Tag Archives: Richard Burton

The 42nd Academy Awards (1970)

21 Feb

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The years 1968 and 1969 had been, professionally, quite disastrous for the Taylor-Burton couple. Even more so for the 40s approaching Liz, whose appeal at the box office had diminished considerably, specially since the bizarre Boom! (1968) opened to terrible reviews. It was the first Taylor film to be such a failure at the box office and marked the end of her career, acting wise.

Richard Burton, however, had one great success starring in the World War II action film Where eagles dare (1968) which earned an enormous profit, but the future seemed blurry for the famed couple as times were changing and they became progressively old-fashioned and too expensive to hire. The glamour queens were gone, replaced by a group of younger actresses with washed-up faces that looked more like the girl-next-door than a movie star. Garbo was long gone, Dietrich was singing around the globe and Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were mostly playing whatever roles they could get in cheap movies. Unusual looking women like Barbra Streisand, Mia Farrow and Liza Minelli were the new box office queens. Some heartthrobs were now odd looking as well, like Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman.  The ermines and orchids were out.

Even though Elizabeth Taylor`s movies were not money makers, her star power was still immense and she was more than willing to put it to use and show the newbies what real stars look like. In 1970 she was asked by the Academy Awards to be one of the main presenters – that of the best movie of the year, and she was decided to knock them all dead!

In addition, Richard had been nominated for the fifth time for his role in Anne of a thousand days (1969) and they were sure he was going to win. Moreover, this would be the first Academy Award show to be televised via satellite to an international audience and to this date is the highest rated of the televised Academy Awards ceremoniesElizabeth_Taylor_Burton_Dia_100.

Not long before, the couple had famously purchased the biggest and most expensive diamond in the world – outbidding the Sultan of Brunei and Aristotle Onassis- from Cartier for $1.1 million. It was so big that Elizabeth found it difficult to wear it as a ring and spent an additional $80,000 to make a necklace of diamonds for the now called Taylor-Burton diamond.

Decided to look her best, the violet-eyed diva called her dear friend, the legendary Edith Head to design a dress to display not only her ample bosom but also the egg-sized bauble. Worth mentioning is that Edith Head won a record of eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design. Her relationship with Elizabeth had started back in the set of  A place in the sun (1951) where she created magnificent costumes for her and now, almost 20 years later, she was going to create another masterpiece: a blue-violet chiffon dress with a pronounced cleavage  that would showcase Elizabeth`s major assets: her beauty and her diamond.

Taylor was not the only one sprucing up; Richard Burton had stopped his copious drinking and slimmed down and tanned and looked quite handsome indeed. Burton was sure that spending time in Puerto Vallarta made them always look their best and that is just what they did before the Academy Awards: spend time sunbathing, dieting and relaxing.

Just the year before, the Burtons attended the famous Scorpio Ball – which was Grace Kelly`s birthday extravaganza − and Taylor notoriously upstaged her and the entire party. The Princess later said that “Elizabeth was unbearably beautiful”. For the party, Elizabeth decided to wear publicly for the first time the newly acquired Taylor-Burton diamond along with the Krupp diamond and a specially designed black-hooded robe with shinning scorpions beaded on it. Liz & Dick still had it.

The night of the Academy Awards the uber glamorous Burtons dazzled everyone: Elizabeth Taylor looking extraordinarily stunning and wearing her biggest diamonds left everyone in awe. Her beauty had always been shocking to people to the point that some would jump over her car just to get a glimpse of her fabled face and legendary eyes; but this time she seemed to glow like a blue-violet rainbow. She was extremely tanned and her breasts were truly “apocalyptic”- quoting Burton, who was stone-cold sober, absolutely elegant and a great accessory to Elizabeth, who always knew how to use men to her advantage

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Photographers frenzied over them just like during Le Scandale nearly a decade ago almost ignoring the other celebrities – to call them stars would not be appropriate, because they were not. Even the supposed-to-be star of the night, Barbra Streisand was completely upstaged. The Burtons and especially Elizabeth Taylor were the last real stars and they continued to cause riots wherever they went. Richard thought that after so many years of marriage it would cool down a bit, but it did not. Their movies were bad, but the fights á la Virginia Woolf, illnesses, jet setting around the globe and extreme excesses –in the age of the hippies they would nonchalantly spend nearly 600 million dollars – made them and would continue to make them STARS.

The night however memorable, turned out bittersweet: Richard Burton would lose again, this time to John Wayne. He would actually never win, making him one of the greatest actors in history to never get an Oscar, not even an honorary one, like Garbo did in 1955. People would continuously gather at their table to compliment Elizabeth`s beauty, to see the diamond and to comfort Richard for such an injustice.TAYLOR1 (2)

The facts that Elizabeth Taylor won the Oscar for Butterfield 8 in 1961 and that Richard Burton did not win the Oscar for Who`s afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1967 are clear indicators that the Academy Awards are not necessarily parameters for what good acting is or is not. It almost seems like Hollywood resented him for having taken Elizabeth into a torrid adulterous affair that nearly sunk Twentieth Century Fox and brutally smashed the puritan−hypocritical morals and values of a generation.

The Burtons not only showcased glamour and charisma, they also knew how to handle these beatle-like reactions that would traumatize others. Even Frank Sinatra was utterly impressed at the amount of attention they were getting, and he was not precisely unknown either. They waved like royalty to the crowds which would gather almost anywhere in the world (Dahomey, a small African country would be one of the exceptions) and fulfilled their duties as stars too well: the furs, the Kalizma yatch, the fleet of Rolls Royce, their unattainable beauty and the jewels, lots of them. They gave the hungry public what they wanted and much more.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton slapped Hollywood in the night of the Academy Awards with a dose of Old Hollywood System and showed everyone what legends were made of, and why there would never be another couple of mega-stars like them.

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Elizabeth-Taylor

Liz Taylor & Richard Burton At Oscars

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Cleopatra, part 1

26 May

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Ever since the beginning of the 20th century the story of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile has appealed to cinematographers and audiences alike. Her story of love, passion, ambition and drama had more than enough substance to successfully launch any film, and it became a proper vehicle for many stars more than a few times in cinema history. Even though today is generally known that Cleopatra was not really beautiful, she has been famous to us, the non-history buffs as a woman so beautiful that even the mighty Caesar fell for her. Even more so if we talk about the past: Cleopatra was a woman of passions always associated with sex; and why present a movie that is historically accurate but that does not agree with what the audience knows or believes? After all, they are the great majority that will drop their pennies for the movie, not the history-buffs. I am also sure that the movie producers were more interested in producing a good piece of entertainment rather than a documentary, having said that, it is worth mentioning that of all the Cleopatras filmed up to that time Taylor´s was the most accurate.

Many different facts came together at the exact point to make Taylor´s Cleopatra one of Hollywood most infamous and costliest films. It was to be the twilight of the old glorious Hollywood which was trying – desperately – not to die as it could not adapt itself to the social changes that were going on and that would boom in the 60s. The Star System would not survive Television and the change in public´s taste. Once the old Studio System broke down, Hollywood died.

Sadly, too much publicity has been given to the Taylor-Burton affair and that has overshadowed the film´s artistic achievements and its importance in shaping show-business ever since. Perhaps, Cleopatra has been analyzed too much from the wrong perspective. Perhaps, we should give it a chance.

Elizabeth Taylor was the greatest Studio System creation, and was precisely her the one who destroyed Hollywood; Elizabeth not only bit the hand that fed her, she ate it!

Taylor incarnated what today would be considered to be a cliché of what being a superstar is: beauty, wealth, love, sex, excesses, jewels, scandals, successes, failures, exposure, etc. Elizabeth possessed all of that, and in plenty. She defied the studio moguls and hated them, especially Louis B. Mayer and became a freelancer with such success that many other stars would follow her steps. But her rejection of the Studio System and what it meant, brought some troubles, like the lack of protection. In the “good old days” if a tragedy occurred, it was the studio Boss who would be there before the police, to clean up, re-arrange of bribe the police in order to cover up what could potentially damage their stars, who were bringing so much money in that it was worth keeping them safe and happy. They were the studio´s investments.

 Elizabeth´s single movie contract did not provide the protection she enjoyed some years before, and she would offer plenty of material to be photographed or written about. Stars´ lack of protection was very welcomed by freelance photographers, a new kind of aggressive photographer that would sell their material to the best buyer. The prices varied according to the current status of the star or the subject of the photo. They were called “Paparazzi” a word coined by director Fellini on his film “La dolce Vita”. They would expose celebrities to the hungry public (The feeding already started with the gossip magazines that appeared in the 50s) and showing just how real they actually were. This was a terrible blow to many glamorous stars that panicked at the mere idea of seeing unflattering pictures of themselves inundating the papers. (A good example would be Joan Crawford, whom after seeing some “terrible” shots of herself decided never to appear publicly again, because she “no longer looked like Joan Crawford”)

Cleopatra would offer as much entertainment on the screen as well as off and it would be the last attempt to show the magic and power of the Old Hollywood. To watch this movie is to witness a period in history that is no longer existent and which stumbled violently and died with a bittersweet swansong.

Elizabeth Taylor devoured the system that created her and The Silver Age of Hollywood would begin.