Furious Love: Chapters 11 and 12 (first half of 12, anyway)

WARNING: Probably my longest post ever.

Chapter 11, "Rings and Farthingales," tracks the descent of the Burtons' relationship into extreme substance abuse. Richard is drinking more and more while Elizabeth has begun a binge on prescribed medication. On Dec. 31, 1968, Richard wrote:

"[During the day Elizabeth is] inevitably sipping away at the drinks. I dreaded at night when she has had her shots, etc.,...and is only semiarticulate...What is more frightening is that she has become bored with everything in life...as a result of this half-life we've been leading I am drinking twice as much. The upshot will be that I'll die of drink while she'll go blithely on in her half-world." (258)

Statements like these are especially poignant in a post-"Intervention" world. I think about the silent conversations taking place in this biography: of child abuse and neglect, of co-dependence, of addiction. Today, thank goodness, there is a very public narrative about these things. Talking about them and the public having knowledge of how these things work helps a lot. It doesn't make it any easier to talk about these things or to break the news to someone that you experienced or experience these problems, but at least there is a willing group ready to hear you. One wonders what might have happened had this relationship taken place today rather than in the 1960s. I don't know that it would have been better or worse. Certainly, due to the lack of education and emphasis on writing, Richard may not have been capable of composing such wonderful letters now as he was then. The shame of our education system and the emphasis on technology! :)

Also in the chapter are more stories about the Burton's lavish lifestyle and the jewels Richard purchased for Elizabeth, including a very amusing story about "La Peregrina." (Nope...not going to tell it here...but you can buy the book and read about it!)


The filming of Anne of a Thousand Days is covered by the authors in this chapter, as well. Elizabeth appears as an extra in the film (I had no idea) but was refused the role of Anne because of her age. It was one of the first times Elizabeth faced age discrimination in Hollywood. Richard, apparently, hated the role and thought that the dialogue was terrible. The authors insert a particularly cheesy and over-obvious parallel between Richard and Henry VIII in the narrative at this point. Elizabeth and Richard got into a violent physical altercation one day (regarding Richard's paralyzed brother, Ifor). Richard wrote of the experience, "If any man had done that [hit him repeatedly like Elizabeth had] I would have killed him...I had sufficient sense to stop myself or I most surely would have put her in hospital for a long long time or even into the synagogue cemetery for an even longer time" (271). It is after this that the authors chime in:

"The tirade was probably brought on by his own sense of guilt at the sight of Ifor in a wheelchair [he fell at the Burton's home], unable to move. After all, he had brought Ifor into his world, had brought him to Celigny. Just as Henry VIII described Queen Katherine's stillborn sons as God's punishment, was this Richard's punishment for divorcing Sybil and seizing for himself 'the most beautiful woman in the world'?" (271).

Geez. Give me a break, Kashner and Schoenberger. PLEASE. This is just another one of those moments that make me cringe. They bring up these ideas a lot, trying to make Richard identify with the character he happens to play at the time. It would be one thing if they used quotes by Richard to back up their statements...but this is annoying.

But, things are falling apart in the Burton household and Richard is starting to see the writing on the wall for their marriage. The fighting seems to increase, particularly the verbal encounters, when Richard would call Elizabeth "ugly" or "masculine" (these words were used in a moment when Richard criticized her hands), but it is clear that he doesn't think this way at all. As the editors say: "Richard himself was aghast, horrified by his own malignant remark [about her hands]. He wrote in his diary, as an act of contrition [again...they are assuming it is him being "contri[te]"], '[W]hat the hell's the matter with me? I love milady more than my life...one of these days it's going to be too late'" (273).

It is shortly after this that he purchases what came to be known as the "Taylor-Burton" diamond. It is enormous and, per agreement with the insurance holder, could only be worn for a certain number of days each year. The diamond was so big that Elizabeth found it "too heavy and awkward to wear as a ring" so she had it reset in a necklace (276). The purchase ended up being the last straw for some journalists who labeled the Burtons as the poster children for "the Age of Vulgarity" (277).

Chapter 12, "Fallen Stars": I am only going to cover half of this chapter in this post because it is intense. This is the chapter that does it. The chapter that makes you realize that you have wiggled your way into much too private territory. This chapter begins with an allusion to more marital problems and explains the moment when Richard was informed that his drinking would cause him to die within years. When he decides to go the sobriety route, things start to fall apart. The authors say that the couple never fought in front of close friends before this time, but one evening Burton insults Taylor about her drinking in front of a friend. The friend looks to Elizabeth and says, "But you do love him, don't you?" Elizabeth replies: "No. And I wish to Christ he'd get out of my life!" Elizabeth was upset at the time because sobriety lessened Richard's "sexual energy" and he couldn't even summon the will to fight back when it came to their arguments. Richard wrote later: "I have to face the fact that E. may be going to take off one of these days, and perhaps sooner than I expect. I've known it deep down for some time...a good shouting match is sometimes good for the soul, cathartic, emetic, but I can't be bothered to shout back when I'm sober" (284).

In an interesting aside, the authors include a statement by Elizabeth Taylor about this moment in their marriage. (Not sure when she actually said these words, but it was after the fact and could have been recent.) She said, "When he stopped drinking and strangely, for a while, stopped making love to me, I complained bitterly. I shouldn't have. He needed to find a way out, and I wasn't making things easier for him. We got through it. And we found each other again. Our bed was where the fighting stopped" (284).

For me, this was the moment when I felt like I had read too much. This is where the real story of struggle begins. Uncomfortable in the same way as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I like it though, just because there is also the feeling that this is where the depth of the relationship really builds. For the first time, they have to be something other than "Liz and Dick" (the way the press always referred to them). They had to figure out who they were. Hard, but a good thing.

The authors discuss the change in the movie industry and how the old-style film-making world the Burtons were used to was changing. As the authors note: "For the first time at Hollywood parties and restaurants like Chasen's, Richard and Elizabeth did not recognize everyone in the room." Burton simply sums up the experience when he says, "The world has changed...I am afraid we are temporarily out in the cold, and fallen stars. What is remarkable is that we have stayed up there for so long" (288).

The real blow came when Richard didn't win the Oscar for Anne of a Thousand Days. (John Wayne won that year.) One journalist later said of the defeat: "They did everything possible to campaign to get him that Award...But what happens? John Wayne is the winner. And she [Elizabeth] has to go up after that and give the Best Picture Award to Midnight Cowboy. You could just see that not only was she furious, God knows what waited for her back in the hotel suite." Still, Elizabeth took care of the situation at the Oscar after party, just as she always seemed to do. She was wearing her famous diamond (see photo in this post) and the press was enthralled. The couple stole all of the attention. This is a favorite moment of mine, because Elizabeth wanted to help Richard through the night and his gift to her is what did it. As the authors say: "The winners' circle seemed to be wherever the Burtons were. Their movie stardom had won back the night for them." Elizabeth turned to Richard, as they were bathed in attention all night, and said: "Who the hell voted for Wayne?" (291) (Even Wayne came up to Burton and tried to hand off the award to him, saying, "You son of a bitch, you should have this, not me.")

The chapter begins with the authors' idea that Richard was in competition with Elizabeth. He probably was. Liz Smith said: "If he had won the Oscar that year, there would have been some parity in his mind and hers. She would have been able to relax and say, 'Okay, he's got his Oscar now. I've done my duty.' I've always felt that that night, she knew it was the end of her marriage" (292).

I mention all of this because it is the most intriguing part of the chapter to me so far. I think that there had to have been competition there. As I read this book, and especially as I read Burton's letters, I see an incredible need to be accepted. His background had a strong hold on him. He seemed to constantly be fighting for acknowledgment. Not in a petty way or a way a child might wish to be acknowledged. He wanted to be recognized for the greatness that he recognized in Elizabeth. He had mastered one part of acting, but he never felt that he had mastered Elizabeth's style of acting (I think). But he did. Just take a movie like The Sandpiper, for example. Now, I admit it: this isn't an award winning movie (though it did win for the music). It really can be total camp at times, just as the authors of Furious Love describe it. In my opinion, the camp doesn't come in until their characters finally begin their affair. In the moments leading up to that moment (and in a few moments after), there is some really interesting stuff happening. I actually really like most of that movie. I could do without the long shots of the two of them making out, but I understand that it was publicity. I like the very real passion and life that emerges in Elizabeth's portrayal of a single mother, and Richard moves and speaks differently on screen in that movie than he did in Cleopatra...a trend that I think he began in The V.I.P.s. The authors mention this in the book, that he wanted to learn how to act in the understated style of Elizabeth, a silent style that was powerful. They are absolutely correct in that statement. It shows in The Sandpiper. The thing is that Richard Burton had a power and brilliance all of his own, but I am not sure that he recognized it...or, maybe he had to have Elizabeth there to reassure him. Anyway, that is just my opinion.

In any case, the marriage isn't over just yet by the end of this chapter, but the seeds for their separation have been planted.

Still, I really don't like referring to it as an end of a marriage. I think Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor remained married in heart (where it only matters anyway) for their entire lives...and even now. As Taylor would say: "All of the men after Richard were just company."

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