Liz’ Latest Accident! How Crippled Is She?
I’m Michael Joya, one of PHOTOPLAY’S roving correspondents. I flew to London for a few days recently to find out what Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are up to now. I found out plenty.
But I’d like to start this account with one particular little story—involving Liz alone . . .
It was a bitter cold afternoon late last January when they wheeled her into the London Clinic and up to an examination room on the fifth floor—the same floor where she’d lain seriously ill and near death just two years earlier. A reporter who was present in the hospital lobby noted with rather oblique humor that “Liz was certainly the most chic-looking patient this staid old place has seen since 1961, the time of her last emergency visit. She was wearing a suede jacket, scarlet slacks and shiny high boots this trip.” (He neglected to mention that she had just come from the set of a picture she was working on—“Very Important Persons”—and that this was one of the outfits she wears in the picture.) A second reporter made sure to note that “Richard Burton, meanwhile—Miss Taylor’s co-star in ‘Very Important Persons’ as well as in real life—waited to hear the news of her condition at the nearby Devonshire Arms, where he was busily engaged downing a few pints.”
No one, however, wrote anything about the fear that obviously swelled inside Liz right now, as the pain in her left knee went from bad to worse to excruciating . . . as she remembered what a doctor back in Hollywood had once warned her about the knee.
That had been six years ago, when the trouble had started. Liz had been getting dressed to go to a party one night, she’d slipped, she’d landed on her left side. There’d been a swelling in the left knee, and pain. She’d phoned for the doctor. He’d come, examined her, found that the cartilage was probably tom and suggested surgery for the knee.
But Liz had had her fill of hospitals and operations back then (This was at the time her spine was giving her so much trouble.)—so even after the doctor had warned her that the knee could give way again if the condition weren’t corrected—(He told her that even years from then, she could be walking or maybe standing still and suddenly her knee would give way. And he told her that the condition would truly be aggravated by then. And there would even be a chance that a recurrence might leave her crippled for a long, long time.)—even with this warning, Liz had shrugged off the doctor, saying simply that she’d rather skip the idea of undergoing an operation.
And now, six years later, it had happened again: right here in London, at the studio, standing still and suddenly the knee buckling under her, the pain flooding her leg, the moaning, the rush for the wheel chair, the trip to the hospital.
And now, as they lifted her from the chair and carried her into the examination room of the London Clinic, she remembered the word “crippled” and she remembered her earlier indifference to the word—and a deep chill ran through her body.
She remained silent during the examination that followed. Then, the doctor, a stranger to her, though one of England’s top men, told her what she feared—there would be more pain, she could be crippled, surgery was necessary.
And surgery could be dangerous. Any operation has its elements of seriousness. And the time element was serious, too. For Liz could not afford to be long inactive.
She would have to be off her feet for a week—in the hospital. And then she’d be up on crutches for a couple of months, depending on how well her thigh muscles react. Of course, with her past medical history, it’s hard to be too optimistic about a speedy recovery. And that’s why for Liz an operation, at this time, is out of the question.
She was in the middle of a picture, for one thing. And, perhaps more important, there was someone else involved, someone she had to think about before making her plans.
Richard Burton is working on an extremely tight schedule right now. They’ve got to finish their scenes together within four weeks because Richard was scheduled to do some rushed additional work on “Cleopatra.” And, immediately after that, Burton was committed to go into rehearsal for a play he’ll be doing in London. Liz’ operation would interrupt his schedule. And, apparently, she didn’t want to do that.
The doctor warned her—she would be in severe pain lots of the time. And still Liz was firm. There’d be no operation now, but maybe there was another way to help her.
In England, there is a man named Danny Blanchflower. He is quite a man in those parts. Danny’s a soccer star—who captains Ireland’s national eleven and Britain’s leading club, the Tottenham Hotspurs. And he recently was in the same position as Liz is today. He’d damaged his knee. He was in great need of surgery. But he refused surgery temporarily on the gıounds that it would throw his team off should he leave them mid-season. And so, for Blanchflower, the doctors used a manipulative treatment. Treatment by hand, that is. It worked fairly well for a while. And perhaps they could use it on Liz.
But there are problems. The treatment is only temporary. Blanchflower did finally have the cartilage removed from his knee. By surgery. Immediately after the soccer season was ended. And only surgery can completely erase the pain. The most this treatment can do is to help ease the pain to some degree.
And. for Liz, this will have to he enough. At least, until she finishes the picture.
But there is more happening to Liz Taylor today besides illness and the possibility of being crippled for some months.
The first person I talked to about Liz and Burton during my recent trip to London was an amazingly well-informed source. His initials are L.K.-B. and everything else about him, I must keep secret. Otherwise, I would not have gotten this story for PHOTOPLAY.
He told me first about Liz’ illness, her talk with the doctor, how the decision to postpone surgery was made.
And then he said of her: “She is a brave woman. Terribly, terribly brave. She’s a wonderful woman. too—warm, unusually compassionate with those she knows and loves; a dear, dear girl, believe me.
“But Burton”—he made a face—“I don’t like him. Not at all. Hmmmmm, no. He’s treated poor Sybil abominably. And I think that Elizabeth Taylor—as you Americans might phrase it—is about to get the even rougher end of the stick . . . There is, don’t you know, a rumor making the rounds that Burton will ditch Elizabeth as soon as he feels his popularity is such that he doesn’t need her anymore. The rumor is quite specific, in fact: the moment of ditching will come when his bankbook—in Switzerland, or wherever— shows half-a-million pounds. (That’s approximately a million and a half dollars.) And, hmmmmm, let me say this, that I for one believe the rumor. Because Burton is a Welshman. And keeping your eye on a dollar sometimes seems to be a Welsh trait. Of course, I don’t mean to imply by this that Burton never parts with money. I hear that he’s very generous with Sybil and the children—as well he should be. And I was at a party last night where someone very close to Elizabeth told me that Burton had just given her, Elizabeth, the most significant gift. From Cartier’s, no less. An emerald and diamond bracelet which cost him 140,000 American dollars. But don’t let this fool you. And I hope it doesn’t fool Elizabeth. Because the man apparently has no intention in the world of marrying her.
“You know, I was at the Dorchester the other night, where they’re both living, in adjoining suites; at any rate, there I was having a drink with a friend in the Lounge. When suddenly in walked Burton and Elizabeth, who both sat and had several brandies together. Now the odd part of all this is that Elizabeth is basically a very shy person and never, in the past, would she have sat for any length of time in the most public part of a hotel. Where she could be stared at and gawked at, as well she was. But whether or not she was uncomfortable, Burton was obviously pleased with himself because of his great ‘catch.’ You could see he was.
“Perhaps the strangest thing about Burton is that he is, in his fashion, an indestructibly honest man. He loves his wife. And he is mad for Elizabeth Taylor—oh yes, temporarily he is, but of course; even an actor can’t play a role for over a year without believing that there’s something valid about the plot. And he wants, as you might say, to have his apple pie and eat it, too. . . . But never fear. He will never give up Sybil for Elizabeth. He’s very middle class. Very Methodist. Very Welsh. And he wouldn’t think of leaving his wife for any undue period of time. Why, just the other night, for their fourteenth wedding anniversary, he had dinner with Sybil and took her to the theater. To the Aldwych, to see a performance of ‘King Lear.’ Yes—Sybil was in from Switzerland for a day or two and her husband took her out. I understand that eyebrows were raised from here to there when people saw them together. Amusing, isn’t it, how people can be shocked when a man takes out his own wife? But the fact is that Sybil and Burton do get together from time to time, that there has never been any question of their being officially separated and that Sybil is quite used to this sort of treatment from this man, Burton. And so she puts up with it all quite easily and well. If only by habit.
“But, one might ask, why in the world does Elizabeth Taylor put up with it? And I think I have the answers. The simpler of the two is that she loves Burton with a passion only to be known by the gods. And—a chink in her makeup, perhaps—but Burton sometimes treats her roughly, and Elizabeth, like many women, enjoys being bossed. Not long ago, for instance, Elizabeth was in bed with a fever. Burton, it’s said, was in the mood to attend a rugby match and in the mood for Elizabeth to attend it with him. With anyone else she would have declined, but for Burton she purred a soft yes and got out of bed and went to the match with him. Fever and all. And looking very beautiful, of course—if a bit wan.”
L.K.-B. paused. And then a wicked little smile slowly began to cross his face:
“I must say—there was for a while a chance that this Taylor-Burton romance was about to blow up suddenly. At least strong rumor had it that Elizabeth had found a new infatuation. Another actor, Rod Taylor. He’s in this film ’she and Burton are making together. He’s the one who only a few months ago was carrying on a thing with Anita Ekberg. At any rate, the story had it that Elizabeth had taken one look at this Rod Taylor and absolutely swooned.
“But, then nothing much ever seemed to come from this flirtation. And the film—which ran on a very short schedule—is just about nearing completion now. And so, I imagine, it will continue to be Elizabeth and Burton, still. Until Elizabeth tires of all this and does find a new infatuation. Or until, and more likely this, Burton feels that the time has well come to give his rather perennial co-star the ditch, the reasons for which were specified by me a little while earlier.”
That was what my first source had to say. And then there were more . . .
The morning following my talk with L.K.-B., I left my hotel and proceeded immediately to Fleet Street—the English capital’s newspaper center—for a chat with a few reporter friends there.
“Yes, most assuredly,” said one, “—you can look through my Taylor-Burton clippings. But you’re not going to find too many. Seems the British press has been ignoring them these past couple of months. Why? Because the British public is pretty well bored with their carryings on . . . Yet, do you know, the strange thing is that I feel Liz Taylor likes it this way. She’s left pretty much alone in this country. By the press. By the public. And I think it’s a relief to her, a vast relief— to have found a truly cosmopolitan place where she can more or less get away from it all.”
The clippings he then handed me were indeed scarce. There were reports that Liz and Burton had arrived by boat-train from Paris. The Daily Sketch added: “At home in Geneva, Switzerland, Burton’s wife Sybil said. ‘I hope Dick will be here with me for Christmas. As for Miss Taylor, I will not comment on that.’ ” And thus, was their entrance into London duly reported.
“Come on, Wales!”
For the next couple of weeks there was nothing, according to the clippings. And then, late in December, this article appeared on a bottom corner of a back page in a weekly called News of the World—by columnist White Friar—and headlined “Liz Taylor Urges On The Welsh”:
“it really was hardly the thing. There we were, concentrating like mad on Aberavon and the London Welsh playing Rugby at Old Deer Park, Richmond, when in walked Liz Taylor. And Richard Burton, of course. It was the middle of the second half and Miss Taylor was wrapped cosily in a fur coat.
“She tiptoed through the litter and sat next to Richard Burton. He was very excited about the match. And at one point Miss Taylor leapt up and squeaked ‘Come on, Wales,’ which seemed nicely impartial, all things considered.
“Getting a firm grip on myself I rushed back to the pavilion to write my story and there, standing in front of me, was Miss Taylor drinking a pint of beer.
“Handling his pint very professionally, Mr. Burton—born Dick Jenkins of Pontrhydyfen—told me he had played for both London Welsh and Aberavon before he became an actor. ‘Used to play open side wing forward,’ he said.
“Miss Taylor said this was only the second game of Rugby she had seen. She went to the Varsity match on Tuesday. Also with Mr. Burton. ‘I think it is much rougher than American football,’ she said. ‘It’s marvellous.’ She liked the beer, too!” And that seemed to be it.
“But what about Christmas?” I asked my reporter friend. “—did Burton go home to Switzerland?”
“No,” said my friend, “Sybil and the children came to London at the last moment. And they all spent part of the day together. Burton had dinner up at Hampstead—his home—with Sybil and his daughters. And then, that night, he went back to the Dorchester, where he had a second Christmas dinner with Liz.”
“How about Liz and her children—were they here for Christmas?” I asked.
“Oh yes. The two boys. Liza. And the little German girl. And the two nanas who accompanied them. They all came in from Gstaad a few days before the holiday and checked into a huge suite on the fifth floor of the Dorchester.”
“While Liz was in another suite?” I asked.
“Adjoining Burton’s?” I had to ask.
In the exclusive part . . .
“Yes. They’re up in the most exclusive part of the hotel—the penthouse floor, or the roof-garden floor I think is what they actually call it. Liz has the Harlequin Suite, five rooms at—” he coughed—“75 guineas a day. That’s $225 daily, your currency, old man. With the only king-size bed in the hotel, I might add. And Burton, he’s next door in what they call the Terrace Suite. Only three rooms, I think. I don’t know what the rate on that one is.”
“What do they do when they go out?”
“Actually, there isn’t too much time for them to go out,” said my friend. “Weekends, when the weather is less foul than it is right now, they go for long drives in the country, up the Thames, towards Windsor and thereabouts. During the week, well, they’re working on the set from dawn to dusk. When they return to their hotel they usually eat right there—in Liz’ suite, or down in the hotel’s Grill Room or Terrace Room. There’s a so-called American bar in the hotel where Burton likes to sit for a few quick ones now and then. Then there’s the Lounge, of course—where Burton likes to sit when he wants to be seen with Liz.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Just what I implied. Wouldn’t it suit any man’s ego to be seen with Liz?”
“He’s going through some of this for the publicity, you mean?” I asked.
“Partly,” came the answer.
“Do you think he really loves her, will ever marry her?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” came the answer. “That is— I don’t think he’ll ever marry her. Not if he’s the same Richard Burton I knew years back—when he was Richard the actor, and not Dickie the star—there was then and there is now nobody for him but his wife. Oh, he was a good bloke back then, back when I first knew him. A most carefree and hard-drinking sort. Why, in those days, he didn’t give two suds for anyone except his family. And I see no reason why he should have changed now, suddenly—just because the woman in question happens to be named Liz Taylor.”
That afternoon, following my visit to Fleet Street. I went to the already much-mentioned Dorchester Hotel for a look.
“Mr. Burton. Mrs. Taylor. Ahhhhhh,” smiled a Dorchester butler to me a little later on (he insisted, by the way, for no apparent reason on referring to Liz as Mrs. Taylor)—“Ahhhhh,” he repeated, “now there you have two jolly fine people. Yes, I wait on them from time to time here at the hotel. And I do not care what some of the others around here say, but they couldn’t be two finer people—Mr. Burton and Mrs. Taylor.
“They tip well, for one thing. Mr. Burton, he knows what it’s like to part with a bill every once in a while. And Mrs. Taylor, she has always been the meat of the peach when it comes to generosity. On Christmas last, in fact, she presented me with a very kind token of her appreciation. And I shall always treasure it.
“They’re kind people. And they are, above all, happy people—Mr. Burton and Mrs. Taylor. They are always laughing together, I’m pleased to say. For instance, I heard this happy little story about them from one of the waiters the other day. It seems that Mrs. Taylor ordered some wine. Said the waiter, ‘May I suggest that you look through our wine card?’ And he proceeded to hand it to Mrs. Taylor, who began to turn the pages while Mr. Burton looked on. Now, obviously, in the past, Mrs. Taylor had never taken much note of the short and pithy proverbs which are printed on the bottom of each pagelet of the wine card. And she began to read them aloud now.
“ ‘Oh look, Richard,’ said Mrs. Taylor, ‘under Red Bordeaux—it reads, When a man is spent with toil, wine renews his force: Homer.’
“ ‘Interesting, interesting,’ repeated Mr. Burton.
“And then, suddenly, Mrs. Taylor, having turned another page, broke out into a most hearty laugh. ‘Oh Richard,’ she said. ‘Listen. Here, under still Rhine Wines, is written, Eat, drink and love: the rest’s not worth a fillip. And it’s signed: Sir Richard Burton.’ . . . Of course, it meant a writer named Richard Burton. And on that they broke out into the heartiest laughter, until the tears were actually rolling right down Mrs. Taylor’s cheeks.
“Yes,” he said. “they’re both good sorts. And about her, the thing I admire most is that she is an absolutely marvelous mother. I’ve seen other film stars here at this hotel in my time—they are absolutely vile in their attitudes towards their own children. But Mrs. Taylor, with hers, she’s a gem. I’ve seen her have long and serious talks with the boys when something was amiss there—when boys will be boys, let us say. I’ve seen her laugh and cavort and play for hours with her daughter by Mr. Todd, who I must say is one of the most delightful-looking and delectable little girls I have ever seen. And with the little German orphan girl—well, here is a child with a bad hip and little to smile about much of the time, one would think—but I have seen Mrs. Taylor with that child seated on her lap, whispering things to her and singing to her, and with the child smiling, smiling, as if there weren’t a thing wrong in the world—just by being with Mrs. Taylor, just by being cared for by Mrs. Taylor—she knew that everything was going to be all right in her little world.
My third and last day in London was real cloak-and-dagger stuff.
It began with a phone call I made to a friend, who happens to work at Elstree Studios, just outside London. And whom I asked, “Do you think I could drop by the set later today and have a talk with Liz Taylor and Burton themselves?”
“Are you crazy, man?” my friend shouted at me. “The set of this picture is absolutely closed when they’re working. Liz talks to absolutely no one from the press. Ever. But—I tell you what, old chap. If you promise to leave your notebook at the hotel, I’ll see that you get in for a quick look. But if anybody asks you who you are, say Scotland Yard or FBI, or that you’re an escaped convict—anything. But, for heaven’s sake, please, don’t say you’re a journalist. Or else we’ll both be in a bloody mess.”
My friend greeted me at the studio gate a few hours later, with a pretty nervous handshake (“remember—anything but a journalist!”). And then, as we walked together over to Sound Stage 3, he said to me:
“I’m sorry we missed lunch together. I could have taken you over to the pub where Liz and Burton eat together every day. They go over to a place called The King’s Arms across the road, and they have their snack and pint or two. Interesting little story about Liz and The King’s Arms, by the way. She first went there when she made her very first picture here in England—‘The Conspirators’ with Bob Taylor. It was Bob, in fact, who took her there for lunch one day. It was there where, as I recall, she had her very first taste of beer. So . . . dissolve . . . the years pass . . . and she returns here to do a picture with Burton. And Burton, who knows every pub in London and vicinity, has never heard of The King’s Arms. And so, delightedly, Liz introduces him to it one day . . . And that’s where they’ve been going for lunch ever since.
“There.” he said, suddenly, as we continued walking, “that parked car, the Rolls, with the diplomatic plates? That’s Liz’. She insists on a Rolls. Other stars have come from the States and said, ‘Give me something simple to ride around in—like a Jag.’ But I don’t think our Miss Taylor is one to not ask for the best. And that’s what she gets here. That’s what she’d better get, let’s say. The very best.”
He pointed to a smallish two-story building we were now passing.
“Her dressing room is up there—third. fourth, fifth and sixth windows from the left. Just before she arrived we got orders that she wanted it big, very big—and so we knocked down two walls and made connecting doors, and now she has a three-room suite: sitting room, a room where she can lie down, and large bath. Burton? He has one room, just like an ordinary star. Not that he’s ever in it. Seems that he and Miss Taylor like one another”— he smiled—“and so. fortunately, Mr. Burton spends quite a bit of time talking to Miss Taylor in Miss Taylor’s suite, and” —he smiled again—“that ended our worries about any details concerning Mr. Burton’s dressing room.”
“And Liz seems to be nuts about Burton, let’s face it. They’re always together. Always. It looks like she worships him. passionately, and my impression is that she intends to go on worshiping him for a long time to come. He’s scheduled, you know, to do quite a bit of work in London the next few years—films, plays. And Liz is househunting here right now, with the intention of establishing permanent residence in London. And there’s only one reason for that. It’s not because she’s keen on our English weather, heaven knows . . .
“By the way,” my friend continued, “you’ll notice that she’ll be wearing some very expensive jewelry—sapphire earrings and brooch. These were recent gifts to her from Burton. She fell so in love with them that she promptly insisted she be allowed to wear them during the filming. An allowance which. of course, was immediately granted. So now the credits preceding the film will probably read, ‘Miss Taylor’s gowns by Givenchy—Miss Taylor’s jewelry by Mr. Burton.’ And why not? That is, it’s all very true.”
We were inside the sound stage now . . .
He nodded towards a tall and dapper man dressed in gray tweed and waistcoat: “That’s Anatole de Grunwald. Our producer. Good man. Pleased and relieved that everything has gone without hitch so far, touch wood—in fact, very well indeed.
“Now,” said my friend, suddenly barely moving his lips, “if you will look just a little to the left, back there, seated on those camp chairs—you will see Liz and Burton. That’s right. To the left. Talking. Do you see them? Good. Ah, a little action. Look, she’s bringing her hand up and running it through his hair. Well, you’re decidedly privileged, old chap. I mean, do you realize that you have just seen Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the midst of a true-life little love scene? Oh, oh,” he said then suddenly. “She’s begun to look this way. Straight at you. Don’t be perturbed. But be prepared to move. That woman has a sixth sense about these things. Right now she can probably give your initials, your age, and your occupation—journalist. I think . . . that . . . we had better . . . go. Now!”
And so we turned.
And so we began to walk very fast.
And so we were out of there as quickly as we had entered.
“Well,” asked my friend, as the door behind us slammed shut, “what did you think of her. Rather beautiful, what?”
“What?” I asked back, nodding.
“I said—” my friend repeated. And he went on to say what he’d been saying.
But he really needn’t have bothered.
Because I really didn’t hear what he was saying, anyway.
I was, let’s say, feeling very dazed at that moment.
Like a guy, let’s say, who had just seen Elizabeth Taylor!
Liz and Dick are in 20th’s “Cleopatra,” and M-G-M’s “Very Important Persons.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1963