Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 6, 2012
By now you’ve probably heard about LIZ & DICK (2012), a heavily publicized made for television movie produced by the Lifetime Network that dramatically retold the story of how Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton met, fell in love and married not once, but twice. I’m extremely fond of both Taylor and Burton and I’ve written about them frequently but I had no interest in watching LIZ & DICK myself. I made the mistake of sitting through LIZ: THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR STORY (1995) when it originally aired so the temptation to watch another TV production featuring lesser actors portraying performers I genuinely admire held no appeal for me. And if I want to relive the tabloid troubles of Taylor and Burton there are plenty of publications I can read.
Countless newspapers and magazines throughout the ‘60s and well into the ‘70s documented Taylor and Burton’s complicated relationship. The two talented actors became household names after many publications around the world devoted space to their stormy romance. Some of these accounts have been broken down and described in books but there’s something utterly raw and deeply revealing about reading these tabloid stories firsthand. If you think tabloids are bad now, think again. Thanks to television and the World Wide Web we might have more access to outlets that revel in movie-related gossip but the sensational nature of celebrity news coverage hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years.
My fellow Morlock, Susan Doll, recently wrote an interesting and informative post detailing the early history of movie fan magazines and highlighted a 1948 issue of Movie Stars Parade. This week I thought I’d borrow her idea and share an original issue of Screen Stories magazine from the early ‘60s that documents the way the press was responding to the budding relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Hopefully Movie Morlocks readers will find it as fascinating to read as I did.
The title of Screen Stories was associated with the magazine’s main content, which consisted of movie plot summaries or “screen stories” accompanied by photos and shared without commentary allowing readers to decide if they wanted to see a particular movie for themselves. Today film journalists and critics often have to worry about publishing “spoilers” and audiences complain when promotional trailers reveal too much about a movie but in 1962 the readers of Screen Stories had no qualms about knowing everything they could about a new film before paying to see it. Besides detailed accounts of THAT TOUCH OF MINK and THE MUSIC MAN, the August 1962 issue (pictured above) also contains “screen stories” for HATARI, THE INTERNS, JESSICA and ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN. Along with these lengthy plot summaries the monthly magazine regularly published a gossip column written by the widely read Mike Connolly as well as feature stories with provocative headlines that usually focused on a particular actor or actress. In August of 1962 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were at the center of a publicity storm surrounding their much talked about romance on the set of CLEOPATRA (1963). Rumors, innuendos and steamy tales from the set were making headlines across the globe and this particular issue of Screen Stories asked readers a topical question; “Liz Taylor . . . Is she being destroyed by LOVE?” suggesting that Taylor’s passionate liaison with Richard Burton had the potential to ruin her and her career. Although Taylor and Burton made very little effort to conceal their extramarital affair, Screen Stories’ gossip columnist Mike Connolly wasn’t ready to give up on Taylor’s marriage to Eddie Fisher yet. In his “Exclusive Report from Hollywood” Connolly writes:
Later Connolly adds:
It’s interesting to note that Connolly was once called “the most influential columnist inside the movie colony” by Newsweek but today he’s probably best remembered as the man Shirley Maclaine punched in the mouth. The actress became so irate over one of his gossip columns in 1963 that she walked straight into his office at The Hollywood Reporter and socked him on the jaw, which made headlines in New York and earned Connelly a mention in Maclaine’s autobiography, Don’t Fall Off The Mountain.
Screen Stories’ main feature on the Taylor and Burton romance was written anonymously, which is unusual for a magazine that regularly credited its writers. I suspect that none of the staff or regular contributors were eager to be associated with the story directly and publishing it anonymously gave them the opportunity to be as sensational as possible. The extended title of the cover piece was “Only the Sphinx knows – Is Liz Being Destroyed by Love?” and constantly references quotes from nameless and faceless ‘friends’ who offer readers their opinions while dishing out questionable advice to Taylor and Burton on how they should live their lives. The article begins with this attack:
After detailing Taylor’s assumed sins, the article briefly discuses Burton’s own digressions. Of course this is 1962 and as this piece illustrates, it was much more acceptable for men to engage in affairs while they were married.
The anonymous Screen Stories article ends with a complete condemnation of Taylor:
We now know that Screen Stories was wrong and Taylor survived her affair with Burton and eventually married the man she loved, which has become the subject of countless books and two made for TV movies. But it’s interesting to read just how venomous the press was at the time. Taylor was often portrayed as a fallen woman who ‘stole’ the helpless Burton away from a devoted wife. And even though it was common knowledge that Burton had regularly engaged in elicit affairs before meeting Taylor, the press overlooked his indiscretions while they were busy condemning Taylor. This kind of biased coverage that attempts to paint women as evil seductresses who lure hapless men to their doom still goes on today and is reminiscent of the way the Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt affair was reported as well as the recent romance between young Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders. The times may change but movie publications haven’t. They’re still practicing the same kind of sensationalist journalism today and the public is still lapping it up. Of course actors aren’t innocent bystanders in their own lives. They’re well aware of how the publicity machine works and that was undoubtedly true of Taylor and Burton. They may have suffered some scathing attacks but they also got a lot of free publicity for themselves and in Hollywood any publicity is often considered good publicity.
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