"450,000 handwritten words recounting his innermost thoughts and fears"
March 28, 2013 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Actor Richard Burton's diaries were published last fall, and are reviewed: Richard Burton Was A Great Writer, Richard Burton's Notes To A Modern Journaler, The Great Actor Who Hated Acting, For Love Of Lit And Liz

On Poetry
"I remember Yeats and Eliot and MacLeish, who read their most evocative poems with such monotony as to stun the brain. Only Dylan could read his own stuff. Auden has a remarkable face and an equally remarkable intelligence but I fancy, though his poetry like all true poetry is all embracingly and astringently universal, his private conceit is monumental."
posted by the man of twists and turns (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
He accuses himself of “savage ill humour,” “absolutely unstoppably filthy moods, insulting everybody left right and centre,” and “venomous malice."

My kind of guy. Wish I'd met him.
posted by Decani at 12:07 PM on March 28, 2013

I'm getting my camping reading list together, but if the timing on the paperback is right, this one book just might trump everything else.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:14 PM on March 28, 2013

I recall going to see Burton play Hamlet in NY...limo pulled up in front of theater and he got out. After, wife Elizabeth got out. Crowd quickly rushed to see her, to be close to her...Poor Richard ignored.
But in his diaries he dismisses as a bore Edmund Wilson and that, to me, enough to not be interested in what he had to say about literature.
posted by Postroad at 12:30 PM on March 28, 2013

He's right about Eliot's reading style, though. He sounds every bit the Anglophile dweeb, but he doesn't betray even the least enthusiasm.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:06 PM on March 28, 2013

One of the comments in the post links was talking about this interview, really beautiful for Richard Burton fans (or Humphrey Bogart, or Spencer Tracey...). Burton speaks about his childhood in a Welsh mining community, his dad, alcoholism, has a few breath-taking monologues etc; also talks about that connection between audience, actor and playwright which can sometimes electrify a theatre... which reminded me of a scene from Peter O'Toole's autobiography where O'Toole is in the audience watching Richard Burton on stage in the Old Vic.

Thanks a lot for the post, tmotat - I love this kind of embittered exuberance or exuberant bitterness...can't wait for the book.
posted by miorita at 2:25 PM on March 28, 2013

I have a reverence for Richard Burton. When he died, I was annoyed by the obituaries which often said something along the lines of that he could have been the greatest Shakespearean Stage Actor of the 20th Century, but that he wasted his unique talents in Hollywood. But whatever the context, his talent was sublime.

My most profound Burton moment was watching him impersonate a plumber on The Lucille Ball Show in 1970, where he recites the sombre "Farewell, King" soliloquy from Richard II...

(Not making this up).
posted by ovvl at 3:44 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

He sounds every bit the Anglophile dweeb, but he doesn't betray even the least enthusiasm

The problem with this assessment is it does not take into account that this was THE STYLE at that time. This is how poetry was read. It was a thing.
posted by spicynuts at 3:49 PM on March 28, 2013

Wrong choice, early 20th century!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:50 PM on March 28, 2013

I have great admiration for him as an actor - he had a great gift to make the other actors in a scene look good.
I bought the diaries when they first came out and I enjoyed the first section when he's a young teen living with his sister and her husband. After that there were some interesting moments here and there, but in general he seemed very boring to me. And I was hoping there would be a section about filming Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for example, but that time period was missing.
posted by AnnElk at 5:35 PM on March 28, 2013

This was such a great post. Thanks! I didn't know the edited volume existed and I have ordered it.

I went on a brief Burton binge a couple of years ago. It made me jealous of my parents, who had such a fabulous celebrity couple to follow onscreen while a generation later my peers were stuck with the relatively boring Brangelina.

"Look Back in Anger" is probably the one I will recommend to friends. But "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is the one that I will watch again and again. Their performances were (obviously) fearless, dispensing completely with vanity. But my favorite thing was that I had the feeling throughout the movie that they were afraid of making eye contact lest they burst out laughing. They really seemed like partners in crime.

ps: I agree with him about Eliot.
posted by sophieblue at 5:38 PM on March 28, 2013

The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murdering 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. My intelligence is too muscular and my imagination stops at the horizon, and I have an idea that the last sound to be heard on this lovely planet will be a man screaming.

I can almost hear the cadence of how he would speak this.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:48 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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