Extract from Richard Burton Diaries in May 1969 regarding the Press:
"Oh for any questions other than 'have you sold your soul to the films for filthy lucre?...Why don't you come back to the theatre? For some reason English people believe that acting in the theatre is superior to acting in the films or on TV. I've done all three with considerable success and they are all difficult but with the difference that after ten weeks of Playing Hamlet on the stage one's soul staggers with tedium"
As the English press in particular persisted in portraying Burton as a man who adored the theatre but who sold his soul to the devil and was seduced away from his rightful place on the stage by Elizabeth Taylor and was so overcome with self disgust he turned to drink, I was very pleased to read the above and other entries in these diaries that proved this attitude to be totally wrong.
He loved life and he loved his life. The main body of this volume is the life he and Elizabeth spent together and it was utterly compelling. As one who remembered The Scandal at the time and the Pope denouncing Elizabeth to the world and calling her a bad mother, reading about these events from one of those involved was simply fascinating. How he adored her. Practically every page he is praising her beauty, her sweetness, her wit, her brilliant acting and also her ability to drink him under the table and to take no nonsense from him. There were rows and arguments, mainly his fault as Burton admits, but there were no sulks, no tantrums and they 'made friends' again almost immediately.
Another myth dispelled is that he was jealous that she won Oscars and he didn't though he was nominated several times. It is clear from reading these diaries that he was very proud of Eizabeth's awards and was not in the slightest bit bothered by it at all. He had a generosity of spirit that took pride in all her achievements.
He also made it clear that these were not secret diaries and she was able to read them whenever she wanted and there are one or two rather touching entries. She scribbled one day 'God help me to be a good wife. I love him so'.
And yet it is clear that despite all the lavish presents, the diamonds, the jet, the yacht and the glittering lifestyle they led, they were happiest when they were on their own or with their families. Richard acted as a father to Elizabeth's two sons by Michael Wilding as he was totally disinterested in them, the same for Liza Todd who he adored, and their adopted daughter Maria as well as his own children. He was devoted to his Welsh family who in turn loved Elizabeth and was devestated when his brother Ivor was paralysed in a freak accident tripping over a paving stone and who spent the rest of his life an invalid.
And he read. Oh how he read. Biography, history, poetry, crime thrillers, literary criticism, the list is endless and he wrote about these books in his entries. He had an eclectic and wide reading remit and one of his favourite birthday presents was one from Elizabeth who gave him an entire Everyman library as he said that he used to collect them when he was a boy and it was his dream to have them all. These are in his library in his house in Switzerland, one of the places where he was most happy.
Page after page of events and people that read like a Who's Who of the glitterati contrast with the quietness and happiness of peace and simple pleasures. Totally engrossing and I have spent the last two weeks reading and finished with a great sense of sadness. I note that though he drank heavily when he was with Elizabeth he could control it when he wanted to and did so. The really heavy drinking seemed to start after they were no longer together. Pages only have one entry 'Booze' and 'More booze'.
"I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig; she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody's fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and wilful, she is clement and loving, Dulcis Imperatrix, she is Sunday's child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her and she loves me! ...and I will love her till I die"
And I believe he did.
A wonderful book and, as I have said before, the true soul of a writer comes through in diaries, it cannot be hidden and I feel that Richard Burton was a kind and loving man.