Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nothin' Like the Real Thing: Burton & Taylor

by Linda Thornburg, guest blogger
BBC America has been hyping their new biopic, Burton and Taylor, for months now in preparation for its October premiere. In the trailers at least, Helena Bonham Carter seems to have a real shot at getting Taylor right. I'm less certain about Dominic West's chances for bringing Richard Burton. Helena Bonham Carter certainly has the look, the voice, and the acting chops. I'm hoping she'll bring the life spark that Michelle Williams brought to Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. While it's fascinating and sometimes scary to watch actors of all stripes take on icons of screen and stage, the magic always resides in the original.
Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis and
Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Lucky for us, film preserved the magic of Richard and Liz. The spark that was Burton and Taylor resides no place more exquisitely than in Mike Nichols’ visceral 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Still regarded as one of the best films of the 1960s, Nichols’ directorial debut in film won five Oscars and launched his Hollywood career. 
Taylor’s brilliance as the frustrated, alcoholic wife of a small-town college professor, played by Burton, won her a second Academy Award for Best Actress. Burton was also nominated for arguably his best screen performance ever, but he lost to Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons).
Other Oscar winners included Sandy Dennis (Best Supporting Actress) for her portrayal of the fragile, slightly unbalanced Honey. Haskell Wexler won for Best Cinematography, Black & White. In 1966 there were Oscars for Black & White and Color in several categories.
Burton and Taylor's performances in this classic American film are still powerful, still relevant, and still the real thing. 
Check Daedalus Books' DVD selections for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and other classic Elizabeth Taylor films. 
You might also like Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century an unsparing yet sympathetic exploration of "the most notorious, publicized, celebrated, and vilified love affair of its day."

Guest blogger Linda Thornburg is the Writer-Director of the award-winning film  Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, adapted from the novel by May Sarton. 


  1. Heloise and Abelard have not generated the chatter that Burton & Taylor have. The upstart Welshman, who lusted after Hollywood fame, and the beautiful actress, drawn to the smartest, best-read male she ever met, danced a public pas-de-deux through 2 marriages and divorces. For a while, it seemed a can't-live-with, can't-live-without relationship.
    But it ended. Each married a browner spouse (or two), and at least Burton seemed content. He was criticized for playing Faust in real life, as if a talent for the classical roles could be destroyed by too much Hollywood glitz.
    For her part, she said, after her last divorce, "If I ever want to marry again, shoot me!"
    Ah..if only Brangolina, or the former Cruise couple, could have been as much!

    1. You are so right, there's just no classy romance in Hollywood any more.

  2. Ms Thornburg

    The Best Richard Burton impression/tribute/homage? Bill Murray's in "Scrooged" - someone insists his character is Richard Burton, and so Murray finally consents to a few lines by the thespian...http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=bill%20murray%20imitation%20of%20richard%20burton&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&ved=0CD8QtwIwAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DYhqlw2_LHrQ&ei=-n9CUrPZBPTe4APd9YHYDQ&usg=AFQjCNG5HKDmb1xSc4recTbv0PrQ6MflYw&bvm=bv.53077864,d.dmg

  3. Ms Thornburg,

    Having typed that URL link from memory, I trust it works.

    Baron von Humble Brag

    1. Haven't you heard of TinyURL?

  4. Dear Baron,
    I'll see your Bill Murray and raise you a Frank Gorshin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OrE83eKGtk
    I'm completely impressed by your ability to remember long strings of nonsense, however, and will recommend you for Bletchley Park: The next generation.

  5. For those interested in more (much lower-class) Dick and Liz: the two showed up on a TV sitcom in 1970 to be fawned over by Lucille Ball.