The Tabloid Troubles of Taylor & Burton

screenstories62By 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:

“There’s plenty of substance to the stories that Liz Taylor wants Eddie Fisher back! He had a fabulous opening night for his singing comeback at the Cocoanut Grove, after spending nine months away from the business, ‘looking after Liz’ interests in Rome as her production aide on CLEOPATRA. Not the least fabulous of the evening’s events was the arrival of a huge bouquet from Liz: She didn’t attach a card to the peace offering. There was no need for one. Eddie knew they were from Liz because Sterling roses (a rare, expensive, violet-hued flower) were the kind he always sent her on special occasions when he was wooing her and after their marriage.”

Later Connolly adds:

“The word is out that CLEOPATRA is a great hunk of a movie. Coincidentally, the criticism of Liz Taylor’s behavior has let up a little. I wouldn’t be surprised if she came out of the scandal smelling like a rose, as least as far as her career is concerned. If it really is a fine movie, the fans will pay to see it, scandal or no. As one of my readers writes: ‘It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Liz. Personally, I think she’s so far out of the ordinary that she’s practically immune, in the eyes of the public, to any of the moral and ethical tenets of the day.’ Now that I will not concede. But you’re right, Dear Reader – it will be interesting to watch.”

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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:

“‘What is the matter with Liz?’ a friend of hers, who’d just returned from visiting her in Rome, asked. ‘She seems bent on destroying herself. What is there inside her that makes her seek trouble? Just look – she’d finally won public acceptance of her marriage to Eddie Fisher. Because of her almost fatal illness last year, she even had the world rallying to her side – praying for her. After three years of having been criticized and reviled for having taken Eddie away from Debbie and his children, you’d think she’d be happy at the way things turned out for her. She had public good will, was earning millions in CLEOPATRA, had her children with her, her health restored, the unflattering devotion of her husband. Just what more could she want? And now, overnight, she has torn everything down. She’s a woman disgraced and reviled all over again.’ Will Liz’ headlined romance with Richard Burton destroy her, as some of her friends believe? Will it hurt her career; will it hurt her as a woman?”

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.

“Richard Burton, his friends say, has had discreet friendships with women before the Liz Taylor episode. But it was always clear to these women that he had no intention of leaving his wife, Sybil. Whenever he was ready to end a friendship, the women quietly walked out of his life. Liz is one of the few women of our time who has never known what it is to be frustrated. Richard Burton has said, ‘I won’t marry Liz. I won’t leave Sybil.’

‘And why should he?’ asked a friend of his. ‘Sybil has always been tolerant and understanding. Where else would he find such an undemanding wife? Certainly not in Liz.”

The anonymous Screen Stories article ends with a complete condemnation of Taylor:

“If Liz were able to realize her dearest dream – Richard’s agreement to a divorce and marriage to her – she might still be destroying herself. It is unlikely that her fans will remain loyal to her if she succeeds once again in taking a man away from his wife and two children. Though many of them forgave her once, this second time is just too much for most people to swallow. She has alienated fans, the press, churchgoers, and the general public.

If Richard turns his back on her, what will be left of Liz? Surely she is smart enough to know the real score. No one – neither Debbie nor Eddie nor Sybil nor Richard – could harm Liz as much as she is harming herself. ”

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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.

0 Response The Tabloid Troubles of Taylor & Burton
Posted By Medusa : December 6, 2012 4:45 pm

Great post! Hard to imagine now that these kind of magazines where what kept movie fans in the loop, but maybe not since we still have gossip rags and all the TV tabloid shows.

What a huge business Taylor and Burton were!

Posted By Medusa : December 6, 2012 4:45 pm

Great post! Hard to imagine now that these kind of magazines where what kept movie fans in the loop, but maybe not since we still have gossip rags and all the TV tabloid shows.

What a huge business Taylor and Burton were!

Posted By Kingrat : December 6, 2012 5:52 pm

Kimberly, I’m still giggling at the “Mae West and Liberace a Twosome” headline. That’s particularly nice with “Dick Chamberlain Denies Marriage.” Chamberlain deserves some credit for never making one of those phony marriages.

Thanks for exploring the way fan magazines reported the Taylor/Burton affair.

Posted By Kingrat : December 6, 2012 5:52 pm

Kimberly, I’m still giggling at the “Mae West and Liberace a Twosome” headline. That’s particularly nice with “Dick Chamberlain Denies Marriage.” Chamberlain deserves some credit for never making one of those phony marriages.

Thanks for exploring the way fan magazines reported the Taylor/Burton affair.

Posted By AL : December 6, 2012 6:32 pm

You seem to be doing to Lohan basically the same thing that was done to Taylor. Isn’t it a bit snobbish of you to dismiss LIZ & DICK even though you admit that you didn’t deign to watch it? Lohan was a good choice to play LIZ because she is classically beautiful, as was the spectacular Taylor in her prime. Sadly, the future does not look promising for Lindsay Lohan. Unlike Liz, she comes from a severely dysfunctional family. I hope she survives…

Posted By AL : December 6, 2012 6:32 pm

You seem to be doing to Lohan basically the same thing that was done to Taylor. Isn’t it a bit snobbish of you to dismiss LIZ & DICK even though you admit that you didn’t deign to watch it? Lohan was a good choice to play LIZ because she is classically beautiful, as was the spectacular Taylor in her prime. Sadly, the future does not look promising for Lindsay Lohan. Unlike Liz, she comes from a severely dysfunctional family. I hope she survives…

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 6:40 pm

Medusa – Glad you enjoyed it. I’m sure lots of people made money off of Taylor & Burton.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 6:40 pm

Medusa – Glad you enjoyed it. I’m sure lots of people made money off of Taylor & Burton.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 6:41 pm

Kingrat – The headlines are great aren’t they? Glad you liked the Screen Stories write-up.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 6:41 pm

Kingrat – The headlines are great aren’t they? Glad you liked the Screen Stories write-up.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 7:06 pm

Al – I didn’t personally attack Lohan in any way (I didn’t even mention her name) and I kind of resent your comment. Nothing I wrote even remotely compares to what was said about Taylor in Screen Stories. I merely referred to Lohan and her costar as “lessor actors” and I stand by that statement.

At Lohan’s age, Taylor had appeared in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Raintree County, A Place in the Sun, Father of the Bride, Little Women and National Velvet, just to name a few of her accomplishments. Nothing that Lohan has done so far suggests she posses the same kind of acting skills that Taylor did. Yes, she’s attractive but there are thousands of attractive women in Hollywood. Beauty doesn’t equal talent. It’s possible that Lohan might develop into a real acting talent someday and I wish her the best of luck with her career. But to equate her with Taylor at this stage does both Taylor and Lohan a disservice.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 6, 2012 7:06 pm

Al – I didn’t personally attack Lohan in any way (I didn’t even mention her name) and I kind of resent your comment. Nothing I wrote even remotely compares to what was said about Taylor in Screen Stories. I merely referred to Lohan and her costar as “lessor actors” and I stand by that statement.

At Lohan’s age, Taylor had appeared in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Raintree County, A Place in the Sun, Father of the Bride, Little Women and National Velvet, just to name a few of her accomplishments. Nothing that Lohan has done so far suggests she posses the same kind of acting skills that Taylor did. Yes, she’s attractive but there are thousands of attractive women in Hollywood. Beauty doesn’t equal talent. It’s possible that Lohan might develop into a real acting talent someday and I wish her the best of luck with her career. But to equate her with Taylor at this stage does both Taylor and Lohan a disservice.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 7, 2012 12:43 am

I watched Liz & Dick, knowing it was going to be a train wreck, and it was. I went in realizing it would bear no resemblance to the lives and talent of either Taylor or Burton in any way. Lohan was out of her league, and I felt sorry for her. I think the producers selected her because of her notoriety and to attract young viewers, knowing there would be an audience no matter what they threw up on the screen (an apt metaphor).

I grew up on the real-life stories of Liz & Dick, in awe of their larger than life charisma. I was in New York for the first time while Burton was doing Equus on Broadway, just after he and Liz split for the second time. I saw the play across the street from Burton’s theater, and it let out just after Equus. The street was filled with hundreds of New Yorkers waiting to see Burton come out of the theater. Apparently, every day people lined up to see whether Taylor or the other woman in his life (a Sally something, I think)would pick him up in a limousine. I saw him walk out surrounded by people protecting him, and he was drop-dead handsome. He literally glowed with charisma, and the crowd went nuts when he strolled out. I have never seen anything like it since.

Sadly, it was Sally something who picked him up that day. I was disappointed not to see Liz.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 7, 2012 12:43 am

I watched Liz & Dick, knowing it was going to be a train wreck, and it was. I went in realizing it would bear no resemblance to the lives and talent of either Taylor or Burton in any way. Lohan was out of her league, and I felt sorry for her. I think the producers selected her because of her notoriety and to attract young viewers, knowing there would be an audience no matter what they threw up on the screen (an apt metaphor).

I grew up on the real-life stories of Liz & Dick, in awe of their larger than life charisma. I was in New York for the first time while Burton was doing Equus on Broadway, just after he and Liz split for the second time. I saw the play across the street from Burton’s theater, and it let out just after Equus. The street was filled with hundreds of New Yorkers waiting to see Burton come out of the theater. Apparently, every day people lined up to see whether Taylor or the other woman in his life (a Sally something, I think)would pick him up in a limousine. I saw him walk out surrounded by people protecting him, and he was drop-dead handsome. He literally glowed with charisma, and the crowd went nuts when he strolled out. I have never seen anything like it since.

Sadly, it was Sally something who picked him up that day. I was disappointed not to see Liz.

Posted By Doug : December 7, 2012 3:34 am

Kimberly:”They’re still practicing the same kind of sensationalist journalism today and the public is still lapping it up.”
Too true-entire networks of sensationalistic tabloid shows-they wouldn’t be on the air if they didn’t have enough viewers to sell advertisements. The magazines at shopping checkout lines seem to thrive at a time when print (on paper) is ailing.
Liz Taylor was a force, and had a long career, but I don’t think her talent ever matched her beauty. How could it?
As for “LIZ: THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR STORY (1995)”
-I thought that Sherilyn Fenn did fine in a weak production. She’s done much better work in movies and, of course, Twin Peaks.
I have no interest in seeing the more recent raking up of muck.

Posted By Doug : December 7, 2012 3:34 am

Kimberly:”They’re still practicing the same kind of sensationalist journalism today and the public is still lapping it up.”
Too true-entire networks of sensationalistic tabloid shows-they wouldn’t be on the air if they didn’t have enough viewers to sell advertisements. The magazines at shopping checkout lines seem to thrive at a time when print (on paper) is ailing.
Liz Taylor was a force, and had a long career, but I don’t think her talent ever matched her beauty. How could it?
As for “LIZ: THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR STORY (1995)”
-I thought that Sherilyn Fenn did fine in a weak production. She’s done much better work in movies and, of course, Twin Peaks.
I have no interest in seeing the more recent raking up of muck.

Posted By swac44 : December 7, 2012 10:53 am

I tend to avoid biopics about performers I truly love, as I know they’ll probably irritate me more than inform or entertain me. I have no desire to see The Buster Keaton Story or My Wicked, Wicked Ways about the life of Errol Flynn, although I will probably end up watching Man of a Thousand Faces one of these days, just to see James Cagney step into Lon Chaney’s shoes.

Posted By swac44 : December 7, 2012 10:53 am

I tend to avoid biopics about performers I truly love, as I know they’ll probably irritate me more than inform or entertain me. I have no desire to see The Buster Keaton Story or My Wicked, Wicked Ways about the life of Errol Flynn, although I will probably end up watching Man of a Thousand Faces one of these days, just to see James Cagney step into Lon Chaney’s shoes.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 2:54 pm

Susan – Thanks for sharing that great story about Burton! I’m envious that you got see him, even if it was just a quick glimpse.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 2:54 pm

Susan – Thanks for sharing that great story about Burton! I’m envious that you got see him, even if it was just a quick glimpse.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 2:57 pm

Doug – I like Sherilyn Fenn too but I don’t think her Taylor impersonation did her any favors. Whatever happened to her anyway? I had hoped she’d get better parts and turn into an accomplished actress on her own but she seems to have vanished or maybe she’s just making movies I’m not seeing?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 2:57 pm

Doug – I like Sherilyn Fenn too but I don’t think her Taylor impersonation did her any favors. Whatever happened to her anyway? I had hoped she’d get better parts and turn into an accomplished actress on her own but she seems to have vanished or maybe she’s just making movies I’m not seeing?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 3:04 pm

swac – I’m right with you. Biopics rarely work for me. Occasionally there are biopics that are well cast and entertaining in their own right (I’m thinking of films like HENRY & JUNE and MISHIMA, both about writers I admire) but more often than not they fail to capture something essential about the people they’re trying to bring to life. I enjoy Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces but the movie is very much “of its time” and I don’t think that does it any favors.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 3:04 pm

swac – I’m right with you. Biopics rarely work for me. Occasionally there are biopics that are well cast and entertaining in their own right (I’m thinking of films like HENRY & JUNE and MISHIMA, both about writers I admire) but more often than not they fail to capture something essential about the people they’re trying to bring to life. I enjoy Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces but the movie is very much “of its time” and I don’t think that does it any favors.

Posted By Doug : December 7, 2012 3:39 pm

Kimberly-you might not have seen Fenn in “Rude Awakening”, her Showtime show back a decade or so, but she was quite good. I’ve seen her on TV recently, and I guess she’s on a show called “Magic City” though I haven’t seen it.
As for “Liz vs Lohan”…Taylor grew up in the studio system which protected actors while placing them in prestige movies. Taylor may have been just as much a ‘wild child’ as Lohan has become, as evidenced by Taylor’s capricious love life, but Lohan has had no studio protection since Disney cut her. How well would Taylor have done in her life without studio ‘protection’ during her formative years?

Posted By Doug : December 7, 2012 3:39 pm

Kimberly-you might not have seen Fenn in “Rude Awakening”, her Showtime show back a decade or so, but she was quite good. I’ve seen her on TV recently, and I guess she’s on a show called “Magic City” though I haven’t seen it.
As for “Liz vs Lohan”…Taylor grew up in the studio system which protected actors while placing them in prestige movies. Taylor may have been just as much a ‘wild child’ as Lohan has become, as evidenced by Taylor’s capricious love life, but Lohan has had no studio protection since Disney cut her. How well would Taylor have done in her life without studio ‘protection’ during her formative years?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 3:56 pm

Doug – I haven’t seen Fenn in anything in at least 10 years that I can remember.

As for the Lohan vs. Taylor argument, it just seems silly to me. Discussing “what ifs” and “could bes” ignores the evidence on hand. Lots of actors came up in the old Hollywood studio system and failed to find success and never displayed a quarter of Taylor’s talent. And couldn’t it even be argued that Lohan actually did have a support system around her during her early years? She was groomed by Disney and had her own kind of ‘studio protection’ for awhile. As I said earlier, I wish Lohan only the best and I hope she develops into a real acting talent someday if that’s what she wants. Maybe some serious training would do her a world of good? Who knows, but I haven’t seen any evidence that makes me believe she has Taylor’s skill and comparing them just seems unproductive.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 7, 2012 3:56 pm

Doug – I haven’t seen Fenn in anything in at least 10 years that I can remember.

As for the Lohan vs. Taylor argument, it just seems silly to me. Discussing “what ifs” and “could bes” ignores the evidence on hand. Lots of actors came up in the old Hollywood studio system and failed to find success and never displayed a quarter of Taylor’s talent. And couldn’t it even be argued that Lohan actually did have a support system around her during her early years? She was groomed by Disney and had her own kind of ‘studio protection’ for awhile. As I said earlier, I wish Lohan only the best and I hope she develops into a real acting talent someday if that’s what she wants. Maybe some serious training would do her a world of good? Who knows, but I haven’t seen any evidence that makes me believe she has Taylor’s skill and comparing them just seems unproductive.

Posted By Mike D : December 7, 2012 6:40 pm

Wait, “Monroe’s in the Nude Again” and you didn’t even mention it!

Posted By Mike D : December 7, 2012 6:40 pm

Wait, “Monroe’s in the Nude Again” and you didn’t even mention it!

Posted By idlemendacity : December 7, 2012 11:04 pm

For me the best biopics are the ones where the person in question (particularly if they are a movie star) is not well known (to me anyway). “Liz and Dick” suffered not only from bad writing, acting, etc. but from a double whammy that the real Liz Taylor was one of the most famous women in the world since she was a child who had literally played her life story in the spotlight in turn being played by a former child actor who had grown up (not in the best way) in the spotlight. This is not a slight on Lindsay Lohan either, I couldn’t buy Jennifer Love Hewitt as Audrey Hepburn, Lynda Carter as Rita Hayworth, Jill Clayburgh as Carole Lombard or any of the upteen number of actors playing Marilyn Monroe.

Doris Day as Ruth Etting or James Cagney as George Cohan work because the actors playing them are more famous than their characters (or at least they are now). It wasn’t until I read an actual biography of Cohan that I realized how much of his life was fictionalized (such as not having a wife named Mary). The only one that has really worked for me was Errol Flynn as John Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon and that was mostly because it was obviously as much the real Flynn himself being on-screen as the fake Barrymore.

Posted By idlemendacity : December 7, 2012 11:04 pm

For me the best biopics are the ones where the person in question (particularly if they are a movie star) is not well known (to me anyway). “Liz and Dick” suffered not only from bad writing, acting, etc. but from a double whammy that the real Liz Taylor was one of the most famous women in the world since she was a child who had literally played her life story in the spotlight in turn being played by a former child actor who had grown up (not in the best way) in the spotlight. This is not a slight on Lindsay Lohan either, I couldn’t buy Jennifer Love Hewitt as Audrey Hepburn, Lynda Carter as Rita Hayworth, Jill Clayburgh as Carole Lombard or any of the upteen number of actors playing Marilyn Monroe.

Doris Day as Ruth Etting or James Cagney as George Cohan work because the actors playing them are more famous than their characters (or at least they are now). It wasn’t until I read an actual biography of Cohan that I realized how much of his life was fictionalized (such as not having a wife named Mary). The only one that has really worked for me was Errol Flynn as John Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon and that was mostly because it was obviously as much the real Flynn himself being on-screen as the fake Barrymore.

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