I love celebrity gossip. Love. I’m not really interested in the Kardasians of the world, but give me an article about the Brange, or George Clooney’s Italian porn star girlfriend (yes!), and I will give you 5 minutes of quiet while I get my fix. You’d think, and I did, that this vice, especially my obsession with actual movie stars, would lead me to know some knowledge about celebrity culture. After reading Furious Love, one thing was clear: I had no fucking clue. You’ll have to forgive me because it’s impossible to write about the Burtons without making sweeping statements. They were loved nearly to death and reviled passionately. Ultimately, they would become the mold for celebrity culture and set the bar for drama and opulence. They truly have no equal (no, not even the Brange) and I had very little sense of who they were and what they meant to celebrity culture.
Before Furious Love, I knew that Elizabeth Taylor loved jewelry, had more husbands than the average person, marketed perfume and was one of the first real movie stars, but I didn’t even know Richard Burton’s name. Apparently I’m not alone. According to the authors, the main reason that Elizabeth Taylor provided information and old love letters for Furious Love was because she was worried that Burton’s legacy was slowly being forgotten.
As many of you probably already know, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of Cleopatra when both were married to other people. They carried on a very public affair and eventually divorced their respective spouses before getting married. Then divorced. Then married again and divorced again. Together, they lived an astonishingly opulent lifestyle and captured the public’s interest like no two people had before. From their love letters to their many public declarations, it’s clear that these two people loved each other nearly to death. However, they weren’t good for each other; she preferred him drunk and abusive, and he brought out a violent side in her. The phrase “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” was invented for these two
This book chronicles their very public relationship, and their equally real very private relationship, which the Burtons tried desperately to keep separate. As we all know, they failed and the dirty details of their relationship were laid bare for everyone to see. This book also chronicled the very public and heartbreaking alcohol addiction that plagued Burton throughout his life in a time where alcoholism wasn’t considered a disease. The authors handle this, and Elizabeth’s health problems, with sensitivity and grace. They never stoop to judge Burton for his addiction or Elizabeth for nearly working herself into an early grave. Nor do the authors give into the temptation to gush over the Burtons – clearly a difficult task. It’s clear why Elizabeth entrusted her letters, history and the story of her life to these authors, and they certainly did her relationship justice.
My favourite part of the book, the letters between Burton and Taylor were fascinating and certainly made me nostalgic for a time long before I was born when writing love letters didn’t consist of keeping things under 140 characters and posting them for the whole world to see. However, Elizabeth did hold back on one thing. Richard wrote her a final letter just before he passed away, one that she did not share with anyone. After reading this book, there is a part of me that is desperate to know what was in that letter, and another part, the better part, that hopes the public never gets to share in that final exchange, that this couple will get some privacy, whether they wanted it or not.
If you enjoy celebrity culture, this book provides an observant and thoughtful look into the lives of one very intriguing public couple and I would highly recommend picking up a copy. As for me, I’m off to re-watch Cleopatra and track down a copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.