In this new collection of the legendary actor’s diaries, the wit, passions, personal ruminations and human insecurities of Richard Burton are disclosed for the first time. From his brilliant career on stage and screen through his fabled relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, “The Richard Burton Diaries” paint an intimate portrait of a complicated man. Here's an excerpt.
July 14, 1970:
“[. . . ] Last night I was lying on the bed doing a double-crostic and looked up a quotation in the paperbacked Quotation Dictionary that I carry around with me specifically for that purpose. I immediately became lost in the book and read all the Shakespeare ones right through very slowly. There was hardly a line there that I didn’t immediately know but seeing the miraculous words in print again doomed me to a long trance of nostalgia, a stupor of melancholy, like listening to really massive music, music that moans and thunders and plumbs fathomless depths. I wandered through the book for a long time but no other writer hit me with quite the same impact as William S. What a stupendous God he was, he is. What chance combination of genes went to the making of that towering imagination, that brilliant gift of words, that staggering compassion, that understanding of all human frailty, that total absence of pomposity, that wit, that pun, that joy in words and the later agony. It seems that he wrote everything worth writing and the rest of his fraternities have merely fugued on his million themes. [ . . .]
November 19, 1968:
“I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig, she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody’s fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and willful, she is clement and loving, Dulcis Imperatrix, she is Sunday’s child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me! She is a prospectus that can never be entirely catalogued, an almanack for Poor Richard. And I’ll love her ‘till I die.”
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March 20, 1969:
“ [ . . .] Another long silence in this pathetic journal occasioned I suppose by acute unhappiness added to stupendous quantities of guilt, alcohol, laziness, fear for Elizabeth’s heath and reason, stirred up well with a pinch or two of Celtic pessimism and served as a first class recipe for suicide. It is by no means over. I am still as tightly drawn as a long bow by John of Gaunt, and as touchy as a fretful porpentine but it gets better every day. . . The last six or eight months have been a nightmare. I created one half and Elizabeth the other. We grated on each other to the point of separation. I had thought of going to live alone in some remote shack in a rainy place and E had thought of going to stay with Howard in Hawaii. It is of course quite impossible. We are bound together. Hoop-steeled. Wither thou goest. He said hopefully.
August 17, 1980:
“Back to random wanderings: The audience reaction to the play: When we were in Toronto and we received without fail standing ovations at every performance I warned the cast not to take it for granted, that it would only happen occasionally, if at all, in NY. But I was wrong. The same thing happens here with unfaltering regularity. I used to get the occasional house to stand up for me in previous plays but now they always do. Will they in Chicago and the rest of the places? It’s a phenomenon that I am puzzled by. Is it nostalgia? The roars I get when I take my second solo calls are almost exultantly savage. Is it a ferocious hunger for the past, a massive ‘hiraeth,’ a sort of murderous longing for ‘home’ and security and simple peace. I don’t know. It cannot be simply the performance. Some nights unavoidably, though I try like the devil to climb to the audience’s expectations every time I play, I am not so good – but the final reaction is exactly the same. Is it that the audience know so much about me – or think they do – from my highly publicized and infamous past? It it because my performance is now truly dynamic but no, it can’t be that because only in the last couple of weeks have I taken absolute control of myself on the stage. Is it a combination of all. I shall never know. But let me say at once that to this little shrinking Welsh violet it is highly gratifying. Today, a glorious one I may say, we have a matinee – a glorious summer Sunday matinee. Will the ovations continue? I will refer to them never again – unless they stop. [ . . .]
Reprinted from THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES edited by Chris Williams © 2011 by Swansea University. Used with permission of the publisher, Yale University Press publications.
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