THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES
EDITED BY CHRIS WILLIAMS
Richard Burton was at one time Hollywood’s most highly paid actor, famed as much for his epic romance with glamorous Elizabeth Taylor and his heavy drinking, as he was for his magnetic performances on stage and screen.
Throughout much of his life, Burton kept a diary. Although he dismissed them as “merely a daily exercise in the observation of frustration,” they have now provided us with an invaluable insight into the life and mind of the legendary actor.
His diaries were published for the first time in full last year having been lovingly edited and referenced by Chris Williams using Burton’s original journals plus other photographs, newspapers, recordings, scripts and books.
The resulting 654 pages are utterly brilliant and as compelling a read as any great novel. Burton is articulate, charming, callous and full of fun and gossip. He writes with such a beautiful and poetic voice that you feel yourself falling for him.
As well as a journal of his own life it is also interesting to read Burton’s take on history, current affairs, travel and sport. From the moon landings to Churchill, Mussolini to golf, Burton offers intelligent opinions on the topics of the day.
The ease with which he uses quotes from, among others, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and Yeats to illustrate his thoughts and feelings is a tremendous delight to read and reread. You find yourself marvelling at his cleverness and recall.
We discover that he found the actual daily business of making movies a bore and that he sought other activities to stimulate his mind. He was a very well read man; devouring books almost at the same rate he did vodka and liking nothing better than hiding away from his family and his entourage with a good, or bad, novel. He also studied many languages including French, Italian, Spanish and Russian and liked to watch his weight with what he called “the drinking man’s diet.”
Below I have compiled my favourite Burton quotes from these diaries on subjects such as his darling Elizabeth Taylor, doctors, drinking, social occasions and attacking paparazzi. Please read on, these extracts are beautifully written and often hilarious in their spiteful observation. Who doesn’t love a witty put down?
…on his diaries
Many question who or what Burton’s diaries were written for? Were they intended for an eventual autobiography, as a record of his dramatic existence or as a method of detaching himself from his lavish yet complicated lifestyle?
Some of his journals were hand written into actual diaries, others thumped out on his beloved portable typewriter. He was, however, often dismissive of his diaries and their purpose:
“…today’s entry for the idiot stakes.”
“This pathetic journal.”
“I never lie when I write, honest. Though I’m not sure of that.”
Burton’s diaries from 1939, 1940 and 1960 are included here. They are largely short accounts of daily events, schedules, tasks, things achieved and enjoyed. He had an action packed childhood in Pontrhydyfen, Wales; a whirlwind of school, chapel, cinema, library, running errands for local shops, rugby and cricket.
26 May 1965
What if I write that I am bitterly angry because so sharply lovely a day could come to me only in my 39th year?
27 November 1968
Why don’t I pack it in and do some “good works?” Grow two blades of grass where one grew before and all that. I couldn’t grow grass in a window box or hammer a nail in a wall without hammering a finger in with it.
1 September 1969
I saw the film Beckett last night. And I was obvious and terrible.
24 August 1971 – on Elizabeth’s daughter Liza
And out of that cesspool of cold cruelty which some people call a brain came ‘don’t be bloody stupid. He is no more my dog than you are my daughter.’ E was quite rightly livid and I wanted to cry or slit my jugular.
For one who lived his life to excess, a lot of Burton’s entries are dedicated to documenting his drinking, eating, sleeping and exercising.
31 May 1965:
Can’t understand this continual late sleeping…day is gone before one looks around.
But life and nerves being what they are, one is lucky to be up and shouting at 4 in the afternoon.
29 April 1969
E longs to be 129lbs and I to be 170lbs. It can be done. But not perhaps by us.
…on Elizabeth Taylor
8 June 1965
2 August 1967
A lovely charming decadent hopeless couple
26 September 1968
I miss her like food
26 September 1968
After 7 or is it 8 years, I still miss her if she goes to the bathroom
23 October 1968
I had only recently given a £127,000 diamond ring simply because it was a Tuesday. I enjoy being outrageous with Beth
…on other people
17 April 1966
I was plagued with gypsies…how utterly charmless they are.
8 November 1966 – on actress Margalo Gillmore
She is so determined to be witty and different that she succeeds only in becoming anticipated
6 November 1968
Maria Callas arrived and since I was in a reading mood she was not welcome
10 August 1969 – on actress Gin Bujold
She is only 27. She has reinvented biliousness. Why can’t she learn to look splendid at 6 in the morning…E looks dew dropped with just 15 minutes sleep.
28 March 1969 – on Ian Fleming’s (spy novelist best known for James Bond) writing
Every so often he stops the narrative to give little homilies about food, drink, national morals etc all of excruciating banality
8 July 1970 on Marlon Brando
That sober self-indulgent obese fart being solicitous about me. You can’t get any of those sycophants on the phone unless they want something from you. Sinatra is the same. Gods in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors.
15 July 1970
I read yesterday in the LA Times that Frankie Sinatra has ‘come out for Reagan.’ That’s like Laurel coming out for Hardy. I shouldn’t think either of them has had a thought of their own in their lives except about themselves.
20 April 1966
I’ll have to have a really insupportable smash before I’ll ever send for one those ill-trained, drunken, condescending, semi-literate sods
…on writing drunk
Sometimes it is good to write late at night. Out of the idiocy of despair and from lack of discrimination.
…on his foul temper
30 May 1966
One of my awful unaccountable days of savage ill humour
…on drunken parenting
4 June 1966
I entered the father’s race which due to the devious machinations of a black Somali, an ambassador, and three Bloody Marys, I lost.
…on social engagements
3 October 1966
Tomorrow we go to Rome to accept golden masks or silver masks or whatever for being rich and infamous, I suppose. That’s a splendid fracturing bore to look forward to.
I don’t much like looking up at people especially those who were born to be looked down on
9 April 1968
Stories were vied for. Of course I’m not the least offender in that direction though I enjoy immensely a well told, if reasonably believable, theatrical yarn. And there are lots.
20 December 1968
We did indeed get around to having dinner with the Duke and Duchess. I felt so friendly that I found myself, to my horror, calling his Nibs “David,” which wasn’t well received. There I went again.
22 December 1968
Now for the long bore of Christmas
12 December 1969
I’m likely to be a moron through Christmas. I’ll keep quiet and sleep in the sun, if any, and hide in corners with a bad book
18 December 1971
I want to retreat now into the silent world of the Alps and bury myself in walks and books and dogs and hibernate until the holidays, so loathed by me, are over. Messy Xmas trees that shed and the house running with people.
18 October 1966
Beware of Sambuca. It brings out evil things. It is a turner over of stones in damp caves.
26 May 1969
Vodka is the operative word.
22 July 1969
The thought of doing a whole day’s work…without at least half a bottle of vodka to ease back the yawns is like deliberately inciting a nightmare.
1 September 1969
I heard E say I was a bore. And right she is. When I’m drunk.
…on brother Ivor’s accident which left him paralysed
29 May 1970
So slight a slip, so gigantic a fall. A nightmare night that will haunt me forever
…on people he does like
18 December 1971
In any case I would prefer, in anybody, more jaundice and cynicism than over-sentimentality
…on throwing a ball at an intruding, trespassing photographer
29 January 1972
It’s quite a heavy hard rubber ball with a bell inside it. I could’ve had his eye out if I’d hit him there…he said nothing but stared at me with under privileged hatred.
His later life
In the 1970s Burton’s diaries became more sporadic. His brother Ivor died in 1972 which led him to drink heavily and become depressed. His journal entries became “like a ship’s log” and some days just had written the word “booze.” In the early 70s relations between Burton and Taylor became strained and they separated. Despite reconciliation attempts, Taylor eventually filed for divorce in 1974.
The pair remained in contact during their years of deteriorating health and relationships with others.
In 1983 they reunited for a run of Noel Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway and throughout major American cities. But Elizabeth was drinking heavily and the rehearsals and performances suffered. It was not deemed to be one of their successes.
In the July, Burton married editor Sally Hay in Las Vegas. The following year they returned to Celigny. On the 5th August 1984 Richard Burton died, aged 58, of a cerebral haemorrhage in a Geneva hospital. He was laid to rest in Celigny cemetery.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING 9.5/10