An anecdote included with the acknowledgments at the end of Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century would startle anyone who remembers the couple as an iconic staple of the ‘60s and ‘70s: a recent college theatre graduate assumed a “Taylor-Burton” romance was a mating of Elizabeth Taylor and film director Tim Burton. For others, it’s difficult to remember those times and not conjure their images, much in the same way one does The Beatles. This dual biography of the two, sanctioned by Taylor, is intended as a way to keep alive the diminishing legacy of Burton, who died in 1984 at the untimely age of 58.

It really is hard to imagine a similar, endlessly fascinating story playing out in the public imagination today. [Sorry, but Pitt, Jolie, and Aniston just don’t cut it.] It was larger than life, and the excesses of their lifestyle could only exist in another time. It was that lifestyle that sadly distracted Burton from achieving a more memorable body of work to be analyzed by future generations. Perhaps had he spent more time in exploiting his God-given talents than chasing down baubles for his no-doubt extraordinarily beautiful and world-famous wife, we would have seen the performances that he was meant to excel in.

The denial of what was such an integral part of Burton’s artistic being did nothing but fuel the demons that eventually consumed him.

Of course, he pretty much abandoned the serious stage after connecting with Taylor, and for this moody, melancholic Welshman, the denial of what was such an integral part of his artistic being did nothing but fuel the demons that eventually consumed him. He had a touch of the poet: a line from one of his diaries describes a memorable moment in the Italian countryside as “being nostalgia before it was even over.” His letters to Taylor are particularly disarming as well, and capture some of the genuine chemistry, outside the manufactured glamour, between the two.

In the end, it’s a sad tale twice-fold: not only the truncated classical career and the personality remembered primarily for the opulent inanities, but the ultimate separation from the woman that he did it all for. Taylor reveals that Burton’s final letter to her, which arrived after his death, said that he wanted to “come home.” A lovely sentiment, but one comes away from this book with the feeling that for such a tortured soul as Burton’s, “home” was but a temporary refuge.

[Postscript: 3/23/11: Finally reunited.]

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