Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Do the Acting Folk Do?

Burton plays professor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Richard Burton was an acclaimed actor rich enough to buy a $1,050,000 62.42 carat diamond as a bauble for his wife, who’d often been described as the most beautiful woman in the world. But he had a secret dream, a fantasy.
He wanted to teach college English.
Although he was a superb actor, that craft did not completely absorb the attention of this voraciously literate man. Biographer Melvyn Bragg noted in Richard Burton: A Life that Burton’s journals rarely discuss acting, and never discuss theory. “He could as well be a plumber out on a job and no doubt he would in some part welcome the analogy,” Bragg wrote.
Writing in 1968, Burton said, “I spent much of yesterday in a bath with a lot of body make-up on, which meant when I came home Elizabeth had to wash my back. I was back to the mines again and the women washing their husbands’ backs clean of the grime of the colliery.”
A little later, on a break from filming Staircase for Stanley Donen, Burton wrote, “So after this day is over, we have three delicious days off. We plan to hide in the hotel and not go out at all, except perhaps for an occasional meal. I shall read and read and read.”
Burton was thrilled to get the opportunity to fill in for a professor on sabbatical. “How funny it will be to be lecturing at Oxford without a degree!” Burton wrote. “Now I’ve always had this pregnant women’s yearning for the academic life, probably spurious, and a term of smelly tutorials and pimply lectures should effect a sharp cure.
“I would like to deal with either the medieval poets in English, French, Italian and German and possibly some of the Celtic like Welsh & Irish, or to confine myself to the ‘Fantasticks,’ Donne, Traherne, Henry Vaughan, George Herbert.
“The first poem in English that ever commanded my imagination:

“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright
“The Bridal of the earth and sky:
“The dew shall weep thy fall tonight:
“For thou must die.
“Sweet rose whose hue angry and brave,
“Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
“They root is ever in its grave,
“And thou must die.

“And that’s not all. I mean that chap Herbert was indeed a box where sweets compacted lay. I am as thrilled by the English language as I am by a lovely woman or dreams, green as dreams and deep as death. Christ, I’m off and running and will lecture them until iambic pentameter comes out of their nostrils. Little do they know how privileged they are to speak and read and think in the greatest language invented by man. I’ll learn them.”


  1. He was a brilliant actor BECAUSE he had a fully realized life and imagination outside of theatre and film.