Image of Richard as Mark Antony in Cleopatra.
This is the story of how Richard Burton became a Hollywood superstar and household name.
In 1952, Richard starred in his first Hollywood movie, My Cousin Rachel, which led to his first Oscar nomination for supporting actor and catapulted him from Shakespearean stage actor to international film star.
Richard starring in My Cousin Rachel.
This was followed by The Desert Rats and then another Academy Award nomination for The Robe. He also had the title role in the epic Alexander the Great and the British protest film Look Back in Anger.
The character of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger appealed to Richard and no doubt he could relate to him. Porter was a young, angry man from a working class background, well-educated but faced with the realisation of an unfair class system.
Richard Burton and Mary Ure in Look Back in Anger (1959).
Cleopatra was the film that would change Richard’s life forever. In January 1962, he played his first scenes as Mark Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor. Their affair set the world press on fire and made them household names.
This time Richard’s marriage was truly under threat and family and friends tried in vain to make him see sense. Emlyn Williams flew to the film-set in Rome to confront him but he realised his efforts were futile when Richard spoke the words in his mother-tongue, ‘Dwi am briodi’r eneth ‘ma’ (‘I’m going to marry this girl’).
Fresh from the success and scandal of Cleopatra, Richard and Elizabeth were cast in the film, The VIPs. During the next few years Richard starred in some of his best films, including Becket and The Night of The Iguana.
His most acclaimed movie role came in 1966 in the film of the Edward Albee play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Richard and Elizabeth were cast as an unhappy married couple. Some claimed that this paralleled their own turbulent relationship. The film was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, and Elizabeth won Best Actress.
Richard was nominated for a total of seven Oscars. Can you guess how many he won?
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Richard and Elizabeth during filming of The Sandpiper, 1965.
© MARKA/ Alamy Stock Photo
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are part of Hollywood history. They were constantly hounded by the paparazzi and surrounded by an entourage. This celebrity life was not new to Elizabeth, who was once a child-star and the highest-earning Hollywood actress, signing million dollar contracts. The film studios soon realised that together, Burton and Taylor were a lucrative brand which brought them many film offers. Their life together would mark the beginnings of a celebrity culture as we know it today.
At one time, Richard and Elizabeth were the highest earning married couple in the world. Their extravagant spending became legendary – they bought expensive cars, private jets, yachts, homes, art works and jewellery.
Richard and Elizabeth Taylor as Antony and Cleopatra, 1962.
© World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
From the beginning of their relationship, Richard had shown his love for Elizabeth through jewellery. The most expensive piece of jewellery Richard bought for over a million dollars was the product of an argument. Richard had said that Elizabeth’s hands were ‘large and ugly’; she responded that he’d better buy her the 69-carat ring to make them look smaller and less ugly!
Richard notes in his diary: ‘That insult last night is going to cost me. Betcha!’
Richard bought the Cartier pear-shaped diamond for Elizabeth which was named the Taylor-Burton diamond.
The 33.19 carat Krupp diamond ring that Richard bought for Elizabeth in May 1968 for $307,000. © dpa picture alliance archive / Alamy Stock
Richard and Elizabeth’s sometimes vulgar extravagance was well publicised. What didn’t get reported was Richard’s generosity to his family and other charitable causes. He sent cheques back home to Cis and the rest of his siblings and supported Philip Burton with the American Musical and Dramatic Academy he founded in New York.
Although Richard’s social circle included royalty and presidents, he also enjoyed hosting his Welsh family and friends. He invited 150 of them to the premier of The Taming of the Shrew in London and flew his family out to Budapest for Elizabeth’s star-studded 40th birthday party.
Richard and Elizabeth in the Oxford University production of Doctor Faustus, 1966.
The strains of living their private life in the public eye eventually caught- up with Richard and Elizabeth. In 1969, whilst filming Anne of the Thousand Days Richard was drinking heavily and had lost interest in his film career.
After ten years of marriage, Richard and Elizabeth eventually divorced in 1974 only to re-marry for the second time in 1975. But it wasn’t to last. At the end of 1975, Richard had met Susan Hunt whom he married in August the following year.
Richard’s Hollywood Star on the Walk of Fame. It was unveiled on St David’s Day 2013 following a Western Mail campaign. © Hayk Shalunts / Alamy Stock Photo
Richard recorded the extraordinary events of his life in his diaries. Here we see Richard Burton the husband, father, reader and thinker.
Click below to learn about the man behind the headlines.