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THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES by Richard Burton Kirkus Star


by Richard Burton edited by Chris Williams

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-300-18010-7
Publisher: Yale Univ.

The inspiring, salacious, sad, materialistic, insecure, arrogant, hilarious and dull ruminations of a most gifted actor.

Burton was not assiduous about his diary. There are fascinating flurries of activity, generally surrounding his work on film (from The Taming of the Shrew to The Battle of Sutjeska) or on a play (a revival of Camelot in 1980). But there are also months, even years, that go by in silence. Occasionally, Burton had nothing to say—e.g., a six-day stretch in 1975 when each day’s entry offers but a single word: “Booze.” Burton struggled throughout his career with alcohol (the diary records alternating periods of abstinence and drunkenness) and cigarettes. He constantly battled his weight, as well, clearly disturbed when he was only a few pounds over what he wished to be. His relationship with his two-term wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, will no doubt interest many readers, and the diary at times resembles a seismograph marking the rumbles in their relationship. The author often waxes eloquent about her, recording her beauty and her talent (he believed she was a gifted actress). Perhaps most impressive, however, is the catalog of Burton’s reading. He makes “voracious” sound feeble. He consumed mystery novels and thrillers, yes, but also Proust and Gibbon and weighty works of history and philosophy. (He read In Search of Lost Time twice, just to be sure.) When he was preparing for travel, he always assembled a thick stack of books to take with him. Williams (Welsh History/Swansea Univ.; Capitalism, Community and Conflict: The South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947, 1998, etc.) provides scrupulous editing—there are a myriad of fascinating footnotes, only a few of which are questionable: Do we really need to be told who Mark Twain is?—and the book includes countless juicy comments from Burton about colleagues, directors, authors, family, politics and celebrity.

A text that thrums with life and assures the rest is not silence.