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Mr. & Mrs. Burton’s Strange Marriage Deal

You want to know what makes with Liz, Richard and Sybil? So would they! They’re sure mixed up. It’s a crazy new kind of triangle. But it’s a crazy new kind of world. Whatever happened to principle dedicated actors, normal housewives? So I’m a Clyde for asking. This round world was better when it was square. Stop the world, I want to get off. Me and millions. You still want to know what makes with Liz and principles? Richard and dedicated actors? Sybil and normal housewives? Remember, you asked for it! Let’s start with Liz. First she insisted she was going to marry Richard, ignoring the fact he’s married to Sybil. Then she changed her tune after a spanking by a Vatican newspaper. Oh yes, I forgot—she dropped Eddie via overseas phone. Seems Eddie didn’t believe it when told in Rome. . . . Richard is the husband of Sybil (Feb. 5, 1949) and Liz’ leading man in “Cleo,” night clubs and her villa! At 7:30 A.M. Richard is spotted by the paparazzi(photographers who tail celebrities better than a private eye) exiting Liz’ villa, carrying a Siamese cat in his arms. (Is this a hunk of Fellini symbolism? Too early for me and symbolism . . .) Sybil is the wife, who, in this crazy triangle, finds herself The Other Woman. Sybil’s tolerant attitude toward Richard’s behavior is best explained by a line of Ernest Dawson: “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion.”



This “Design for Living” continues. Noel Coward’s old play is played as if it were written by Tennessee Williams. Liz starred in the movie—laundered version of two of his plays: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Suddenly, Last Summer.” Burton, on that early-morning exit from Liz’ villa, was carrying a cat. Tell me, does Liz’ villa have a tin roof?

I recall my first meeting with Burton. It was on the set of the first CinemaScope movie, “The Robe.” I visited his set often; Burton’s dialogue was colorful and honest. During the filming of “The Robe,” Marilyn (Monroe) and I were invited to a cocktail party at Michael Rennie’s by Hugh French. French is an Englishman. He was then ten-percenting for Charles Feldman’s Famous Players Agency. Hugh had been assigned clients—Marilyn, Richard and Rennie. I don’t remember the locale of Rennie’s house. It was in Beverly Glen or Benedict Canyon or Coldwater Canyon. It was sitting dangerously on some hill. Shortly after Marilyn and I arrived, a tall lady slapped a tall man’s face. The slap produced a loud noise. The hilltop house rocked. Marilyn said: “It must be another plane breaking the sound barrier.” The nearby aircraft factories were testing then. They still are.



“It’s our hostess slapping our host. I hope she didn’t break his jaw,” I informed Marilyn. Continuing, I whispered, “We’re getting out of here as soon as possible.”

“Okay with me,” MM answered. I myself never had the tsouris (aggravation) her husbands seem to claim they had.

Michael Rennie behaved as if nothing unusual had happened. (The Rennies are divorced now!) Then Burton strutted into the scene. “Slap her back, Michael,” said Burton.

Rennie answered, “No.” He didn’t want to start a brawl. Burton evidently felt insulted. He loudly proclaimed to his host, “I’m leaving. I’m not staying in a house where a man wouldn’t slap a woman back.”

Richard turned and majestically started to exit. He paused where Marilyn and I were sitting. “I’m going with you people. I’ll wait in my car.” He exited. To this day, I don’t know how Richard could hear our whispers.






Embarrassed to leave; embarrassed to stay. Fifteen minutes later I was rescued by Jim Heneghan and his wife Frances. “We’re leaving,” said Jim. “Care to join us?” We sure did. Marilyn and I, Jim and Frances, another couple, whose identity completely escapes me, and Burton were soon in Bob Dalton’s Steak House on La Cienega. We had the large table in the porch section. A good time was had by all. We dined listening to Richard sing Welsh songs as he ate. Later, Richard recited large hunks of Shakespeare and sentimental poetry. This didn’t interfere with his drinking. He switches between vodka and Scotch.



Richard kept telling Marilyn, Frances and the other woman, “Ladyship, you’re beautiful.” Or, “Ladyship, you’re sexy.” As I recall, the “beautiful” went along with the Scotch and the “sexy” accompanied the vodka. Each to his own.

It was near closing time. The waiter placed the tab on the table. Burton pushed his chair away from the table. “I’m a Welshman. We’re slower on the draw than the Scotch.” He smiled pleasingly. No one in the group objected. Richard is a charmer.

Burton never made a pass at Marilyn, Frances or Miss “I Can’t Remember The Name.” He complimented them continuously and was over-attentive. He acted as if he had to satisfy their egos, but more important—his ego. He had to make the impression that he’s Lover Boy.



A prominent member of the British colony in Hollywood said, “When Burton is involved with one of his co-stars, the first week Mrs. Burton says to him, ‘Richard, don’t hurt the girl.’ When the involvement continues for a few weeks, Sybil says, ‘Richard, don’t hurt us.’ ”

While Burton was in “Camelot,” Cindy Adams interviewed him. She quotes him: “Darling, it’s torture when you can’t feel anything toward your leading ladies. It’s so much more helpful in making love to them professionally, if you have some sort of yen for them personally. The difficulties of romancing a woman publicly, if one’s not the slightest inclined toward her privately, can be hell.

“Just so happens that I’m madly in love with Julie (Andrews). Oh, nothing personal, mind you. Nothing funny. We’re neither of us going to leave our respective mates. It’s just that I simply adore her. And of course, this makes it so much easier to work, don’t you think?”






Richard didn’t dig Marilyn, Frances, or “Miss Forgotten.” He doesn’t favor blondes. Brunette Elizabeth Taylor is as beautiful as can be found in this model.

Although the public is better acquainted with Liz and Richard’s off-screen performances, he has torrid love scenes with her in “Cleopatra.” Burton is being paid plenty for this labor of love. He told several people: “If the picture runs a few more months overtime, I could wind up with close to a million dollars.”

Richard Burton is moving into the Big Money for the first time. When he was the chubby, short kid, Richard Jenkins, with pock marks on his face, he often dreamed about beautiful women and a glamour world in which he was Lover Boy. He never included a million dollars in those dreams. This was too impossible even for dreams.



When the Burtons first visited Hollywood, they were house guests of James and Pamela Mason. Richard had done a few pictures in England. However, it was his acting as a member of the Old Vic that fellow actors respected. He respected himself for it, too.

He liked Hollywood, but he was afraid of it. “It’s like drinking wine,” Richard said. “It’s wonderful, but I got to get back to the Old Vic.”

I never could understand why he didn’t become popular, a big movie star. He always gave a dynamic performance. He received an Oscar nomination: “My Cousin Rachel” (1952). He played then in “The Robe,” the movie that introduced Cinema-Scope. Yet he was nothing at the box office.



Many producers told me why. “Burton. He’s got no sex appeal!”

I didn’t buy this answer. I knew Richard appealed to more women than the total sum of five current movie heroes. To me, Burton was the Welsh edition of John Barrymore. And like him, Richard has done some wild things.

At the studio luncheon for Khrushchev, he didn’t like a few statements Mr. K made. He was about to stand up and let Mr. K have it. Kim Novak, sitting next to him, yanked him back into his chair. “Where does that dame get off telling me how to behave?” Richard told me. He transferred his anger from Khrushchev to Kim. Remember, he doesn’t dig blondes!






This is Richard Burton

Richard is Marc Antony to Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra, for which he’ll be paid (almost) a million dollars. He and Sybil and their daughters, Katherine, five, Jessica, almost three, can live comfortably. He’ll never have to sweat for money again. He has made the break-through. Liz Taylor accomplished what his entire movie career couldn’t. Liz made him a movie star.

She repeatedly said, “Richard and I are going to be married.” Liz and Richard went to restaurants, night clubs on the Via Veneto, followed by reporters and a horde of photographers. Richard the Rogue appeared to be enjoying the escapade. He forgot his marriage, or misplaced it for a while. Richard has many talents.



Liz gets what she wants. A continuous pattern, starting in childhood, ranging from chipmunk to Oscar. Liz discards what she no longer wants. This includes everything from a twice-worn Dior gown to a slightly-used Nicky Hilton. The latest throw-away is Eddie Fisher.

Eddie was informing reporters in New York that the divorce story was “preposterous.” The overseas operator interrupted with a previously placed call. Eddie spoke to Liz, or maybe it was vice versa. However, then Eddie returned to the reporters. The story wasn’t preposterous. He was—and they had sympathy for him.

The next day, it was officially announced that it was over.

Liz also made an announcement: Again she was going to marry Burton. Only this time, Liz pressed the panic button without realizing it.



Sybil was frightened. For the first time during her thirteen-year marriage. The Fishers were divorcing. Her security was threatened. And Richard’s escapade with Liz wasn’t a private affair. It was out in the open, for all the world to see. Sybil’s friends asked if she and Richard were divorcing. Relatives, who previously showed discretion, asked. She heard strangers in the shops asking. Newspapers, radio and television asked the question.

Sybil phoned Richard to make a date and discuss the situation. It was merely a meeting of husband and wife. A newspaper in L.A. headlined: “Sybil and Richard To Have Summit Meeting.” In Paris the Burtons appeared to be having a wonderful time together, just like any normal happily married couple.



I’ll give you the rundown on Sybil. Sybil Williams is Welsh. She comes from a mining village, about 40 miles from where Richard grew up. They never met until the first day of filming in Richard’s debut film, “The Last Days of Dolwyn.”

The first day Richard worked, his roving eyes spotted a beautiful young girl. She had a small role in the picture, her first professional job. Two weeks later, Richard and Sybil announced they’d marry. Fast worker, Richard. Five months later they were married at the Kensington Registry Office. Sybil was so happy to be Mrs. Burton that she quit her just-beginning career to be his full-time wife.

During her frequent trips to Hollywood. I have met Sybil. Sybil has attractive and attention-getting snow-white hair. She appears lovelier, dresses with more chic, I’m told, then she did when they house-guested with the Masons. “She was tacky, then,” I’m told. She is vivacious, well-liked, bright and has a sense of humor.



This is Sybil

Sybil likes to be with Richard, hut doesn’t give him the watch-dog behavior whenever he’s working. She frequently travels to wherever he works for a brief visit. Sybil understands Richard. Better than anyone does—including himself.

Sybil knows Richard appears to have bravado because he is scared. She knows Richard pretends he is a great actor because he is trying to convince himself that he is. A respected critic’s bad review pushes him into a pit of depression.

Sybil knows how to handle him when he drinks too much, when his wild streak goes too wild, too off-beat.



At a party, Richard spotted Greta Garbo across the room. An enchanted moment. He lost control. He walked over to Garbo and said, “Miss Garbo, all my life I have wanted just one thing—to squeeze your knee. May I do it now?”

Garbo smiled. She was amused. She gave permission.

Richard squeezed her knee, very respectfully, thanked her and walked away. Sybil was waiting. She could hardly control her laughter. “Whatever made you do that? You acted like a schoolboy meeting a movie star for the first time.”

Richard answered, “I kept my word to Miss Garbo. I squeezed only one knee. I could have gone for two.”



He is Richard the Schoolboy. He is Richard the Welshman. He is Richard the Story Teller. He is Richard the Gay Deceiver. He is Richard the Charmer.

Sybil knows all these Richard Burtons. Does Liz Taylor? Would she tolerate them? Sybil is wife, mother, confidant, nurse, to Richard. Can Liz Taylor be all this to the many Richards?

Sybil has plenty going for her.

Richard probably emerged from the Summit Meeting not wanting to give up a good thing—Sybil.



This is Liz

Liz Taylor has plenty going for her. From past performances, whether it be working, loving, honesty, or a fighter against adversity, Liz is the chick of chicks.

However, we also know Liz gets bored easily. She doesn’t merely love a man, she conquers him. She needs the public to witness it, too.

She seems to be on a kick—married men. Liz and Eddie also had their romance for the world to see. New York night clubs instead of Roman. Grossinger’s instead of a villa. Different location. Same script.

A headline romance. Liz said she was going to marry Fisher, a married man. I covered part of that story. She was asked about the wife. Liz replied, “What am I supposed to do—ask him to go back to her and try? He can’t. And if he did, they’d destroy each other. I’m not taking anything away from Debbie Reynolds, because she never really had it.”



Burton is married. There the comparison ends. Her Fisher method didn’t work.

Liz said she’s going to marry Burton. Richard didn’t say he’s going to marry her. His reply to their around-the-clock dates: “If I feel like going out. I’ll go out. Let them say what they want to. Hang ’em.”

Liz is very valuable. For the past few years she is the only star who can carry a bad picture alone and make it a sensation at the box office. She was paid one million dollars to portray Cleopatra. She’ll receive practically another million for overtime. Also, the fate of Twentieth Century-Fox is riding along the Nile on that barge with “Cleopatra.” If the picture isn’t a smash hit. the studio could very well sink.



“Cleopatra” is a runaway production out of control. The studio wishes they were filming it on their sound stages. Not only would it cost less, but Liz would behave better. Liz is really living it up in the city of “La Dolce Vita.”

Rome is wild. A sex-fiend thief broke into Anita Ekberg’s house. He didn’t steal Anita’s jewelry or furs. He took her brassieres (size 40 DD), a few garter belts and her collection of panties.

Fellini states that there was a real orgy that inspired the one in “La Dolce Vita.”

A magazine reports thousands of unmarried couples live together in Rome.

Liz is in Rome. She knows, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Yet, this was Liz Taylor’s big mistake. She soon learned everything didn’t go.



A first for Liz

The official Vatican City weekly, in a blistering letter addressed to “Dear Madam,” but leaving no doubt that it was meant for Elizabeth Taylor, criticized her for what it termed “erotic vagrancy.” For the first time Liz appeared to feel the sting of adverse publicity.

Liz is not a person who quits easily.

First, she was puzzled by Sybil. This wife responded differently than Debbie. Sybil wasn’t ashamed. Sybil didn’t allow her ego to cry. Sybil didn’t go to Rome and compete with Liz for Richard. Sybil returned to London. She had her say and then disappeared.

Spoiled Liz was left with hostility to burn. This wife didn’t fall into the trap. She didn’t issue an ultimatum, “If I catch you fooling around, I’ll divorce you.”



Miss Taylor and Mr. Burton, who had avoided the press, now invited David Lewin, London Daily Express correspondent, to the villa for a quiet dinner.

Now Liz Taylor denied saying she’s going to marry Burton. What’s more, Liz honestly believes she never said it. Liz is convincing, capable of convincing herself. Liz is the kind of person who, if she carries a book long enough, believes she has read it.

Liz said: “In two months, I should be finished with ‘Cleopatra’ and I have been with it now through life and death for two years. Then, I go to Gstaad, in Switzerland, to my house there, which I have never seen. I don’t even know how many rooms it has, but I have looked at pictures of it.”



Liz said that after a long rest, she’ll go to Las Vegas and get the divorce. Liz was married in Las Vegas. She probably feels she’s returning the merchandise.

Then Richard, in his Churchill narration voice, told the reporter: “I am going to be in this film for longer than her ladyship here. They want to finish her as quickly as possible on account of all that money she is costing them. She is very expensive. . . .” Richard paused.

He turned to Liz and wisecracked, “You know, Liz, you ought to give some money to the Vic. You have got so much.”

He went on with his statement, his plans. “I have got another three months or more on this (picture) and that will be expensive too,” went on Richard. “Then I am going to make a film in Italy or France that costs about as much to make as Elizabeth’s salary for one week. Then next February, I am going home for a long time to work at Stratford-on-Avon. . . .”



In the meantime Richard Burton was going to England to see his wife and children as soon as he got a few days off. Or so he said. But when the studio announced the entire cast could take a long weekend off for the Easter holidays, Liz didn’t hide her reaction. She was still unhappy over the Burtons’ Paris reunion and friends said she made it pretty clear she didn’t go for the idea of Richard’s leaving her again to spend Easter alone.

Off they went, these two, to a rented seaside bungalow at Porto Santo Stefano, amid rumors and denials that Burton’s secretary was on a mission to London to sound out Sybil about a divorce. Yet their idyl ended abruptly when Liz walked out upset—and alone, only to end up at Rome’s Salvator Munda Hospital, with the carabinieri(national police) investigating what may have been an attempted suicide. This latest rush to the hospital is the only one in recent memory not attended by a devoted, frantic husband or lover.



We know what sent Liz flouncing home from her seaside rendezvous: word that Sybil had arrived at the Burton villa. She came by car, unannounced and unnoticed by the paparazzi who haunt the airport. When Burton’s beloved daughter Kate arrived soon after by plane, both parents were together to meet her.

Liz’ reaction : “I won’t give up.” Sybil had her visit and caused no scenes. Richard found time for family and for the girl next door. When Sybil left—calmly, and kissed goodbye by her husband—it was to take Kate home to school. Yes, she’d be back, she answered reporters; no, there was no question of divorce. There had “always been gossip when Richard went out with his leading ladies.” Burton’s answer to would he marry Liz was a resounding, “NO!”



If the strange marriage deal of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton runs true to form, they will be together again by the time Richard is working at Stratford-on-Avon. The first phase of the deal is of course past (Sybil’s “Richard, don’t hurt the girl”) and the final phase of a Burton romantic escapade (Sybil’s requirement: “Richard, don’t hurt us”) will be in the past as well. They’ve done it before; in all probability by the time “Cleopatra” is on your local screen, the Burtons will be living again as if the Liz thing had never happened. That new kind of triangle will be no more than very old headlines. You wanted to know about Liz and principles, about Richard and dedicated actors, about Sybil and normal housewives? Now you know.

THE END

BY SIDNEY SKOLSKY 

 

It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1962



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