Frank, Revealing and Poignant: Yale to Publish the Richard Burton Diaries
Monday, 17 September 2012
Yale has just published the surviving diaries of acting icon and Hollywood celebrity Richard Burton (as featured in The Telegraph). Starting when he was 14 and running throughout his eventful life, The Richard Burton Diaries (edited by Chris Williams) reveal a man quite different from the one we ‘know’ as acclaimed actor, film star and jet-set celebrity. Covering the actor's varied career and the years of his celebrated marriages to Elizabeth Taylor, these revealing and poignant diaries are one of the highlights of Yale's Autumn/Winter season.The Richard Burton Diaries have already captured the imagination of journalists and celebrity enthusiasts. This weekend The Telegraph set the scene for this publishing sensation with a serialisation of extracts from the Diaries in 'Reviews' and 'Seven magazine' [read more].
Richard Burton (born Richard Jenkins, 1925–1984) was the son of a coal miner in Pontrhydyfen, South Wales, the 12th of 13 children. From his domestically troubled, working class upbringing, Burton forged one of the most dazzling acting careers of his generation, appearing in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cleopatra. It was on the set of Cleopatra in 1963 when Burton first met Elizabeth Taylor. The Hollywood couple were married for a first time between 1964 and 1974 and then again in 1975 for another year.
Burton’s celebrity lifestyle and his hedonistic behaviour has led to a particular perception of this iconic figure. Revealing a different side to the actor, Burton’s diaries were donated by his widow Sally Burton to Swansea University, who in turn entrusted them to Yale for publication. They are a revelatory personal account, portraying a rather different man than his popular image of ‘hard drinker’ and ‘womaniser’ would have us imagine.
"I awoke this morning at about 7 o’clock. I stared at Elizabeth for a long time. I held her hand and kissed her very gently. Probably no woman sleeps with such childish beauty as my adorable difficult fractious intolerant wife." - 15 June 1969
From his private, handwritten pages there emerges a different person – a family man, a father, a husband, a man often troubled and always keenly observing. Understood through his own words, day to day and year by year, Burton becomes a fully rounded human being who, with a wealth of talent and a surprising burden of insecurity, confronts the peculiar challenges of a life lived largely in the spotlight.
"My lack of interest in my own career, past present or future is almost total. All my life I think I have been secretly ashamed of being an actor and the older I get the more ashamed I get. And I think it resolves itself into a firm belief that the person who’s doing the acting is somebody else." - 15 August 1971
The Richard Burton Diaries were written between 1939 and 1983 – throughout his career and the years of his marriages to Elizabeth Taylor. Diary entries appear in their original sequence, with annotations to clarify the people, places, books and events he mentions. At times Burton struggles to come to terms with the unfulfilled potential of his life and talent. In other entries, he crows over achievements and hungers for greater challenges. He may be watching his weight, watching his drinking, or watching other men watch his Elizabeth. Always he is articulate, opinionated and fascinating. His diaries offer a rare and fresh perspective on his own life and career, Elizabeth Taylor’s, and the glamorous world of film, theatre and celebrity that they inhabited.