Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – theirs was a furious kind of love, so incendiary that it earned them a public condemnation from The Vatican.
How Did Elizbeth Taylor and Richard Burton Meet?
Rome, Italy. The Winter of 1961: Taylor and Burton were introduced to one another on the set of Cleopatra – however, it is far from their first encounter. Instead, that auspicious honor took place at least one decade previous during a party hosted by Stewart Granger.
Remembers Burton, “A girl sitting on the other side of the pool lowered her book, took off her sunglasses and looked at me. She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. I didn’t, of course, which was just as well. The girl was not, and, quite clearly, was not going to be laughing back.
“I had an idea that, finding nothing of interest, she was looking right through me and was examining the texture of the wall behind…I smiled at her and, after a long moment, just as I felt my own smile turning into a cross-eyed grimace, she started slightly and smiled back. There was little friendliness in the smile. A new ice cube formed of its own accord in my Scotch-on-the-rocks.”
After downing a few libations, Burton sauntered towards Taylor and was aghast to overhear her expletive-laced castigation of an MGM producer. “You have a remarkable command of Olde-Englishe,” he quipped. “Don’t you use words like that at the Old Vic?” she wondered.
“They do,” came the response, “but I don’t…” While Burton was suitably impressed with the violet-eyed vision set before him, Taylor was less than enthused. “He flirted like mad with me, with everyone, with any girl remotely pretty. I just thought, ‘Ohhh, boy – I’m not gonna become a notch on his belt.”
All those years later, Taylor’s opinion remained unsoftened – until she had to nourish her hungover co-star with restorative java. “I had to help it to his mouth, and that just endeared him to me. I thought, well, he really is human…so vulnerable and sweet and shaky and terribly giggly.”
By the time it became necessary to shoot their first romantic clinch, the tension between Taylor and Burton was undeniably palpable. When “action” was called, they moved in close together and kissed.
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, satisfied with the shot, bellowed, “Cut!” But the interlocked duo continued. An order to “print it” followed and still yet, the two did not part. Finally, Mankiewicz asked them, “Does it interest you that it’s time for lunch?”
It didn’t. And moving forward they were also uninterested and unbothered by the fact that they currently embroiled in the filming of a prestige picture nor the reality that they were both married to other people – him to Sybil Williams and her to Eddie Fisher.
The only thing that mattered to the two of them was each other. By the time production on the historical epic wrapped, their affair had become public knowledge, Taylor had been denounced by the papacy for her “erotic vagrancy,” and the eagerness to clear the way for their inevitable deeming was at an all-time high.
Hoping to capitalize on the public’s growing fascination with “Liz and Dick,” MGM cast them in The VIPs, an all-star romantic melodrama reportedly based on actress Vivien Leigh’s thwarted attempt to abscond with her lover, Peter Finch. Though it was met with critical indecisiveness, it was a box office success.
March 15, 1964: Taylor and Burton are married. He had proposed with the aid of a pendant broach described as an 18-carat rectangular-cut Columbian emerald surrounded by 12 pear-shaped diamonds. At the subsequent ceremony, he presented her with the matching necklace and a diamond and gold wedding band.
A Whirlwind Romance and Further Collaborations
Over the next 10 years, the tabloids would frequently cover the excessive exploits of the so-called, “Battling Burtons,” and the duo certainly lived up to their rapidly escalating reputations.
Their post-nuptial lives were typified by drunken brawls, stone-cold rebukes, passionate rapprochements, and an “us versus them” mentality.
They tried to stall the inevitable adjournment by pacifying the other with extravagant gifts and agreeing to trade on their notoriety by frequently performing together in both feature pictures and on the stage. In total, they would appear in 11 filmed works – including the much-lauded Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf? – and two theatrical works, Doctor Faustus and Private Lives.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – The End
June 26, 1974: The Burtons are officially divorced. But 16 months later, they remarried in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Despite a promise from Taylor to “Hubs” that “there bloody will be no more marriages – or divorces either,” the union was dissolved on July 29, 1976.
“I love Richard with every fiber of my soul,” Taylor would later explain. “But we can’t be together. We’re too mutually self-destructive.”