This Is The Richard Burton Thread

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Because I need to find out if he's anyone else's personal hero.

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:28 (fifteen years ago) link

i just watched the end of the elizabeth taylor miniseries. i think that richard burton as played in this particular biopic is my personal hero.

lauren (laurenp), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:33 (fifteen years ago) link

elizabeth taylor miniseries? I didn't know about this!

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:35 (fifteen years ago) link

"My father considered that anyone who went to chapel and didn't drink alcohol was not to be tolerated. I grew up in that belief."

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:36 (fifteen years ago) link

liz: the elizabeth taylor story, featuring sherilyn fenn in the title role and angus macfayden as dick. it's from the mid-90s, and it's thoroughly ridiculous.

lauren (laurenp), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:38 (fifteen years ago) link

I'm sure it is! I recently finished a Richard Burton biography that uses long excerpts from his journals and I'm astounded by the guy. Incredibly smart, cynical, irreverent, idealistic, kind, etc. etc. etc. Just watched The Spy Who Came In From The Cold last night and he's easily one of the most captivating screen presences imaginable. When he wants to be, that is (I HAVE seen Exorcist II). His willingness to abandon his gifts is actually part of what I like about him.

The one film of his I'm dying to see but can't find anywhere in town is Look Back In Anger. Anybody seen it?

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:41 (fifteen years ago) link

also, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is probably my favorite film of all time.

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:42 (fifteen years ago) link

Also his edition of "The Thousand Nights And One Night" was pretty great.

Casuistry (Chris P), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:53 (fifteen years ago) link


Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 23 May 2004 17:56 (fifteen years ago) link

fuck yeah

nonthings (nonthings), Sunday, 23 May 2004 19:55 (fifteen years ago) link

i've seen look back in anger, it left quite an impact. i even performed a monologue from it in my drama class a few years ago. it's probably my favorite of those late '50s/early '60s "kitchen sink" flicks, aside from "a taste of honey." richard burton is indeed pretty awesome.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 24 May 2004 08:46 (fifteen years ago) link

Incredible. Loved learning from one bio that he dug eating American diner breakfast food. His 'Hamlet' is around on DVD; someone saved a print that, I believe, was supposed to have been destroyed after a limited run.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Monday, 24 May 2004 09:46 (fifteen years ago) link

as opposed to staring at American diner etc.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Monday, 24 May 2004 09:46 (fifteen years ago) link

is his hamlet any good? because i don't think i've ever actually seen one that i really liked, come to think of it.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 24 May 2004 10:38 (fifteen years ago) link

'Where Eagles Dare' is my favourite ever film.

Enrique (Enrique), Monday, 24 May 2004 10:40 (fifteen years ago) link

five years pass...


But what a script it must have been! What a plot! How do people dream up twists and turns like that? The key turnaround comes in the castle's Great Hall and involves Burton crossing, double- and triple-bamboozling everyone in sight. In the script the dialogue was divvied up more evenly between Eastwood and Burton, but it ended up with Eastwood doing more of the shooting and Burton more of the talking. Good call. Burton admired Clint's "dynamic lethargy", but in this scene calls him a "punk – and a pretty second-rate punk at that". It's a devastating bit of verbal jujitsu since, effectively, Burton takes Eastwood's signature line – "Ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" – and turns it back on him, before Clint's even landed the part of Dirty Harry.

As for Burton, was he ever better than in Eagles? It's a masterly display of how to boss people around. Do this, do that! Everyone else – Mary Ure, the German agents, even Eastwood – they're all just Burton's bitches. Like all bossy people, Burton ultimately resorts to "I'd better do it myself" mode. So when the German agents kick Eastwood unconscious and escape by cable car, it's the ageing, alcoholic Welshman who jumps on the roof and settles their hash – big time! One gets an ice-axe in the arm, the other falls into the valley after clinging so desperately to one of Burton's legs that it must have ended up a foot longer. Naturally, it's Burton who drives the bus at the end – and even then he's still barking out orders: "Take out the control tower!"

Clint and Mary duly obey. That's another forward-looking aspect of Eagles: from King Kong onwards the role of women was often just to swoon, scream, look threatened and, ideally, get their kit off; here Mary Ure blasts away with a machine gun like she's the Baader Meinhof Gang's Gudrun Ensslin. In fact, now I think about it, I see that the film is a premonitory account of the impending guerrilla war on the impregnable fortress of the German state apparatus with its concealed roots – all those twisting tunnels and corridors – in the Nazi past.

In keeping with this, although the concealed intention of the mission is to weed out top-ranking double agents, its most immediate consequence is gratuitous murder and mayhem on a huge scale. They trash the schloss, wreck the surrounding infrastructure (the cable car is a write-off) and, by the end, are so addicted to the thrill of vandalism that, instead of driving politely through the entrance to the airfield, Baader – I mean Burton – smashes through the perimeter fence (I love the way it gets dragged along after the bus) before achieving the ultimate goal of any self-respecting 1970s terrorists: destroying some stationary planes.

And here we get to the most intriguing paradox of the film. If Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it, then the writers, cast and crew of Eagles were secretly on the side of the Germans, whom they ostensibly outwit, terrorise and slay in large numbers. Everything in the film is German. It's practically an advert for the superiority of German manufacturing. They fly in and out on a Junkers Ju 52. They rely exclusively on German weaponry (predominantly the MP40 Schmeisser submachine pistol). We do not see a British gun until they're on the way home and Patrick Wymark pulls a Sten on Burton. And guess what: the firing pin's been removed – it doesn't frigging work. Finally, and most stylishly, the stars all wear German uniforms. How come Hugo Boss has not reissued those super-cool – ie cosy – retro winter anoraks? Vorsprung durch Technik!

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 9 December 2009 00:44 (ten years ago) link

seven months pass...

Just saw 1984, which was pedantic and slow, but Burton was splendid as O'Brien.

I'm never gonna do it without the Lex on (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 15 July 2010 02:42 (nine years ago) link

anyone read the Vanity Fair article last month? His love letters to Liz are pretty good as such things go (he had writerly ambitions).

I'm never gonna do it without the Lex on (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 15 July 2010 02:43 (nine years ago) link

managed to get hold of the hamlet. really looking forward to watching it.

jed_, Thursday, 15 July 2010 14:59 (nine years ago) link

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and 1984: no one has ever plumbed self-loathing any deeper.

clemenza, Thursday, 15 July 2010 15:17 (nine years ago) link

two years pass...

24 May 1967 – Portofino
E anxious I write about her [in the diary] so here goes: She is a nice fat girl who loves mosquitoes and hates pustular carbuncular Welshmen, loathes boats and loves planes, has tiny blackcurrant eyes and minute breasts and has no sense of humour. She is prudish, priggish and painfully self-conscious.

19 November 1968 – Paris
Famed as we are, rich as we are, courted and insulted as we are, overpaid as we are, centre of a great deal of attention as we are, [we] are not bored or blasé. We are not envious. We are merely lucky.
I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig, she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody’s fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and wilful, she is clement and loving, Dulcis Imperatrix, she is Sunday’s child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me!

jed_, Thursday, 20 September 2012 00:59 (seven years ago) link

one month passes...

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the years he most assiduously kept a diary, the actor Richard Burton (1925-84) had the following pet names for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor: Lumpy, Booby, Old Fatty, Shumdit, Cantank, Old Snapshot and the Baby. She sometimes called him, who knows why, Darling Nose and Drife....

“We drank Sambuca and said nasty things to each other” is a not-untypical line here. So is: “If you can marry Eddie Fisher you can marry anybody, I said.”

Taylor gave as well as got.

“I was coldly accused of virtually every sin under the sun,” Burton writes after one row. “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).” Both seemed to agree that, as Burton put it, “A good shouting match is sometimes good for the soul.”

saltwater incursion (Dr Morbius), Monday, 5 November 2012 22:15 (seven years ago) link

three weeks pass...

NYRB, further.

He writes of all the films he and Taylor had made: “a vast majority of them were rubbish and not worth anybody’s attention.” He is much more likely, in dealing with his fights with Taylor, to record his own bad behavior than hers. Conversely, the diaries are remarkably free of self-congratulation, either for his achievements as an actor or for his great generosity with money. There is enough self-criticism, even self-hatred, here for Burton’s dismissal of the narrative of sold-out genius to merit attention.

It is undeniable that there is, with Burton, some kind of void. The easiest way to make sense of him is to imagine that void in the most obvious way, as the great gap of unfulfillment between his fabulous beginnings as an actor and his ultimate destination in bad movies, alcoholism, and death at the age of just fifty-eight. But perhaps the empty space is a more profound darkness. Perhaps the point about Burton is not that he was a great actor who fell into a void. Perhaps the void was always there. Perhaps it was precisely the shadow, the darkness, the empty space around him, that made him such a potent presence.

saltwater incursion (Dr Morbius), Friday, 30 November 2012 17:45 (seven years ago) link

I'll just totally ignore the rest of the thread and talk about how the Mountains Of The Moon guy was pretty 'kin incredible. Still need to read A Rage To Live which has sat on my shelf unread for way too long. May be as much about his wife though.
Travelled quite extensively alone in foreign territory for an inveterate racist too. Got to Mecca, possibly the first white non-muslim to do so and translated a lot of the Orientalist canon didn't he?
Or does that guy get differentiated by reference to a middle name of Francis?

Stevolende, Friday, 30 November 2012 20:55 (seven years ago) link

I just read it on my lunch break. The Vanity Fair piece I read last year was a revelation: had no idea the guy was so literate.

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 30 November 2012 21:05 (seven years ago) link

gotta get that stage Hamlet recording outta the library.

saltwater incursion (Dr Morbius), Friday, 30 November 2012 21:07 (seven years ago) link

That NYRB review is a good read. This bit kind of blew my mind:

... when Burton alternated the roles with John Neville on successive nights at the Old Vic in 1956, he was vastly better as the calculating schemer Iago than as the fiery and emotional Othello ....

Not that he was better as Iago, but that he and Neville were badass enough to switch parts like that.

Brad C., Friday, 30 November 2012 21:16 (seven years ago) link

The self-loathing re his talents reminds me of Brando, tho RB seems much more direct about it.

saltwater incursion (Dr Morbius), Friday, 30 November 2012 21:20 (seven years ago) link

I loved him (and apparently my mum had a tween crush on him because of the suffer-face he did in The Robe).

The standard of literacy of all working-class British actors of that immediate post-war generation is pretty fucking staggering IMO.

Badass switchoffs are also kind of a THING, see Cumberbatch/Miller in Danny Boyle's adaptation of Frankenstein.

rihanna, will you ever win? (suzy), Friday, 30 November 2012 21:25 (seven years ago) link

hell, if John Simon likes your book then you know you're good, right?

Of real interest is that Burton was almost as good a writer as an actor, read as many as three books a day, haunted bookstores in every city he set foot in, bought countless books on every conceivable subject and evaluated them rather shrewdly. He preferred reading to acting, with which he was almost always bored when not actually disgusted, loved poetry so much that he memorized and often quoted oodles of it, published two small books and dreamt of writing big ones, although indolence and fish-worthy drinking intervened. Repeatedly he tried to give up the booze and inordinate smoking, but never with lasting success.


Apt writing abounds. “One of those moments which are nostalgic before they’re over”; Mia Farrow “with eyes as round as her fist”; “a laugh as false as a dentist’s assurance”; “one has to beware of critics — good or bad, one might be constrained to believe them”; spindly Kenneth Tynan “always looked like Belsen with a suit on”; talking about himself, “my eyes are slits that only a locksmith could open”; famous actors are “gods in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors”; “It’s very sad” that Maureen Stapleton “photographs like a sack of potatoes”; Helen Hayes is “among the worst ‘great’ actresses ever”; Rex Harrison “wears clothes as only a coat hanger can.”

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 December 2012 21:18 (seven years ago) link

somewhere along the way i must have tossed the old bio that had excerpts of his journal, hoping i may get the new book for xmas

da croupier, Saturday, 1 December 2012 23:40 (seven years ago) link

yeah -- the idea xmas gift

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 2 December 2012 02:43 (seven years ago) link

"Belsen with a suit on"!

saltwater incursion (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 2 December 2012 04:09 (seven years ago) link

man i want to read this now.

strongo hulkington's ghost dad, Sunday, 2 December 2012 04:44 (seven years ago) link

i got around to watching Spy Who Came in From the Cold recently, after somewhere on ILX

Ward Fowler, Sunday, 2 December 2012 12:04 (seven years ago) link

sorry, premature posting

...after somewhere on ILX I rather rashly said that Burton had never been in a good film and got beaten up w/ SWCIFTC and Where Eagles Dare (now I concede the latter...) Anyway, didn't think Spy was so wonderful, and was struck by how STRANGE Burton seemed now, or his manner of performance anyway - loud, declamatory, truculent, his face puffy and over-made up. all part of the translation of 'classical' stage acting to the cinema, i guess - but it seems very badly dated, now.

Ward Fowler, Sunday, 2 December 2012 12:08 (seven years ago) link

Becket is really good. Have a look at that.

rihanna, will you ever win? (suzy), Sunday, 2 December 2012 12:26 (seven years ago) link

two years pass...

@BurtonDiaries Jul 8
Jul 8 70 Brando really is a smugly pompous little bastard.......Sinatra is the same. God in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors.

skateboards are the new combover (Dr Morbius), Monday, 13 July 2015 18:07 (four years ago) link

Checked the diaries out of the library today. Will post favorite bits.

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 July 2015 01:55 (four years ago) link

If you want to cut to the most vicious takedowns, look up the entries starring Rachel Roberts and Lucille Ball

Josefa, Wednesday, 15 July 2015 02:09 (four years ago) link

ha -- I read those an hour ago.

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 July 2015 02:10 (four years ago) link

re Lucille Ball

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 July 2015 02:10 (four years ago) link

That episode of Here's Lucy featuring the Burtons is actually one of the funniest of that series. I couldn't detect any animosity in the actual show, although I think even Burton admits that the final taping went really well and it was just the rehearsals that were excruciating (for him)

Josefa, Wednesday, 15 July 2015 02:16 (four years ago) link

three years pass...

per John le Carre, director Martin Ritt's last shouted words to Burton after wrapping The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (one of RB's best films) was "I've had the last lay of an old whore!"

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 12 September 2018 14:36 (one year ago) link

there's a great interview by Kenneth Tynan of Burton on the Spy Criterion, in which he says he's "not a romantic actor" and that he hated to physically touch anyone onstage (or film).

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Saturday, 15 September 2018 06:33 (one year ago) link

Sep 18 71 E came home, quite late and slightly the worse for wear, about 7.30. She has just given me a graphic description of the delight of over-eating kippers and the particular joy of their repeating.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) September 18, 2018

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 20 September 2018 20:37 (one year ago) link

Sep 6 71 E sat down in my trailer on one of the banquettes and went right through it, legs kicking in the air. Nobody dared laugh or they would have been brained with a hand-bag but it was unquestionably funny.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) September 6, 2018

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 20 September 2018 20:55 (one year ago) link

Nov 17 69 Prince Rainer and Grace are coming to lunch today and Rainer is bringing either a tiger or a panther as a present for E. That's all I need. What the hell are we going to do with a PANTHER or a TIGER?

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) November 17, 2017

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Monday, 1 October 2018 16:44 (one year ago) link

three months pass...

at age 14

Jan 8 40 Elementary school started today. Went down to see school playing in the yard. Had no money so I stayed in the house with my mother. I haven't done much today. We are short of coal. Very cold.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) January 8, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Friday, 11 January 2019 15:19 (one year ago) link

Jan 10 69 The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murdering envious scatological soul the more I realise that he will never change. Our stupidity is immortal nothing will change it. The same mistakes, the same prejudices, the same injustice...........

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) January 10, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 16 January 2019 15:46 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

Mar 17 83 St Pat's parade sent us off early to get through Fifth Avenue. Result at working theatre at 11.20. ET had phoned in her 'lolo little voice' full of brave self-pity to say she was very sick & had the trots & the vomits & she was very sorry but couldn't come to work.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) March 17, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Monday, 18 March 2019 19:24 (eleven months ago) link

Mar 28 70 It's a sod of a world today. I am extremely unhappy and as melancholy as a Sankey and Moody hymn. My instinctive aversion and distrust of the human race is brought to a head periodically, drunk or sober.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) March 28, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Friday, 29 March 2019 16:21 (ten months ago) link

two months pass...

May 30 69 Lunched with M. Hinxman - Telegraph. Promised her the so far un-awarded Taylor-Burton Oscar if she could ask me a question that neither E nor I had ever been asked before. She failed. Why didn't she take up the challenge & ask How often do you & your fabulous wife fuck?

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) May 30, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Monday, 3 June 2019 15:35 (eight months ago) link

two months pass...

Jul 15 70 I read that Frankie Sinatra has 'come out for Reagan.' That's like Laurel coming out for Hardy. I shouldn't think either of them has had a thought of their own in their lives except about themselves.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) July 15, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 7 August 2019 17:52 (six months ago) link

that has rapidly become my favorite thing on twitter

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 7 August 2019 18:17 (six months ago) link

Aug 2 67 Elizabeth was at the bar like a real broad and a two-fisted one. In the middle of the early night Elizabeth and I exchanged insults in which I said that she was not 'a woman but a man' and in which she called me 'little girl.' A lovely charming decadent hopeless couple.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) August 2, 2019

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 7 August 2019 18:18 (six months ago) link

two months pass...

Sep 17 71 E models for a furrier. I wonder what happened to the pledge that E signed in common with other famed ladies that she would never wear the furs of anything in future except pest furs and vermin. Must ask her and will record the answer tomorrow.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) September 17, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Monday, 7 October 2019 18:09 (four months ago) link

three weeks pass...

Oct 18 66 We drank Sambuca and said nasty things to each other. We drove back in silence to Postiano. I slept most of the way. We had soup in the room and read and slept. Christ how I hate such days.

— Richard Burton (@BurtonDiaries) October 18, 2019

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 30 October 2019 18:23 (three months ago) link

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