Furious Love is a book that I turned to in a time of quiet desperation. I finished Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son and it depressed me thoroughly. All I could think was “I’ll never be that good. How is he that good? You forget you’re reading when you’re deep inside it. He’s a giant. Flawless. A God amongst writers…” etc. It was crippling. So I decided that next I should have something easy to read, a literary palate cleanser if you will. I turned to Furious Love, a biography of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor written by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger.
The book tells the story of Burton and Taylor’s love affair which started in a storm of controversy on the set of Cleopatra when both were already married, Taylor to Eddie Fisher and Burton to Sybil Williams. After a few months of sneaking around, the couple finally left their respective spouses and started what was to be a mythical relationship. The legend is well known at this stage – grand passion, fights, oceans of booze, movies good (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and movies bad (The Comedians), gargantuan spending, the Krupp diamond, endless traveling and all the while their every move documented by the paparazzi.
The writers had the full cooperation of Elizabeth Taylor and she gave them access to photographs and letters from her private collection. Burton’s letters to her are quoted throughout the book and reveal a poetic, passionate, and often insecure man. The depth of their love and enormous physical attraction is evident throughout. Their lavish lifestyle and every excess was a reflection of the great love they felt for each other.
Elizabeth Taylor puts the demise of their relationship down to the public pressure to be ‘Liz and Dick’. Alone they were ‘Elizabeth and Richard’ and at times they even had dreams of Richard becoming a university professor and Elizabeth being his doting wife. The pressures of public scrutiny, endless rumour mongering and speculation added to their burgeoning addictions and unreal daily life eventually drove them apart. But they stayed in touch until Richard’s death, and Elizabeth reveals that they even talked about getting back together for the third time just a few months before he died.
Furious Love is an in depth look at a fascinating couple and would make a great holiday read or Christmas gift.
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