^what a beautiful couple!i also particularly like the pics with mary ure and claire bloom.he is so young and vibrant there.
"sleep brings no rest to me
i only sail a wilder sea
a darker wave"
How Richard Burton made Errol Flynn look like a monk... Remembering the roguish charm
Richard Burton was someone I knew well - I liked him drunk and sober. During the filming of Becket, in which he played the martyred medieval priest, he invited me to stay with him for a few days on location in Northumberland. 'I can promise you plenty of booze, good grub - and my ego to keep you agog,' he said.
He was at the height of his infamy, post-Cleopatra, and enjoying every minute of it. Everybody knew his name. Every Hollywood producer worth his salt was vying to get his signature on a contract. Fans chased him for his autograph or simply to shake his hand. Pretty girls wanted to sleep with him - though there was nothing new in that.
Julie Andrews, who starred with him in Camelot on Broadway, was his only leading lady with whom he had not slept. He treated her flat refusal to succumb to his charms as a great loss to both of them. He was, admitted one famous and grateful conquest left by the wayside, 'a man and a half'.
Certainly, he had a terrific way with women. 'I don't think he has missed more than half a dozen,' admired the veteran Hollywood actor Fredric March, who had seen it all. He said Burton made Errol Flynn look like the head of the Cistercian order of monks.
Burton, who died 25 years ago next week, cynically called his notorious relationship with Elizabeth Taylor 'the Great Roman Dalliance'. It began during the making of Cleopatra, the $40 million epic that broke up their marriages - Taylor's to the singer Eddie Fisher, Burton's to Sybil Williams, a former Welsh actress with whom he had two daughters.
The affair had caused the biggest movie scandal since 1921 when, at a wild Hollywood party, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, one of the greatest stars of the silent screen, fell asleep on top of a starlet named Virginia Rappe and crushed her to death. The public turned against him and his career was finished.
Nobody died in the Burton-Taylor scandal, but the public outcry was as clamorous and pitiless. The scandal turned the spotlight on the Welsh actor like never before. But instead of destroying him - he had been the second choice, after Stephen Boyd, to play Marc Antony - the affair made Burton a superstar.
Love is people's life.
His face - pock-marked, moulded by Napoleon brandy, other men's fists and too many morning afters - was not a film star's face. But his voice was so rich and overpowering that one critic said 'it could give an air of verse to a recipe for stewed hare'.
Theatre audiences adored him. Only three actors before him - Sir Henry Irving, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Sir John Gielgud - had played Hamlet more than 100 times in a single production. Burton joined them, to become the longest-running Hamlet on Broadway.
'I had a great appeal for teenagers then. I was a sort of Tommy Steele of the Old Vic. I didn't run out of steam - I ran out of audiences. They eventually had to go home to bed, I suppose,' he once told me.
Nevertheless, Winston Churchill called him 'my lord Hamlet' whenever they met.
Critics acclaimed him. Fellow actors envied his range and accomplishments. On stage, he was box-office dynamite. But in movies, he was a box-office dud.
His sexual magnetism simply hadn't come across in the British movies he had made. His Hollywood debut, in 1952, opposite Olivia de Havilland in the Gothic romance My Cousin Rachel, for which he was paid £17,500 - he had been determined to hold out for £5,000, and was stunned when the producers offered so much - was a dismal disappointment.
He fared no better in the costume drama The Robe, the first Cinema-Scope picture. He blacked up to play an Indian prince in The Rains Of Ranchipur, and slipped into a fetching toga for Alexander The Great.
All to no avail. 'The Robe was lousy, but an almighty hit. I was dull as ditchwater and an almighty flop,' he told me, when he could afford to laugh at his early failures 'in Hollywood B.C. (Before Cleopatra)' - as he referred to that time.
'My next film, The Prince Of Players, was Hollywood's first turkey in CinemaScope - when CinemaScope was new and hotter than a pistol.
'If I'd been able to buttonhole a couple of relatives and persuade a few of the deluded girls I'd done favours for, I'd still have struggled to rustle up nine lost souls to form a fan club.'
But Cleopatra - and the flagrant bedding of Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood's first million-dollar star - changed everything. Their affair had not started well. 'Richard came on the set and sort of sidled over to me and said: "Has anybody ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?"' Taylor recalled.
'I thought, Oy gevalt, the great lover, the great wit, the great Welsh intellectual, and he comes out with a corny line like that!
Love is people's life.
The same source.
'But then I noticed his hands were shaking as if he had Saturday night palsy. He had the worst hangover I'd ever seen. And he was obviously terrified of me. I just took pity on him. I realised he really was human. That was the beginning of our affair.'
From their first screen embrace, it was plain that she and Burton were more than just good friends. The director Joseph Mankiewicz, aware of the potential for scandal and trouble, cabled the studio: 'I want to give you some facts you ought to know. Liz and Richard are not just playing lovers - they are lovers.'
Many predicted that their shenanigans during the making of the epic - they almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox - had alienated the public, and their careers were finished. Instead, they became the hottest couple in Hollywood.
According to Eddie Fisher, Burton told him: 'You're a star already. I'm not. Elizabeth is going to make me a star.' I don't know whether Burton was that calculating - but if he said it, he spoke only the truth.
Their next film, The VIPs, in which they played a husband and wife, was a huge box-office hit.
It proved, he said, his theory that 'if you are going to make rubbish, be the best rubbish in it. You've got to swank in Hollywood.
'Now when I go there I demand two Cadillacs - one for my family - and the biggest dressing-room in the studio. Of course, I'm not worth it, but it impressed them.'
Not everyone approved of Burton's success. Larry Olivier warned him: 'Make up your mind. Do you wish to be a household word or a great actor?' His agent was appalled, accusing him of selling out and trying to 'get recognition on a trick'.
Burton didn't give a damn. He was collecting $500,000 a movie - he got $150,000 to play Marc Antony and make love to Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
'Not bad for a spoiled genius from the Welsh gutter, a drunk and a womaniser,' he told me with satisfaction, as he sipped 'an unwinding jar of nectar' after a day spent filming Becket on a bitterly cold beach in Northumberland.
It was a long way from the mining village of Pontrhydyfen, South Wales, where he was born Richard Jenkins in 1925, the 12th of 13 children of a hard-drinking coalminer whose chief possession was a gift for words.
Two of Burton's sisters died before he was born. His younger brother was five days old when their mother died. Burton was two.
'The whole family was an immense kinship, but as far as we ever admitted our affection for each other was to say: "Well, blood is thicker than water."
'We were a funny lot. I didn't speak English until I was ten, when Philip Burton, the schoolmaster who became my guardian, took me under his wing. I took his name when I became an actor.
'Now here I am working with Peter O'Toole and the great Sir John Gielgud, two of the finest actors in the land.
'I'm sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor, the most famous and beautiful movie star in the world. I've not got a lot to beef about.'
There was already talk that the three actors - Burton, O'Toole and Sir John Gielgud - were giving the best performances of their careers in Becket. (They each received an Oscar nomination; Burton received seven in his career, but did not win the award once.) But what pleased him most was that Gielgud had called him 'Dick' that morning.
'The old bugger has never called me Dick before. Isn't that strange? I've known him forever. "The two finest Hamlets of our generations," they say. But he has always called me Richard. Often simply Mr Burton.
'He is very formal, very Victorian. He doesn't entirely approve of me. He thinks I'm too wild and have scandal around me all the time. But now suddenly I'm Dick. I feel I've finally made it.'
At dinner the following evening, Burton and O'Toole (who was playing Henry II), got into a tipsy argument about fame - they were very competitive - when Sir John had mischievously asked which of them was the most famous. It was the kind of argument that Burton relished, and which challenged O'Toole's Irish wit.
Burton said that he was the most famous - Time magazine had called him 'the demi-Atlas of this earth' - and he probably was.
O'Toole countered that Burton was only half-famous - Elizabeth was the other half.
They continued to attempt to top each other until the early hours, telling increasingly wild stories about their triumphs - as actors and lovers - and the poverty from which they came.
At 4am, I was woken by a ringing phone. 'I may be only half-famous, but I've got the other half snoring very contentedly in bed next to me. O'Toole can't top that,' Burton chortled happily, and rang off.
He finally married Taylor in 1964. But it was always a tempestuous relationship.
'Our love is so furious that we burn each other out,' he said. In 1974, they divorced. In 1975, they married again.
But in and out of love, they lived extravagantly. They bought a yacht, the Kalizma, for $500,000, an immense sum in the Sixties. He bought her a 33-carat Krupp diamond for $305,000; a $1million, 69-carat Cartier diamond; and the La Peregrina Pearl that Philip of Spain had given Henry VIII's daughter, Mary Tudor, in 1554.
'It's only money, luv,' he told me. But the writing was on the wall, and it no longer said 'Dick loves Liz'. Once, he dropped by my house for a drink. He had quarrelled with Taylor because they could not decide which restaurant to go to for dinner, and he had stormed out of their suite at the Dorchester.
Although I knew the marriage was rocky, I was still surprised when he offered to buy my house - for a love nest. Later, when he came to dinner with Taylor, she told him: 'This place is too big for a love nest. It'd make a fine harem, though - but you're not up to that any more, Buster.'
I was astonished. Why had he told her about the love nest? 'It keeps her on her toes, luv,' he said.
But in 1976, the days of wine, roses and million-dollar trinkets were over between them for the final time. Insisting that he was lost without a woman in his life, he promptly married the model Suzy Hunt. It ended in 1982, after six years.
'She was a nice girl, but she cost me a million dollars and my second house in Puerto Vallarta when we parted. Elizabeth got the first one in our first divorce,' he said.
'Expensive business, divorce. But God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell. And I guess women are part of it.
'I only drink when I'm working,' he had always insisted, and he was now working harder than ever, for less and less money. It showed.
'He is no longer in charge of his face,' complained one critic, appalled at his dissipation, and noting the way his 'little piggy eyes glisten and swivel' in his seamed and immobile face.
I continued to meet him around the world: New York, Paris, Mexico and aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
In Hollywood, after a few drinks too many at the Sportsmen's Lodge - he was making Exorcist II: The Heretic, a dreadful film, at Warner Brothers - the manager refused to give him the keys to his car. While I was calling for a taxi, he accepted a lift from a couple of besotted fans who, halfway across Coldwater Canyon, became apprehensive about their passenger, who was entertaining them with songs from Camelot.
'Something about insurance, luv. I made them nervous. They insisted I get out and walk,' he told me the next day.
He tried thumbing a lift back to Beverly Hills, but nobody would stop for him. He was forced to walk all the way home.
It was the moment that he felt his fame was over. In fact, his fame never ended, though his career dwindled in a series of increasingly poor films and drunken episodes, long before his death from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 58.
Not long before he died, we talked on the phone. Married for the fifth time, to Sally Hay, a make-up artist, he was on the wagon again and was talking optimistically about the future.
'I've got a touch of cirrhosis of the liver, but that's to be expected. It'll be a little longer before they write my epitaph,' he said.
I asked him what it would be. He laughed, and quoted Keats: 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.' .
Nevertheless, for his performances in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, with Taylor in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, his role as an unfrocked priest in The Night Of The Iguana, Becket and The Taming Of The Shrew, again with Taylor - and never having won an Academy Award, despite those seven nominations - he will always be remembered as the fine actor he once was.
And I will always remember him as a friend. A rollicking, fascinating, roguish and talented friend who drank too much and died too soon.
Love is people's life.