After reading this great review of Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by husband and wife team Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger I had to check it out for myself. I thought I had a pretty good sense of who Taylor and Burton were. I've seen quite a few of the iconic actress's movies and a couple of them together. But I had no idea how much work they they had done together. Probably my most vivid memory of the couple is seeing them on a rerun of the Here's Lucy show when I was a kid that focused on Elizabeth's love for (and Richard's purchase of) her famous jewelry.
Elizabeth and Richard were truly jet-setters. Furious Love is a little exhausting, as the authors track the Burtons from first-class hotel to hotel, city to city, country to country, yacht port-of-call to port-of-call. It is admirable that Elizabeth always wanted to keep her children close, but absolute insanity that she dragged them so frequently across the globe. And their menagerie. I may now better understand Liz's friendship with Michael Jackson. Not only did they share their "lost childhoods," but like Michael she was an animal lover to the extreme, always surrounded by multiple "dogs, cats, goldfish, tortoises, a rabbit and a bird."
Through the years these animal hangers-on traveled with them, on land and sea, everywhere they went. But Elizabeth didn't stop at regular household pets. She also adopted exotic creatures. There is an amusing story where director Franco Zeffirelli related that the only way he was able to convince Elizabeth to do his movie adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with Richard was to help rescue her bush baby from where it was hiding behind the pipes in their hotel suite's bathroom.
Their human entourage consisted of multiple handlers, including bodyguards, a tutor, governess, nurse, and, of course, their four children. Depending on what movie they were filming or what country's taxes they were trying to dodge they would all settle into a villa outside Rome, or live on board their yacht, or spend months at a time in a Paris or London hotel, or their home(s) in Puerta Vallarta or Switzerland.
Wearing Cleopatra-style eye make-up, on a yacht during Le Scandale with Richard Burton — Elizabeth Taylor truly was a goddess
But before this madcap lifestyle began to take shape the two truly rocked the world with the love affair that broke up two marriages and started when they were filming Cleopatra in Rome. Elizabeth had already created a scandal by "stealing" Eddie Fisher from wife Debbie Reynolds after the tragic death of her husband Mike Todd in an airplane crash. Fisher was Todd's best friend and was happy to console the grieving young widow. He saw history repeat itself as sparks flew on the Cleopatra set. Affairs occurring between actors making films is as old as time itself. It's more remarkable when it doesn't happen. What was different about Elizabeth and Richard was how blatant they were. They went on dates out to restaurants all over Rome, quickly becoming part of La Dolce Vita paparazzi culture.