Friday, April 24, 2015

Richard Burton: The Subject was Sex

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton had no particular complaints about literary pornography or sex, and was suspicious of those who did.
“The unctuous rubbishy shit written about pornography is nonsense,” wrote the Welshman in his journal for Nov. 17, 1966. “Practically all good pornography is best-selling, so I understand, and yet I have never found anyone who when asked if they enjoyed it will ever admit it.”
“(Author Malcolm) Muggeridge quotes Hugh Kingsmill as saying that the act of love is ludicrous and disgusting. Speak for yourself, Kingsmill. I love its disgustingness and comicality. Put some jaundice in your eyes and the act of walking is ludicrous and obscene, and swimming and, above all, eating. All those muscles, in most people, 50 percent atrophied, sluggishly propelling people over land or through water or gulping oysters. Come off it.
“It is an important thing to kill cant and humbug even if one is a humbug oneself."
With his fine voice, the well-read actor could hold forth on many topics. And one of them, apparently, was homosexuality.
That nettled Gore Vidal, who recalled that whenever he met Burton, Burton would launch into “…an extravagant aria about why he was not homosexual. I’d listen as long as I could and then say, ‘Who cares, Richard? Let’s talk about dermatology. Now there’s a subject!’”
Burton was always touchy about his bad skin, so touché.

Mayhem and Eggs

Breakfast conversation at Arby's: A developmentally disabled young man and three old farmers are discussing the guns they would use to kill people breaking into their houses. It's apparently something that doesn't happen often enough to satisfy them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

They Should Have Been Afraid of 'Virginia Woolf'

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1966 film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? either echoed or anticipated the tempestuous, all-absorbing marriage of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Burton had pushed Taylor to do it to improve her confidence and reputation as a real actor, something that had taken a beating in the reviews of their first film together, the out-of-control epic Cleopatra.
But Burton was still wrung out from having given a great performance during the difficult shoot of John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. First-time director Mike Nichols — hand-picked by Taylor — said, “He was the loneliest man I had met.”
“The broken, tender yet brutally tongued man here spoke words that echoed his own life and which ricocheted off the set and into the dressing rooms, into the house,” wrote biographer Melvyn Bragg in Richard Burton: A Life. “Elizabeth went up to 155 pounds and transformed herself into what Richard often called her — in fun? — a termagant. Their rows were nasty.”
Bragg notes, nevertheless, how his performance supports hers. “The crack of the dialogue — no doubt well rehearsed by Nichols — is entirely paced by Burton. He hammocks almost every sentence she speaks and lifts what could have been mere shrillness into that damaging desperation.”
So you could read their love between the lines, and something else within the lines. “’Virginia Woolf’ took a toll,” Bragg wrote. “When they separated for the first time (years ahead), Elizabeth said that she was ‘tired of playing Martha.’ Richard in his journals admits to a nature which, and not only in drink, could be ‘picky,’ ‘twisty,’ ‘nasty,’ ‘quarrelsome’ and the film licensed that. In one scene, she had to spit in his face. Nichols demanded take after take and Elizabeth eventually cracked up, wept, couldn’t do it anymore. Again on one occasion, Burton simply could not leave his dressing room — not drunk — couldn’t find the nerve to suffer the exposure that the part brought.”
Their greatest film together, Virginia Woolf brought an Oscar for Taylor but not Burton, whose go-it-alone attitude had once alienated too many people in Hollywood.
“Must we always make films together?” Burton once groused. “We’ll end up like Laurel and Hardy.”
As quick with a quip as Martha, Taylor replied, “What’s wrong with Laurel and Hardy?”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Captain Marvel '68: When Villain Turns Hero

Those first half-dozen appearances of Marvel’s Captain Marvel in 1968, by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, were dramatic and innovative.
The Kree invader Captain Mar-Vell was an alien spy and saboteur who, when accidentally compelled to pose as a super hero, found that he was gradually becoming one.
It’s a theme that has been reworked to good effect since, notably in Marvel’s The Thunderbolts (when the Masters of Evil posed as a superhero team) and Superior Spider-Man (in which Dr. Octopus took over his archenemy’s identity).
But I’ve heard Lee was unenthusiastic about Marvel Comics stealing the name and Shazam-born thunder of the famous Fawcett hero of the 1940s (it was his publisher’s idea). As the feature fell into other hands, it careened erratically into relative obscurity. What might have been, had Lee and Colan stayed with it…

I understand that only the first issue was written by Lee. The next several issues were penned by Roy Thomas.

At Literate Leisure with Richard Burton

Actor Richard Burton at his favorite pastime.  The quotes below are from the Melvyn Bragg biography.
Richard Burton acted an affable in loco parentis role for Brook Williams, the son of Emlyn Williams, the author of The Corn Is Green. It’s a play about a boy given singular help by a dedicated adult.
“Emlyn was away a great deal: Burton knew what it was to have an absent father and knew also through Ifor the value of a much older brother. Brook was the beneficiary and never lost that status.
“We recreated some of Richard’s routines. Out in the red MG — still working well on a fine Sunday morning; drive the 20 minutes into Geneva Airport, having phoned the newspaper booth beforehand to make sure the Sundays were there. Perhaps a petit blanc in the bar, scanning the sports pages, the book pages, the reviews, marking down the longer pieces for later. A first stab at the crossword puzzle. Past the bookshop and a quick purchase or two — ‘You read this one, Brookie? Bloody good. I’ll get it for you. And I’ll have these two here.’ — back into the car and perhaps loop back through a favorite village for another petit blanc or maybe a vodka in the bar with the locals and return for lunch as likely as not over at the Café de la Gare and the local fish dish with the local wine. Boules in the afternoon, a game of tennis or table tennis in which no quarter was given, and then reading into the night, a glass or maybe two…” 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Hamlets

Richard Burton and John Gielgud
The young Richard Burton did credit to himself as Hamlet on the British stage in 1953, being described as a “moody, virile and baleful” prince with “dash, attack and verve.”
Winston Churchill saw it, muttered the lines along with Burton during the performance and then came backstage to Burton’s dressing room to ask, “My Lord Hamlet, may I use your facilities?”
Another celebrated Hamlet, Burton’s friend John Gielgud, also saw the performance, and was drily unimpressed.
Biographer Melvyn Bragg wrote, “After he had seen it, he came around to Richard’s dressing room to take him to dinner and, observing he was beset by visitors, said, ‘Shall I go ahead or wait until you’re better — I mean, ready?’ Burton loved to re-tell that story.”