Richard Burton (1925)
It was on this date, November 10, 1925, that Welsh actor Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins Jr. in Pontrydyfen, the twelfth of thirteen children, born to a hard-drinking miner. He took his stage and screen name from a schoolmaster who helped him enter Oxford, Philip Burton, and studied acting there.
Coming to the US in a stage role, Burton was “discovered” by Hollywood, and made a good impression in The Robe (1953). Back in England, he starred in Look Back in Anger (1959), then became a superstar as King Arthur in the Broadway musical Camelot in 1960 – winning a Tony Award – and as Marc Antony in the 1963 film version of Cleopatra. Burton and his Cleopatra costar Elizabeth Taylor teamed for more films, such as The V.I.P.s (1963) and The Sandpiper (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). Later films include Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), and Equus (1977), and the title role in the 1983 TV mini-series Wagner. One of his most acclaimed stage performances was as Hamlet on stage, which was preserved on film, and his film version of the play Becket – both in 1964.
Burton’s reputation as a drinker and womanizer was well deserved and actually welcomed by the actor. He died 5 August 1984 before filming a sequel to The Wild Geese in Switzerland; Burton was buried with a copy of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. He and Becket co-star Peter O’Toole hold the record for the most Oscar nominations… without a win.
Richard Burton wrote this in his diary in 1969: “The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murderous envious scatological soul, the more I realize that he will never change. Our stupidity is immortal, nothing will change it. The same mistakes, the same prejudices, the same injustice, the same lusts wheel endlessly around the parade ground of the centuries. Immutable and ineluctable. I wish I could believe in a god of some kind but I simply cannot.”*
* As reported in the Denver Post.
Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.