Dick On Liz: The Burton Diaries cover

Dick On Liz: The Burton Diaries

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SITTING reading in bed one night at the height of what was arguably the 20th Century’s greatest love affair, Richard Burton looked up from his book to ask his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, “What are you doing, Lumpy?”
According to his private diary, the actress called back from a neighboring room in a little girl’s voice, “Playing with my jewels.”
Millions of words have been written about Liz’s tempestuous relationship with the mercurial Welsh actor. But only in Burton’s own journal do you find the distorted sense of everyday domestic bliss/chaos such as episodes like this in April 1969 far from the prying cameras and hangers-on.


Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars on 7 reviews

"The review is summary and adequate. However the general tone of the Diary is one of regrets and alcholic Depression. Dont read it to brighten your day." 5 stars by




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Dick On Liz: The Burton Diaries

Domestic Bliss

SITTING reading in bed one night at the height of what was arguably the 20th Century’s greatest love affair, Richard Burton looked up from his book to ask his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, “What are you doing, Lumpy?”

According to his private diary, the actress called back from a neighboring room in a little girl’s voice, “Playing with my jewels.”

Millions of words have been written about Liz’s tempestuous relationship with the mercurial Welsh actor. But only in Burton’s own journal do you find the distorted sense of everyday domestic bliss/chaos such as episodes like this in April 1969 far from the prying cameras and hangers-on.

Eyes For Each Other

Eyes For Each Other

Press photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the film, The Sandpiper (1965)

Pet Names

Nowhere else has the story been told with such passion and intimacy as in Burton’s own barbed, beautiful and sometimes brutally honest words.

In Liz and Dick’s private world, he could call the green-eyed screen goddess nonsensical pet names like Booby, Old Fatty, Cantank and Burt.

In turn, she nicknamed him Darling Nose and Drife.

Their favorite afternoon tipple – and there were many – was a Goop, which was a Campari mixed with vodka and soda water.

Records Of Thoughts

In this world, Burton could moan about Maria Callas dropping in to their apartment because it interrupted his reading and describe TV legend Lucille Ball as “a monster of staggering charmlessness.”

When he died in 1984 Burton left more than 400,000 neat, hand-written words in pocket books, desk diaries and loose papers describing his innermost thoughts.

But the most telling entries chart his great romance with Liz, the bombshell he met on the set of Cleopatra in 1963.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra (1963)

Cropped screenshot of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor from the trailer for the film Cleopatra.

Golden Couple

Hollywood's golden couple married in 1964 for the first time but divorced after ten years.

Sixteen months later, in 1975, they married again, although this time it lasted less than a year.

It wasn’t all roses and diamonds, far from it, but the journal, published by Yale University Press as ‘The Richard Burton Diaries’ in 2012, shows the depth of the love they shared that despite their combined total of eleven spouses defines them still in the memories of many fans.

Love Letter

Liz was in her late 30s and Burton was in his mid-40s at the time of most of the diary entries and even though he was openly critical at times of her looks and drinking

– though never her acting ability – they often read like an extended love letter to a woman he idolized and adored.

“I miss her like food,” he wrote. She was “an eternal one-night stand” and “beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.”

From entries like these it’s abundantly clear they enjoyed a robust sex life, but the full quote speaks louder in its more wide-eyed context.

Idolized And Adored

Idolized And Adored

Lucky

“I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth,” he wrote in November 1968.

“She has turned me into a model man but not a prig, she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody’s fool.

“She is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and willful, she is clement and loving, Dulcis Imperatrix, she is Sunday’s child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me!

“She is the prospectus that can never be entirely catalogued, an almanac for poor Richard. And I shall love her forever.”

Worries

Liz worried about becoming a cripple because she sometimes had no feeling in her feet, one of the many health issues she struggled with her entire life, but her gallant husband left her in no doubt about his feelings for her when she asked if he’d still love her in a wheelchair.

“I told her that I didn't care if her legs, bum and bosoms fell off and her teeth turned yellow. And she went bald. I love that woman so much sometimes that I cannot believe my luck,” he wrote in October 1968.

In Sickness And In Health

In Sickness And In Health

Kate Gabrielle

(CC BY 2.0)

Close Call

Even though Liz often read the diaries with her husband’s permission, Burton didn’t shy away from critiquing his lover’s legendary looks.

He thought her “a little tubby” and noticed her “ever-present baby double chin” in April 1969.

But three months later Burton was mortified when Liz went in for routine surgery for her hemorrhoids and a “doctor-idiot” allowed an injection (diary doesn’t say what) to leak into her bloodstream, putting her life in danger.

Passions

“I’m still in a nightmare,” he wrote in July 1969.

“What could life possibly be without her? Where would I go? What would I do? Everybody else pales by comparison. It’s no use picking up a mini-skirted chick of 18 — she wouldn’t last a week, if that.

“I’d die, I suppose, a greatly accelerated death. Anyway, she’s all right. Bastards.”

As intense as their passions were for each other, so were their many fights, most of them fueled by the demon drink.

Intense

Intense

Endless Cycles

Every now and then, Liz would pitch in with her own pithy comments.

In April 1966, despite being in the passionate early throes of their romance the tension was still clearly evident when Burton wrote he was looking forward to leaving Liz and getting back to work the next day. “You ill-tempered bastard! So do I – at least you’ll be out of my hair!” she wrote in the diary.

Reading the entries, it’s impossible not to think of them as the warring couple they portrayed in the 1966 film version of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ locked in an endless cycle of drinking fighting and making up.

Faults

Burton castigates himself a number of times for hurling cruel, drunken insults at his wife. But she was clearly no shrinking violent either.

On one occasion, they were having a nasty fight over the time Liz was taking to get ready, a cause of many of their spats over the years.

“Even to walk around the corner to a pub takes an hour’s make-up. And nobody needs it less,” Burton wrote in his diary.

Lunch

Lunch

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during a lunch at Schiphol, 1965

Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo, Dutch National Archives

(CC By-SA 3.0 NL)

Venemous

In the middle of the argument, Burton admits he was having trouble remembering the words to a song in the movie ‘Anne of a Thousand Days.’

“Elizabeth was as bare-toothed as a tigress and said: ‘Surely you must know it by now!’ This was delivered with sullen venom,” he wrote in a May 1969 entry.

Four months later they were at it again only this time the blazing argument got physical.

The argument started because, of all things, Burton was angry at Liz for using their own towels rather than the ones the hotel provided.

Drama

“Well, I went mad, which ended up with Elizabeth smashing me around the head with her ringed fingers,” he wrote.

“If any man had done that, I’d have killed him. I still boil with fury when I think about it.”

By November 1969, Burton admitted that while he “loved milady more than my life” he couldn’t help blasting her with “an insult a second.”

“This morning in the early hours,” he wrote, “E gave me a savage mauling, coldly accusing me of virtually every sin under the sun. Drunkenness (true), mendacity (true), being boring (true), infidelity (untrue), killing myself fairly quickly (true), pride envy avarice (all true), being ugly (true), having once been handsome (untrue), and any other vice imaginable except homosexuality and being ungenerousness.”

Dark Passions

Dark Passions

Writing On The Wall

The writing was on the wall for the romance of the century. In their many rows, Liz’s “lovely face becomes ugly with loathing,” Burton confided in his journal.

The fighting almost ended in tragedy in August 1971 when Liz threatened to kill herself after a boozy evening playing gin rummy exploded into vitriol. “No woman would kill herself for me,” Burton said, only for his wife to swallow a handful of sleeping pills “with gusto and no dramatics.” After realizing it wasn’t a joke he rushed Liz to the hospital.

It was a marriage of excess; too much fame, too much money…and way too much booze.

Too Much

Too Much

Ty Nigh

(CC BY 2.0)

Free Spending

Their free spending was legendary.

From an actor with no formal training, Burton had risen to become Hollywood’s highest paid star and he took great delight in lavishing expensive gifts on his leading lady.

In one journal entry in September 1967 he casually drops in the fact that he’d just bought the jet plane he and Liz had flown in the day before at the cost of $960,000, a fortune back then. “She was not displeased,” he said of his wife.

He cheerfully entered into what he called ‘a Battle of the Rubies’ with Aristotle Onassis, buying a diamond at auction for $1,100,000 after the Greek shipping tycoon ‘chickened out’ at $700,000.

“I was going to get that diamond if it cost me my life. I can be just as vulgar as he can, I say to myself.”

Humor

In another entry in October 1968

Burton boasted that Onassis had bought Jackie Kennedy a $100,000 diamond wedding ring while he’d splashed out $127,000 on a ring for Liz “simply because it was a Tuesday.”

The sense of humor they shared shone through, as well.

In May 1967, after Liz demanded Burton wrote something nice about her while they were filming in Italy, he complied, writing: “She's a nice fat girl who loves mosquitos and hates pustular carbuncular Welshmen, loathes boats and loves planes, has tiny blackcurrant eyes and minute breasts and has no sense of humor. She is prudish, priggish and painfully self-conscious.”

Taylor Burton Diamond

Taylor Burton Diamond

Internet Stones

Unimpressed

For good measure, Liz wrote in the diary while she was shooting ‘The Only Game in Town’ with playboy Warren Beatty,

“My Darling Husband, Just to let you know that going to bed with Warren Beatty hasn't changed my love for you at all —— increased it if anything. Aren't you thrilled? All my love, Wife.”

The couple moved in A-list celebrity circles, but Burton wasn’t easily impressed if his diary was to be believed.

Laurence Olivier was “a shallow little man with a very mediocre intelligence” and he deemed Princess Margaret “infinitely boringly uncomfortable to be around.”

Dismissive

He was no fan of Lucille Ball, who had a “monumental lack of humor’,

Tennessee Williams was “a self-pitying pain in the neck”, Maria Callas was “a bit of a bore . . . she is riddled with platitudes.”

Burton wrote that actress Rachel Roberts insulted ‘My Fair Lady’ actor Rex Harrison “sexually morally physically and in every way” when they went out on a foursome. “She lay on the floor in the bar and barked like a dog,” he added.

When Marlon Brando made a pass at Liz with an hour-long phone call, Burton dismissed him as “that sober self-indulgent obese fart.”

Heavy Price

But all the time the heavy drinking, once so fun and enthralling, was catching up with both of them.

Burton wrote of downing three bottles of vodka BEFORE he went out drinking one evening with Liz.

In Gstaad, Switzerland, in January 1969 Burton wrote that for the past month Liz had gone to bed “not merely sizzled or tipsy but stoned.”

“And I mean stoned,” he continued. “Unfocused, unable to walk straight, talking in a slow, meaningless baby voice like a demented child. The boredom, unless I’m drunk, too, of being in the presence of someone to whom you have to repeat everything twice is like a physical pain in the stomach. If it was anyone else, I’d head for the hills — but this woman is my life.

“I tried to imagine life without her but couldn’t. We’re bound together.”

Bound Together

Bound Together

Cropped screenshot of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor from the trailer for the film Cleopatra.

Taking Turns

In September of that same year, again in Gstaad, it was Burton who was having trouble handling the booze.

He wrote his hands were shaking so badly that Liz had to hold his drinks up to his lips.

“When E’s had a couple of drinks and taken a pain-killer, she becomes sentimental and a bit reminiscent of her mother. Since her mother is the bore of all epochs, this can be a bit hard,” Burton wrote later in August 1971.

After a yearlong break following the collapse of their first marriage in 1974, the couple reunited a year later and Burton wrote of loving Liz “mindlessly and hopelessly” while they were on vacation in South Africa in October 1975.

Failure Again

On the day of their remarriage on October 10, 1975 they were, he wrote, “as happy as children.”

“This is a far better marriage than the first,” he added before writing rather portentously, “Got shamefully sloshed.”

Two weeks into the second marriage the hell-raising actor was describing himself as a “falling down drunk” barely able to walk without help.

By February 1976, their second attempt at marriage had drowned in alcohol and the fidelity they prided themselves in during their years together was in tatters.

Moving On

After their second divorce, Burton wed Susan Hunt, the ex-wife of a British Formula One driver in August 1976 and Liz was wed two months later to Republican Senator John Warner.

But the diary finishes with a final chapter in their tumultuous relationship when the couple agrees to perform together in a Broadway production of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives.’

At first, Burton’s diaries wreak of contempt. He complains about her lateness, her drinking, her failure to learn her lines, even her breath smelling – “Who has garlic for breakfast?” he asked.

Reunited

Reunited

Anefo / Mieremet, R., Dutch National Archives

(CC By-SA 3.0 NL)

Echoes Of The Past

'Tells me twice an hour how lonely she is,” he wrote of Liz in March 1983.

“She was quite crocked and couldn’t even read the lines, let alone remember them. ET gave me the terrors again. She’s such a mess,” he added a few days later.

As in their heyday, all it took was some drama to get the juices flowing.

“The director made the mistake of insulting ET, whereupon I turned on the heat. I blistered and blasted him,” Burton wrote on April 1. “Anyway, end result was we did it our way and not his. Result: we went through it like whipped cream.”

The next day, he noted: “Two run-throughs today and the difference in performances was sensational in comparison with a mere 1½ days ago.”

Living Without

It was one of his last entries.

He wrote several times in his diaries about how he couldn’t contemplate living without his beloved Elizabeth.

But the stage performance was the last time they got the chance to spend any time together. With the glamor fading and the spotlight elsewhere there was no longer enough to hold them together.

Burton died on August 5 1984 from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 58. It would be another 27 years before Taylor, by then aged 79, passed away on March 23, 2011 with the comfort that perhaps then she could finally be reunited with her beloved Richard.