Liz & Dick: “the marriage of the century”

Photo: Pixabay

Liz and Dick, nicknames that both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton hated.

In 1962 Elizabeth Taylor was signed to shoot “Cleopatra”. She had made a groundbreaking deal for herself: 1 million dollars, making her the first actress to receive $1 million for a single role. Additionally, according to Furious Love she would additionally receive “a $3,000 week living allowance, $50,000 for every week over the production schedule, and 10 percent of the movie’s gross profits.” Meanwhile her co-star and soon-to-be husband Richard Burton earned four times less than her.

“If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down,”
— Elizabeth Taylor

It’s Rome where they met, the charming Welsh actor was married at the time and so was Elizabeth. It was not a love at first sight, they had already met at a party once before. Liz was not left impressed with him, as she claimed that he flirted with every pretty girl at the party.

“I just thought, ‘Ohhh, boy – I’m not gonna become a notch on his belt.’ ”

Richard was far from impressive on the first day of set, he appeared to be so hungover that he couldn’t hold a cup of coffee to his lips, luckily Taylor offered him help.

The chemistry between the two was immediate and irresistible.

“Our eyes locked and he drank the whole cup and we just kept looking at each other.”

Later while filming their popular “Cleopatra” kiss, they took it off screen, it lasted longer than the script required it to be. Their love affair was so scandalous, it actually resulted in the Vatican condemning both of them. Once they were done shooting, Elizabeth decamped with her 4 children to the villa in Switzerland and Richard did the same with his wife, Sybil, on the west side of Lake Geneva.

For the next four months they tried to stay away from each other, hoping that the chemistry would disappear – but it did not. Elizabeth made an attempt to contact Richard, writing him a letter, in which she expressed the pain that their affair had caused them both. 

She later recalled her 30th birthday being “the most miserable day of my life”. Her then husband Eddie Fisher had gifted her a pair of diamond rings, a brooch and a ring, but all she was looking for was a gift from Richard. While still in Switzerland he one day called her and they eventually met at a castle on Lake Geneva. They ate lunch together, talked about their children and the beauty of the lake. After that they saw each other every few weeks.

It took them more than a year to divorce their spouses and to eventually marry in Montreal on 15th March 1964, making it “the marriage of the century”. They were not only making headlines in the show biz pages, but all over the media, next to the Kennedys.  
Their life together was least to say lush. Elizabeth, well-known for her jewelry love, owned an enormous amount of Bulgari, Cartier & etc. (jewels which were auctioned after her death in 2011 and sold for over $112 millions). In 1969 Richard gifted Liz with her most famous piece, the astonishing 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond.

The relationship between the two consisted of hundreds of love letters, alcohol and controversial fights. The reconciliations weren’t just simple reconciliations. In fact, one time Elizabeth bought a Van Gough painting for $257,000 which she later hung by herself over the fireplace in Burton’s penthouse.

They shot 11 movies altogether. However, Richard later admitted that while Elizabeth was passionate in what she was doing and named her “the best actress in the world”, meanwhile for him acting was a “desire for money”. Despite their love for each other, their constant arguing led to a divorce in June 1974. A year later they met to discuss their divorce settlement and reconciled. In October 1975, Liz and Dick remarried again at Chobe National Park in Botswana. This marriage didn’t seem to last long and less than a year later they went their separate ways again.

Liz and Dick remained friends until his death in 1984. Just days before this he wrote her his final letter, in which according to Elizabeth he asked her to give their relationship another chance. She received the letter at her house when she arrived home from his funeral in Switzerland. This is the only letter that Elizabeth kept private and didn’t let be published in “Furious Love”.

“I am forever punished by the gods for being given the fire and trying to put it out. The fire, of course, is you.” – Richard Burton

Furious Love: The Marriage of the Century. 2013. Sam Kashner, Nancy Schoenberger.
Vanity Fair’s Tales of Hollywood. 2008. Graydon Carter.
A love story: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 2011. Emily Hourican.
A love story: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 2011. Emily Hourican.
A Passionate Love: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Through the Years. 2016 Rebecca Shinners.
Ageless Passion: Burton’s Love Letters to Liz Taylor. 2010. William Lee Adams.

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