American authors Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s biography Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century
(2009) chronicles the tempestuous marriage between two of the most prominent actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. In writing Furious Love
, the authors rely on correspondence given to them by Taylor herself.
Born in 1932, Taylor grows up in London with dual US-British citizenship. As World War II approaches, the Taylors relocate to Southern California. There, Taylor's mother is frequently told that her daughter should become an actor. Of note to observers are Taylor's violet eyes which, owing to a genetic mutation, are surrounded by thick double-eyelashes. Her breakout role comes at the age of 12 in the popular horseback riding film, National Velvet
. Her success, however, is bittersweet, as once she becomes a star, MGM studio where she is under contract begins to control virtually every aspect of her childhood.
Richard Burton is born in 1925 in Wales, the 12th child of an alcoholic coal miner. At the age of two, upon his mother's death, Burton goes to stay with his elder sister Cecilia who raises him with her husband. During World War II, Burton serves as a navigator with the Royal Air Force. During this time, his drinking increases dramatically. Upon his honorable discharge, Burton embarks on a successful theater career before making the transition to Hollywood in 1952.
Over the course of her life, Taylor marries seven men on eight separate occasions. Men's courtship of her begins as early as 16 when the film and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes offers her parents a six-figure sum if Taylor agrees to marry him. She declines. In 1950, at the age of 18, Taylor marries her first husband, Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, Jr., heir to the Hilton hotel empire. Having grown up with Puritanical beliefs that equate love with marriage, Taylor is eager to enter holy matrimony at a young age. However, she quickly discovers that Hilton is an abusive alcoholic and in 1951, eight months after her wedding, she is granted a divorce.
The following year, Taylor marries British actor Michael Wilding. Although Wilding is 20 years older than Taylor, she enjoys the quiet companionship he offers. Wilding's acting career suffers as Taylor continues her meteoric rise to stardom, causing a great deal of turmoil in the marriage. During her marriage to Wilding, Taylor meets Burton for the first time at a party held by a mutual acquaintance. Her first impression of him is that he is "rather full of himself. I seem to remember that he never stopped talking, and I had given him the cold fisheye."
Taylor and Wilding divorce in 1957, and that same year, Taylor marries the film producer Mike Todd. Only a little more than a year later, Todd dies in a plane crash, making him the only one of Taylor's husbands she doesn't divorce. Taylor and singer Eddie Fisher, a friend of Todd's, find comfort in one another. Although Fisher is married to the actor Debbie Reynolds, he and Taylor have an extramarital affair. When the affair is exposed by gossip columnists, Fisher and Reynolds divorce and Taylor is labeled a "home-wrecker." Taylor marries Fisher in 1959.
Three years later in 1962, Taylor travels to Italy to shoot the film Cleopatra
where she is joined by Burton as her costar. By this time, Burton is married to Sybil Williams, a theater actor he met in London while he was still a struggling actor. Upon seeing Taylor for the first time in years, Burton initially dismisses her as beautiful but talentless, derisively referring to her as "Miss Tits." However, during their first scene together, Burton becomes shaky, and Taylor calms him down. This, according to Taylor, is the moment they fall in love. Their relationship is soon an open secret, leading both Fisher and Williams to flee the set in anger. Burton and Williams divorce in 1963, but it isn't until 1964, two years after Taylor's reunion with Burton on the set of Cleopatra
, that Fisher grants her a divorce. Less than two weeks later, Taylor and Burton marry.
Taylor and Burton go on to star in 11 films together including 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
for which both receive Academy Award nominations, though only Taylor wins. Their marriage also becomes a formative moment for the tabloid industry, which obsessively reports on the couple, often through wildly speculative stories about their lavish spending and open marriage. "Theirs was the first reality show, a marriage with an audience." Behind the scenes, however, the marriage is marred by the pair's increasing alcoholism. In 1974, the codependent lovers divorce, only to reconcile a year later and remarry. The second marriage, however, only lasts a year. Taylor would later say, "After Richard, the men in my life were just there to hold the coat, to open the door. All the men after Richard were really just company."According to The New York Times
, Furious Love
is "an indulgent, plenty-of-fun book about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s traveling circus of money, booze and mutual obsession."