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How A Love Affair Fueled The Biz (Liz?) Industry.

While reading about the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton love affair and their two marriages and divorces (to and from each other) in Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, And the Marriage of the Century (Illustrated, Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 500 pages, $27.99), the reader perhaps feels the way Taylor and Burton did when they threw back their daily Bloody Marys, scotches and even, on occasion for Burton, two or three whole bottles of Vodka: intoxicated and enthralled with them, their wealth and their jewels. For this book, written mainly for the general public, Vanity Fair's editor Sam Kashner teamed up with author Nancy Schoenberger.


Taylor was the first actress to garner a $1 million salary, which she earned for her role in Cleopatra. While the film made $15.7 million domestically in 1963, the production was so costly (due in part to Taylor's salary and her many serious illnesses while filming) that it did not turn a profit until 1966, when ABC TV network paid $5 million ($35 million by today's standards) to air the film on television.

Taylor got more than she bargained for as Cleopatra, though, when she and Burton began their love affair, which would record very public ups and downs from their meeting in 1962 until Burton s death in 1984. They became household names around the world during Le Scandale (Burton's term for their affair), and "Liz and Dick"--their tabloid monikers--were often slapped across headlines.

Their story is indeed intoxicating. A fiery lust and love fueled by personality, circumstance, stardom and alcohol.

Although this is not the first book written about Taylor and Burton, either separately or together (Taylor herself has written numerous memoirs), Furious Love is unique in that Taylor allowed Kashner and Schoenberger access to Burton's love letters to her, and the authors' purpose seems to be to justify their extravagant lifestyle and explain their relationship as one of love. The authors include passages from Burton's diary entries that reveal his intimate thoughts about Taylor (whom he often simply refers to as "E.") and his film career. Kashner and Schoenberger suggest that, under all the jewels--the Krupp diamond, the Taylor-Burton diamond, the Taj Mahal diamond--the Burtons were like any other couple dealing with the strains of marriage, raising children (Taylor's from her marriages to second husband actor Michael Wilding, third husband producer Michael Todd and a child whom she adopted with Burton) and supporting themselves with successful careers. However, it's difficult to wrap your head around the notion of their being normal, and it is important to keep in mind where the authors found their information.

Kashner and Schoenberger focus on the genuine, passionate love Taylor and Burton possessed for each other. They heighten the drama surrounding the affair by revealing information that Taylor omitted from her memoir, Elizabeth by Elizabeth: Taylor awoke one night to find her fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher, standing over her pointing a gun at her head due to his anger over her affair with Burton. The scandal ultimately ended Taylor's marriage to Fisher and Burton's marriage to his first wife Sybil Burton. Ultimately, Taylor would marry eight times and Burton five.

The steamy excerpts from Burton's love letters recreate for the reader the intense curiosity the public felt about the Burtons as a result of Le Scandale. These first-hand accounts and the authors' judgments leave the reader with the sense that Taylor and Burton really were deeply in love when they dip into the sentimental, informing the reader that Burton wrote Taylor a love letter a few days before his death in which he told her he wished to return home to her. The last line of the book reads: "She's kept that letter by her bedside ever since."

The authors illustrate how the Taylor-Burton love affair had an immense impact on the entertainment industry, and the film industry in particular, as it fueled the public's desire to see them onscreen. Studios sought out the actors to help turn profits, as they were aware that the public wished to see "Liz and Dick" together on the big screen. The couple's films supported Hollywood in the 1960s, as "'nearly half of the U.S. film industry's income ... came from pictures starring one or both of them.'" Between 1962-1966, the seven films the Burtons starred in made over $200 million. Even though Taylor had become uninsurable in the 1960s due to her volatile health, she and Burton continued to be tapped for leading roles that capitalized on their affair. Interestingly, Burton was often not the first choice for roles, especially when his drinking became heavy, and he did not earn a higher salary than Taylor until they costarred in The Comedians, which was released in 1967.

Kashner and Schoenberger suggest that filming necessitated a give-and-take relationship between actors and studios. The Burtons needed to make movies to sustain their extravagant lifestyle, and studios needed to pay them high amounts in an effort to produce films that made money at the box office. When Taylor was deemed too young to play Flora Goforth and Burton too old to play Chris Flanders in Boom!, the roles were adjusted to suit their ages, as director Joseph Losey felt the Burtons' participation in the project was necessary to raise enough funds to finance the film.

The authors present a clear picture of the Hollywood system of the day. Their celebrity during the early 1960s licensed them to extravagant gifts in addition to their dizzyingly high salaries. When filming was completed on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1965, director Mike Nichols gifted Taylor a pair of ruby-diamond earrings, underscoring the Burtons' value to the production. Taylor was even bolder with The Taming of the Shrew director Franco Zeffirelli, as she told him of her desire for a gold bracelet from Bulgari's that had belonged to Napoleon's sister. Taylor's fame and talents led Zeffirelli to purchase it for her.

In 1968, though, the landscape of the entertainment industry began to change. Before, Taylor-Burton films had collected millions at the box office. However, in 1968, the films the two made separately earned more money than those they made together, and as Taylor neared 40, she was no longer the first choice for leading roles. This phenomenon marked a new trend, and the authors present their surprise well, as the Burtons, who spent much of their time in Europe or on the waters just beyond the continent on the Kalizma, the $192,000 yacht Burton purchased for Taylor, were shocked to find that their big-budget films were a part of the past.

Burton's Staircase lost $5.8 million and Taylor's The Only Game in Town lost $8 million--the Burtons and their films were clearly no longer the only game in Hollywood. Low-budget films like Easy Riders and The Graduate were more successful than costly films in which the Burtons starred, indicating that a new era was dawning in Hollywood, threatening to leave the Burtons behind. As Burton wrote in his diary, "Nobody but nobody will pay us million dollars a picture for a long time."

However, by including the public's interest in the Burtons as stars of the entertainment industry, the authors showcase the integral role entertainment media played in people's lives. As the authors write, "Theirs was the first reality show, a marriage with an audience," and the public could not get enough of the Burtons. In the 1970s, despite their dwindling film careers, the public was still hungry for "Liz and Dick," eager to see them onscreen, even if it wasn't the big screen, but rather the smaller screens they tuned into at home, their televisions. The couple guest-starred on an episode of Here's Lucy in September 1970, and their appearance led to the highest ratings the TV series ever recorded.

Kashner and Schoenberger could have written a book solely about the Burtons' relationship to the entertainment industry. However, while their focus is the Taylor-Burton love affair, the authors do include a reasonable amount of information about their high demands and sudden realization that the Hollywood they had known before their foray into Europe for filmmaking and cruising on the Kalizma, had left them and their high expectations behind.
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Comment:How A Love Affair Fueled The Biz (Liz?) Industry.
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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