Richard Burton 1925 -1984
A Welsh miner's son who never forgot his roots, Richard Burton gained a reputation as one of the world's finest actors, and then was criticized for placing fame and money above art and dedication to his craft. Through the help of his schoolmaster, Philip Burton, young Richard Jenkins received a scholarship to Oxford University (later taking Burton's name as his own), and studied acting; along the way he developed a distinctive and beautiful speaking voice. He made his first stage appearance in 1943, but his career did not begin in earnest until after he left the British Navy in 1947.P>The Last Days of Dolwyn (1948) provided young Burton his film debut, and he made a striking impression in a stage revival of "The Lady's Not for Burning" in 1949. When Burton came with the play to Broadway the following year, he registered solidly with American producers, and was chosen to play the male lead in My Cousin Rachel (1952), a Daphne du Maurier mystery. His success in that film led to a flurry of Hollywood activity in such pictures as The Robe (1953), The Rains of Ranchipur and Prince of Players (both 1955), but he did not set the box office on fire and subsequently spent much of his time on the stage both in Britain and in the U.S.
Burton starred in several respectable British films in the late 1950s, including Look Back in Anger (1959), but his elevation to superstardom began with his casting as King Arthur in the Broadway musical "Camelot" in 1960 (which won him a Tony Award), and his role as Marc Antony in the 1963 film version of Cleopatra A star-crossed production, it was begun and halted several times in several different countries with several different directors. During the making of the film, Burton and his costar Elizabeth Taylor carried on an affair, which led both to divorce their current mates-and become headline fodder around the world.
The Burton-Taylor team became hot box office, and although he played "Hamlet" on stage (which was also photographed for showing in movie theaters) and Becket in the movies (both 1964), he commanded the most audience attention in slick entertainments with his wife, such as The V.I.P.s (1963) and The Sandpiper (1965). Art and commerce found a common ground in the couple's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967), but audiences grew restive with both his on-again, off-again relationship with Taylor, and the later films they did together:The Comedians (1967), Dr. Faustus, Boom! (both 1968), Hammersmith Is Out (1972), and the TV movieDivorce His-Divorce Hers (1973).
In fact, Burton became notorious for appearing in films-always for the money, which he never denied-that wasted his considerable talents, including Bluebeard (1972), The Voyage (1973), The Klansman (1974), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Medusa Touch (1978), Lovespell (1979), Absolution (1981, filmed in 1978), and Wagner (1983). Burton was honored seven times with Oscar nominations, as Best Supporting Actor for My Cousin Rachel (odd, since he was the male lead) and as best actor for The Robe, Becket, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), and Equus (1977), but he never won the gold statue.
His final work was in a well-received 1984 miniseries, "Ellis Island" (which featured his daughter, actress Kate Burton) and the impressive remake of1984 (1984). He wrote of his relationship with Taylor in the slim but charming volume "Meeting Mrs. Jenkins" (1966). OTHER FILMS INCLUDE: 1951:Green Grow the Rushes 1956:Alexander the Great 1959:Bitter Victory 1962:The Longest Day 1964:The Night of the Iguana 1968:Candy 1969: Where Eagles Dare 1971:Raid on Rommel 1973:Massacre in Rome 1978:The Wild Geese 1980:Circle of Two
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin, used by arrangement with Signet, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.