Mrs. Burton Fights Liz
“Richard is mine. He is all mine. He shall always be mine. I will never give him up to Elizabeth Taylor or to any woman. . . .”
The voice was crisp and clipped. Veddy British, you might say. And why not? It was Sybil Burton, a woman who speaks the King’s English beautifully and who very emphatically and very staunchly established her rights as a wife in the first seconds of our trans-Atlantic telephone conversation.
I had called Sybil from my office in New York. She was in the picturesque village of Caligny in the snow-capped Alps of Switzerland where she was taking a quiet vacation before returning to London for the Christmas holidays. There was one prime objective in my call to her—to find out how she was taking the latest torrent of gossip-provoking news about her wandering husband and Liz Taylor. The headlines were datelined Paris.
“Dick and Liz Doing the Town Again!” bellowed the black type of one New York newspaper. “Dick and Liz To Co-Star in New Film!” wailed another paper in a Iater edition. The latter headline referred to the announcement by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were signed to do “The VIP’s” together, now that they had at long last finished their epochal $35,000,000 “Cleopatra,” the most expensive film in all history.
Even though I’m a reporter bold, I just didn’t have the heart to slam Sybil with a provocative question about Burton and Liz from the start. I had chosen a course of maximum tact and good taste in questioning her about Richard. I felt she had suffered quite enough all these long months over the scandal that had swathed her marriage. I wouldn’t add to her woes.
But I had no sooner introduced myself than I was beset by this remarkable retort of Sybl’s: “I say, you must be calling about my husband’s reunion with Miss Taylor in Paris. It’s in every one of the newspapers here, you know.”
There was no turning back now. Sybil brought it up, so I decided to shoot the works. “Yes, Mrs. Burton,” I said, “that is one of the things I wanted to discuss. May I ask you what you make of it?” To my surprise, there was a hearty laugh at the other end of the line. It was not the operator eavesdropping as I had suspected for a moment. It was really Sybil. Laughing!
“‘I imagine,” she said, still chortling, “that it means Richard is enjoying himself. Wouldn’t you think that?”
A heck of a spot to be in. Sybil asking me, the reporter, if I thought her husband was having a good time with Liz. But since she asked me, I had to say something. So I replied: “Well, I didn’t study Richard’s face too closely in the photos—you know how those cabled pictures come out. All blurry. . .
“Oh. that’s quite all right,” Sybil interrupted. “You don’t have to apologize for Richard. I know he’s having a good time. And it is perfectly all right with me.”
I had heard Sybil say it. I had heard it as clearly as if she were standing next to me. But I wanted to make certain that I wasn’t hearing things.
“You are saying,” I began again, “that it’s all right with you that Richard is enjoying himself with Liz?”
“Of course, my dear,” came the reply. “But why are you discussing this with me? I do think you should call Richard yourself and ask him. He’s staying at the Hotel Meurice in Paris.”
“Yes,” I said, taking a breath. “And Miss Taylor is staying with him. But to be perfectly frank with you. Mrs. Burton, I can’t seem to get them to answer the phone.”
If you think that bit of revelatory intelligence was grating enough to throw Sybil, then you don’t know this woman who has vowed to remain Burton’s wife in the face of a scandal that would have destroyed almost any other spouse. It was obvious from her comment why she has remained as steadfast as the Rock of Gibraltar against the almost daily crises which had turned her marriage into a sensational love triangle.
Imperturbable Sybil came back with this rebuttal: “They are both probably very busy. . . .”
For a moment her voice drifted.
“Busy, did you say?” I put in.
“Yes,” she returned. “Busy—with business.”
“Yes—they are working out the final de- tails of their new contract for ‘The VIP’s.’ It may take a few more days. . .
Suddenly the thought of Burton and Taylor doing another movie together hit me like a pot of soggy spaghetti. My mind raced over the events of the last several months. I recalled the first flashes from P Rome, when Liz was rushed to the hospital. They called it food poisoning at first. Then they said it was exhaustion. They put other labels on the sickness, but no one could hide the truth even then. The truth was that Liz was through with Eddie Fisher. You knew that the instant Eddie flew back from Lisbon where he had gone off on business. The doctors refused to let Eddie in to see his wife; he cooled his heels for hours before they finally admitted him to Liz’ bedside.
Almost at once the rumors flew. Liz. the beauteous, alluring Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, had fallen for her leading man, handsome, hulking Burton, her Marc Antony.
At first it was hard to believe. It was like a nightmare in broad daylight. The story shocked millions of faithful fans who had been led to believe that Liz had at last found a permanent husband in Eddie, the man she had snatched from Debbie Reynolds in one of the boldest abductions Hollywood had ever seen.
“Liz can’t afford another scandal,” was the word that buzzed ’round the world on the heels of the rumors of her seething romance with Burton. Indeed, she could ill afford to ride the rapids of another marital bust-up at a time when 20th Century-Fox had all its millions tied up in “Cleopatra.”
Yet Liz paid no heed to the danger signs that were flashed to her. She ignored the pleas of everyone, including Spyros Skouras, the fallen tycoon of 20th Century-Fox. It was Liz, in some measure, who brought about his downfall for she carried on an audacious love affair with Burton—against Skouras’ impassioned entreaties.
Liz and Burton carried on shamelessly on the streets of Rome, in cafes, the restaurants, and on the beaches. They spent long hours together at her sumptuous villa on the Appian Way. This was brute testimony that Liz—and Burton—had thrown good taste to the winds and invited all the world to be witness to their lust and love.
Eddie Fisher was betrayed and his heart was broken as he watched his enchantress wife making her overtures to her rugged, dashing leading man in bolder and bolder terms. At last Eddie had to show the world he was a man, no more the slave who stood at Liz’ feet pampering and cajoling her. He broke—clean. He came to New York and announced for all to hear that he and Liz were washed up.
Now there was the other poor soul in this shattering betrayal of morality. It was Sybil Burton. How was she affected by this treachery?
There are those who say that it made Sybil sick and heartbroken as Eddie to see her husband in the embrace of another woman. They say that she suffered interminably, writhing in a private hell of torment; that she suffered not only for herself but for her children born of her marriage to Burton. Yet, never once did Sybil publicly reveal the dreadful humiliation she unquestionably endured during this traumatic period of her life.
Instead, she stood squarely on her courage and dignity. She wanted no pity. She wanted no sympathy. She simply asked to be left alone.
Faith was in her heart. She knew Richard Burton better than any woman—far better than Liz Taylor would ever know him, even though she was now the woman in his arms, pressing her lips to his, stroking his hair and, finally—that scene on the boat which left little or nothing to the imagination. . . .
I thought of all these episodes which had brought the shocking triangle down to the present moment as I spoke with Sybil Burton by trans-Atlantic phone.
Thus far Sybil had spoken to me frankly and unhesitatingly. I had never before heard of her giving Richard her blessing to carry on with Liz as he pleased. Now I had heard it with my own ears directly from Sybil. It was a revealing insight into the indomitable character and superb quality of the woman.
I couldn’t help but form a hasty conclusion at this point—a conclusion that Sybil Burton will never give up Richard to Liz. But I had to be sure. The editors of PHOTOPLAY magazine wanted a scoop, an exclusive interview with Sybil, and they wanted to know if she had weakened even the least little bit from her position since s the latest publicity about Liz and Richard crackled out of Paris. Now that they were going to make another film together, what chance would Sybil have of getting Richard back from Liz?
Many astute observers of the scene had predicted that once Burton and Liz were finished with “Cleopatra,” they would come to a parting of the ways. The script ! had been sketched. It went something like this:
Burton, who has a reputation of sweeping his leading ladies off their feet, would go back to Sybil. And Liz, once dumped by Burton, would come crawling back to Eddie. And the Burtons and Fishers would live happily ever after—in their separate abodes, of course.
But the script was speedily scrapped when M-G-M pulled its coupe by signing Liz and Richard to do “The VIP’s.” That changed the entire complexion of the shameless lovers’ future. It meant they would be together again and, predictably, they would continue to carry on as before.
Richard has her blessing
That, then, raised the question about | Sybil. What would she do? Carefully, in order not to arouse her anger and cause Sybil to hang up on me, I put the question to her this way:
“Mrs. Burton, there have been so many stories in the newspapers that I am really very confused by them all. I’ve been wondering, in view of all that has been written about Richard and Elizabeth—have you any objection to their teaming up again in another movie?”
There was a brief period of silence. But I didn’t hear a click. I assumed Sybil was mulling over the question. I was reassured of that when I heard Sybil’s voice again.
“I don’t think,” she said softly, “that I should have any objection. It is a perfect stroke of genius to bring my husband together with Elizabeth in another film. Moreover, it is a very fine script. They should do very well with it.”
Then, as if to emphasize the reply to my query, Sybil repeated, “No, I certainly , have no objection.”
I wondered what new headlines Richard and Liz might make now in light of their renewed partnership in another celluloid venture. Of course, I was wondering about their off-screen romancing. I must have wondered too loud because Sybil came back with a reply that may well establish her as the world’s most understanding wife.
“I must say to you,” she said firmly, “that I never pay serious attention to the newspapers. I make it a policy never to comment on what is printed in the columns. So, if you will forgive me, I shall not venture predictions on what they will write about my husband in the future.”
I wanted to know why Sybil had that attitude toward the press.
“Because,” she came back in a tone of apparent annoyance, “whatever I say always gets twisted. And I must assume that when others are quoted, they are probably misquoted, too.”
“Then,” I said, “are you suggesting that what has been said about Richard and Elizabeth is not in conformance with facts?”
Mrs. Burton had the answer ready.
“I will say this to you,” she murmured. “Richard and I have been married for four-teen years. In that time we have achieved a perfect understanding between ourselves. It is a relationship which has developed over a long period of time and it is rather binding. Can you understand that?”
I must admit Sybil was getting through to me. So my reply was an emphatic, “Yes, yes, of course.” Yet, somehow, I had the feeling she was playing it cool. That prompted me to hop back to the latest reports on Liz and Burton—their meanderings in Paris where they were shown in pictures whooping it up in a night club.
“Do you place any credence on the rumors that they are in love—”
I was interrupted before I could finish the sentence. I was going to say “and get married.” But I never got to say it.
A perfect understanding
“Richard and I understand each other perfectly,” Sybil countered in a reassuring voice. “In fact, I shall be going to London soon to join Richard there for the Christmas holidays.
“Therefore, what I am saying is that my relations with Richard are just fine. Simply fine. I wish you would not worry so about us in view of how fine things really are.”
Sybil didn’t seem to want to leave any doubt in my mind about her relations with Richard. Things are fine. Really fine.
“And the children?” I asked, referring to Kate, five, and Jessica, three, who were with their mother in Celigny.
“Oh, they are fine,” Mrs. Burton replied. I began to sense that Sybil had reached the point of diminishing returns with her patience insofar as your reporter is concerned, and that she was getting rawther anxious to put a bloody end to it all. I said: “From what you say, Mrs. Burton, I gather that you’ll not consent to a divorce if, of course, Richard should want it in due course to marry Elizabeth—as the newspapers keep saying.”
Which promptly brought the reply which lopped this story:
“Richard is mine. He is all mine. He shall always be mine. I will never give him up to Elizabeth Taylor or to any woman. . . .”
Then, almost as an afterthought:
“But this is all so very academic . . . As I have told you. Richard and I understand each other perfectly . . .”
To which we would like to add one final comment: Bully for Mrs. Burton!
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1963