TODAY   |  October 15, 2012

New book reveals Richard Burton’s private diaries

For the first time, the surviving diaries of Richard Burton are being published in one volume. TODAY’s Matt Lauer reports and the book’s editor, Chris Williams, reveals some of the content of the entries about the actor’s storied career and marriage to Elizabeth Taylor.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with a personal look at one of hollywood's greatest love stories . elizabeth taylor and richard burton 's romance that played out on the pig screens for two decades. a personal collection of diaries being published. we talked to his daughter and the very revealing entries.

>> the extraordinary thing about these diaries is they are my father's words, going from the most mundane, to the most esoteric, to the most brilliant, to the most hilarious.

>> "the richard burton diaries " written between 1939 and 1983 chronicled the glamorous yet troubled life of an acclaimed actor, loving father and passionate husband, an inside look at the personal life of one of the world's most famous couples. because i love you just the way you look tonight

>> forget brad and angelina, any couple today they pale in comparison who what liz taylor and richard burton were. these were royal celebrities. america was completely transfixed at the time.

>> even now decades later, hollywood is still swooning over their love affair , "liz and dick," the lifetime tv movie comes out next month.

>> god knows you know how to make an entry.

>> their relationship played out on the big screen in movies like "cleopatra."

>> i can see nothing but you.

>> and "who is afraid of virginia woolf " that amoused the hearts of all fans.

>> give me a big sloppy kiss.

>> they had a lavish lifestyle that included private jets . come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away

>> enormous yachts and extravagant jewelry putting the 68-carat burton taylor diamond he purchased in 1969 .

>> he had to keep up with the world's most glamorous woman.

>> but it was not an easy life in the spotlight as his diaries reveal in such a personal way. richard and elizabeth married and divorced twice, and through it all battled dueling careers, health problems and alcohol abuse .

>> for me reading the diaries , that was one of the most powerful experiences is watching him try to navigate that slippery slope .

>> even though burton was nominated for seven academy awards , he'll always be remembered for his passionate and legendry love of elizabeth taylor .

>> it was a real relationship. it wasn't just, you know, walking around and having your photograph taken and wearing diamonds and wearing tuxedoes love, endless love

>> chris williams is the editor of "the richard burton diaries ." good to see you.

>> good morning, matt.

>> this is really intense stuff. where have the diaries been?

>> these diaries in the possession of sally burton , rich's widow and she gave them to university in 2006 , and the understanding was we would seek to public them in kind of a scholarly edition with appropriate context actual information.

>> reading into the entries here, do you get the sense that richard burton ever thought these would be made public?

>> i think that he didn't intend these to be made public as they stand. i think he was expecting perhaps later in life to go back to these and to use them possibly as the basis for a memoir.

>> all right. let's go. some of the entries are elizabeth taylor are getting a lot of attention. here from november 19th , 1968 . i have been inordinately lucky all my life, but the greatest luck of all has been elizabeth . she's 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 tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness. she is an ache in the stomach when i am away from her, and she loss of me. he has a way with words .

>> he does. some of the passages are absolutely superb and quite emotional to read and give you great insight into the kind of complicated personality that he was.

>> and complicated relationship. this was an up-and-down relationship.

>> oh, yeah.

>> for everything wonderful he says about her, he admits in these diaries that it was not always easy. march 20th , 1969 . 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. hi 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. what was the problem?

>> alcohol abuse . richard had issues with alcohol. elizabeth liked to drink as well. both short-tempered people and i think to some extension the relationship fed off the tension between them. they could enjoy the argument and the row and particularly making up again.

>> the diamond we talked about in the setup spot, chris, 69-carat amazing diary and writes in one of the diaries about it, november 16th , 1969 . he says it's been a bizarre few days. first of all, there was the affair of the diamond. elizabeth 's delight in it, a joy to behold and a very quaint thing to witness. it is the obvious pleasure that other people take in her wearing it. and, of course, nobody can wear it better. the miraculous face and shoulders and breasts that set it off to perfection. the guy can write, can't he? tell me about that diamond. why did it captivate all of us so much?

>> that was one of the most expensive jewels in the world at the time that it was purchased, and there was a bidding war which also involved aristotle onassis , so richard was delighted to have outbid onassis and jackie kennedy for it.

>> one of the things you learn in the diaries is about richard burton 's insecurities. he was not satisfied with the way his life and career turned out.

>> no. he's a man i think of tremendous complexities, somebody who had come from a very ordinary background in south wales and had achieved great things, but was never really that content with being an actor, and he had many other ambitions, one of which was to write.

>> a little later on, 1971 , august 15th he writes this. he says my lack of interest in my own career, past, present or future is almost total. all my life i think i've been secretly ashamed of being an actor, and the older i get, the more ashamed i get, and i think it revolves it -- it resolves itself into a firm belief that the person who is doing the acting is somebody else.

>> well, richard 's father was a coal miner. all of his brothers had been coal miners . he came from a culture in which that kind of manual labor was what defined you as a man, and to be an actor i think he felt was slightly effeminate.

>> i have to say that even in this culture where we seem to get too much information on celebrities, there's something about the words on these pages that's really fascinating. chris, thanks for bringing them to us. appreciate it.