March 24, 2011 – “Has anybody ever told you that you’re a very pretty girl?”
With these words to his co-star Elizabeth Taylor on the set of the 1963 movie “Cleopatra,” Richard Burton began one of the most passionate and stormy romances in the history of Hollywood.
Love between the Welsh actor and the star with violet eyes struck like a lightning bolt, and the two were married one year after meeting, on March 15, 1964.
“Richard was magnificent in every sense of the word,” Taylor later told Vanity Fair magazine. “From those first moments in Rome (on the set of Cleopatra) we were always madly and powerfully in love.”
In 2010, Taylor published many of the love letters she exchanged with Burton over their tumultuous 20-year long relationship. Burton died in 1984 of a brain hemorrhage. He was 58.
The letters cast a harsh light on the explosive relationship between the two stars, and detail their violent disputes, passionate reunions, their two marriages… and the ups and downs of their two divorces.
“You must know, of course, how much I love you,” Burton writes in one letter.
“You must know, of course, how badly I treat you. But the fundamental and most vicious, swinish, murderous, and unchangeable fact is that we totally misunderstand each other — we operate on alien wave lengths.”
Adds Burton: “If you leave me I shall have to kill myself. There is no life without you.”
Taylor and Burton were by far the most famous celebrity relationship of the 1960s and 1970s. Hollywood press chronicled every twist in their lives, every turn in their mood.
Their complicated relationship did wonders for their jobs on the big screen, bringing real life experience to two masterpieces, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967).
The late 1960s were the couple’s heyday. Burton gave his beloved some of the finest jewels in the world, including a famous pear-shaped diamond purchased from Cartier in 1969 and costing the still-astronomical price of one million dollars. It quickly became known as the “Taylor-Burton diamond.”
Taylor sold the rock 10 years later to finance a hospital in Botswana.
Their relationship however became more difficult in the 1970s. Both drank far too much, and a “new” Hollywood that was rising as an antidote to movies of the past had no use for actors of the previous generation.
Burton — nominated seven times for an Oscar — saw his chances of winning the coveted Academy Award slip as he aged and his handsome looks faded.
Taylor however had already won two Oscars.
“You are probably the best actress in the world, which, combined with your extraordinary beauty, makes you unique,” Burton wrote.
“I find it very difficult to allow my whole life to rest on the existence of another creature. I find it equally difficult, because of my innate arrogance, to believe in the idea of love.
“There is no such thing, I say to myself. There is lust, of course, and usage, and jealousy, and desire and spent powers, but no such thing as the idiocy of love.
“Who invented that concept? I have wracked my shabby brains and can find no answer.”
The couple divorced in 1974, then re-married in 1975, only to divorce again in 1976. And despite the acrimony, the passion, the jealousy, the bitterness, and the boozing, they continued seeing each other.
In his final, unpublished letter, Burton assured his ex-wife that the happiest days of his life were spent with her. And he wondered if they could start a new life again together.