According to Kashner and Schoenberger we can thank Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for the birth of celebrity tabloid entertainment. Reviewers of Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the marriage of the century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger compare the couple most frequently to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and all agree that Brangelina are a pale copy.
Their married life was so over the top and extravagant that it would be a challenge to write a book that didn’t come across as scandalous gossip. There is a bit of that here and it does make for a fast paced read which will leave you shaking your head at their lifestyle. It’s also a very human story which attempts to shine light on the power couple, the individuals and the Hollywood machine.
In an article on the CTV website, Kashner tells the story which ultimately let Taylor to agree to participate with this project. Kashner told a drama student that he was working on a book about the Burton Taylor marriage and the young woman replied that she never knew that Elizabeth Taylor had married Tim Burton. Taylor had been private about her family life but this was evidence to her that people were beginning to forget about Richard Burton. Her involvement gave the project access to his love letters and poems which reveal Burton’s emotional depth.
Taylor was the most sought after child and adult actress in the world and a renowned beauty. Burton was the son of a Welsh miner who went on to become one of the most promising Shakespearean stage actors of his generation. Cleopatra brought them together. They left their respective spouses and began a passionate life together. Their exploits were legendary. Excessive spending, excessive drinking, volatile fights and passion became synonymous with Dick N Liz. They each expressed a desire for a simpler life – to be a wife and mother, to live privately, to teach literature, but they seemed unable to leave the glamorous lifestyle behind. Burton, in fact, left the life he sometimes desired in order to be with Taylor.
Despite her many health issues, Taylor was the more resilient of the two. She was a combination of inaccessible beauty and earthy warmth. She took the public attention in stride and although a drinker, fought alcoholism. As her movie career waned, she diversified, reportedly making as much from her perfume as she did from her movies. Burton, who was admired for his masculinity and legendary voice, was also deeply soulful and insecure. His health was ruined by his excessive drinking and he was never able to settle into a different life once his movie roles dried up.
Kashner and Schoenberger do an admirable job delving into the inner lives of Burton and Taylor illuminating both the glamorous and the ugly.
As I was reading Furious Love I recalled the outrageous living in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. “Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick’s harrowing demise. A profound study of the romantic concept of character — lyrical, expansive, and hauntingly evocative — Tender Is the Night, Mabel Dodge Luhan remarked, raised F. Scott Fitzgerald to the heights of “a modern Orpheus.” – publisher