Richard Burton Diaries: private record of events focused on the tempestuous years when he was married to Elizabeth Taylor
During the key points in his life, Richard Burton kept a private record of events, writing on and off until just a year before his death, at the age of 58, in August 1984.
Now, for the first time, his widow Sally has agreed for it to be published in full.
The bulk of the diary focuses on the tempestuous years when he was married (twice) to Elizabeth Taylor. It was written knowing Elizabeth Taylor would read it and often teases her mercilessly – as well as including her stinging, handwritten ripostes.
Tuesday 1st, Lavandou, France: Got up 9.50. Woke Burt [nickname for Elizabeth] up at 12.00. Swam, sunbathed, lunched, bed, read, ate, slept. Whew! Burt a bit sarky today.
Added in Elizabeth’s handwriting: He should fri**ing talk!
“Wednesday 2nd: Had good row with Burt and accused her, among other things, of lousy taste. She accused me, among other things, of snobbery. I said the only thing we had in common was the game of Yahtzee [a dice game the couple enjoyed]. I forgot some other things.
Wednesday 9th: Had a quarrel again. Nasty habit we have. Home and to Yahtzee and bed in sullen silence. It’s always (nearly) alright in the morning.
Saturday 26th, Rome: I worry enormously about the fact we have no money. I worry that I won’t be able to look after my wife and my children after I’m dead – nobody else will.
Tuesday 12th: E [his shorthand for Elizabeth] to go into hospital tomorrow for an operation. Came to lunch with me and felt sick and faint. Poor little thing. I shouted and bawled at her for being <<unfit>> for lack of discipline, for taking too much booze. I think I was talking about myself – out of fear for her. God get tomorrow over rapidly.
In Elizabeth’s handwriting: Bachgen [Welsh for <<boy>>], I love you.
Wednesday 13th: What a day. I went to work at 7.30 [both were starring in Franco Zefferelli’s The Taming Of The Shrew] and was made up and learned lines. All the time I waited for the phone to ring. I thought a lot about our lives and shades of mortality grew round me like a mist. Then the blower blew and joy of joys it was herself on the other end and the operation was over and she was in pain but alive and will live to be shouted at another day.
Thursday 21st: E much better today. I may have to work tomorrow. I look forward to it.
In Taylor’s hand-writing: You ill-tempered bastard! So do I – at least you’ll be out of my hair!
Thursday, 28th: We dined at home quietly and made lovely love.
Sunday 29th: End of another working week. Both Eliz and I agreed solemnly that we never want to work again but simply loll our lives away in a sort of eternal Sunday. Quite right, too. We’re both bone-lazy. And enjoy it.
Monday 30th: One of my awful, unaccountable days of savage ill-humor. I snarled at everyone, everything and every idea. Eliz was gay and sweet, but nothing could drag me out of my tantrum.
Monday 26th: Astonishingly I’ve lost, temporarily I hope, my taste for alcohol. I’ll force a Campari-soda-vodka between my clenched teeth before dinner or bust. I shall have my hamburgers any minute. E is frantic when she cooks – quite incoherent, poised in the dark over the barbecue like a Fury.
Tuesday 27th: I’ve just discovered that in the last 20 months, I’ve given $76,000 to one person, over $1,000,000 to another. You’ve got to be an idiot. Anyway, we’re lucky: we can always grow some more. Who’s like us?!
Monday 3rd: 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.
Tuesday 4th: The award evening was monstrous. For about ¾ hour, endless hard-faced breastless models paraded before our bored eyes an extraordinary tasteless concourse of fashions. Then every performer in Italy was awarded Masks of Silver. We were the last.
After the awards, we talked and drank with Zeffirelli and his secretary Sheila Pickles. E was telling us all about her operations, when Pickles threw up. All over the carpet. It cleared the bar rather faster than a typhoon.
Wednesday 5th: Woke late, and so ashamed that rather than be late would rather not turn up for work at all. E called and explained, lying like a trooper, that I was desperately ill. I don’t care. I have one disease that’s incurable – I’m easily bored. I’m fascinated by the idea of something, but its execution bores me.
Sunday 16th, Positano, Italy: Lunch slightly marred by fans. There was one frantic woman who ran along beside us, screaming: <<If she only takes off her glasses for me to see her beautiful eyes.>> I loathe fans; they make me intensely nervous and self-conscious. Why do they do it? I actually feel as embarrassed seeing a public figure as being one.
Wednesday 2nd, Rome: I’ve been more or less drunk for two days. I don’t know why but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also made a feeble pass at Karen, our [adopted daughter] Maria’s nurse, and apologized immediately and straightaway told E, who thought it funny but probably harmful to K. I apologized again the next morning in front of E. Now what on earth possessed me to do that? It must be my impending 41st birthday.
Thursday 3rd: For some reason, I worried a lot about E this morning, whether she loved me or not and how awful it would be to lose her. I worked myself up to a rare state of misery and was absurdly relieved when she telephoned from the film studio. What’s the matter with me?”
Sunday 21st, onboard Oddyseia, Portofino, Italy: We’re going to buy this yacht. There are seven bedrooms and eight crew, and I estimate it will cost $25–30,000 a year to run it. Not too bad when one considers our last house (rented) cost $10,000 a month plus approx $1,000 a week for food and staff etc! If we use it as much as possible, we could actually save money.
Wednesday 24th: The seas were high and the skies grey and the boat rocked and shivered. So we settled to read and, in my case, do crossword puzzles. E anxious that I write about her, so here goes: She’s a nice fat girl who loves mosquitos and hates pustular carbuncular Welshmen, loathes boats and loves planes, has tiny blackcurrant eyes and minute breasts and has no sense of humour. She is prudish, priggish and painfully self-conscious.
Thursday 1st, en route to Portofino: On Tuesday, Rex and Rachel Harrison came on board. Rachel became stupendously drunk. She insulted Rex sexually, morally, physically and in every way. She lay on the floor in the bar and barked like a dog. E lectured her, I did, Rex did. All to no avail. Christ.
Sunday 4th: Rachel became pretty drunk again and started to strip off at one point. The people on the roadway above started to cheer, thinking it was E, no doubt. Rex is fantastically tolerant. She wouldn’t last 48 hours with me, and he’s had it for seven years.
Saturday 24th, Monte Carlo: Orson Welles, gargantuanly fat, joined us at our table for a minute or two. I wondered to E how he could possibly make love.
Thursday 20th, Gstaad: The yacht is now ours and officially the KALIZMA. Kate Liza Maria [the names of their daughters – Kate and Liza from previous marriages, and Maria adopted]. It’s going to be fun when it’s all fitted out.
Friday 28th, London–Sicily: A woman asked: <<Sign my autograph please, Mr. Taylor.>> I gave her a look that felled her. That’s the first time in five years. Cheek.
Sunday 30th, Sicily: A slow day, with a walk in which we bought sunglasses at a little shop. As we left, the crowd which had gathered applauded us. E thought it very sweet, which indeed it was. We dined in somnolence and some self-satisfaction as we compared our ancestors and former wives and husbands.
Monday 31st: Mini-skirts are still relatively rare here and at one moment, in a narrow street, E’s skirts had ridden up and half her (admittedly pretty) thighs were revealed and one young man was so obsessed by the eroticism of the scene that I thought he was going to have an orgasm on the spot. E was too shy to pull her skirt down until we’d moved on, so the pimply feller had a long long stare. He will dream tonight.
Wednesday 2nd, Rome: In the middle of the early night, Elizabeth and I exchanged insults in which I said that she was not <<a woman but a man>> and in which she called me <<little girl>>. A lovely, charming, decadent, hopeless couple.
Thursday 3rd: Make-up day when we both kissed and apologies were flying in all directions.
Friday 11th, Gstaad-Sardinia: A terrible day, frantically disorganized, thousands of bags all over the place, nine children, six adults all on one plane. The Kalizma hasn’t arrived, nobody at the airport to meet us, and I screamed <<f***’ out of drunkenness in the hotel lobby. E making any excuse not to start the film [both were starring in Boom!] on Monday.
Sunday 24th, Bonifacio, Corsica: A glorious day with a light breeze ruffling the harbor waters. Elizabeth was looking infinitely sexy in the shortest mini-skirt I’ve ever seen. The beach boys around, who all appeared to be stoned, were beside themselves. Later, a French deep-sea diving ship pulled alongside and moored. It was the French Navy – and discovering E was on the next ship, they immediately began to get drunk and dive into the harbor with all their clothes on.
Saturday 30th, Paris: At about 12 noon, I did something beyond outrage. I bought Elizabeth the jet plane we flew in yesterday. It costs, brand new, $960,000. She was not displeased.
Tuesday 23rd, Fitzroy-Nuffield Hospital, London [Liz has been admitted for a hysterectomy]: I’ve just spent the two most horrible days of my adult life. This is the first time I’ve seen a loved one in screaming agony and I felt completely helpless. But it’s the nights that have been so harrowing. I took a room next door to E’s to be near her. The walls are like tissue paper and the first night I heard nothing but her groans. It is not a normal hysterectomy – there were great complications – and she’s suffering far more than normal.
In addition, they’ve given her a drug which gives her vivid hallucinations. At one point, she looked at a poster of the Mona Lisa on the wall and said, very hostess-like: <<Vicky, would you like a drink?>>
I fell asleep but kept waking with the sort of convulsive wide-awakeness of a man who’s afraid of having a heart attack in his sleep. The most alarming thing was that E looked at me on occasions with a malevolence that made a basilisk look like a bloodhound. I can only hope that in vino veritas doesn’t apply to drugs.
Thursday 26th, Paris: Elizabeth has gone off to work [on The Only Game In Town, with Warren Beatty]. After seven, or is it eight years, I still miss her if she goes to the bathroom.
Wednesday 2nd: I suddenly turned from Jekyll into Hyde and went to bed dinnerless in one of my huffs. I woke at 4.30 a.m. and waited for the world to get up. The world being Elizabeth. Finally decided to wake the world up at 7.00, whereupon it made me a Bloody Mary. That, I said, is my vitamin C for the day.
Thursday 3rd [in Taylor’s hand-writing]: My Darling Husband, Just to let you know that going to bed with Warren Beatty hasn’t changed my love for you at all – increased it if anything. Aren’t you thrilled? All my love, Wife
Tuesday 8th: Maria Callas told us on Sunday that she and Aristotle Onassis had parted. Said he was too destructive and her singing was affected. I think she’s a bit of a bore. She told me how beautiful my eyes were and that they demonstrated a good soul! Elizabeth, who has eyes in the back of her bum and ears on stalks, was aware of everything that was going on.
Thursday 10th: Yesterday was unique. I didn’t see or talk to Elizabeth for an entire day. I felt desperate all day long and suddenly, about 5 o’clock, began to drink Martinis. By the time I got home, I passed out. I think perhaps, though it’s good for her, that I don’t like Elizabeth working without me.
Friday 11th: I’ve worked out that we should, at the end of 1969, be worth about $12 million between us [equivalent to $73 million today].
Saturday 12th, aboard Kalizma, Cap Ferrat, France: The Monet is in the living room, the Picasso and the Van Gogh are in the dining room. I can’t stop touching the boat and staring at it, as if it’s a beautiful baby.
Sunday 13th: Elizabeth has great worries about becoming a cripple because her feet sometimes have no feeling in them. She asked if I’d stop loving her if she had to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. I told her that I didn’t care if her legs, bum and bosoms fell off and her teeth turned yellow. And she went bald. I love that woman so much sometimes that I cannot believe my luck.
Sunday 20th, Paris: I’m ridiculously (I hope) jealous of E nowadays because she’s working with a young and attractive man [Beatty] who obviously adores her. She tells me I’m a fool and that he’s like a younger brother. Ah, I say, but there’ve been cases of incest. My God, she’s a beauty. Sometimes I look at her when she’s asleep at the first light of a grey dawn and wonder at her.
Wednesday 23rd: Elizabeth tells me that [rich socialites] Jacqueline de Ribes and Marie Helene Rothschild are mad for Beatty. They continually phone E or Warren or each other, scheming to get him. Poor bastard. I have an idea that Marie Helene and Jacqueline were after me for a time about two years ago, but gave me up as a bad job. I told E with great smugness that Onassis had given Jackie Kennedy a wedding present of only <<slightly less than £100,000 of diamonds, precious stones etc.>> – whereas I’d only recently given a £127,000 diamond ring to E simply because it was a Tuesday.
Friday 25th: Onassis has given Jackie half a million pounds worth of rubies surrounded by diamonds. The idea has already been implanted that I shouldn’t let myself be out-done by a bloody Greek. Now the Battle of the Rubies is on. I can be just as vulgar as he can, I say to myself.
Tuesday 29th: I’ve been offered $1 million for one month of this diary. Somebody is mad.
Wednesday 6th: Maria Callas is very lonely after the Onassis marriage. Now she obviously wants to do something that will prove to him that all he’s gained is a pretty socialite, while in her he’s lost a genius. Quite right, but if I had the choice I’m afraid I’d elect for Jackie Kennedy. She sounds more fun. And looks prettier.
Friday 8th: With milady fast asleep in bed as I thought, I was looking through a script when suddenly the bedroom door opened and standing there in a near-diaphanous nightgown with one shoulder slipped on to her arm was E. So I went back to bed for ten minutes. I was unquestionably seduced, and I teased her about it for the rest of the day.
Monday 11th: E gave me a mink coat for my 43rd birthday. A mink coat! It’s dark brown and the nap is close and short and it gleams as only a mink can. It comes to halfway down my thighs. I hope I don’t look like a fool! E says not.
Thursday 14th: I drank three bottles of vodka during the course of the day. And that, naturally, doesn’t include the evening, when I think I slowed down.
Friday 15th: I’d like to be alone with E for about 200 years but can’t even get two days.
Tuesday 19th: I’ve been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She’s turned me into a moral man but not a prig, she’s a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she’s shy and witty, she’s nobody’s fool, she’s a brilliant actress, she’s beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and willful, she’s clement and loving, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she’s an ache in the stomach when I’m away from her, and she loves me! I’ll love her till I die.
Wednesday 20th: I was in a mad mood last night and accused E of talking too suspiciously much about Warren Beatty and his various middle-aged amours. It’s perfectly obvious that one way to attract a woman is to pay a lot of attention to other women. It drives them mad. I remember screwing everybody in a large company over a year or so to get one woman. I wish I hadn’t now because she was an evil bitch.
Monday 9th, London: I became very drunk and abused people and insulted E a lot on the telephone when I arrived. I miss her terribly already. I wish I didn’t love people. And I wish I didn’t shout at people.
Thursday 12th: Deep-down, atavistically, I loathe the English. They’re immeasurably snob-ridden and conceited. All classes. The ordinary people in the street look so pinched and puny and mean. Only the occasional young girl, mini-skirted and swinging her bum and breasts, gives any pleasure. And on top of everything, there’s no E here to share my discontent.
Sunday 22nd, Gstaad: I was in one of my absolutely unstoppably filthy moods. Elizabeth screamed a bit. I accused her of being a hypochondriac, and said that she was ill only when she chose to be. Went to bed sulking at about 9.30. Now for the long bore of Christmas.
Tuesday 31st. If E continues to be in trouble with sciatica, I’ll insist that she never works again. The most frightening thing is that when she moans and groans in agony, I simply become bored. And what’s more frightening is she’s become bored with everything in life. As a result of this half-life we’re leading, I’m drinking twice as much. The upshot is that I’ll die of drink while she’ll go blithely on in her half-world.”
Extracted from The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams, published by Yale University Press