'Furious Love' Authors Take Us Inside the Taylor-Burton Love Story
Long before Brad and Angie, there were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the twice-married, twice-divorced couple whose scandalous romance riveted the world and laid the foundations of modern celebrity culture.
That's the story of 'Furious Love,' the new book on sale today about what authors Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger call "the marriage of the century." A biography of their relationship, it includes Burton's personal love letters to Taylor, which the actress made available to the husband-and-wife writers.
"It's a real love story and it's operatic in its scope," Kashner told PopEater. "No one can live like that anymore."
Burton and Taylor left their existing marriages for each other in 1962, when such infidelity could have brought down their careers. They were filming 'Cleopatra' in Rome at the time -- an epic whose conspicuous opulence and over-blown budget became a metaphor for their relationship. The term "paparazzi" had only just been coined, and the couple were their first and greatest subjects.
"Elizabeth Taylor has always had a fascination for the public," says Schoenberger. "It's been decades since she's been in a film and she really doesn't make public appearances or give interviews anymore, but because a generation before ours grew up with her as a child actress, she's part of our DNA by now."
"She did have this love enduring affair and it had all the problems that contemporary couples have, and many more tailored just for them -- the alcoholism and the substance abuse was a big part of it, the fact that they both had careers that took them away from each other. There was a certain amount of competition and they had this world-beating fame that wouldn't allow them to do anything in privacy. And yet, despite all of that, it was a real, enduring love."
The book, which is marvelous fun, has almost a James Bond-film quality, in that the action keeps shifting from one incredible international backdrop to another. The Italian chapter is wonderfully romantic, as is the couple's time in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where Burton was filming the Tennessee Williams classic 'Night of the Iguana' (and Taylor was present, it is made clear, to make sure that co-star Ava Gardner kept her distance.) London, Los Angeles, New York, Switzerland, Burton's native Wales and Toronto all get their sheets tangled by the randy couple as well.
"Sam met with Richard Burton's widow, Sally Hay Burton, who was incredibly generous," says Schoenberger. "Like Elizabeth, they both want to further Burton's legacy."
Burton's legacy -- he died in 1984, after a lifetime of health problems complicated by alcoholism -- was key to getting the book written. "[Taylor] changed her mind about cooperating," says Kashner. "At first, she felt, understandably, that these were her memories and she treasured them and I don't think she was inclined to help at the beginning. But Nancy and I encountered a young drama student, who I suppose heard some of our conversation, and went over to us and said, 'Gosh, I had no idea that Elizabeth Taylor was married to Tim Burton.' So as kind of a hail Mary pass we told Elizabeth Taylor this story, and she was so horrified [that she decided to cooperate]."
"What it meant to Elizabeth, it wasn't so much that people didn't know who she was married to, it was the idea that Richard Burton's significance and his reputation were slipping away," says Kashner.
A lengthy excerpt from the book can be found in this month's Vanity Fair. (The short version: She was overbearing spitfire to all her seven husbands and they were both alcoholics; it didn't work out. But the jewels were fabulous!) I put it to the authors that some people might read the Burton-Taylor love affair as the story of two wealthy narcissists who hurt other people (mainly their spouses and children) when they hooked up, and didn't care.
"No, they did care who they hurt," says Schoenberger. "Early on, after the first affair that launched this huge worldwide condemnation, they felt so badly about what they were doing, mostly to Sybil, Burton's first wife and wife at the time, and Burton's two young daughters, that they did try to stay apart from each other. But they couldn't do it. And Burton felt guilty the rest of his life."
Burton's final letter to Taylor, sent two days before his death, was written from his house in Switzerland. The fact that he was comfortable writing love letters to another woman with his fourth wife in the next room seems to indicate that if Burton had guilt in his life, he had learned to accommodate it.
"That's kind of harsh!" says Kashner. "[Burton and Taylor] shared this fabled history. He was married to Sally Burton barely a year; it was a much more reflective time, much more low-key, and I think what he's really saying in the letter ... is that there are some people who are irreplaceable in your life, and your heart belongs to them in some ways. There's a tenderness there, and a nostalgia for the excitement. Even though the excitement can kill you."
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