Elizabeth Taylor rejected Richard Burton for years and then broke her own biggest rule

by 24britishtvJuly 29, 2022, 10 p.m. 18
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In 1953, Burton arrived at a Hollywood party at the home of Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger and was immediately smitten with the woman who would dominate so much of his life and his legacy. He had been married to first wife Sybill since 1949, but that had never stopped him and he saw no reason why it should now. He later described the moment: "A girl sitting on the other side of the pool lowered her book, took off her sunglasses and looked at me. She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. She was unquestioningly gorgeous... she was a dark unyielding largess. She was, in short, too bloody much." Taylor, however, was not impressed and later described her instant rejection of what was offered. Elizabeth Taylor: A Life in Ten Pictures is on BBC2 tonight at 9pm, but nothing in her life defined her more than her love for the fiery Welsh star.
• 'Joan Crawford slept with everyone except Lassie' but loved only one Taylor said: "He flirted like mad with me, with everyone, with any girl who was even remotely pretty. I just thought, 'Ohhh, boy—I’m not gonna become a notch on his belt.'" Burton, to his horror, was flatly and categorically turned down. And it would be almost another ten years before he would ignite of the greatest and most tumultuous love affairs of all time. The actor was a late addition to the cast of Cleopatra, filming had been underway for months when he arrived on set in Rome. From their very first day together, the chemistry between the two stars was tangible and explosive. Taylor described the moment she knew she was going to break her own rule.

Taylor said: "For the first scene, there was no dialogue—we had to just look at each other. And that was it – I was another notch." Burton employed every trick to win her over, saying he was hungover and nervous, and encouraging her to look after him and even steady his shaking hands as he lifted a coffee cup to his lips. Taylor later admitted: "He was probably putting it on. He knew it would get me." And it did. Their attraction was instant but neither realised at the time what it would become. Burton assumed it was just another fling and apparently burst one day into the men’s makeup trailer and boasted: "Gentlemen, I’ve just f***ed Elizabeth Taylor in the back of my Cadillac!" DON'T MISS

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Soon, the whole set knew what was going on and the Italian press began to spread the gossip, which shot around the world. When it hit The Times in the UK Sybil couldn't ignore it and flew to Italy. Fisher was employed by the studio to 'manage' his wife and tried to ride out what was happening but later said in 1991: "She just wasn’t ‘there’ anymore. She was with him. And I wasn’t ‘there.’" Burton's brother Ifor was employed in set as his bodyguard and was enraged by what was going on. A crew member reported: "Ifor beat the living sh** out of Burton for what he was doing to Sybil. Beat him up so that Richard couldn’t work the next day. He had a black eye and a cut cheek."
• Elvis and Marilyn Monroe 'started kissing and went into the bedroom' Fisher visited Sybil and later recalled; "I said, ‘You know, they’re continuing their affair?' And she said, ‘He’s had these affairs, and he always comes home to me.’ And I said, ‘But they’re still having their affair.’ And she went to the studio, and they closed [production] down. And that cost them $100,000. And the day I left Rome, it cost them another $100,000. Elizabeth screamed and carried on. Work stopped that day. They had that in honour of me." When he heard about their spouses' meeting, Burton furiously called Fisher and said: "You nothing, you spleen. I’m going to come up there and kill you." He would also taunt Fisher, saying: "You don’t know how to use her!" Or ask Taylor who she loved, in front of her husband. For six months the affair stopped and started, mainly due to Burton and Taylor's own fighting. She was twice hospitalised after taking tablets, but later said it was never to end her own life, simply to force a break from personal and professional pressures, and recuperate in hospital.

Burton was also having an affair on set with a dancer, causing more arguments with Taylor. A romantic trip down the coast to Porto Santo at Easter was splashed across the worlds' papers. It ended with more drama, as Taylor fled back to Rome. For the second time in four months she was admitted to the Salvator Mundi Hospital. They both returned to their partners after the shoot wrapped in the summer of 1962. Taylor was effectively separated from Fisher but he wouldn't grant her a divorce until March 1964. However, she had already been reunited with Burton on another film, The VIPs, where their affair reignited in early 1963. Sybil petitioned for divorce on the grounds of "abandonment and cruel and inhumane treatment" in December. Three months later Burton and Taylor married in Montreal. Burton died at just 58 in 1984, and Taylor later said: "I was still madly in love with him the day he died. I think he still loved me, too." Elizabeth Taylor: A Life in Ten Pictures is on BBC2 tonight at 9pm

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