BURTON: The Man Behind The Myth by Penny Junor

BURTON: The Man Behind The Myth

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Typical quickie biography of the late thespian, by British bio-journalist Junor (Diana, Princess of Wales). But since Burton traded being an actor for being a star, perhaps this sort of fanzine treatment is the most appropriate way to record his life. After a leisurely description of Button's Welsh boyhood and theatrical apprenticeship, the book fairly races through his roles and acting career, pausing only to relate a juicy anecdote (like the time Burton, after an afternoon's heavy drinking, urinated into his costume during a performance of Henry IV, Part 2). And of course there's plenty on Life with Liz, Marriages 1 and 2--with a special epilogue on the disastrous Burton/Taylor revival of Private Lives. Perhaps Burton gives short shrift to its subject's professional life out of an aim to explore, as the subtitle says, ""The Man Behind the Myth."" But it's very revealing about Burton, drawing much the psychological profile we've seen before: his obsession with money sprang from the dead-end poverty of his youth; the boozing, the womanizing, the accepting of trashy movies were a way to put off proving himself ""the heir to Laurence Olivier""; he courted an image as a romantic ruin. Though Junor admits that Burton was a bit indifferent towards aspects of his craft--he never learned how to apply makeup and wigs, for example--she argues against the idea that acting bored him, citing his early, enthusiastic reinterpretations of Prince Hal and Hamlet. The appetite for fame and fortune, whetted by Taylor's high-living example, simply proved too strong: ""Intellectually he wept for his lost soul, but physically he enjoyed every minute."" Junor writes pretty well, but one wonders how much of the writing is hers. In her section on Camelot, for example, she liberally lifts paragraphs almost verbatim from Alan Jay Lerner's autobiography, The Street Where I Live. Readers would do better to stick with Hollis Alpert's Burton, a more wryly written and knowing effort that credits its quotes.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's