Before I get into the post, I apologize in advance for the formatting. I’ve been having issues with WordPress recently and it making me exceedingly frustrated. Of course, my lack of tech savvy could be the real culprit (but GRRR either way). Happy Monday, beautiful people. Speaking of the beautiful…
Just finished reading The Richard Burton Diaries. Oh my lands! What a journey it was. As usual, I’m late to the book signing, the diaries came out in 2012, In fairness though, by that time, RB had been dead for almost 30 years. Hopefully, he won’t hold it against me. May he rest in lavish, bookish, and superior peace.
My humble take on the inner wordings of flawed greatness, turns out Richard Burton was not just an accomplished actor, but also a gifted writer. The diaries are a superb read, magical and moving for their realism, and gut wrenching for Burton’s sometimes biting cynicism. If you’re not familiar with Richard Burton, he was an acclaimed Welsh actor of both film and stage, probably best known for movies like Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, (my favorite) Where Eagles Dare, and his renounced stage performances as Henry V, and Author of Camelot. One also can’t think of Burton without mentioning his turbulent romance and marriages to the legendary and glorious Elizabeth Taylor. The latter takes on a leading role in his diaries. In one passage he writes of Taylor:
“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 wilful, 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!”
Their relationship was one for the ages and fascinating in the way only tormented love can be. However, it’s not as intriguing as Burton himself, with his melodic voice, rugged good looks, and command of the English language (both written and spoken) Just look at how eloquently he described the wonders of traveling:
“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares, and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood. Excitement lends unwonted vigour to the muscle, and the sudden sense of freedom adds a cubit to the mental stature. Afresh dawns the morn of life. Again the bright world is beautiful to the eye, and the glorious face of nature gladdens the soul. A journey, in fact, appeals to Imagination, to Memory, to Hope-the sister graces of our mortal being.”
Burton’s diaries begin in 1933, when he was just a young lad of 14. They conclude in 1983, the year of his untimely death at the age of 58. The journals provide an intimate glance into his private life and innermost thoughts. Thoughts that come across as lyrical, profound, self indulgent, deeply introspective, surprisingly scholarly, and always captivating. Like all of us, Burton had his demons, his vanities, his disappointments, his heartaches, his less than moments but also his successes and Mohammed mountaintop, (isn’t life a glamorous hoot) glimmer and glimpses. In some parts, the book reads like a Hollywood gossip column, in others, an erotic love story (always on the precipitate of becoming a Shakespearean tragedy), and in still others, a collection of Dylan poems with Yates’ Revolutionary Road thrown in to make you ponder the banality of even the most extraordinary of lives.
As an aside (and noteworthy, for all of us reading fiends), his love of books almost rivaled his love of Taylor. He consumed volume upon volumes of reading material. He read ferociously and obsessively from every genre. His knowledge of literature was extraordinary. He was very opinionated on the novels he read too. His summation of The Godfather and the Bond books made me chuckle. His knowledge of Shakespeare and Blake was astonishing. I’ve added a few of his suggestions to my reading list. Thanks RB! I think he’d probably hate that I’m calling him that. It beats Dick though.
The impression left upon completion of the book, Richard Burton was a multi dimensional, brilliant, curious, tender, sometimes lovable, other times unlikable man but a man who was always authentic, generous, and genuine in his assessment of himself and the world around him. Like most creative types, he did have periods of misanthropy and depression. At times he was full of self loathing and a natural born critic, both of himself and others, but he tempered his harshness with an engaging wit. He was wickedly funny. If I had to sum up Richard Burton, I would say in my pedestrian and utterly lacking way, he was a bit of a Dickens character, mixed with Oscar Wilde and King Lear.
Oh and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I highly recommend The Richard Burton Diaries. It’s a stellar read for anyone who is a fan of old Hollywood, rags to riches tales, love stories, engaging writing, and tortured men with faces like a Greek God. Men who don’t mind getting deeply personal with their journals. Note, the writings really take off around his 1965 entries. You can see his progression as a writer. Richard Burton was more than apt with a turn of a phrase and danced his way through the pages with the grace of Baryshnikov. If you choose to read the diaries, you will come away with an intimate portrait of a wonderfully complex, indelibly flawed human. He may have been Hollywood royalty but his heart was just like ours, one that bent and broke on occasion. I wish I could do justice to his musings, but you’ll just have to read him for yourself.
The best scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” The acting is mesmerizing.