A Hollywood Marriage "On The Rocks"

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Before Britney… there was Liz and Dick, two of the world’s major movie stars who could not pee without having the force of their urine’s trickle being offered up for discussion by some interloping journalist.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, both passionate performers with an equal passion for cocktails and known for frequent boozy brawls made famous in their co-starring roles as Martha and George in Mike Nichols directorial debut of Ernest Lehman’s screenplay of Edward Albee’s, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

It is the story of a bitter aging couple who, fueled by the effects of alcohol coupled with a long-standing resentment, emotionally brutalize one another. One could question whether a similar scenario might not eventually have played out between K-Fed and Brit had their marriage endured.

Back to Liz and Dick: In June 1973, the couple – billed as ‘the last of the really great  Hollywood  marriages,’ hit a rough spot while spending time in the Long Island hamlet of Quogue relaxing and reading scripts for Burton’s upcoming films scheduled for a start in August in Italy.

Mrs. Burton received news that her mother, who had recently taken ill, was not responding to treatment after suffering a stroke. She elected to fly to her mother’s side in Beverly Hills. Burton chose to stay behind alone.

Reputed as being a serious drinker and mourning over the recent loss of his brother, Burton had been drinking a great deal. Mrs. Burton, on the other hand, had recently decided that her decidedly robust new shape needed trimming and had sworn off alcohol. In Taylor’s absence, Burton’s imbibing went unabated. His grief, exacerbated by reports of La Liz seen at several parties in and around Beverly Hills with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Laurence Harvey, prompted Burton to place a call to the west. He wanted his wife home: Now. Perhaps a concern for Richard’s propensity towards excess cautioned Liz to return quickly. She did return, but departed just as quickly after a serious row. Mrs. Burton left Burton and fled to Manhattan checking into a suite at the Regency hotel under the name of Mrs. Richards.

What ensued was an open letter to the press announcing that she and her husband were to have a trial separation. “I am convinced it would be a good and constructive idea if Richard and I separated for awhile. I hope with all my heart that the separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be – and that is together. Pray for us.”

Upon its release, the letter elicited intense attention from the press – akin to a recent uproar over the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, in Rome, or the Watergate scandal that was currently plaguing the American President, Richard Nixon. The estranged couple made the front pages of every newspaper in the western world as press from every corner of the earth arrived in Manhattan to feed on this new grist for the mill. Both remained in hiding, which only fed the frenzy. Editors gave the order to ferret them out.

Elizabeth Taylor stayed confined in her quarters at the Regency hotel. Mr. Caballero, the hotel manager, served coffee and cookies to some thirty-plus photographers and journalists – most of them having been in the lobby for two days and nights. Finally, there came an announcement that Elizabeth would be returning to her mother in California the following day, leaving the hotel at promptly 1:30 pm.

By noon, some 300 people armed with cameras, tape recorders and television ‘fisher booms,’ jammed the lobby of the Regency. Guests of the first-class hotel had difficulty getting in and out. One-thirty came and went and Elizabeth Taylor did not. Two hours later, Taylor, dressed in a white pantsuit and gold hoop earrings, daughter Maria in tow and surrounded by four bodyguards, slipped into the hotel lobby. Within moments, they were surrounded by screaming journalists and the wild snapping of photographers who scuffled as they jostled for position. “Liz. Elizabeth. Mrs. Burton.” Undaunted, Elizabeth pushed her way through the crowds. The horde pressed while Taylor and entourage made their way into an awaiting limousine. A few men with cameras kicked at the car in frustration.

The posse pursued Taylor to California photographing her with Peter Lawford at ‘The Candy Store,’ a Beverly Hills discotheque. Shortly after, the scent went cold and Taylor was gone. Burton had coaxed her into a reunion. The press were informed and the chase was once again on.

The new venue was Marino, Italy, fifteen miles from Rome at the Villa Ponti, home of Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren. Loren would appear with Burton in his next film, “The Voyage.” Ponti, producing the film, wanted Burton to reunite with Taylor before filming started. The International press corps now gathered in Rome hoping to have a finish to the stormy love story.

A veritable fortress, Villa Ponti did not afford the press much in the way of a photo op. However, one lone photographer with a formidable lens, found a spot near a clump of trees on a hill overlooking the compound. Here he took the pictures that would tell the world that all was not well with the Burtons. Concealing himself for three days, the photographer took photographs of Elizabeth Taylor crying. Taylor comforted by Sophia Loren. Taylor, in tears with Burton pacing off to the side. The gates to Villa Ponti remained closed but clearly all was not well inside.

Days later, Elizabeth Taylor moved out of the Villa Ponti and into the Grand Hotel. She announced through her lawyers that she and Burton were seeking ‘an amicable’ divorce.


Source by Devorah Macdonald

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