87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2012
As the title states, this is a collection of Richard Burton's Diaries, annotated and presented in book form. It is not a biography, but does have autobiographical elements. The diaries have not been prettied-up, nor is the editor even certain that Burton intended to publish them. If you're expecting a smoothly written biography you will be disappointed. If you'd like a peek at Richard Burton's introspection you are in for a treat.
Credit must be given to Burton's widow Sally. She generously donated the set of diaries to Swansea University and made this book possible. She knew how much of the content referred to her husband's (in)famous marriages to Elizabeth Taylor; a lesser woman might have destroyed the diaries out of jealousy. Sally receives the editor's highest praise for her donation and her "wonderfully supportive" assistance. Many members of the Jenkins-Burton-Taylor families are also credited, and the list shows what a work of love this book is.
Chris Williams, a professor of Welsh history and former director of the Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales, has taken on the mammoth task of making the diaries more accessible to the general reader. He footnotes the first mention of people, places and things, providing dates of birth (and death) and a brief line or two of biography; locations, full titles, dates of publication, translations, etc. Burton was extremely well read, and the footnotes provide detailed info about the books Burton casual refers to. Williams admits uncertainty in a few spots, but his devotion to the task is unquestionable. He usually corrects Burton's spelling, but there are a few very minor blips (e.g. Burton refers to "Barbara Streisand" in April of 1969 and Williams' footnote also has "Barbara"... Burton self-corrects to "Barbra" in April of 1970, and the index uses the correct "Barbra"; also a letter from Kate is in the index as a letter from Jessica). An extensive bibliography and index (together totaling almost 40 pages) are invaluable aids for a 654 page text.
The diaries are presented in chronological order (and may not be complete: there are several large gaps). They begin in late 1939 when 14 year-old Richard Jenkins (his birth name) notes the death of the wife of one of his older brothers. The early entries are dryer reading, mainly short mentions of football (rugby), jobs, school, daily life, etc. They pick up some charm when he mentions his family, learning to play Monopoly and Yahtzee, and collecting dung for resale. The dung stories lead to a sweet recollection years later when, as a rich and famous celebrity, Burton fondly recalls the happy childhood times spent with siblings evading local farmers and acquiring the profitable manure. The early diaries run through December 1940.
The second set picks up in January of 1960. "Jenkins" is now "Burton" and Burton is now married to first wife Sybil and has 2 daughters (Kate and Jessica). The entries for 1960 are brief and end in June.
The third set picks up in January of 1965 and runs through March of 1972. The fly-on-the-wall moments of the beginnings of his romance with Elizabeth Taylor have passed unrecorded (or lost), and Burton and Taylor are now the Golden Couple. The diaries covering the first Burton-Taylor marriage are, in many ways, the highlight/heart of the book (as well as comprising the largest number of pages). Burton has love (his thoughts about Elizabeth Taylor range from love struck to realistic but are always heartfelt), fame and family. He still has dark moments (drink, temper, his daughter Jessica's condition, his brother Ivor's tragic injury, Elizabeth's many illnesses/injuries) but many highs as well. Throughout Burton remains somewhat awed by his good fortune, and the great heights reached by a poor boy from Wales. His introspection at the height of his success makes up the soul of the book, and shows Burton at his best and worst.
Side note: At one point (in a valiant effort to cut down on alcohol) he decides to use red type or ink (to write the date) to signify "good" (low alcohol) days. Dates in red font in the book might have been a nice (but expensive) touch, but footnotes are used instead.
The fourth set picks up in April of 1975 and runs through November of 1975, and is mainly marked by the second marriage to Elizabeth Taylor. "Booze" is now a frequent (and sometimes only) entry. The marriage (more her idea than his) quickly fails. Apart from a stray entry for March of 1977 the dairies pause again.
The fifth set picks up in June of 1980 and runs through October of 1980. Burton is now married to Susan Hunt and is in a revival of Camelot. His health is becoming an issue.
The sixth set picks up in February of 1983 and runs through April of 1983. Burton's marriage to Susan Hunt has ended and he is now with Sally Hay. They marry in July 1983 and he dies in 1984.
Because the book is a series of journals you may easily read it at your leisure. It is a large book, and will take time to go through, but it has its treasures. Burton's opinions of the people he meets and the places he goes (and the movies he is in) are truly entertaining (and often insightful), but the high point for me was his obvious love of books and reading. The one constant in his life is his collection of books (there is a very humorous story of how he shoplifted books in his poor days and Elizabeth Taylor's response). Burton describes with joy and pride the gifts, esp. books and book related items, that his friends and family give him. His love of books, fancy hard covers or cheap paperbacks, anchors his life. His wives come and go (and sometimes come again), but his love for his children and family also remains true. A wonderful look at the thoughts of an extremely intelligent man who lived a life worth recording.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2012
The Richard Burton Diaries are feast for the senses. Unlike the preceding heavily edited version contained in Bragg's Richard Burton: A Life, here you get the full diaries edited only to remove repetition. There is not a great deal of "biography" here, which was the focus of Bragg's book. These pages are the diary entries that give you an inside look in the most private form of Richard Burton's life. Nothing or no one is too insignificant to be mentioned. Burton writes with equal passion regarding a simple meal at a trattoria as he does regarding his life with the late great Dame Elizabeth Taylor. His writing style varies with his mood as will yours while reading this. If you have an appreciation for Burton's movies, or Taylor's for that matter, or if you are a fan of the "Liz and Dick" marriage of the century, buy this book!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2013
Outside it is drizzling, sleeting, raining. It is January in New England, a winter full of discontent, and therefore the perfect season for reading and escaping. And this is the perfect book with which to do so. Escape, that is.
Reading the diaries of the peripatetic Burton -- actor, icon and bon vivant -- I am transported to the sunny coast of Italy, to a trattoria in Portofino, a movie set in Rome, a late-night cabal with film and stage luminaries; and to a quiet beach in Puerto Vallarta on which to stroll with pet dogs, nannies, children and wife -- "en famille," as the great orator might say. I can almost hear his voice.
Speaking of that voice, Burton's command of the language, in fact, many languages (Welsh, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, to name a few) is marvelous. Readers are treated to snippets of classics from Shakespeare to Pepys to The Bible served up as commonly and elegantly as rich, homey soup. Good enough to eat and to keep warm by. (Did I mention the weather outside?) But let me get back to Burton -- when he sizzles.
As he does with his various nicknames for Elizabeth, which are marvelous, too, and hilarious. To wit: Cantank, Shumdit, Quick Take, Short Take, Bon Apetito, Booby, Milady, Glorious, to name but a scant few. I fell out of bed laughing.
Here is a man in love with his wife, his children, his animals. He has the charm and innocence of a boy, not quite grown up, who continually takes himself to task for not doing a better job as husband, father, caregiver. One loves him all the more for it.
He is exceedingly honest about his vices, as when he mentions how much he drinks (3 bottles of vodka one day, which was often par for the course), what diet he's on, whether E (Elizabeth) is looking fat. When she is, he calls her "Lumpy." (Since Liz had free access to Burton's diary entries, there is no mention of any of the vast parade of women whom Burton purportedly bedded. He avows all of his love for Liz here. So, a few white lies, perhaps. No matter.)
He is also an avid and voracious reader and, by notating the books he's read, has pointed me to them as well. "Diolch" ("thank you" in Welsh), Richard.
His descriptions of people are biting, witty, insightful: A friend, in a state of fear and camaraderie, is likened to being "as ruthless as a baked Alaska." His descriptions of settings are worded beautifully and often wistfully, as when he remarks on the voices of a nearby choir that "drifted on the air like an invisible mist, like unseen tumbleweed, like a dream."
Surprisingly, given that we already know how the tale of Richard and his Elizabeth ends, the drama that unfolds, entry by entry, is full of suspense. Burton has the reader riding the great pendulum with him as he alternately vows to leave Elizabeth (or she him) and pledges eternally to love her. It is at once fascinating, poignant, thrilling and sad -- particularly so as he falls ever deeper into alcoholism despite his brave efforts to stay sober. (Late in the book -- and late in Burton's life -- there are several days in a row when the only entry is a single word: "Booze." These stark admissions shocked and saddened me when I read them then, and remember them now -- easily the most memorable entries in the entire book.)
Yes, it is better to skip the beginning section of Burton's entries as a child, which are rather boring.
And yes, there is a plethora of footnotes by the editor, some unnecessary. (Do we really need to be told that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of England? I suspect that any reader who doesn't already know would have no interest in this book.) And the Index is poorly done, which is a real shame. Each subject's sub-categories should be alphabetized. Instead they are listed chronologically, which makes for very difficult sorting or finding anything, especially in a book of well over 600 pages.
On the other hand, and contrary to some commenters here, I welcome every note about the minutiae of Burton's life -- say, a restaurant on the Côte d'Azur or a clothing boutique on the Via Veneto or a rental house on Lake Geneva. I suppose my hope is one day to find myself eating at the same boîte or strolling the same beach or perhaps renting the same château in Switzerland as this wonderful raconteur did.
Ah, to read, perchance to dream . . .
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2012
If you are expecting intimate, passionate details of making love to Elizabeth Taylor you will be disappointed. Richard Burton was too much of a gentleman and a guarded personality to share intimate details. Also, when his life was falling apart, he didn't care about capturing that for his diaries.
I was surprised at how calmly he could talk about living through air raids as a boy. It was as if this was just ordinary stuff and nothing to get upset about. He and his buddies just lived and played as if nothing bad was going on.
Richard's absolute passion for reading started young and stayed with him for his entire life. He read to learn and most of his reading was pretty heavy. He did take streaks of reading just for entertainment.
He seemed to battle with his darker, moody side and the booze definitely didn't help. He seemed happiest when he was alone with Elizabeth and his books on the Kalizma away from the public scrutiny that was so much a part of their life. He would have loved to stop working and just live with Elizabeth and his books.
It is very clear to me that he loved Elizabeth Taylor very much, even after they were divorced. Without booze, who knows, they might have made it. With booze, the relationship was too destructive.
I enjoyed this book partly because as I am reading Burton's words, I can almost hear him speaking them. In spite of his wealthy life style, it is interesting to read the mundane details of life such as all of the commotion that would attend the arrival of the children. Even though he loved them, he was usually glad when they left and life would return to normal.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
What drew me to this book was Richard and Elizabeth as a couple. In a charismatic decade - the 60s of course - these two shared an otherworldly brilliance. Always loved Elizabeth Taylor, both the person and her many film roles, but felt more ambivalent about Richard Burton. Yes, he had that commanding voice, and he certainly was one of the greatest actors of all time. But what's so revelatory about these diaries - they're really more of a journal - is that you get inside Richard's head. And the man you discover there will steal your heart. His love for E. - as he calls her - is so touching and heartfelt, it practically jumps off the page. In his wonderful introduction, Chris Williams, synopsizes this book as: "Burton watching his weight, watching his drinking, watching other men watching his Elizabeth." He also seems like a wonderful father too considering the emotional involvement invested in the children of their combined families.
Richard Burton is surprisingly forthright at times, but he doesn't reveal all. Included here are assorted tasty bits about some very famous people. Standout stories involve actors, Rex Harrison and his wife Rachel Roberts. Their escapades - or more specifically Rachel's - are outrageous and downright hilarious. In Taylor and Burton's orbit, the drinks never stopped coming, and Rachel turned into a raving maniac when intoxicated. Other anecdotes involve: Princess Margaret, Tennessee Williams, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Maria Callas. On the more mundane side, you get travelogue like descriptions of people, places and food, being the couple was constantly traveling. Some find this boring, but not me. Richard's writing is engaging throughout, and his many yarns will leave you wanting to have been part of their crew.
Burton has a wonderful way with words, which is no surprise being he's constantly reading. What an extraordinarily well read man he was. And it disappoints him that his Elizabeth doesn't share his love of books. Burton's funny too, like when he comments about Elizabeth's big mistake of a marriage to Eddie Fisher: "Christ if you can marry Eddie Fisher, you can marry anyone." Unsurprisingly, some of the most entertaining remarks revolve around Elizabeth Taylor:
"She is at the moment among the most dishiest girls I have ever seen. The most. I mean dishiest."
"Elizabeth was at the bar like a real broad and a two-fisted one."
"Elizabeth is an eternal one night stand. She is my private and personal bought mistress."
Elizabeth actually makes some guest appearances by way of her own entries. At first I was confused by them because they're simply indicated by the notation
"[in Elizabeth's hand]."
How very sad that Richard Burton only lived 58 years. Severe alcoholism surely shortened his life. If he had lived longer, it's very easy to envision him having become a noted author. Read these diaries and fall in love with the man.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2012
When I heard that this book had been published I ordered it immediately as I had been quite captivated by the extracts from Burton's journals in the rather plodding biography by Melvin Bragg.
I was not disappointed and spent an interesting six weeks dipping into them as I find this kind of book is better in small bites rather than a whole meal.
They basically range from 1965 to 1983 and cover a large part of his life with Elizabeth Taylor.
As she read what he wrote in the early part, he tended to overplay her talent, beauty etc and there is little sign of the problems that led them to divorce, remarry and then divorce again.
Therefore, it is rather sad to read the later extracts when they were finally apart forever and the woman he had regaled in the earlier parts is reduced to "ET" and becomes the object of endless complaints.
The book is a mixture of long detailed entries, including autobiographical sketches and memoirs, followed by staccato daily phrases or a sentence or two. For years, he wrote nothing.
Much of what Burton writes is unpersuasive. He is proud of his working class roots yet spends pages describing the social occasions in which he mingled with the upper class and nouveau riche.
He was obviously desperate to get a knighthood and almost obsessed with the Duke of Windsor, a cop-out who didn't have the guts to assume the responsibility of being king and spent most of his life as a "exile" in plus fours in France with his ugly American wife. Burton boasts about singing the Welsh national anthem with him.
Although Burton was a proud Welshman who actually spoke Welsh, he shows no sympathy for Welsh nationalism. At times he rants like a little Englander against the "Huns" and is disparaging about the French and Irish.
He loves the Welsh rugby team and raves over its triumphs but is indifferent to the fact that his own country was under the control of its big neighbor. As Jim Sillars, a Scottish nationalist politician once put when criticizing his fellow countryman, he comes over as a "90-minute patriot"*.
I would love to hear what Welsh readers think of this aspect of Burton.
Burton and Taylor are really still known because of their private life rather than their talent and one can't wonder whether they deserved their reputations as actors. The diaries show Burton had a talent for writing. Perhaps if he had been more disciplined he could have switched from acting to writing as Dirk Bogarde did so successfully.
After reading this I tried to watch "The VIPs", the first film they made together after "Cleopatra", and "X,Y and Zee" with Taylor which Burton raves about in the diaries. I found them both unwatchable. (Both films are available on the Internet.)
One final point. This book simply has too many distracting footnotes. Certain references need to be explained but the editor overdoes it and feels we need to know the whereabouts of every restaurant or bar where Burton stopped, along with other trivia. For example, do we really need to know that "Puppet on a String" won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967?
*Yes I know rugby only last 80 minutes but I am just making a point.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Excerpts from Richard Burton's diaries were the highlight of Melvyn Bragg's biography of the Welsh actor, but also a distraction. I found myself wanting to read more by Burton.
The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams, might have been a mammoth bestseller if published earlier, when the memory of "Liz and Dick" was as fresh in the minds of celebrity addicts as the Kardashian sisters are today. No matter. That audience would have been disappointed. Some of Burton's actions were shallow -buying yachts and planes and diamonds, as if this miner's son had some neurotic compulsion to prove he was now wealthy - but his mind was not. There are no reports of orgies (except for one that Burton suspected was about to take place that he made an effort to avoid) or wild parties. There's also nothing to contradict Burton's claim that he was faithful during his marriage to Ms. Taylor. There is more about their dinners with Dukes and Duchesses than I care to know, but if there is a consistent theme in his diaries, it is his love of reading and boredom with acting.
"I am reading anything and everything," he writes on April 21, 1969. "Most days I read at least 3 books and one day recently I read 5!" His taste is wide-ranging and includes everything from history and biographies to detective novels, and only rarely does Burton neglect to offer an insightful critique. In an entry later that same month, he groans about having to start a new film. "I cannot even bring myself to read the script, let alone learn it. I must! I must! Otherwise I shall feel guilty."
There are observations on world events (the moon landing, the Israeli Six Day War), a lot about his love for Elizabeth Taylor, and thoughts on his colleagues from Laurence Olivier ("the past-master of professional artificiality"), Warren Beatty ("He's not out of the top drawer"), Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra ("Gods in their own mirrors. Distorted mirrors"), and Lucille Ball, on whose sitcom he and Taylor made a guest appearance ("She is a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humour").
Burton frequently states that he would have preferred writing to acting, and his diaries makes me wish he had resisted the urge to "show off" (as he calls acting at one point) in such silly things like The Klansman and The Medusa Touch, and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) more often. In fact, Burton did write more, including several entries that I recall from the Bragg bio that I didn't find here. Our editor, Mr. Williams, also includes too many ellipses to indicate cuts in the text. And then there are those footnotes. Does Mr. Williams really think that the audience for this book needs him to explain who Ernest Hemingway was? Despite these complaints, The Richard Burton Diaries are a very good read.
Brian W. Fairbanks
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2013
What can one say about Richard Burton?
I thought he was terrific in The Robe (a movie which he despised,) Cleopatra (which he also looked down upon) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (which he admitted into his small pantheon of film successes.)
The son of a Welsh coalminer, he bought a yacht, a private jet and hobnobbed with Royalty on the Riviera. His match with Elizabeth Taylor (2 marriages) was the one of the most scandalous, famous and ultimately touching parings in movie history.
A drunk, he held his own against Dylan Thomas, managed sometimes 3 bottles of vodka per day and fought valiantly but unsuccessfully to stay dry. He lauds his periods of sobriety and they were sometimes long. But ultimately the bottle got him. There are serial and depressing entries late in his diary that say simply: "Booze."
All of this makes for interesting reading, but all the more so because inside this rough and tumble actor was a keep observer of human affairs and a skilled and knowledgeable writer. As is apparent from any number of diary entries, his first love was reading. And read he did: the classics, history, biography, travelogues, and foreign-language grammars. He was constantly teaching himself new languages: Hungarian, Spanish, French. Wherever he went, he sought out bookstores. He had a library in his house in Switzerland and on his yacht, the Kalizma. The greatest gift to him was the Oxford English Dictionary in miniature, with a large magnifying glass.
He was a keen judge of character and readily sorted out the phonies from the real McCoy. He was perhaps an even better judge of writing, including scripts, novels and history.
He was absolutely loyal to his family, arranged reunions at his own expense and gave money willingly to family, friends and down-at-the-heel acquaintances. He worries constantly about his children and stepchildren. He had no patience for journalists who asked the same trivial questions. He would take a producer's money for a film, but did all he could to make the project a success. He desperately wanted and felt he had deserved a knighthood and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree, and received neither.
Burton's diary begins in 1939 with short entries, various fits and starts, and can be safely passed by. Beginning in 1966 and through 1972 there are many meaty diary entries, usually a page or two long, and written almost daily, although with some gaps (drinking?) Burton continued to write diary entries on a scantier and less consistent basis until 1983.
Burton's diary provides as close a look at the "Jet Set", as the café society of that era was called, as we are likely to get. But the diary can be read on many levels: as a look at the movie stars, aristocrats and royalty of that period; on style and fashion; on the business of making movies and the life of an actor; and of an intelligent man observing it all and capturing the essence of it.
Best of all, it's fun reading, entertaining and unforgettable!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2012
Wow, what can one say about anything to do with this golden couple, one of the most charismatic people of our time, loving every moment, I can almost hear him talking to me! Well worth the investment.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Richard Burton was truly one of the mega stars of the twentieth century, both on the big screen and the stage. He also had a personal lifestyle to match. An opportunity to get to know the man through his own relatively unexpurgated words is a rare one and this book is not to be passed up.
Presented in chronological order, beginning in 1939 and ending in 1983, one year before his untimely death in 1984 at age 58, it has large gaps which should not be unexpected as Burton was not a diarist on the order of, say, Samuel Pepys of the seventeenth century. Nonetheless, what is presented here is revealing, passionate and erudite. Burton was extremely well read and wrote well enough to have been successful at that profession alone. He was at his most passionate when speaking of the love of his life, Elizabeth Taylor, albeit without the sex (which is the gentlemanly thing to do).
There is also gossip about various celebrities of the day, which makes for entertaining reading. Readers should not shy away from the size of this book, as it can be read in parts and is rather excessively footnoted. There is also an extensive bibliography.
The book is one not to be missed by lovers of those who were seen on the silver screen and at exclusive locales around the globe.