BURTON by Hollis Alpert


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He was what is called a man of appetites--a prodigious drinker, an inveterate womanizer, a voracious reader--and his life, particularly when shared with the equally sensational Elizabeth Taylor, was fodder for everyone from gossip columnist to The New York Time's editorial page. On August 3, 1984, Richard Burton died of a massive stroke, at 58 a very tarnished legend in his own time. Alpert, film reviewer and journalist, has taken it upon himself to reexamine that legend. His biography of Burton (with whom he actually spoke only once) manages to restore much of Button's luster as an actor while at the same time revealing a rather sad (and sometimes distinctly unpleasant) man, whose ignorance of his own disease--alcoholism--almost killed him and whose true first love--money, and the respect he seemed to think it could buy--seemed always to push him in directions destined to make him ever more unhappy (and unpleasant). Through it all--Burton's childhood as the son of a hard-drinking Welsh miner, his early years in London making his nonchalant way as an actor, his promise on the stage as the ""second Olivier,"" his four marriages (two of them to Elizabeth Taylor), his boozing and his wenching, his eroding reputation, his final, semi-victorious fight against alcohol--Alpert keeps himself out of the story and consistently pulls the reader in. His method is understatement. He realizes that sensationalizing Burton is like trying to sensationalize an earthquake or any other natural disaster: it's redundant, the event being larger than adjectives already. Nonetheless, Alpert tells Button's story with great verve. He pulls no punches, but he also gives credit where it is due, dispelling the current prevailing opinion of Burton as sell-out and hack by reviving memories of Breton in Camelot, in Beckett, in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? These were considerable achievements by any standards. One only wonders what more Burton the actor could have done if he hadn't had to deal with Richard Burton the man. Sound, solid, and constantly intriguing.

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 1985
Publisher: Putnam