010.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here. For more on Edith Head, click here.

 

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Actor Richard Burton (1925-1984)

Actor Richard Burton (1925-1984)

“Which one?” he asked, when actor Richard Burton was told in 1957 that his father had died.  It was an odd question, but a legitimate one. Richard, indeed, did have more than one father. Was it his birth father, the poor Welsh coal miner, who had died? Or, was it his foster father, the British schoolmaster and BBC producer who taught Richard how to be a fine Shakespearean actor?

It was his birth father who had died. He was Richard Jenkins, 81, and he had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Locally, in the coal pits and pubs, he was known as Dic Bach. His seven boys and four girls called him “Dadi Ni.” Richard Burton, named Richard Walter Jenkins at birth, was named after his father. When young Richard was born in 1925, his father was 49, his mother, Edith, 42. Edith would live only two more years; she would die giving birth to Richard’s younger brother, Graham.  As a result, at the tender age of two, Dadi Ni sent Richard away permanently to live with his older sister, Cecilia, and her violent miner of a husband in the nearby town of Port Talbot. Only occasionally did Dadi Ni come to visit Richard.

Graham and Richard (1925-1984) were the only Jenkins boys to escape the mines. The Jenkins brothers, Tom, Ifor, Will, David, and Verdun

grew tall like their mother, rugged and strong like their father, and [they] went down to the mines like their ancestors before them,” recalled Richard Burton’s sister, Hilda Jenkins Owens. (1)

Richard’s father Dic Jenkins often worked from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., six days a week, seeing the sun only on Sundays. Miner’s work was hell and Dic was a “right terror for his booze,” said one of the miners who had grown up in the village of Pontrhydyfen with the Jenkins.

Only his size, tiny, couldn’t be 5’2″ out of his boots. But drink! Bloody hollow legs!” (1)

The village was full of pubs – the Bird in Hand, Heart of Oak, Boar’s Head, Miners’ Arms, British Lion – and most of the miners went there, where the drinking was “tremendous and cheap.”

Dic Jenkins was severally alcoholic, going on drinking binges that lasted for days. Once he was burned in a mine fire. His daughters rubbed olive oil on his burned arms, which were then bandaged to his chest so he couldn’t use them at all. Even that didn’t stop him from drinking. He went straight to the pub and had pints of bitter poured directly down his throat. That night, walking home drunk from the pub, his arms strapped to his side, he was attacked and horribly beaten by an old enemy. His teeth were knocked out and he was thrown over a wall. He wasn’t found until the next morning. He survived and loved to tell the tale at the local pubs, again, over pints and pints of bitter.

Actor Richard Burton (l.), laughs with his father, Richard Jenkins, and brother Ifor Jenkins, 1953.

Actor Richard Burton (l.), laughs with his father, Richard Jenkins, and brother Ifor Jenkins, 1953.

Fortunately, when Richard was a teenager, his schoolmaster, Philip Burton, recognized his talent as an actor. Philip Burton became Richard’s foster father, adopting Richard as his ward, teaching him how to speak English without a Welsh accent, to use a knife and fork, and to dress and speak like an educated man. He taught him to read the classics. Richard left his sister’s house and moved in with Philip Burton.

Burton served as a navigator during WW2 in the British RAF. Here is shown as a RAF cadet, age 18.

Burton served as a navigator during WW2 in the British RAF. Here is shown as a RAF cadet, age 18. His eyesight was too poor to allow him to be a pilot.

 

In 1943, Richard changed his surname from Jenkins to Burton. Under Philip Burton’s tutelage, Richard Burton made his London stage debut at 18, and won a scholarship to Oxford. From them on, Richard would refer to Philip as his father.

Richard Burton did not attend his birth father’s funeral. Dic Jenkins had not approved of Richard’s choice of profession. He was actually very insulting about it. They did not have a close relationship.

Richard Burton had cast off his birthright, changed his name. He had escaped the mines. He had become an international film star, an accomplished stage actor, and had married perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, actress Elizabeth Taylor.

During the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton find each other. The island of Ischia, Italy, 1962© Bert Stern, courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery, New York

During the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton find each other. The island of Ischia, Italy, 1962© Bert Stern, courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery, New York

And yet he could not escape his inheritance from Dic Jenkins –  a propensity for heavy drinking. In 1984 at age 58, Richard Burton would die – like his father – of a cerebral hemorrhage, his physical deterioration hastened by years of excess alcohol consumption. He had begun drinking alcohol regularly at the age of eleven. He used to boast that he could drink a half gallon of cognac or a fifth of whiskey during one night’s stage performance.

In 1980, Richard Burton appeared on the Dick Cavett show and spoke frankly about his personal struggle with alcohol:

(1) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

For more on Richard Burton, click here.

 

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Elizabeth Taylor in costume as “Cleopatra,” from the 1963, 20th Century Fox production of the same name

Yet another iconic item worn by actress Elizabeth Taylor is on the auction block – a wig she wore in the 1963 film, “Cleopatra.” Ms. Taylor wore many different hairdos in the movie and British wigmaster Stanley Hall made three wigs for each style. The wig for sale is made of real human hair, medium brown, and is adorned with hanging braids and gold beads.

Elizabeth Taylor is photographed with some props from the 1963 film, “Cleopatra.”

In the movie, Ms. Taylor’s character wears this particular wig when she tries to convince Julius Caesar, played by Rex Harrison, to accept supreme control of the empire. (1) The wig is being sold by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and is set to fetch around $11,000.

Elizabeth Taylor in the arms of Richard Burton, from the movie, “Cleopatra,” 1963.

It was during the 1962 filming of “Cleopatra” in Rome that 30-year-old Elizabeth Taylor fell madly in love with her other male costar and onscreen lover, Richard Burton, 36, cast as Mark Antony. The two were both married to others at the time.

At the time, Ms. Taylor was already a big film star being paid the unprecedented amount of a million dollars to play Cleopatra. Mr. Burton, however, who was Welsh, was a Shakespearean stage actor largely unknown outside of England.

Richard Burton (l), talks with Eddie Fisher and his wife Elizabeth Taylor on the Cinecitta set in Rome, early 1962.

When people began to whisper that perhaps Ms. Taylor and Mr. Burton were conducting an illicit affair, the couple denied the accusations. So uncontrollable was their love and lust, that their affair was

“bloody obvious,” to use Burton’s term – so flagrantly on display. (2)

When the director of “Cleopatra” shouted “Cut!” at the end of love scenes, Taylor and Burton would continue to kiss.

They carried on on the movie set, film lot, in their private villas, and took their love to town – to the Via Veneto. But they were not safely in America, where  there was a time-honored tradition not to pry into the private lives of public people and where the studio would have squelched any unflattering press. They were in Rome – the land of the paparazzi.

The Italian “paparazzi” were a new style of journalist. These young, Vespa-riding photographers with cameras with zoom lenses slung around their neck were hungry for a money-making photo that would reveal the affair to the waiting world. With a pack mentality, they were ruthlessly intent upon snapping photos of the jetset enjoying La Dolce Vita, the sweet life, popularized in the film of that same name. And Liz and Dick were getting hot and heavy on the Via Veneto.

From February thru July, paparazzi stalked Taylor and Burton’s every move, hoping for that money-making photo that would expose the lovers to the world. And they got them, too, forcing both Liz and Dick to deal with their respective spouses.

Liz Taylor and Richard Burton emerge from the restaurant Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona, spring, 1962.

The Burton-Taylor Affair – “Le Scandale,” as Burton termed it – created international interest and thus, international coverage.

Richard Burton leans in for a kiss from Elizabeth Taylor on the Cinecitta sound stage, circa March 30, 1962. Paparazzo Elio Sorci hid under a car across from the movie lot all day to snap this photo which came to be known as the “kissing picture.” It blew the lid off the Taylor-Burton affair, appearing in first the Italian papers before making its way to New York.

The public, it seemed, had an unquenchable appetite to follow the drama. Gone were the days when American readers of Photoplay and Modern Screen were content to read fictional accounts of their favorite movie stars generated by the big movie studios.

Elizabeth Taylor gazes into the eyes of her true love, Richard Burton, as they sail off the Amalfi Coast where the filming of “Cleopatra” was wrapping up. June, 1962.

It is hard to overstate the excitement caused at the time by Elizabeth and Richard’s grand passion. Everyone was following the saga, even First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who asked the publicist Warren Cowan in early 1963,

“Warren, do you think Elizabeth Taylor will marry Richard Burton?”(3)

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the glow of their love, caught by paparazzo on a yacht off the coast of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, June 1962.

Initially, the pair were condemned by the press for their public adultery until publishers woke up and realized how much the “Liz and Dick” machine increased tabloid, newspaper, magazine, and book sales.

Photoplay July 1962. Everyone had an opinion about the Taylor Burton affair.

Note to readers: Today also begins the first auction at Christie’s, New York, of  The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, which I was privileged to view on December 3, 2011. (2)

(1) Source: The Guardian

(2) “Remembering Liz (1932-2011),” Life Commemorative, 2011.

(3) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor on the Rome set of the film, "Cleopatra," 1962, where she began her scandalous affair with costar Richard Burton. Dame Liz wears her diamond ring from her late husband Mike Todd and the diamond, emerald, and gold bangle watch by Bulgari, Jaeger-LeCoultre

Christie’s auction house is selling screen sensation Elizabeth Taylor’s complete jewelry collection in New York City on Dec. 13-16, 2011. Among the pieces to be sold is the diamond, emerald, and gold “snake” brackelet watch by Bulgari, ca. 1961, shown below:

This cobra bangle watch by Bulgari, estimated at $12,000-15,000, is to be sold at Christie's auction of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection, Dec. 13, 2011.

Readers: For more on The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor Auction by Christie’s, click here and here.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor here at Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor photographed on the set of “Cleopatra” in Rome. Life Magazine, April 13, 1962

During the 1962 filming of “Cleopatra” in Rome, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began a very public affair. The two were both married to other people at the time. The scandal made headlines worldwide and was met with moral outrage.

After five months in Rome, filming moved to the island of Ischia, Italy, off the Amalfi Coast, with the paparazzi in hot pursuit. It was on Ischia that the scenes on Cleopatra’s barge were shot. The following candid photos of Elizabeth Taylor sunbathing and swimming were taken by celebrity portrait photographer Bert Stern.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton relax in Ischia, Italy, in June 1962, during the filming of the "Cleopatra" barge scenes.

Elizabeth Taylor on location for "Cleopatra" off the coast of Ischia, Italy, June 1962

That same month, the Hollywood stars visited the neighboring island of Capri as guests of entertainer Dame Gracie Field at her exclusive hotel, La Canzone Del Mare. The hotel’s name – “Singer of the Sea” – is a reference to the incredible view over the rocks below where the mythological sirens were said to have lured sailors to their deaths. The photo shown here is being shown publicly for the first time in an auction of Field’s scrapbooks

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton arrive on the island of Capri in June 1962. The screen stars, who were both married, were guests at Dame Gracie Field’s exclusive hotel on Capri, La Canzone Del Mare.

 

Rumours of their relationship had been sizzling since filming of Cleopatra began the year before, but exploded that June when the scandalised Vatican accused them of ‘erotic vagrancy’ and the U.S. government threatened to ban them from the country. In the photograph, however, they look as though they haven’t a care in the world as they stroll side by side to the waterfront, him holding a cigarette in a casual white top and trousers, Taylor standing beside him in a one-piece bathing suit and cap, their hands almost brushing together.”

After the picture “Cleopatra” was completed filming the next month (July 1962), Taylor and Burton would continue their off-screen romanace. Another two and a half years would elapse before they would divorce their respective spouses and be free to marry one another. After their March 1964 wedding in Montreal at the Ritz Carlton, “the Burtons” would continue to captivate the public’s attention for the rest of the sixties, grabbing headlines, making movies together, throwing glamorous parties, having nasty public arguments, buying ridiculously large and expensive jewels and yachts, jetting here and there, and hobnobbing with royalty like the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor and other glitterati. 

But by 1970, the glitter had worn off the golden couple. Their endless and needless spending and self-indulgence were wearisome and tacky. Their film reviews were terrible and their relationship was worse. They made each other miserable. They were in bad health. Both drank heavily and Elizabeth liked pills.  They would divorce each other only to remarry, then divorce again.   

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor as "Cleopatra" (1963)

Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

There’s a delicious new Elizabeth Taylor biography on the market: How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William Mann. I’ve been reading juicy excerpts online. The book is so good, so rich in scandalous detail, that I’ve ordered a copy to be sent to my doorstep.

I’m devouring the chapter on the early 1962 filming of “Cleopatra,” when Elizabeth famously ditches husband #4 Eddie Fisher for her Welsh costar Richard Burton. Author Mann paints Elizabeth Taylor as quite the pampered diva, ensconced in her Italian villa, filming in Rome by day. Her butler, for example, was one of many charged with satisfying her every frivolous need.

An example: Elizabeth was a pack-a-day smoker – despite the fact that she was recovering from pneumonia and a tracheotomy that had seriously delayed the movie’s production and almost cost Elizabeth her life. Nevertheless, she smoked, and with a cigarette holder. She never used the same holder twice.

“Fresh ones – at least ten a day –  had to be at the ready, and they had to be color-coded. A green dress called for a matching holder – and Madame changed outfits quite frequently as her moods shifted. Every morning Oates [her butler] prepared a box of cigarette holders based on what Elizabeth would be wearing that day and evening, and not only did the holders have to match her outfits, they couldn’t clash with the tablecloth.” (1) 

Richard Burton as Mark Antony with Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

Richard Burton as Marc Antony with Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra" (1963)

But Richard Burton wasn’t dazzled by Liz’s Hollywood fame. Twentieth Century Fox was paying her $1 million to play the Queen of the Nile in their production. Elizabeth Taylor was the highest-paid actress of the day – but Richard Burton called her “Lumpy” – and to her face. She was intrigued by his dismissive attitude toward him.

Burton was a heavy drinker.  In his first big scene with Taylor, he appeared on the set with a terrible hangover. Elizabeth, although the mother of 3 children at the time, with an adoption of a fourth child in the works, had never been particularly maternal. Yet when she saw how sick Burton was, she felt an overwhelming need to take care of him. It was the turning point. They began a hot-and-heavy and very public romance.

Rumors seeped out and crossed the Atlantic, creeping into gossip columns by Hedda Hopper and Dorothy Kilgallen, scandalizing the film industry and the public who were just recovering from Liz’s latest romantic acquisition, when she stole the married Eddie Fisher from actress wife Debbie Reynolds.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

Meanwhile, back on the “Cleopatra” set, Eddie Fisher learned of his wife’s affair. Their marriage had already been on shaky ground but was not yet in complete tatters. He wanted to salvage it. On February 5, at the suggestion of his  wife’s secretary, he took Elizabeth shopping. He chartered a flight to Paris. The international press followed their every move, as the former nightclub crooner Fisher and his gorgeous celebrity wife visited Parisian fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, and Dior, where Eddie wrote check after check for gowns, jewels, and furs for his flagrantly unfaithful wife. Eddie Fisher once said,

“To keep Elizabeth happy, you have to give her a diamond before breakfast every morning.”

Delighted with her new trinkets, Elizabeth promised Fisher she would stop seeing Burton. A rupture was temporarily averted; they flew back to Rome.

Two weeks passed yet things did not go better for Fisher. Liz did not keep her word. She continued seeing Burton. On February 17, 1960, drinking heavily, Elizabeth swallowed 14 sleeping pills and passed out cold.  She was hospitalized for what was considered a suicide attempt. She was distraught over her personal life. She could not make the break with Burton. She had fallen head-over-heels in love with him.

A little over a week later, she turned thirty, and her parents flew to Rome for the celebration. Shortly afterward, Burton confronted her in front of Fisher and told her she must choose between her two men. On the spot, she chose Burton. Richard divorced his wife of 13 years, Sybil Burton. In 1964, Elizabeth divorced Fisher and married Richard Burton.

Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor in an Edith Head evening gown, 1970
Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor to the 1970 Oscars. Taylor wears an Edith Head gown that matches her violet eyes and displays her assets, particularly her own 69-carat, pear-shaped Cartier diamond — which later became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

Twice married, twice divorced to one another, the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton remains one of the most famous – and tempestuous – of the Twentieth Century.

(1) Mann, William J. How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

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