Liz smashed me around the head with her ringed fingers. If any man had done that, I'd have killed them: Richard Burton's diaries reveal how the lust he and Liz Taylor shared was matched by their drink-fuelled rages
02:10 GMT, 19 November 2012
Millions of words have been written about Richard Burton and Liz Taylor’s love affair. But never has their tempestuous story been told with such passion and intimacy as in Burton’s own private diaries, now made public in this profoundly moving series. On Saturday, the actor described how Liz would often drive him mad with longing. Here, in part two, their rows and heavy drinking start to take a toll on their first marriage . . .
Monday 13th, Gstaad: For the last month, with very few exceptions, Elizabeth has gone to bed not merely sozzled or tipsy but stoned. And I mean stoned: 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. Hoop-steeled. Whither thou goest. He said hopefully.
Never-ending love story: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were passionate about each other but fought like cat and dog
Thursday 27th: [at their house in] Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Awake since 2.30am. E [his shorthand for Elizabeth] and I chatted for three or four hours and I told her lots of stories about the Romantic poets.
Saturday 29th: Looking as critically as I could at E yesterday, I could detect no sign of ageing. The skin is as smooth and youthful and unwrinkled as ever. The breasts, despite their largeness and considerable weight, sag very slightly but no more than they did ten years ago. Her bottom is firm and round. She needs weight off her stomach.
Temper: Taylor was famously feisty, as was Burton. He described her as 'bare-toothedas a a tigress'
Good Friday, 4th: Yesterday, I suddenly became testy for no very good reason. E bickered back with almost masculine pride. The words used were relatively innocuous; the speaking of them contained venomous malice. I wasn’t even drunk.
Friday 11th: Last night, as I lay reading in bed and E was around the corner of the room, I asked: ‘What are you doing, Lumpy’ She said like a little girl and quite seriously: ‘Playing with my jewels.’
Sunday 20th: I’ve been going through one of my periodic moods of depression. Periods when the very thought of seeing anyone except Elizabeth gives me a real physical pain. I simply don’t want people around, including my own children. It’s the damnedest paradox. My heart does several varieties of dance when I first see them coming off the plane, and within three days I wish them gone.
Thursday 24th: The children left yesterday. E wept freely as we drove to have a drink to stay our sorrow. I snarled at her and was accused of not liking the children as much as she does. I left her to ramble on until she ran out of gas.
Saturday 26th: Both E and I went mad last night and started eating Callard and Bowsers Liquorice Fingers. I must have eaten a pound or so and E somewhat less.
Wednesday 30th: Why am I going to do a film [Anne Of A Thousand Days] that I’m so patently bored by Why do I allow myself to be talked into doing the mediocre I cannot even bring myself to read the script.
Passion: Burton wrote honestly about his lover, but was always in awe of her beauty
Thursday 1st: E last night had a temperature of about 102. She’s the kind of person who turns a cold of the common variety into near-death from double-pneumonia. Take out a tooth and she’s laid up for a fortnight.
Wednesday 7th: We’re supposed to go out for lunch but E is so late — it’s now 1.30 and she’s been preparing since 12.30. Unbelievable. E is really fixated about her appearance. Even to walk around the corner to a pub takes an hour’s make-up. And nobody needs it less. And imagine how bad it’s going to be as she gets older and less good-looking.
Thursday 22nd: Yesterday I rehearsed the song I have to sing in the film. It’s very pretty but difficult to learn. Elizabeth was as bare-toothed as a tigress and said: ‘Surely you must know it by now!’ This was delivered with sullen venom.
Thereafter we played an absurd game of Musical Rooms. I refused to be in the same room as E and she with me, but we kept on running into each other. Finally, she went to bed in the spare room
Sunday 25th: London, aboard [their yacht] Kalizma: Elizabeth is an eternal one-night stand. She is my private and personal bought mistress. And lascivious with it. It is impossible to tell you what is consisted in the act of love. Well, I’ll tell you: E is a receiver, a perpetual returner of the ball!
Monday, 26th: Yesterday’s entry, as any man of discernment can tell at a glance, was written while under the strong influence of several vodkas. If I don’t watch myself, I’ll be lucky to see my late forties.
Saturday 7th: Dorchester Hotel. Off to work at the crack of dawn to face a long scene with Genevieve Bujold. She’ll be all right, though she doesn’t have enough dynamite and spit and venom and arrogance for the part — but, of course, I’m always thinking how marvellous E would be.
Sunday 15th: I awoke this morning at about 7. I stared at Elizabeth for a long time. Probably no woman sleeps with such childish beauty as my adorable, difficult, fractious, intolerant wife
Ethereal: Taylor's statuesque beauty was celebrated in Hollywood
Wednesday 23rd: Poor Teddy Kennedy’s in the headlines. The Kennedy family are, of course, notorious satyrs. I was amazed when Bobby K took Margot Fonteyn off into a back bedroom at Pierre Salinger’s house. I know, too, that when Jack Kennedy was running for President and stayed with Frank Sinatra at Palm Springs, that the place was like a whore-house, with Jack as chief customer. Christ, the chances those fellers took.
Saturday 26th: [E’s daughter] Liza wants to see all the films that E and I have done. We explained that a vast percentage were rubbish. I guessed that about ten out of 80 would bear re-examination. But we are, for a minute or two, at the absolute zenith of our ragged professions.
Wednesday 30th: I knew there was something wrong yesterday. I could feel it in my primitive Welsh bones.
E had gone into surgery for her piles, and the first word I had was from her doctor, who made it blatantly clear that my baby child had nearly kicked it.
Some doctor-idiot had allowed the ‘shot’ to leak into her blood stream and the fools were standing by with heart shots etc. in case she started to die, which they feared she was actually doing.
I’m still nightmared. 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.
Thursday 31st: It’s a cool, grey dawn and E and I have just had a quarrel about who knows what.
Glittering: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from the film 'Cleopatra', 1963. The tempestuous love affair of Antony and Cleopatra was mirrored off the set
Friday 1st: E was going to go away for the weekend but I persuaded her not to. We both know we’d be in agony without each other around.
Monday 4th: I loathe, loathe, loathe acting. In studios. In England. I shudder at the thought of going to work with the same horror as a bank-clerk must loathe that stinking Tube journey every morning and the rush-hour madness at night. I loathe it, hate it, despise, despise it, for Christ’s sake. Well that’s managed to get a little spleen out of my system.
Saturday 9th: Word came yesterday from the States that my children’s film Where Eagles Dare has grossed over $21m [equivalent to $121 million today]. If my new film, Staircase, does half the business, I can probably employ J. Paul Getty as a butler and Onassis as a Greek chef. Elizabeth, topless and mini-skirted, will serve me food and call me ‘sir’. That’ll be the day! Jackie Onassis can be the tweeny.
Sunday 10th: Gin [Genevieve] Bujold arrives at the studio looking like the end of the world. And smells like it. She’s forever throwing up. She’s only 27. Why can’t she learn to look splendid at six in the morning Elizabeth looks dew-dropped with 15 minutes’ sleep.
Thursday 28th: Despite my protestations, E is apprehensive about Gin Bujold.
Sunday 31st: Yesterday was another terrible day — insulting Elizabeth, drunk, periodically excusing myself rather shabbily and then starting the rough treatment all over again.
Sometimes I’m so much my father’s son that I give myself occasional creeps. He had the same gift for damaging with the tongue, the same temporary violence, the same fidelity to Mam that I have to Elizabeth, the same smattering of scholarship, the same didacticism.
Tuesday 9th, Aston Clinton, Bucks: Yesterday at last I finished the f***ing film. You’d think that would be a cause for rejoicing, but not a bit of it. The row started because of my absolute, almost feminine passion for neatness. [E had insisted on using their own towels in the hotel while R wanted her to use the hotel’s towels.]
Well, I went mad, which ended up with Elizabeth smashing me around the head with her ringed fingers. If any man had done that, I’d have killed him. I still boil with fury when I think about it.
I took myself off on a long walk. I decided that for a time, anyway, we’re stuck with each other. We’ve been fighting for a year now, over everything and anything. I’ve always been a heavy drinker but during the last 15 months I’ve nearly killed myself with the stuff, and so has Elizabeth.
Now, we’re at it again. Neither of us will give in, and if one of us doesn’t, something is going to snap. I see nothing ahead of me but a long grey waste. If we cannot understand each other — or what is worst not stand each other — we’d better go our separate ways pretty soon.
Sunday 28th, Gstaad, Switzerland: For about a week, my hands shook so badly that drinks had to be held up to my lips by E. I’ve reduced my boozing to practically zero — by my standards. A vodka martini before lunch, and wine with dinner.
Monday 29th: I drank a whole bottle of Scotch alone.
Sparks: Burton said of his paramour: 'Elizabeth is an eternal one-night stand'
Thursday 2nd: Between long silences, deadly insults were hurled about. At one point E, knowing I was in a state of nastiness, said to me at the lousy Italian restaurant we went to: ‘Come on Richard, hold my hand.’ Me: ‘I do not wish to touch your hands. They are large and ugly and red and masculine.’
After that, my mind was like a malignant cancer — I was incurable. I either remained stupidly silent or managed an insult a second.
What the hell’s the matter with me I love milady more than my life. I’m very contrite this morning but one of these days it’s going to be too late cock, too late.
E has just said that I really must get her that 69-carat ring to make her ugly big hands look smaller and less ugly! Nobody turns insults to her advantage more swiftly or more cleverly than Lady Elizabeth. That insult last night is going to cost me. Betcha!
Tuesday 18th: This morning in the early hours, 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.
Burton died in August 1984. He married Liz Taylor twice. she would often write in his diary, often hilariously
Tuesday 24th, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: At my last check-up, the doctor told me at my present rate, I’d have sclerosis of the liver within about five years.
Saturday 28th: Today, E was busily making a special, which consists of iced coffee, 55 proof Kahlua liqueur and rum, because it was Norma [Heyman’s] birthday. And I said: ‘There’s someone who could never give up drink,’ pointing at E.
Whereupon E said she hated my guts. ‘Ah,’ said little stirrer-up Norma, ‘but you do love him, don’t you ‘No,’ said E, ‘and I wish to Christ he’d get out of my life. It’s been growing on me for a long time.’
She’s said all those things before and I to her, but never before, as I recall, when sober and in front of people. If, of course she was sober. Our quarrel sounded like those one hears from the next room in a cheap hotel by two middle-aged people, 20 years married and bored witless by each other.
She has these outbursts so often that they smack of the truth. The eyes blaze with genuine hatred and contempt and her lovely face becomes ugly with loathing. I can’t be bothered to shout back when I’m sober. Pity. I have to face the fact that E may be going to take off one of these days, and perhaps sooner than I expect.
Sunday 29th: There’s a kind of armistice. Both sides are fully armed, the bombs are ready to go off but so far nobody’s pressed the button.
Thursday 2nd: I’ve temporarily lost all sexual urge, which is very frustrating for E. Presumably a result of total abstinence for three weeks, after 30 years of steady and sometimes unsteady drinking.
Sat 16th, Malibu, California: I’m disappointed at being offered a CBE (which nevertheless I accepted, though E wanted me to turn it down, thinking only a knighthood good enough). It doesn’t have the nice rolling sound of Sir Richard and Lady. I’m nevertheless immensely pleased that it means we’re no longer notorious but officially posh.
Thursday 25th: Despite the fact that I’m a highly romantic and passionate man, I find almost all things amusing. E’s and my wildest quarrels are fundamentally ridiculously funny. Certainly in retrospect.
Wednesday 8th San Felipe, Mexico [where R was filming Raid On Rommel]: E made me as jealous as vengeance by saying that she’d called Marlon Brando and that they’d talked for an hour and that he was very solicitous about me. He really is a smugly pompous little bastard.
‘He’s been keeping tabs on you,’ said E. That infuriated me even more. That sober, self-indulgent, obese fart being solicitous about me. Sinatra’s the same. Gods in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors.
Monday 20th: Yesterday was a classical Sunday — a read and a doze and love in the afternoon. E’s sexual appetite is as eager as ever and so is mine, though I don’t think either of us attaches the urgent importance to it that we used to.
Tuesday 21st: Now that they’re coming into their teens, I find all the children a pain in the neck and though there’s no living without them, there’s no living with them either. I haven’t met a child yet that didn’t bore the brains out of me in an hour — most can do it in 15 minutes.
Wednesday 29th: I prefer having E around to not having her around — and she’s very good-looking and wears hardly any make-up and is a bit tubby — but that, in all honesty, is about as far as I can go with praise.
Talent: Burton, who was regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, said Taylor was 'incomparable' when she was acting at her best
Thursday 12th, en route to Porto Santo Stefano, Italy: 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.
Sunday 15th, Capri: My lack of interest in my own career, past present or future, is almost total. All my life, I think I’ve been secretly ashamed of being an actor, and the older I get, the more ashamed I get.
Wed 8th Tjentiste, Yugoslavia [where R was making Sutjeska]: Had a bitter little contretemps with E this morning. She said that when I was sober, I was a pain in the a***, and perhaps I should start drinking again. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Saturday 18th: E’s just given me a graphic description of the delight of over-eating kippers and the particular joy of their repeating. She is the only woman who will tell you details of the internal workings of her body. She knows it appals me, which is why, perversely, she enjoys telling me.
Burton struggled with alcohol problems for much of his career
Tuesday 2nd Rome [where R was filming The Assassination of Trotsky]: E and I made a long-ago pact that regardless how flaming the quarrel, neither of us would ever sulk. I remember Joy Parker telling me that she once had a quarrel with her husband, actor Paul Scofield, and that he sulked for a whole year. A whole year in which he never said anything outside the absolute necessities. Good morning. Good night. Shan’t be home for supper. I’d have shot him dead.
Thursday 4th: Awoke to the alarm clock — a very expensive one which Frank Sinatra gave us last Christmas. It makes a strange ullulating noise. What motive prompted the gift What was going on in the poor man’s Mafia mind Had he realised perhaps that the painting we gave him — I’ve forgotten what it was — cost a great deal and told himself that he hadn’t thanked us with sufficient grace Whatever it was, the reason’s likely to be vulgar.
Friday 5th: E said last night that I’m very snobby about Sinatra and that he’s really nice and means well.
Saturday 6th: I’ve got the problem of drink licked. Yesterday’s the fourth time in a month that I’ve had just a glass or two of wine at lunch.
Thursday 11th: My 46th birthday was a semi-drunken one for both of us. Today, we agreed that heavy drinking doesn’t suit us any more.
Saturday 27th, Gstaad: More drinking. /11/19/article-2235030-051B786F0000044D-238_634x402.jpg” width=”634″ height=”402″ alt=”Rock: Elizabeth Taylor shows off a 33.19 carat diamond ring given to her by Burton. The Krupp diamond cost Burton 200,000 in the 1960s” class=”blkBorder” />
Rock: Elizabeth Taylor shows off a 33.19 carat diamond ring given to her by Burton. The Krupp diamond cost Burton 200,000 in the 1960s
Wednesday 15th: Our eighth wedding anniversary. During that time, we’ve the rare distinction — in our business — of having been faithful to each other, and for three years approx before that.
At this point, the 1972 diary peters out. Within the following two months, Burton is thought to have had affairs with several of his co-stars in Bluebeard, including Nathalie Delon. Elizabeth responded by being seen in public with Aristotle Onassis. Afterwards, the Burtons spent increasing amounts of time apart. On July 3, 1973, they announced they were separating. Elizabeth began a relationship with businessman Henry Wynberg and Burton started drinking heavily again.
Extracted from The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams, published by Yale University Press at 25. 2012 Swansea University. To order a copy for 19.99 (incl p&p) call 0843 382 0000.