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Richard Burton, (; born Richard Walter Jenkins Jr.; 10 November 19255 August 1984) was a
Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indigenous to the British Isles, spoken in Wales ** Patagonian Welsh, a dialect of Wels ...
actor. Noted for his baritone voice, Burton established himself as a formidable
Shakespearean actor William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of the world's greatest dramatists. He is often called ...
in the 1950s, and he gave a memorable performance of Hamlet in 1964. He was called "the natural successor to Olivier" by critic
Kenneth Tynan Kenneth Peacock Tynan (2 April 1927 – 26 July 1980) was an English theatre critic and writer. Making his initial impact as a critic at ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper Sunday editions, published on Sundays. In the ...
. A heavy drinker, Burton's purported failure to live up to those expectations disappointed some critics and colleagues and added to his image as a great performer who had wasted his talent. Nevertheless, he is widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation. Burton was nominated for an
Academy Award The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking F ...

Academy Award
seven times, but never won an Oscar. He was a recipient of
BAFTA The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA, ) is an independent charity that supports, develops, and promotes the art forms of the moving image (film, television and games) in the United Kingdom. In addition to its annual awards ...
s,
Golden Globe The Golden Globe Awards are accolades bestowed by the 87 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is a non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non ...

Golden Globe
s, and
Tony Award The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United Sta ...
s for Best Actor. In the mid-1960s, Burton ascended into the ranks of the top box office stars. By the late 1960s, Burton was one of the highest-paid actors in the world, receiving fees of $1 million or more plus a share of the gross receipts. Burton remained closely associated in the public consciousness with his second wife, actress
Elizabeth Taylor Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema Classical Hol ...

Elizabeth Taylor
. The couple's turbulent relationship was rarely out of the news.


Early life


Childhood

Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins Jr. on 10 November 1925 in a house at 2 Dan-y-bont in Pontrhydyfen,
Glamorgan , HQ = Cardiff Cardiff (; cy, Caerdydd ) is the capital city of Wales and a Local government in Wales, county. Officially known as the City and County of Cardiff, it is the United Kingdom's eleventh-largest city and the main ...

Glamorgan
, Wales. He was the twelfth of thirteen children born into the Welsh-speaking family of Richard Walter Jenkins Sr. (1876–1957), and Edith Maude Jenkins (née Thomas; 1883–1927). Jenkins Sr., called Daddy Ni by the family, was a coal miner, while his mother worked as a barmaid at a pub called the Miner's Arms, which was also the place where she met and married her husband. According to biographer
Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg, (born 6 October 1939), is an English broadcaster, author and parliamentarian. He is best known for his work with ITV (TV network), ITV as editor and presenter of ''The South Bank Show'' (1978–2010), and for the BBC ...

Melvyn Bragg
, Richard is quoted saying that Daddy Ni was a "twelve-pints-a-day man" who sometimes went off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks, and that "he looked very much like me". He remembered his mother to be "a very strong woman" and "a religious soul with fair hair and a beautiful face". Richard was barely two years old when his mother died on 31 October, six days after the birth of Graham, the family's thirteenth child. Edith's death was a result of
postpartum infections Postpartum infections, also known as childbed fever and puerperal fever, are any bacterial infection An infection is the invasion of an organism's body Tissue (biology), tissues by Pathogen, disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and th ...
; Richard believed it occurred due to "hygiene neglect". According to biographer
Michael Munn Michael Munn is a British author and History of film, film historian. He lives in Sudbury, Suffolk. His biography of Steve McQueen has been described as preposterous, and doubt cast on his biographies of Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, ...
, Edith "was fastidiously clean", but that her exposure to the dust from the coal mines resulted in her death. Following Edith's death, Richard's elder sister Cecilia, whom he affectionately addressed as "Cis", and her husband Elfed James, also a miner, took him under their care. Richard lived with Cis, Elfed and their two daughters, Marian and Rhianon, in their three bedroom terraced cottage on 73 Caradoc Street,
Taibach Taibach or Tai-bach ( en, Little Houses) is a suburban district, community (Wales), community, (and electoral ward) of Port Talbot, Wales. It is a settlement centered on the main A48 road, sandwiched between the Nant Ffrwdwyllt, river Ffrwdwyllt an ...
, a
suburb A suburb (or suburban area or suburbia) is a commercial Commercial may refer to: * a dose of advertising conveyed through media (such as - for example - radio or television) ** Radio advertisement ** Television advertisement * (adjective ...
an district in
Port Talbot Port Talbot (, ) is a town and community A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as Norm (social), norms, religion, values, Convention (norm), customs, or Identity (social science), identity. Communitie ...
, which Bragg describes as "a tough steel town, , grind and grime". Richard remained forever grateful and loving to Cis throughout his life, later going on to say: "When my mother died she, my sister, had become my mother, and more mother to me than any mother could ever have been ... I was immensely proud of her ... she felt all tragedies except her own". Daddy Ni would occasionally visit the homes of his grown daughters but was otherwise absent. Another important figure in Richard's early life was Ifor, his brother, 19 years his senior. A miner and
rugby union Rugby union, commonly known simply as rugby, is a Contact sport#Terminology, close-contact team sport that originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the Comparison of rugby league and rugby union, two codes of rugby f ...
player, Ifor "ruled the household with the proverbial firm hand". He was also responsible for nurturing a passion for rugby in young Richard. Although Richard also played cricket, tennis, and table tennis, biographer Bragg notes rugby union football to be his greatest interest. On rugby, Richard said he "would rather have played for Wales at
Cardiff Arms Park Cardiff Arms Park ( cy, Parc yr Arfau Caerdydd), also known as The Arms Park, is situated in the centre of Cardiff, Wales. It is primarily known as a rugby union stadium, but it also has a bowling green. The Arms Park was host to the 1958 Brit ...

Cardiff Arms Park
than Hamlet at
The Old Vic The Old Vic is a 1,000-seat, not-for-profit A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public o ...

The Old Vic
". The Welsh rugby union centre,
Bleddyn Williams Bleddyn Llewellyn Williams MBE (22 February 1923 – 6 July 2009), was a Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indig ...
believed Richard "had distinct possibilities as a player". From the age of five to eight, Richard was educated at the Eastern Primary School while he attended the Boys' segment of the same school from eight to twelve years old. He took a scholarship exam for admission into Port Talbot Secondary School in March 1937 and passed it. Biographer
Hollis Alpert Hollis Alpert (September 24, 1916 – November 18, 2007) was an American film critic and author. Alpert was best known as the cofounder of the National Society of Film Critics, which he started in his New York City apartment. Early life Hollis A ...
notes that both Daddy Ni and Ifor considered Richard's education to be "of paramount importance" and planned to send him to the
University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the List of oldest universit ...
. Richard became the first member of his family to go to secondary school. He displayed an excellent speaking and singing voice since childhood, even winning an
eisteddfod In Welsh culture Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is Countries of the United Kingdom, part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England border, east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bris ...
prize as a
boy soprano A boy soprano (British and especially North American English) or boy treble (only British English) is a young male singer with an Voice change, unchanged voice in the soprano range, a range that is often still called the treble voice range (in No ...
. During his tenure at Port Talbot Secondary School, Richard also showed immense interest in reading poetry as well as English and
Welsh literature Welsh literature is any literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent ...
. He earned pocket money by running messages, hauling horse manure, and delivering newspapers.


Philip Burton years

Richard was bolstered by winning the Eisteddfod Prize and wanted to repeat his success. He chose to sing Sir
Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 comic opera, operatic Gilbert and Sullivan, collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including ...

Arthur Sullivan
's "Orpheus with his Lute" (1866), which biographer Alpert thought "a difficult composition". He requested the help of his schoolmaster,
Philip Burton Philip Burton (26 July 1908 – 3 January 1995) was an Irish Fine Gael politician, farmer and auctioneer. He was born in the townland of Curragh, Kanturk, County Cork, the son of Francis Burton, a farmer, and Anne Guiney. His maternal uncles wer ...
, but his voice cracked during their practice sessions. This incident marked the beginning of his association with Philip. Philip later recalled, "His voice was tough to begin with but with constant practice it became memorably beautiful." Richard made his first foray into theatre with a minor role in his school's production of the Irish playwright
George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemic Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range ...

George Bernard Shaw
's ''
The Apple Cart ''The Apple Cart: A Political Extravaganza'' is a 1928 play by George Bernard Shaw. It is a satire, satirical comedy about several Political philosophy, political philosophies which are expounded by the characters, often in lengthy monologues. The p ...
''. He decided to leave school by the end of 1941 and work as a miner as Elfed was not fit due to illness. He worked for the local wartime
Co-operative A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is "an autonomous The federal subject The federal subjects of Russia, also referred to as the subjects of the Russian Federation (russian: субъекты Российск ...
committee, handing out supplies in exchange for war-time ration-coupons. He also simultaneously considered other professions for his future, including boxing, religion and singing. It was also during this period that Richard took up smoking and drinking despite being underage. When he joined the Port Talbot Squadron 499 of the
Air Training Corps The Air Training Corps (ATC) is a British volunteer-military youth organisation. They are sponsored by the Ministry of DefenceMinistry of Defence or Ministry of Defense may refer to: * Ministry of defence, a type of government department resp ...
section of the
Royal Air Force The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for th ...
(RAF) as a cadet, he re-encountered Philip, who was the squadron commander. He also joined the Taibach Youth Center, a youth drama group founded by Meredith Jones and led by Leo Lloyd, a steel worker and avid amateur thespian, who taught him the fundamentals of acting. Richard played the role of an escaped convict in Lloyd's play, ''The Bishop's Candlesticks'', an adaptation of a section of
Victor Hugo Victor-Marie Hugo (; 26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and dramatist of the Romantic movement Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellect ...

Victor Hugo
's ''
Les Misérables ''Les Misérables'' (, ) is a 19th-century French literature, French historical fiction, historical novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, that is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. In the English-speaking world ...

Les Misérables
''. The entire play did not have any dialogues, but Alpert noted that Richard "mimed his role". Philip gave him a part in a radio documentary/adaptation of his play for BBC Radio, ''Youth at the Helm'' (1942). Seeing the talent Richard possessed, both Jones and Philip re-admitted him to school on 5 October 1942. Philip tutored his charge intensely in school subjects, and also worked at developing the youth's acting voice, including outdoor voice drills which improved his projection. Richard called the experience "the most hardworking and painful period" in his life. Philip called Richard "my son to all intents and purposes. I was committed to him", while Burton later wrote of Philip, "I owe him everything". In autumn of 1943, Philip planned to adopt Richard, but was not able to do so as he was 20 days too young to be 21 years older than his ward, a legal requirement. As a result, Richard became Philip's legal
ward Ward may refer to: Division or unit * Hospital#Departments or wards, Hospital ward, a hospital division, floor, or room set aside for a particular class or group of patients, for example the psychiatric ward * Prison ward, a division of a pen ...
and changed his surname to "Richard Burton", after Philip's own surname, by means of
deed poll#REDIRECT Deed poll A deed poll (plural: deeds poll or deed polls) is a legal document binding only to a single person or several persons acting jointly to express an active intention. It is, strictly speaking, not a contract A contract is a leg ...
, which Richard's father accepted. It was also in 1943 that Richard qualified for admission into a university after excelling in the School Certificate Examination. Philip requested Richard to study at
Exeter College, Oxford (Let Exeter Flourish) , old_names = ''Stapeldon Hall'' , named_for = Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter , established = , sister_college = Emmanuel College, Cambridge , rector = Rick Trainor, Sir Richar ...
as a part of a six-month scholarship program offered by the RAF for qualified cadets prior to active service.


Career


Early career and service in the RAF (1943–1947)

In 1943, Burton played Professor Henry Higgins in a school production of another Shaw play directed by Philip, '' Pygmalion''. The role won him favourable reviews and caught the attention of the dramatist,
Emlyn Williams George Emlyn Williams, CBE (26 November 1905 – 25 September 1987), known as Emlyn Williams, was a Welsh writer, dramatist and actor. Early life Williams was born into a Welsh-speaking, working class family at 1 Jones Terrace, Pen- ...

Emlyn Williams
, who offered Burton a small role of the lead character's elder brother, Glan, in his play ''The Druid's Rest''. The play debuted at the
Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool The Royal Court Theatre is a theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a ...
on 22 November 1943, and later premiered in
St Martin's Theatre St Martin's Theatre is a West End theatre which has staged the production of ''The Mousetrap'' since March 1974, making it the longest continuous run of any show in the world. The theatre is located in West Street, near Shaftesbury Avenue, in the ...
, London in January 1944. Burton thought the role was "a nothing part" and that he "hardly spoke at all". He was paid ten pounds a week for playing the role (), which was "three times what the miners got". Alpert states that the play garnered mixed critical reviews, but James Redfern of the ''
New Statesman The ''New Statesman'' is a British political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations betwe ...
'' took notice of Burton's performance and wrote: "In a wretched part, Richard Burton showed exceptional ability." Burton noted that single sentence from Redfern changed his life. During his tenure at Exeter College of Oxford University, Burton featured as "the complicated sex-driven puritan"
Angelo Angelo is an Italian language, Italian masculine given name and surname meaning "angel", or "messenger". People People with the given name *Angelo Accattino (born 1966), Italian prelate of the Catholic Church *Angelo Acciaioli (bishop) (1298–13 ...
in the
Oxford University Dramatic Society The Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) is the principal funding body and provider of theatrical services to the many independent student productions put on by students in Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town a ...
's 1944 production of
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...

William Shakespeare
's ''
Measure for Measure ''Measure for Measure'' is a play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of ...
''. The play was directed by Burton's English literature professor,
Nevill Coghill Nevill Henry Kendal Aylmer Coghill (19 April 1899 – 6 November 1980) was an English literary scholar, known especially for his modern English version of Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and ...
, and was performed at the college in the presence of additional contributors to
West End theatre West End theatre is mainstream professional theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before ...
including
John Gielgud Sir Arthur John Gielgud, (; 14 April 1904 – 21 May 2000) was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson Sir Ralph David Richardson (19 December 1902 – 10 October 1983) wa ...

John Gielgud
,
Terence Rattigan Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan (10 June 191130 November 1977) was a British dramatist and screenwriter. His plays are typically set in an upper-middle-class background.Geoffrey Wansell. ''Terence Rattigan'' (London: Fourth Estate, 1995). He wrote ...
and
Binkie Beaumont Hugh "Binkie" Beaumont (27 March 190822 March 1973) was a British theatre Theatre producer, manager and producer, sometimes referred to as the "éminence grise" of the West End theatre. Though he shunned the spotlight so that his name was not kno ...
. On Burton's performance, fellow actor and friend,
Robert Hardy Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy (29 October 1925 – 3 August 2017) was an English actor who had a long career in theatre, film and television. He began his career as a classical actor and later earned widespread recognition for roles such as Siegf ...

Robert Hardy
recalled, "There were moments when he totally commanded the audience by this stillness. And the voice which would sing like a violin and with a bass that could shake the floor." Gielgud appreciated Burton's performance and Beaumont, who knew about Burton's work in ''The Druid's Rest'', suggested that he "look him up" after completing his service in the RAF if he still wanted to pursue acting as a profession. In late 1944, Burton successfully completed his six-month scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford, and went to the RAF classification examinations held in
Torquay Torquay ( ) is a seaside town in Devon Devon (, archaically known as Devonshire) is a Counties of England, county in South West England, reaching from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is bounded b ...

Torquay
to train as a pilot. He was disqualified for pilot training due to his eyesight being below par, and was classified as a navigator trainee. He served the RAF as navigator for three years, during which he performed an assignment as in a
Wiltshire Wiltshire (; abbreviated Wilts) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in South West England with an area of . It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The count ...
-based RAF Hospital and was posted to the RAF base in
Carberry, Manitoba Carberry is a town in southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It is situated 3 kilometres south of the Manitoba Highway 1, Trans-Canada Highway on Manitoba Highway 5, Highway 5 in the Municipality of North Cypress – Langford, and has a population of 1,738 ...
,
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, ...

Canada
to work as in instructor. Burton's habits of drinking and smoking increased during this period; he was involved in a brief casual affair with actress
Eleanor Summerfield Eleanor Audrey Summerfield (7 March 1921 – 13 July 2001) was an English people, English actress who appeared in many plays, films and television series. She is known for her roles in ''Laughter in Paradise'' (1951), ''Final Appointment (1954 fi ...
. Burton was cast in an uncredited and unnamed role of a bombing officer by
BBC Third Programme The BBC Third Programme was a national radio service produced and broadcast by the BBC from 1946 until 1967, when it was replaced by BBC Radio 3. It first went on the air on 29 September 1946 and quickly became one of the leading cultural and ...
in a 1946 radio adaptation of ''
In Parenthesis ''In Parenthesis'' is an epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or othe ...
'', an
epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem Narrative poetry is a form of poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of l ...
of the
First World War World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...

First World War
by David Jones. Burton was discharged from the RAF on 16 December 1947.


Rise through the ranks and film debut (1948–1951)

In 1948, Burton moved to London to make contact with H. M. Tennent Ltd., where he again met Beaumont, who put him under a contract of £500 per year (£10 a week). Daphne Rye, the casting director for H. M. Tennent Ltd., offered Burton rooms on the top floor of her house in Pelham Crescent, London as a place for him to stay. Rye cast Burton in a minor role as a young officer, Mr. Hicks, in ''Castle Anna'' (1948), a drama set in
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Great Britain and Ireland), North Channel, the Irish Sea ...

Ireland
. While touring with the cast and crew members of
Wynyard Browne Wynyard Barry Browne (6 October 1911 – 19 February 1964) was an English dramatist, playwright and screenwriter Biography He was born in London in 1911, and educated at Marlborough College, Marlborough and Christ's College, Cambridge. His ...
's ''Dark Summer'', Burton was called by Emlyn Williams for a screen test for his film, ''
The Last Days of Dolwyn ''The Last Days of Dolwyn'' (renamed ''Woman of Dolwyn'' for the American market) is a 1949 Welsh drama film directed by Russell Lloyd (film editor), Russell Lloyd and Emlyn Williams and starring Edith Evans, Emlyn Williams, Richard Burton and Ant ...
'' (1949). Burton performed the screen test for the role of Gareth, which Williams wrote especially for him, and was subsequently selected when Williams sent him a telegram that quoted a line from ''The Corn Is Green'' "You have won the scholarship." This led to Burton making his mainstream film debut. Filming took place during the summer and early autumn months of 1948. It was on the sets of this film that Burton was introduced by Williams to Sybil Williams, whom he married on 5 February 1949 at a register office in Kensington. ''The Last Days of Dolwyn'' opened to generally positive critical reviews. Burton was praised for his "acting fire, manly bearing and good looks" and film critic
Philip French Philip Neville French Order of the British Empire, OBE (28 August 1933 – 27 October 2015) was an English film criticism, film critic and radio producer. French began his career in journalism in the late 1950s, before eventually becoming a ...
of ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
'' called it an "impressive movie debut". After marrying Sybil, Burton moved to his new address at 6 Lyndhurst Road,
Hampstead Hampstead () is an area in London, which lies northwest of Charing Cross, and extends from Watling Street, the A5 road (Roman Watling Street) to Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. The area forms the northwest part of the Lond ...

Hampstead
NW3, where he lived from 1949 to 1956. Pleased with the feedback Burton received for his performance in ''The Last Days of Dolwyn'', the film's co-producer
Alexander Korda Sir Alexander Korda (; born Sándor László Kellner, 16 September 1893 – 23 January 1956)
offered him a contract at a stipend of £100 a week (), which he signed. The contract enabled Korda to lend Burton to films produced by other companies. Throughout the late 1940s and early 50s, Burton acted in small parts in various British films such as ''
Now Barabbas ''Now Barabbas'' is a 1949 British drama film In film and television show, television, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or docudrama, semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humour, humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usua ...
'' (1949) with
Richard Greene Richard Marius Joseph Greene (25 August 1918 – 1 June 1985) was a noted English film and television actor. A matinée idol who appeared in more than 40 films, he was perhaps best known for the lead role in the long-running British TV series ' ...

Richard Greene
and
Kathleen Harrison Kathleen Harrison (23 February 1892 – 7 December 1995) was a prolific English character actress best remembered for her role as Mrs. Huggett (opposite Jack Warner (actor), Jack Warner and Petula Clark) in a trio of British post-war comed ...
, ''
The Woman with No Name ''The Woman with No Name'' is a 1950 British drama film directed by Ladislao Vajda and starring Phyllis Calvert, Edward Underdown, Helen Cherry, Richard Burton and James Hayter (actor), James Hayter. In the United States it was released as ''Her ...
'' (1950) opposite
Phyllis Calvert Phyllis Hannah Murray-Hill (née Bickle; 18 February 1915 – 8 October 2002), known professionally as Phyllis Calvert, was an English film, stage and television actress. She was one of the leading stars of the Gainsborough melodramas of the 19 ...

Phyllis Calvert
, and ''
Waterfront Waterfront may refer to: *Waterfront (area), the dockland district of a town Music *Waterfront (band), a 1980s British pop duo *Waterfront Records, an Australian record label *Waterfront (song), "Waterfront" (song), a 1983 song by Simple Minds *W ...
'' (1950) with Harrison. Burton had a bigger part as Robert Hammond, a spy for a newspaper editor in '' Green Grow the Rushes'' (1951) alongside
Honor Blackman Honor Blackman (22 August 1925 – 5 April 2020) was an English actress, widely known for the roles of Cathy Gale in '' The Avengers''Aaker, Everett (2006). ''Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters''. McFarland & Company, Inc. . P. 58. ...
. His performance in ''Now Barabbas'' received positive feedback from critics. C. A. Lejeune of ''
The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum A political spectrum is a system to characterize and classify different in relation to one another. These positions sit upon one ...

The Observer
'' believed Burton had "all the qualities of a leading man that the British film industry badly needs at this juncture: youth, good looks, a photogenic face, obviously alert intelligence and a trick of getting the maximum effort with the minimum of fuss." For ''The Woman With No Name'', a critic from ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
'' thought Burton "merely adequate" in his role of the Norwegian aviator, Nick Chamerd. Biographer Bragg states the reviews for Burton's performance in ''Waterfront'' were "not bad", and that ''Green Grow the Rushes'' was a
box office bomb In the motion picture industry, a box-office bomb or box-office flop is a film that is considered highly unsuccessful or unprofitable during its theatrical run. Although any film for which the production and marketing costs exceed the combined rev ...
. Rye recommended Richard to director
Peter Glenville Peter Glenville (born Peter Patrick Brabazon Browne; 28 October 19133 June 1996) was an English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Ang ...
for the part of
Hephaestion Hephaestion ( grc, Ἡφαιστίων ''Hephaistíon''; c. 356 BC  –  October 324 BC), son of Amyntor, was an ancient Macedonian nobleman and a general in the army of Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, ...
in Rattigan's play about
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, Αλέξανδρος}, ; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (''basileus ''Basileus'' ( el, βασιλεύς) is a Greek term and title A title ...

Alexander the Great
, '' Adventure Story'', in 1949. The play was directed by Glenville and starred the then up-and-coming actor
Paul Scofield David Paul Scofield (21 January 1922 – 19 March 2008) was an English actor. During a career that spanned seven decades, Scofield achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Academy Awards, Academy Award, Emmy Award, Emmy, and Tony Award, ...
as the titular character. Glenville, however, rejected him as he felt that Burton was too short compared to Scofield. Rye came to the rescue again by sending Burton to audition for a role in '' The Lady's Not for Burning'', a play by
Christopher Fry Christopher Fry (18 December 1907 – 30 June 2005) was an English poet and playwright. He is best known for his verse dramas, especially ''The Lady's Not for Burning'', which made him a major force in theatre in the 1940s and 1950s. Biography ...
and directed by Gielgud. The lead roles were played by Gielgud himself, and Pamela Brown, while Burton played a supporting role as Richard alongside the then-relatively unknown actress
Claire Bloom Claire Bloom (born Patricia Claire Blume; 15 February 1931) is an English actress. She is known for leading roles in plays such as ''A Streetcar Named Desire ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' is a play written by Tennessee Williams that was f ...

Claire Bloom
. Gielgud was initially uncertain about selecting Burton and asked him to come back the following day to repeat his audition. Burton got the part the second time he auditioned for the role. He was paid £15 a week for the part, which was five more than what Beaumont was paying him. After getting the part, he pushed for a raise in his salary from £10 to £30 a week with Williams' assistance, in addition to the £100 Korda paid him; Beaumont accepted it after much persuasion. Bloom was impressed with Burton's natural way of acting, noting that "he just was" and went further by saying "He was recognisably a star, a fact he didn't question." The play opened at the
Globe Theatre The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Engl ...

Globe Theatre
in May 1949 and had a successful run in London for a year. Writer and journalist Samantha Ellis of ''The Guardian'', in her overview of the play, thought critics found Burton to be "most authentic" for his role. Gielgud took the play to
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
in the United States, where it opened at the
Royale Theatre The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, formerly called the Royale Theatre and the John Golden Theatre, is a Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United States (see American and British Engl ...
on 8 November 1950. Theatre critic
Brooks Atkinson Justin Brooks Atkinson (November 28, 1894 – January 14, 1984) was an American theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience ...
appreciated the performances and praised the play's "hard glitter of wit and skepticism", while describing Fry as precocious with "a touch of genius". The play ran on Broadway until 17 March 1951, and received the
New York Drama Critics' Circle The New York Drama Critics' Circle is made up of 19 drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on Radio d ...
award for the Best Foreign Play of 1951. Burton received the
Theatre World Award The Theatre World Award is an United States, American honor presented annually to actors and actresses in recognition of an outstanding New York City stage debut performance, either on Broadway theatre, Broadway or Off-Broadway. It was first awarded ...
for his performance, his first major award. Burton went on to feature in two more plays by Fry ''The Boy With A Cart'' and ''A Phoenix Too Frequent''. The former opened at the
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith The Lyric Theatre, also known as the Lyric Hammersmith, is a theatre in King Street, in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which takes pride in its original, "groundbreaking" productions.Brighton Brighton () is a constituent part of the city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd ...

Brighton
the following month. Gielgud, who also directed ''The Boy With A Cart'', said that Burton's role in the play "was one of the most beautiful performances" he had ever seen. During its month-long run,
Anthony Quayle Sir John Anthony Quayle (7 September 1913 – 20 October 1989) was a British actor and theatre director. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture ...
, who was on the lookout for a young actor to star as
Prince Hal Prince Hal is the standard term used in literary criticism to refer to Shakespeare's portrayal of the young Henry V of England as a prince before his accession to the throne, taken from the diminutive form of his name used in the plays almost exc ...
in his adaptations of ''
Henry IV, Part I ''Henry IV, Part 1'' is a history play by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and ...
'' and ''
Henry IV, Part 2 ''Henry IV, Part 2'' is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599. It is the third part of a tetralogy, preceded by ''Richard II (play), Richard II'' and ''Henry IV, Part 1'' and succeeded by ''Hen ...
'' as a part of the
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre File:Royal Shakespeare Theatre east.jpg, The theatre in 2018 viewed from the old Tramway Bridge, tramway bridge across the River Avon The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Comp ...

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
season for the Festival of Britain, came to see the play and as soon as he beheld Burton, he found his man and got his agreement to play the parts. Both plays opened in 1951 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in
Stratford-upon-Avon Stratford-upon-Avon (), commonly known as just Stratford, is a market town A market town is a European that obtained by custom or royal charter, in the , a market right, which allowed it to host a regular ; this distinguished it from ...

Stratford-upon-Avon
to mixed reviews, but Burton received acclaim for his role as Prince Hal, with many critics dubbing him "the next
Laurence Olivier Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, (; 22 May 1907 – 11 July 1989) was an English actor and director who, along with his contemporaries Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, was one of a trio of male actors who dominated the British stage ...
". Theatre critic
Kenneth Tynan Kenneth Peacock Tynan (2 April 1927 – 26 July 1980) was an English theatre critic and writer. Making his initial impact as a critic at ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper Sunday editions, published on Sundays. In the ...
said of his performance, "His playing of Prince Hal turned interested speculation to awe almost as soon as he started to speak; in the first intermission local critics stood agape in the lobbies." He was also praised by
Humphrey Bogart Humphrey DeForest Bogart (; December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957), nicknamed Bogie, was an American film and stage actor. His performances in Classical Hollywood cinema Classical Hollywood cinema is a term used in film criticism to describe ...
and his wife
Lauren Bacall Lauren Bacall (; born Betty Joan Perske; September 16, 1924 – August 12, 2014) was an American actress. She was named the AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars, 20th-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute and rece ...

Lauren Bacall
after both saw the play. Bacall later said of him: "He was just marvellous ..Bogie loved him. We all did." Burton celebrated his success by buying his first car, a Standard Flying Fourteen, and enjoyed a drink with Bogart at a pub called The Dirty Duck. Philip too was happy with the progress his ward made and that he felt "proud, humble, and awed by god's mysterious ways". Burton went on to perform in ''
Henry VHenry V may refer to: People * Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor (1081–1125) * Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine (1173–1227) * Henry V, Count of Luxembourg (1216–1281) * Henry V, Duke of Legnica (c.  1248 – 1296) * Henry V of Iron (c. 1319 ...
'' as the titular character, and played
Ferdinand Ferdinand is a Germanic nameGermanic given names are traditionally dithematic; that is, they are formed from two elements, by joining a prefix A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one w ...
in ''
The Tempest ''The Tempest'' is a Shakespeare's plays, play by English playwright William Shakespeare, probably written in 1610–1611, and thought to be one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone. After the first scene, which takes place on a ship ...
'' as a part of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre season as well. Neither role was overwhelmingly received by the critics, with a reviewer saying "he lacked inches" as Henry V. Olivier defended Burton by retaliating that he too received the same kind of review by the same critic for the same role. His last play in 1951 was as a musician named Orphée in
Jean Anouilh Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh (; 23 June 1910 – 3 October 1987) was a French dramatist whose career spanned five decades. Though his work ranged from high drama to absurdist farce, Anouilh is best known for his 1944 play '' Antigone'', an a ...
's ''
Eurydice Eurydice (; Ancient Greek: Εὐρυδίκη 'wide justice') was a character in Greek mythology and the Auloniad wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music. Etymology Several meanings for the name ' ...
'' opposite
Dorothy McGuire Dorothy Hackett McGuire (June 14, 1916 – September 13, 2001) was an American actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for '' Gentleman's Agreement'' (1947) and won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actre ...
and fellow Welsh actor
Hugh Griffith Hugh Emrys Griffith (30 May 1912 – 14 May 1980) was a Welsh film, stage and television actor. He is best remembered for his role in the film '' Ben-Hur'' (1959), which earned him critical acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor ...
. The play, retitled as ''Legend of Lovers'', opened in the
Plymouth Theatre The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is a Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United States (see American and British English spelling differences Despite the various English ...
, New York City and ran for only a week, but critics were kind to Burton, with Bob Francis of ''
Billboard A billboard (also called a hoarding in the UK and many other parts of the world) is a large outdoor advertising Out-of-home (OOH) advertising, also called outdoor advertising, outdoor media, and out-of-home media, is advertising experienced ...
'' magazine finding him "excellent as the self-tortured young accordionist".


Hollywood and The Old Vic (1952–1954)

Burton began 1952 by starring alongside
Noel Willman Noel Willman (4 August 1918 – 24 December 1988) was an Irish actor and theatre director. Born in Derry Derry, officially Londonderry (), is the second-largest City status in the United Kingdom, city in Northern Ireland and the fifth-la ...
in the title role of Emmanuel Roblès adventure ''Montserrat'', which opened on 8 April at the Lyric Hammersmith. The play only ran for six weeks but Burton once again won praises from critics. According to Bragg, some of the critics who watched the performance considered it to be Burton's "most convincing role" till then. Tynan lauded Burton's role of Captain Montserrat, noting that he played it "with a variousness which is amazing when you consider that it is really little more than a protracted exposition of smouldering dismay". Burton successfully made the transition to Hollywood on the recommendation of film director
George Cukor George Dewey Cukor (; July 7, 1899 – January 24, 1983) was an American film director A film director controls a 's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the (or script) while guiding the and s in the fulfilment of that . The ...
when he was given the lead role in the
Gothic Gothic or Gothics may refer to: People and languages *Goths or Gothic people, the ethnonym of a group of East Germanic tribes **Gothic language, an extinct East Germanic language spoken by the Goths **Crimean Gothic, the Gothic language spoken by ...
romance film Romance films or romance movies are romantic love stories recorded in visual media for broadcast in theaters and on TV that focus on passion, emotion Emotions are mental state, psychological states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysio ...
, ''
My Cousin Rachel ''My Cousin Rachel'' is a novel by British author Daphne du Maurier Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, (; 13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright. Although she is classed as a romantic novelist, her storie ...
'' (1952) opposite
Olivia de Havilland Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland (; July 1, 1916July 26, 2020) was a British-American actress. The major works of her cinematic career spanned from 1935 to 1988. She appeared in 49 feature films and was one of the leading actors of her time. At ...

Olivia de Havilland
. Darryl F. Zanuck, co-founder of
20th Century Fox 20th Century Studios, Inc. (also known as 20th Century for short, and nicknamed 20th Pictures, formerly Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation) is an American film studio A film studio (also known as movie studio or simply studio) is a maj ...
, negotiated a deal with Korda to loan Burton to the company for three films as well as pay Burton a total of $150,000 ($50,000 per film). De Havilland did not get along well with Burton during filming, calling him "a coarse-grained man with a coarse-grained charm and a talent not completely developed, and a coarse-grained which makes him not like anyone else". One of Burton's friends opined it may have been due to Burton making remarks at her that she did not find to be in good taste. While shooting ''"My Cousin Rachel,"'' Burton was offered the role of
Mark Antony Marcus Antonius (14 January 1 August 30 BC), commonly known in English as Mark Antony, was a Ancient Rome, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the Crisis of the Roman Republic, transformation of the Roman Republic f ...
in ''
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...
'' (1953) by the production company,
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures or MGM) is an American media company, founded in 1924, that produces and distributes feature films and television programs. It is based in Beverly Hills, California ...
(MGM), but Burton refused it to avoid schedule conflicts. The role subsequently went to
Marlon Brando Marlon Brando Jr. (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004) was an American actor with a career spanning 60 years, during which he won List of awards and nominations received by Marlon Brando, many accolades, including two Academy Award for Best Actor, A ...
for which he earned a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor and an
Academy Award The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking F ...
nomination for
Best Actor Best Actor is the name of an award which is presented by various film, television and theatre organizations, festivals, and people's awards to leading actors in a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a wo ...
. Based on the 1951
novel of the same name A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book. The present English word for a long work of prose fiction derives from the for "new", "news", or "short story of something new", itself ...
by
Daphne du Maurier Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, (; 13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright. Although she is classed as a romantic novelist, her stories have been described as "moody and resonant" with overtones of the para ...
, ''My Cousin Rachel'' is about a man who suspects his rich cousin was murdered by his wife in order to inherit his wealth, but ends up falling in love with her, despite his suspicions. Upon release, the film was a decent grosser at the box office, and Burton's performance received mostly excellent reviews.
Bosley Crowther Francis Bosley Crowther Jr. (July 13, 1905 – March 7, 1981) was an American journalist, author, and film critic for ''The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''NYT'' or ''NY Times'') is an American daily newspaper based in New York C ...
, writing for ''The New York Times'', appreciated Burton's emotional performance, describing it as "most fetching"; he called him "the perfect hero of Miss du Maurier's tale". The ''
Los Angeles Daily News The ''Los Angeles Daily News'' is the second-largest-circulating paid daily of , . It is the flagship of the , a branch of Colorado-based . The offices of the ''Daily News'' are in , and much of the paper's reporting is targeted toward readers ...
'' reviewer stated "young Burton registers with an intense performance that stamps him as an actor of great potential". Conversely, a critic from the ''
Los Angeles Examiner The ''Los Angeles Examiner'' was a newspaper founded in 1903 by William Randolph Hearst William Randolph Hearst Sr. (; April 29, 1863 – August 14, 1951) was an American businessman, newspaper publisher, and politician known for developing ...
'' labelled Burton as "terribly, terribly tweedy". The film earned Burton the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor and his first Academy Award nomination in the
Best Supporting ActorBest Supporting Actor may refer any one of many different awards, including: * AACTA International Award for Best Supporting Actor * AVN Award for Best Supporting Actor * Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor * Black Reel Award: Best Supporting Ac ...
category. The year 1953 marked an important turning point in Burton's career. He arrived in Hollywood at a time when the
studio system A studio system is a method of filmmaking Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a motion picture A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art form ...
was struggling. The rise of television was drawing viewers away and the studios looked to new stars and film technologies to tempt viewers back to cinemas. He first appeared in the
war film War film is a film genre A film genre is a Genre, stylistic or thematic category for Film, motion pictures based on similarities either in the narrative , narrative elements, aesthetic approach, or the emotional response to the film. Draw ...
'' The Desert Rats'' with
James Mason James Neville Mason (; 15 May 190927 July 1984) was an English actor. He achieved considerable success in British cinema before becoming a star in Hollywood. He was the top box-office attraction in the UK in 1944 and 1945; his British films incl ...

James Mason
, playing an English captain in the North African campaign during World War II who takes charge of a hopelessly out-numbered Australian unit against the indomitable German
field marshal Field marshal (or field-marshal, abbreviated as FM) is the most senior military rank, ordinarily senior to the general officer A general officer is an officer of high rank in the armies, and in some nations' air forces, space force ...

field marshal
,
Erwin Rommel Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel () (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944) was a German general and a propaganda icon during World War II. Popularly known as the Desert Fox (, ), he served as field marshal Field marshal (or field-marsha ...

Erwin Rommel
, who was portrayed by Mason. The film received generally good reviews from critics in London, although they complained the British contribution to the campaign had been minimised. The critic from ''
Variety Variety may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Algebraic variety, the set of solutions of a system of polynomial equations * Variety (universal algebra), classes of algebraic structures defined by equations in universal algebra Hort ...
'' magazine thought Burton was "excellent" while ''The New York Times'' reviewer noted his "electric portrayal of the hero" made the film look "more than a plain, cavalier apology". Burton and Sybil became good friends with Mason and his wife Pamela Mason, and stayed at their residence until Burton returned home to the UK in June 1953 in order to play
Prince Hamlet Prince Hamlet is the title role The title character in a Narrative, narrative work is one who is named or referred to in the title of the work. In a performed work such as a play or film, the performer who plays the title character is said to h ...
as a part of The Old Vic 1953–54 season. This was to be the first time in his career he took up the role. Burton's second and final film of the year was in the
Biblical The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, ''tà biblía'', "the books") is a collection of religious texts or scriptures sacred to Christians, Jews, Samaritans, Rastafari and others. It appears in the form of an anthology, a compilat ...
epic Epic commonly refers to: * Epic poetry, a long narrative poem celebrating heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation * Epic film, a genre of film with heroic elements Epic or EPIC may also refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media ...
historical drama, '' The Robe'', notable for being the first ever motion picture to be made in
CinemaScope CinemaScope is an anamorphic format, anamorphic lens series used, from 1953 to 1967, and less often later, for shooting widescreen films that, crucially, could be screened in theatres using existing equipment, albeit with a lens adapter. Its cre ...
. He replaced
Tyrone Power Tyrone Edmund Power III (May 5, 1914 – November 15, 1958) was an American actor. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Power appeared in dozens of films, often in swashbuckler A swashbuckler is a genre of European adventure literature that focuses ...
, who was originally cast in the role of Marcellus Gallio, a noble but decadent Roman
military tribune A military tribune (Latin ''tribunus militum'', "tribune of the soldiers") was an officer of the Roman army The Roman army (: ) was the armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of , from the (to c. 500 BC) to the (500– ...
in command of the detachment of Roman soldiers that were involved in crucifying
Jesus Christ Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label=Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it i ...

Jesus Christ
. Haunted by nightmares of the crucifixion, he is eventually led to his own conversion. Marcellus' Greek slave Demetrius (played by
Victor Mature Victor John Mature (January 29, 1913 – August 4, 1999) was an American stage, film, and television actor who starred most notably in several movies during the 1950s. His best known film roles include ''One Million B.C.'' (1940), ''My Darling C ...
) guides him as a spiritual teacher, and his wife Diana (played by
Jean Simmons Jean Merilyn Simmons, Order of the British Empire, OBE (31 January 1929 – 22 January 2010) was a British actress and singer. One of J. Arthur Rank, 1st Baron Rank, J. Arthur Rank's "well-spoken young starlets", she appeared predominantly in ...
) follows his lead. The film set a trend for Biblical epics such as '' Ben-Hur'' (1959). Based on
Lloyd C. Douglas Lloyd Cassel Douglas (August 27, 1877 – February 13, 1951) was an American minister and author. Douglas was one of the most popular American authors of his time, although he did not write his first novel until he was 50. Biography He was b ...
' 1942
historical novel Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for the historical novel, it can also be applied to other types of narrative, including theatr ...
of the same name, ''The Robe'' was well received at the time of its release, but contemporary reviews have been less favourable. ''Variety'' magazine termed the performances of the lead cast "effective" and complemented the fight sequences between Burton and
Jeff Morrow Leslie Irving Morrow, known as Jeff Morrow (January 13, 1907 – December 26, 1993), was an United States, American actor educated at the Pratt Institute in his native New York City. Morrow was a commercial artist prior to turning to acting. ...
. Crowther believed that Burton was "stalwart, spirited and stern" as Marcellus.
Jonathan Rosenbaum Jonathan Rosenbaum (born February 27, 1943) is an American film critic Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts ...
of the ''
Chicago Reader The ''Chicago Reader'', or ''Reader'' (stylized as ЯEADER), is an American alternative weeklyAn alternative newspaper is a type of newspaper that eschews comprehensive coverage of general news in favor of stylized reporting, opinionated reviews a ...
'' called ''The Robe'' "pious claptrap". The film was a commercial success, grossing $17 million against a $5 million budget, and Burton received his second Best Actor nomination at the 26th Academy Awards. Bolstered by ''The Robe''s box office collections, Zanuck offered Burton a seven-year, seven-picture $1 million contract (), but he politely turned it down as he was planning to head home to portray ''Hamlet'' at The Old Vic. Zanuck threatened to force Burton into cutting the deal, but the duo managed to come to a compromise when Burton agreed to a less binding contract, also for seven years and seven films at $1 million, that would begin only after he returned from his stint at The Old Vic's 1953–54 season. The incident spread like wildfire and his decision to walk out on a million dollar contract for a stipend of £150 a week at The Old Vic was met with both appreciation and surprise. Bragg believed Burton defied the studio system with this act when it would have been tantamount to unemployment for him. Gossip columnist
Hedda Hopper Hedda Hopper (born Elda Furry; May 2, 1885February 1, 1966) was an American gossip columnist A gossip columnist is someone who writes a gossip column in a newspaper or magazine, especially a gossip magazine. Gossip columns are material written ...
considered Burton's success in his first three films in Hollywood to be "the most exciting success story since
Gregory Peck Eldred Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003) was an American actor and one of the most popular film stars from the 1940s to the 1960s. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Peck among AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars, 25 Greatest Male ...

Gregory Peck
's contracts of ten years back". At a party held at Simmons' residence in
Bel Air, Los Angeles Bel Air (or Bel-Air) is a residential neighborhood on the Westside of Los Angeles, California, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Founded in 1923, it is the home of The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden and the American Jewish University ...
to celebrate the success of ''The Robe'', Burton met
Elizabeth Taylor Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema Classical Hol ...

Elizabeth Taylor
for the first time. Taylor, who at the time was married to actor
Michael Wilding Michael Charles Gauntlet Wilding (23 July 1912 – 8 July 1979) was an English stage, television, and film actor. He is best known for a series of films he made with Anna Neagle, for the two films he made with Alfred Hitchcock Sir Alf ...
and was pregnant with their first child, recalled her first impression of Burton being "rather full of himself. I seem to remember that he never stopped talking, and I had given him the cold fish eye." Hamlet was a challenge that both terrified and attracted him, as it was a role many of his peers in the British theatre had undertaken, including Gielgud and Olivier. He shared his anxiety with de Havilland whilst coming to terms with her. Bogart too, didn't make it easy for him when he retorted: "I never knew a man who played ''Hamlet'' who didn't die broke." Notwithstanding, Burton began his thirty-nine-week tenure at The Old Vic by rehearsing for ''Hamlet'' in July 1953, with Philip providing expert coaching on how to make Hamlet's character match Burton's dynamic acting style. Burton reunited with Bloom, who played
Ophelia Ophelia () is a character in William Shakespeare's drama ''Hamlet''. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes (character), Laertes and potential wife of Prince Hamlet, who, due to Hamlet's actions, ends u ...

Ophelia
. ''Hamlet'' opened at the Assembly Hall in
Edinburgh Edinburgh (; sco, Edinburgh; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchangeably Edinburghshire before 1921), it is ...

Edinburgh
,
Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba Alba (Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the Celtic languages, Celtic branch of the Indo-European ...

Scotland
in September 1953 as part of The Old Vic season during the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (also referred to as The Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe, or Edinburgh Fringe Festival) is the world's largest arts festival, which in 2018 spanned 25 days and featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different sho ...
. The play and Burton's Hamlet were, on the whole, well received, with critics describing his interpretation of the character as "moody, virile and baleful" and that he had "dash, attack and verve". Burton's Hamlet was quite popular with the young audience, who came to watch the play in numbers as they were quite taken with the aggressiveness with which he portrayed the role. Burton also received appreciation from
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The hea ...

Winston Churchill
. Gielgud was not too happy with Burton's Hamlet and asked him while both were backstage: "Shall I go ahead and wait until you're better?... ah, I mean ready?" Burton picked up the hint and infused some of Gielgud's traits to his own in later performances as Hamlet. A greater success followed in the form of the Roman General
Gaius Marcius Coriolanus 250px, ''Veturia at the Feet of Coriolanus'' by Gaspare Landi Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was a ancient Rome, Roman general who is said to have lived in the 5th century BC. He received his toponymy, toponymic cognomen "Coriolanus" because of his excep ...
in ''
Coriolanus ''Coriolanus'' ( or ) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608. The play is based on the life of the legendary Roman Republic, Roman leader Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Sh ...

Coriolanus
''. At first, Burton refused to play Coriolanus as he didn't like the character's initial disdain for the poor and the downtrodden.
Michael Benthall Michael Pickersgill Benthall Commander of the Order of the British Empire, CBE (8 February 1919 – 6 September 1974) was an English theatre director. As an undergraduate at Oxford University, Benthall met Robert Helpmann, who had been fulfilling ...
, who was renowned for his association with
Tyrone Guthrie Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (2 July 1900 – 15 May 1971) was an English theatrical director instrumental in the founding of the Stratford Festival of Canada, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis Minneapolis () is the most populous city in ...
in a 1944 production of ''Hamlet'', sought Philip's help to entice Burton into accepting it. Philip convinced Burton by making him realise that it was Coriolanus' "lack of ambivalence" which made him an admirable character. Burton received even better reviews for Coriolanus than Hamlet. Hardy thought Burton's Hamlet was "too strong" but that "His Coriolanus is quite easily the best I've ever seen." Olivier too agreed it was the greatest Coriolanus he had ever seen till then. Burton's other roles for the season were
Sir Toby Belch Sir Toby Belch is a character in William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of the ...
in ''
Twelfth Night ''Twelfth Night'', or ''What You Will'' is a romantic comedy Romantic comedy (also known as romcom or rom-com) is a subgenre of comedy and slice-of-life Slice of life describes the depiction of mundane experiences in art and entertainm ...

Twelfth Night
'',
Caliban Caliban ( ), son of the witch Sycorax, is an important character in William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in ...

Caliban
in ''The Tempest'' and
Philip of Cognac Philip or Phillip or Philipp or Phillipp, may refer to: People * Philip (name) Philip is a male given name, derived from the Greek language, Greek (''Philippos'', lit. "horse-loving" or "fond of horses"Liddell, Henry George & al.Φίλιππο ...
in ''
King John of the King of the Romans (variant used in the early modern period) File:Nezahualpiltzintli.jpg, Aztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen re ...
''. All five of Burton's plays were directed by Benthall; three of those plays featured Bloom. While Belch was considered "disappointing" due to Burton not putting on the proper make-up for the part, his reviews for Caliban and Philip of Cognac were positive. Alpert believed Burton's presence made the 1953–54 season of The Old Vic a commercial success. Burton was an ardent admirer of poet
Dylan Thomas Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh people, Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "And death shall have no dominion"; the "play for voices" ''Und ...
since his boyhood days. On the poet's death on 9 November 1953, he wrote an essay about him and took the time to do a 1954 BBC Radio play on one of his final works, ''
Under Milk Wood ''Under Milk Wood'' is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh people, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, commissioned by the BBC and later adapted for the stage. A film version, ''Under Milk Wood (1972 film), Under Milk Wood'' directed by Andrew Sinclair, was rele ...
'', where he voiced the First Voice in an all-Welsh cast. The entire cast of the radio play, including Burton, did their roles free of charge. Burton reprised his role in the play's 1972 film adaptation with Taylor. Burton was also involved in narrating
Lindsay Anderson Lindsay Gordon Anderson (17 April 1923 – 30 August 1994) was a British feature-film, theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the exper ...
's short
documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded history, historical record". Bill Nichols (film critic), Bi ...
about The Royal School for the Deaf in
Margate Margate is a seaside town A seaside resort is a resort town ski resort, Slovakia Image:Nusa dua beach.jpg, Nusa Dua in Bali, Indonesia A resort town, often called a resort city or resort destination, is an urban area where tourism or va ...

Margate
, '' Thursday's Children'' (1954).


Setback in films and on-stage fame (1955–1959)

After The Old Vic season ended, Burton's contract with Fox required him to do three more films. The first was ''
Prince of Players ''Prince of Players'' is a 1955 20th Century Fox 20th Century Studios, Inc. (also known as 20th Century for short, and nicknamed 20th Pictures, formerly Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation) is an American film studio that is a subsidiary ...
'' (1955), where he was cast as the 19th-century Shakespearean actor
Edwin Booth Edwin Thomas Booth (November 13, 1833 – June 7, 1893) was an American actor who toured throughout the United States and the major capitals of Europe, performing Shakespearean plays. In 1869, he founded Booth's Theatre in New York. Some theatri ...
, who was
John Wilkes Booth John Wilkes Booth (May 10, 1838 – April 26, 1865) was an American stage actor who assassinated Assassination is the act of murder, deliberately killing a prominent or important person, such as heads of state, head of government, heads of g ...

John Wilkes Booth
's brother. Maggie McNamara played Edwin's wife, Mary Devlin Booth. Philip thought the script was "a disgrace" to Burton's name. The film's director Philip Dunne observed, "He hadn't mastered yet the tricks of the great movie stars, such as
Gary Cooper Gary Cooper (born Frank James Cooper; May 7, 1901 – May 13, 1961) was an American actor known for his strong, silent, and understated acting style. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor The Academy Award for Best Actor is an award prese ...

Gary Cooper
, who knew them all. The personal magnetism Richard had on the sound stage didn't come through the camera." This was one aspect that troubled Richard throughout his career on celluloid. The film flopped at the box office and has since been described as "the first flop in CinemaScope". Crowther, however, lauded Burton's scenes where he performed Shakespeare plays such as
Richard III Richard III (2 October 145222 August 1485) was King of England This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of England (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Ita ...
. Shortly after the release of ''Prince of Players'', Burton met director
Robert Rossen Robert Rossen (March 16, 1908 – February 18, 1966) was an American screenwriter, film director, and producer whose film career spanned almost three decades. His 1949 film ''All the King's Men (1949 film), All the King's Men'' won Oscars for Aca ...
, who was well known at the time for his Academy Award-winning film, ''
All the King's Men ''All the King's Men'' is a 1946 novel by Robert Penn Warren. Its title is drawn from the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty". The novel tells the story of charismatic populist governor Willie Stark and his political machinations in the Great Depression ...
'' (1949). Rossen planned to cast Burton in ''
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, Αλέξανδρος}, ; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (''basileus ''Basileus'' ( el, βασιλεύς) is a Greek term and title A title ...
'' (1956) as the eponymous character. Burton accepted Rossen's offer after the director reassured him he had been studying the
Macedonian Macedonian most often refers to someone or something from or related to Macedonia (disambiguation), Macedonia. Macedonian may specifically refer to: People Modern * Macedonians (ethnic group), the South Slavic ethnic group primarily associated w ...
king for two years to make sure the film was historically accurate. Burton was loaned by Fox to the film's production company
United Artists United Artists Corporation (UA), currently doing business as United Artists Digital Studios, is an American digital production company. Founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. (16 April ...
, which paid him a fee of $100,000 (). ''Alexander the Great'' was made mostly in
Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = , national_anthem = , image_map = , map_caption = , image_map2 ...

Spain
during February 1955 and July 1955 on a budget of $6 million. The film reunited Burton with Bloom and it was also the first film he made with her. Bloom played the role of
Barsine Barsine ( el, Βαρσίνη; c. 363–309 BC) was the daughter of a Persian Persian may refer to: * People and things from Iran, historically called ''Persia'' in the English language ** Persians, Persian people, the majority ethnic group in Ir ...
, the daughter of
Artabazos II of Phrygia Artabazos II (in Greek Αρτάβαζος) ( fl. 389 – 328 BC) was a Persian general and satrap Satraps () were the governors of the provinces of the ancient Medes, Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, suc ...
, and one of Alexander's three wives.
Fredric March Fredric March (born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel; August 31, 1897 – April 14, 1975) was an American actor, regarded as one of Hollywood's most celebrated, versatile stars of the 1930s and 1940s.Obituary ''Variety Variety may refer to: ...
,
Danielle Darrieux Danielle Yvonne Marie Antoinette Darrieux (; 1 May 1917 – 17 October 2017) was a French actress of stage, television and film, as well as a singer and dancer. Beginning in 1931, she appeared in more than 110 films. She was one of Cinema of Fr ...

Danielle Darrieux
,
Stanley Baker Sir William Stanley Baker (28 February 192828 June 1976) was a Welsh actor An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance (also actress; #The term actress, see below). The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional me ...
,
Michael Hordern Sir Michael Murray Hordern CBE The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside th ...
and
William Squire William Squire (29 April 1917 – 3 May 1989) was a Welsh actor of stage, film and television. Squire was born in Neath, Glamorgan , HQ = Cardiff , Government = Glamorgan County Council (1889–1974) , Origin= , Code ...
were respectively cast as
Philip II of Macedon Philip II of Macedon ( grc-gre, Φίλιππος ; 382 – 21 October 336 BC) was the king (basileus ''Basileus'' ( el, βασιλεύς) is a Greek term and title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in cer ...
,
Olympias Olympias ( grc, Ὀλυμπιάς, , c. 375–316 BC) was the eldest daughter of king Neoptolemus I of Epirus, the sister of Alexander I of Epirus, the fourth wife of Philip of Macedon, Philip II, the king of Macedonia (ancient kingdom), Macedon ...

Olympias
, Attalus,
Demosthenes Demosthenes (; el, Δημοσθένης, translit=Dēmosthénēs; ; 384 – 12 October 322 BC) was a statesman and orator of . His constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight in ...

Demosthenes
and
Aeschines Aeschines (; Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximatel ...

Aeschines
. After the completion of ''Alexander the Great'', Burton had high hopes for a favourable reception of the "intelligent epic", and went back to complete his next assignment for Fox,
Jean Negulesco Jean Negulesco (born Ioan Negulescu; – 18 July 1993) was a Romanian Americans, Romanian-American film director and screenwriter.Oliver, Myrna"Jean Negulesco 1900–1993 ''The Los Angeles Times'', 22 July 1993. He first gained notice for his Fi ...
's ''
The Rains of Ranchipur ''The Rains of Ranchipur'' is a 1955 American drama and disaster film A disaster film or disaster movie is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster as its subject and primary plot device Plot or Plotting may refer to: Art, med ...
'' (1955). In this remake of Fox's own 1939 film ''
The Rains Came ''The Rains Came'' is a 1939 20th Century Fox 20th Century Studios, Inc. (also known as 20th Century for short, and nicknamed 20th Pictures, formerly Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation) is an American film studio that is a subsidiary ...
'', Burton played a
Hindu Hindus (; ) are persons who regard themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religion Indian religions, sometimes also termed Dharmic religions or Indic re ...

Hindu
doctor, Rama Safti, who falls in love with Lady Edwina Esketh (
Lana Turner Lana Turner ( ; born Julia Jean Turner; February 8, 1921June 29, 1995) was an American actress. Over the course of her nearly 50-year career, she achieved fame as both a pin-up model and a film actress, as well as for her highly publicized perso ...

Lana Turner
), an invitee of the Maharani of the fictional town of Ranchipur. Burton faced the same troubles with playing character roles as before with Belch. ''The Rains of Ranchipur'' released on 16 December 1955, three months before ''Alexander the Great'' rolled out on 28 March 1956. Contrary to Burton's expectations, both the films were critical and commercial failures, and he rued his decision to act in them. ''
Time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future. It is a component quantity of various me ...
'' magazine critic derided ''The Rains of Ranchipur'' and even went as far as to say Richard was hardly noticeable in the film. A. H. Weiler of ''The New York Times'', however, called Burton's rendering of Alexander "serious and impassioned". Burton returned to The Old Vic to perform ''Henry V'' for a second time. The Benthall-directed production opened in December 1955 to glowing reviews and was a much-needed triumph for Burton. Tynan made it official by famously saying Burton was now "the next successor to Olivier". The reviewer from ''
The Times ''The Times'' is a British Newspaper#Daily, daily Newspaper#National, national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title ''The Daily Universal Register'', adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. ''The Times'' and its s ...
'' began by pointing out the deficiencies in Burton's previous rendition of the character in 1951 before stating:
Mr. Burton's progress as an actor is such that already he is able to make good all the lacks of a few short years ago ... what was greatly metallic has been transformed into a steely strength which becomes the martial ring and hard brilliance of the patriotic verse. There now appears a romantic sense of a high kingly mission and the clear cognisance of the capacity to fulfil it ... the whole performance — a mostly satisfying one — is firmly under the control of the imagination.
In January 1956, the ''
London Evening Standard The ''Evening Standard'', formerly ''The Standard'' (1827–1904), also known as the ''London Evening Standard'', is a local free daily newspaper Free newspapers are distributed Gratis versus libre, free of charge, often in central place ...
'' honoured Burton by presenting to him its Theatre Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Henry V. His success in and as Henry V led him to be called the "Welsh Wizard". ''Henry V'' was followed by Benthall's adaptation of ''
Othello ''Othello'' (full title: ''The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice'') is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mod ...

Othello
'' in February 1956, where he alternated on successive openings between the roles of
Othello ''Othello'' (full title: ''The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice'') is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mod ...
and
Iago Iago () is a fictional character in Shakespeare's ''Othello'' (c. 1601–1604). Iago is the play's main antagonist, and othello (character), Othello's standard-bearer. He is the husband of Emilia (Othello), Emilia, who is in turn the attendant ...

Iago
with John Neville. As Othello, Burton received both praise for his dynamism and criticism with being less poetical with his dialogues, while he was acclaimed as Iago. Burton's stay at The Old Vic was cut short when he was approached by the
Italian neorealist Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a Northern Italy, continental pa ...
director
Roberto Rossellini Roberto Gastone Zeffiro Rossellini (8 May 1906 – 3 June 1977) was an Italian film director, producer, and screenwriter. He was one of the most prominent directors of the Italian neorealist Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related ...

Roberto Rossellini
for Fox's ''
Sea Wife ''Sea Wife'' is a 1957 British CinemaScope CinemaScope is an anamorphic lens series used, from 1953 to 1967, and less often later, for shooting widescreen Widescreen images are images that are displayed within a set of aspect ratio (image) ...
'' (1957), a drama set in
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
about a nun and three men marooned on an island after the ship they travel on is torpedoed by a
U-boat U-boats were naval submarines operated by Germany, particularly in the First First or 1st is the ordinal form of the number one (#1). First or 1st may also refer to: *World record A world record is usually the best global and most importa ...

U-boat
.
Joan Collins Dame Joan Henrietta Collins (born 23 May 1933) is an English actress, author, and columnist. Collins is the recipient of several accolades, including a Golden Globe Awards, Golden Globe Award, a People's Choice Awards, People's Choice Award, t ...

Joan Collins
, who played the nun, was his co-star. Burton's role was that of an RAF officer who develops romantic feelings for the nun. Rossellini was informed by Zanuck not to have any kissing scenes between Burton and Collins, which Rossellini found unnatural; this led to him walking out of the film and being replaced by Bob McNaught, one of the executive producers. According to Collins, Burton had a "take-the-money-and-run attitude" toward the film. ''Sea Wife'' was not a successful venture, with biographer Munn observing that his salary was the only positive feature that came from the film. Philip saw it and said he was "ashamed" that it added another insult to injury in Burton's career. After ''Sea Wife'', Burton next appeared as the British Army Captain Jim Leith in
Nicholas Ray Nicholas Ray (born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle Jr., August 7, 1911 – June 16, 1979) was an American film director A film director controls a 's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the (or script) while guiding the and s in the f ...
's ''
Bitter Victory ''Bitter Victory'' (French title ''Amère victoire'') is a 1957 France, Franco-US, American international co-production film, shot in CinemaScope and directed by Nicholas Ray. Set in World War II, it stars Richard Burton and Curt Jürgens as two B ...
'' (1957). Burton admired Ray's ''
Rebel Without A Cause ''Rebel Without a Cause'' is a 1955 American List of coming-of-age stories, coming-of-age Drama (film and television), drama film about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teenagers. Filmed in the then recently introduced CinemaScope form ...
'' (1955) and was excited about working with him, but unfortunately despite positive feedback, ''Bitter Victory'' tanked as well. By mid-1957, Burton had no further offers in his kitty. He could not return to the UK because of his self-imposed exile from taxation, and his fortunes in film were dwindling. It was then that
film producer A film producer is a person who oversees film production. Either employed by a production company or working Independent film, independently, producers plan and coordinate various aspects of film production, such as selecting the script; coordinat ...
and
screenwriter A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based. ...
Milton Sperling Milton Sperling (July 6, 1912 – August 26, 1988) was an American film producer and screenwriter for 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., where he had his own independent production unit, United States Pictures. Biography After leaving the City Col ...
offered Burton to star alongside
Helen Hayes Helen Hayes MacArthur ( Brown; October 10, 1900 – March 17, 1993) was an American actress whose career spanned 80 years. She eventually received the nickname "First Lady of American Theatre" and was one of 16 people who have won an Emmy, a G ...
and
Susan Strasberg Susan Elizabeth Strasberg (May 22, 1938 – January 21, 1999) was an American stage, film, and television actress. Imagined to be the next Hepburn-type ingenue, she was nominated for a Tony Award at age 18, playing the title role in ''The Diary ...
in
Patricia Moyes Patricia Pakenham-Walsh, also known as Patricia Moyes (19 January 1923 – 2 August 2000) was a British mystery writer. Her mystery novels feature Criminal Investigation Department, C.I.D. Inspector Henry Tibbett. One of them, ''Who Saw Her Die'' ...
' adaptation of Jean Anouilh's play, ''Time Remembered'' ('' Léocadia'' in the original French version). Sensing an opportunity for a career resurgence, Burton readily agreed to do the role of Prince Albert, who falls in love with a milliner named Amanda (Strasberg). It was on 10 September 1957, a day before he left for New York, that Sybil gave birth to their first child, Kate Burton. ''Time Remembered'' was well received on its opening nights at Broadway's
Morosco Theatre The Morosco Theatre was a Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United States (see American and British English spelling differences Despite the various English dialects spok ...
and also at the
National TheatreNational Theatre or National Theater may refer to: Africa *National Arts Theatre, Lagos, Nigeria *Ethiopian National Theatre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia *National Theatre of Ghana, Accra, Ghana *Kenya National Theatre, Nairobi, Kenya *National Theatre of ...
in
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscaped ...
The play went on to have a good run of 248 performances for six months. Burton received his first
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play The Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play is an honor presented at the Tony Awards, a ceremony established in 1947 as the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre, to actors for quality leading roles in a Broadway the ...
nomination while Hayes won her second
Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play The Tony Award The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League a ...
for her role as Burton's mother, The Duchess of Pont-Au-Bronc. In 1958, Burton appeared with
Yvonne Furneaux Yvonne Furneaux (born 11 May 1928) is a French film actress An actor is a person who portrays a Character (arts), character in a performance (also actress; #The term actress, see below). The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional ...

Yvonne Furneaux
in
DuPont Show of the Month ''DuPont Show of the Month'' was a 90-minute television anthology series that aired monthly on CBS from 1957 to 1961. The DuPont Company also sponsored a weekly half-hour anthology drama series hosted by June Allyson, ''The DuPont Show with June Al ...
's 90-minute television adaptation of
Emily Brontë Emily Jane Brontë (, commonly ; 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) was an English novelist and poet who is best known for her only novel, ''Wuthering Heights'', now considered a classic of English literature. She also published a book of poetr ...

Emily Brontë
's classic novel ''
Wuthering Heights ''Wuthering Heights'' is an 1847 novel by Emily Brontë Emily Jane Brontë (, commonly ; 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) was an English novelist and poet who is best known for her only novel, '' Wuthering Heights'', now considered a class ...

Wuthering Heights
'' as Heathcliff. The film, directed by
Daniel Petrie Daniel Mannix Petrie (July 2, 1920 – August 22, 2004) was a Canadian film director, film, television director, television, and stage director who worked in Canada, Hollywood, and the United Kingdom; known for directing grounded human drama fil ...
, aired on 9 May 1958 on
CBS CBS is an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S ...

CBS
with Burton garnering plaudits from both the critics and Philip, who thought he was "magnificent" in it. Burton next featured as Jimmy Porter, "an angry young man" role, in the film version of
John Osborne John James Osborne (12 December 1929 – 24 December 1994) was an English playwright, screenwriter and actor, known for his excoriating prose and intense critical stance towards the Establishment, established social and political norms. The suc ...

John Osborne
's play ''
Look Back in Anger ''Look Back in Anger'' (1956) is a realist play written by John Osborne. It focuses on the life and marital struggles of an intelligent and educated but disaffected young man of working-class origin, Jimmy Porter, and his equally competent yet ...
'' (1959), a gritty drama about middle-class life in the British Midlands, directed by
Tony Richardson Cecil Antonio "Tony" Richardson (5 June 1928 – 14 November 1991) was an English theatre and film director and producer whose career spanned five decades. In 1964 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film ''Tom Jones (1963 film) ...
, again with Claire Bloom as co-star. Biographer Bragg observed that ''Look Back in Anger'' "had defined a generation, provided a watershed in Britain's view of itself and brought sborneinto the public prints as a controversial, dangerous figure". Burton was able to identify himself with Porter, finding it "fascinating to find a man who came presumably from my sort of class, who actually could talk the way I would like to talk". The film, and Burton's performance, received mixed reviews upon release. Biographer Alpert noted that though reviews in the UK were favourable, those in the United States were more negative. Crowther wrote of Burton: "His tirades are eloquent but tiring, his breast beatings are dramatic but dull and his occasional lapses into sadness are pathetic but endurable."
Geoff Andrew Geoff Andrew (born 1954) is a British writer and lecturer on film, and Programmer-at-large at BFI The British Film Institute (BFI) is a film and television charitable organisation which promotes and preserves filmmaking and television in the U ...
of '' Time Out'' magazine felt Burton was too old for the part, and the ''Variety'' reviewer thought "the role gives him little opportunity for variety". Contemporary reviews of the film have been better and it has a rating of 89% on the review aggregator website
Rotten Tomatoes Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley ...

Rotten Tomatoes
. ''Look Back in Anger'' is now considered one of the defining films of the
British New Wave The British New Wave is a style of films released in Great Britain between 1959 and 1963. The label is a translation of '' Nouvelle Vague'', the French term first applied to the films of François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard among others. Stylis ...
cinema, a movement from the late 1950s to the late 1960s in which working-class characters became the focus of the film and conflict of
social class A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those soc ...
es a central theme. Jimmy Porter is also considered one of Burton's best on-screen roles; he was nominated in the Best Actor categories at the
BAFTA The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA, ) is an independent charity that supports, develops, and promotes the art forms of the moving image (film, television and games) in the United Kingdom. In addition to its annual awards ...
and
Golden Globe The Golden Globe Awards are accolades bestowed by the 87 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is a non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non ...
Awards but lost to
Peter Sellers Peter Sellers (born Richard Henry Sellers; 8 September 1925 – 24 July 1980) was an English actor, comedian and singer. He performed in the BBC Radio comedy series ''The Goon Show'', featured on a number of hit comic songs and became known t ...
for ''
I'm All Right Jack ''I'm All Right Jack'' is a 1959 British comedy film directed and produced by John and Roy Boulting from a script by Frank Harvey (English screenwriter), Frank Harvey, John Boulting and Alan Hackney based on the 1958 novel ''Private Life'' by Al ...
'' (1959) and
Anthony Franciosa Anthony Franciosa (born Anthony George Papaleo; October 25, 1928 – January 19, 2006) was an American film, TV and stage actor usually billed at the height of his career as Tony Franciosa. He began as a successful stage actor, gaining a Tony Awa ...
for ''
Career The career is an individual's metaphorical "journey" through learning, and other aspects of . There are a number of ways to define career and the term is used in a variety of ways. Definitions The ' defines the word "career" as a 's "course ...
'' (1959) respectively. Though it didn't do well commercially, Burton was proud of the effort and wrote to Philip, "I promise you that there isn't a shred of self-pity in my performance. I am for the first time ever looking forward to seeing a film in which I play." While filming ''Look Back in Anger'', Burton did another play for BBC Radio, participating in two versions, one in Welsh and another in English, of Welsh poet
Saunders Lewis Saunders Lewis (born John Saunders Lewis) (15 October 1893 – 1 September 1985) was a Welsh political activist, poet, dramatist, historian and literary critic. He was a prominent Welsh nationalist Welsh nationalism ( cy, Cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig ...
' ''Brad'', which was about the
20 July plot On 20 July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg Claus Philipp Maria Justinian Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (; 15 November 1907 – 21 July 1944) was a German army officer best known for his failed attempt on 20 July 1944 to assassinate Adolf Hitle ...
. Burton voiced one of the conspirators, Caesar von Hofacker.


Broadway, ''Hamlet'' and films with Elizabeth Taylor (1960–1969)

In 1960, Burton appeared in two films for
Warner Bros. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (commonly known as Warner Bros. and abbreviated as WB) is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Warner Bros. Studios complex in Burbank, California ...
, neither of which were successful: '' The Bramble Bush'' which reunited him with his ''Wuthering Heights'' director Petrie, and
Vincent Sherman Vincent Sherman (born Abraham Orovitz, July 16, 1906 – June 18, 2006) was an American director and actor who worked in Hollywood. His movies include '' Mr. Skeffington'' (1944), ''Nora Prentiss ''Nora Prentiss'' is a 1947 black-and-white drama ...
's adaptation of
Edna Ferber Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968) was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels include the Pulitzer Prize-winning ''So Big (novel), So Big'' (1924), ''Show Boat (novel), Show Boat'' (1926; made into the c ...

Edna Ferber
's ''
Ice Palace An ice palace or ice castle is a castle-like structure made of blocks of ice. These blocks are usually harvested from nearby rivers or lakes when they become frozen in winter. The first known ice palace (or, rather, ''The Ice House (St. Petersbur ...
''. Burton called the latter a "piece of shit". He received a fee of $125,000 for both films. Burton's next appearance was as the stammering
secularist Secularism is the principle of seeking to conduct human affairs based on , considerations. It is most commonly defined as the — which in accordance with defines secularism as (of the or institution) on issues of religion as opposed to tot ...

secularist
,
George Holyoake George Jacob Holyoake (13 April 1817 – 22 January 1906) was an English secularist, co-operator, and newspaper editor. He coined the term " secularism" in 1851 and " jingoism" in 1878. He edited a secularist paper, the ''Reasoner'', from 1846 t ...
in BBC's documentary-style television adaptation of John Osborne's ''A Subject of Scandal and Concern''. According to Osborne's biographer Luc Gilleman, the film garnered little attention. Burton returned to the United States for the filming of
John Frankenheimer John Michael Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) was an American film and television director known for social dramas and action/suspense films. Among his credits were ' (1962), ' (1962), ' (1964), ' (1964), ' (1966), ' (1966), ' ( ...
's television adaptation of
Ernest Hemingway Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th- ...
's '' The Fifth Column''. He also provided narration for 26 episodes of '' The Valiant Years'', an
American Broadcasting Company The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is an American multinational commercial broadcast television network A television network or broadcaster is a telecommunications network A telecommunications network is a group of nodes intercon ...
(ABC) series based on Winston Churchill's memoirs. Burton made a triumphant return to the stage with
Moss Hart Moss Hart (October 24, 1904 – December 20, 1961) was an American playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays. Etymology The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, pleġa, plæġa ("play, exer ...
's 1960 Broadway production of ''
Camelot Camelot is a castle in East Sussex East Sussex is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinbur ...
'' as
King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a Legend, legendary Celtic Britons, British leader who, according to Historians in England during the Middle Ages, medieval histories and Romance (heroic literature), ...

King Arthur
. The play, written by
Alan Jay Lerner Alan Jay Lerner (August 31, 1918 – June 14, 1986) was an American lyricist A lyricist or lyrist is a songwriter who writes lyrics Lyrics are word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence ...
and
Frederick Loewe Frederick Loewe (, originally German Friedrich (Fritz) Löwe ; June 10, 1901 – February 14, 1988) was an Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a ...
, had
Julie Andrews Dame Julie Andrews (born Julia Elizabeth Wells; 1 October 1935) is an English actress, singer, and author. Throughout her career of more than 75 years, she has received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award The Academy Awards, ...
fresh from her triumph in ''
My Fair Lady ''My Fair Lady'' is a musical theatre, musical based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play ''Pygmalion (play), Pygmalion'', with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower g ...
'' playing
Guinevere Guinevere ( ; cy, Gwenhwyfar ; br, Gwenivar, kw, Gwynnever), also often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the legendary queen and wife of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a Le ...
, and
Robert Goulet Robert Gérard Goulet (November 26, 1933 October 30, 2007) was an American singer and actor of French-Canadian ancestry. Goulet was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Cast as Sir Lancelot and originating the role in the 1960 Broadway m ...

Robert Goulet
as
Lancelot Lancelot Mascarenhas (French for Lancelot of the Lake), also written as Launcelot and other variants (such as early German ''Lanzelet'', early French ''Lanselos'', early Welsh ''Lanslod Lak'', Italian ''Lancillotto'', Spanish ''Lanzarote del ...

Lancelot
completing the love triangle.
Roddy McDowall Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall (17 September 1928 – 3 October 1998) was a British-born American actor, film director and photographer. He is best known for portraying Cornelius and Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 1 ...
played the villainous
Mordred Mordred or Modred (; Welsh: ''Medraut'' or ''Medrawt'') is a character who is variously portrayed in the Arthurian legend. The earliest known mention of a possibly historical Medraut is in the Welsh chronicle ''Annales Cambriae'', wherein he an ...
. Hart first came up with the proposal to Burton after learning from Lerner about his ability to sing. Burton consulted Olivier on whether he should take the role, which came with a stipend of $4,000 a week. Olivier pointed out this salary was good and that he should accept the offer. The production was troubled, with both Loewe and Hart falling ill and the pressure was building due to great expectations and huge advance sales. The show's running time was nearly five hours. Burton's intense preparation and competitive desire to succeed served him well. He immediately drafted Philip, who revised the musical's script and cut its running time to three hours while also incorporating three new songs. Burton was generous and supportive to everyone throughout the production and coached the understudies himself. According to Lerner, "he kept the boat from rocking, and ''Camelot'' might never have reached New York if it hadn't been for him". Burton's reviews were excellent, with the critic from ''Time'' magazine observing that Richard "gives Arthur the skillful and vastly appealing performance that might be expected from one of England's finest young actors". Broadway theatre reviewer
Walter Kerr Walter Francis Kerr (July 8, 1913 – October 9, 1996) was an American writer and Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United States (see American and British English spelling di ...
noted Richard's syllables, "sing, the account of his wrestling the stone from the sword becomes a bravura passage of house-hushing brilliance" and complemented his duets with Andrews, finding Burton's rendition to possess "a sly and fretful and mocking accent to take care of the without destroying the man". However, on the whole the play initially received mixed reviews on its opening at the
Majestic TheatreMajestic Theatre or Majestic Theater may refer to: ; Australia * Majestic Theatre, Pomona, a heritage-listed silent movie theatre in Queensland * Majestic Picture Theatre, Malanda, a heritage-listed movie theatre in Queensland ; Singapore * Majestic ...
on Broadway and was slow to earn money. Advance sales managed to keep ''Camelot'' running for three months until a twenty-minute extract was broadcast on ''
The Ed Sullivan Show ''The Ed Sullivan Show'' was an American television Television, sometimes shortened to TV or telly, is a telecommunication Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over wire A wir ...
'' which helped ''Camelot'' achieve great success, and an unprecedented three-year run overall from 1960 to 1963. Its success led to Burton being called "The King of Broadway", and he went on to receive the
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical The Tony Award The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at ...
. The original soundtrack of the musical topped the ''Billboard'' charts throughout 1961 after its release at the end of 1960.
John F. Kennedy John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the ...

John F. Kennedy
, who was then the President of the United States, reportedly enjoyed the play and invited Burton to the
White House The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C., NW in Washington, D.C., and has been the residence of every U.S. preside ...

White House
for a visit. In 1962, Burton appeared as Officer David Campbell, an RAF fighter pilot in '' The Longest Day'', which included a large ensemble cast featuring: McDowall,
George Segal George Segal (February 13, 1934 – March 23, 2021) was an American actor and musician. He became popular in the 1960s and 1970s for playing both dramatic and comedic roles. Some of his most acclaimed performances are in films such as '' Ship of ...
,
Henry Fonda Henry Jaynes Fonda (May 16, 1905 – August 12, 1982) was an American film and stage actor who had a career that spanned five decades in Hollywood. Fonda cultivated a strong, appealing screen image in several films now considered to be classics ...
,
John Wayne Marion Robert Morrison (May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979), known professionally as John Wayne and nicknamed Duke, was an American actor and filmmaker who became a Pop icon, popular icon through his starring roles in films made during Hollywood's ...

John Wayne
,
Mel Ferrer Melchor Gastón Ferrer (August 25, 1917 – June 2, 2008) was an American actor, director, and producer of stage, film, and television. He achieved prominence on Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * ...
,
Robert Mitchum Robert Charles Durman Mitchum (August 6, 1917 – July 1, 1997) was an American actor, director, author, poet, composer, and singer. He rose to prominence with an Academy Award The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are ...

Robert Mitchum
,
Rod Steiger Rodney Stephen Steiger (April 14, 1925July 9, 2002) was an American actor, known for his portrayal of offbeat, often volatile and crazed characters. Cited as "one of Hollywood's most charismatic and dynamic stars," he is closely associated with t ...

Rod Steiger
and
Sean Connery Sir Sean Connery (born Thomas Connery; 25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020) was a Scottish actor. He was the first actor to Portrayal of James Bond in film, portray fictional British secret agent James Bond (literary character), James Bond on f ...

Sean Connery
. The same year he provided narration for the
Jack HowellsThomas John "Jack" Howells (July 1913 – 6 September 1990) was a Wales, Welsh film-maker, who is best remembered for his documentary ''Dylan Thomas (film), Dylan Thomas'', the only Welsh film to have won an Academy Award, for Academy Award for Best ...
documentary ''
Dylan Thomas Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh people, Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "And death shall have no dominion"; the "play for voices" ''Und ...
''. The short won the Best Documentary Short Subject at the
35th Academy Awards The 35th Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 1962, were held on April 8, 1963, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California Santa Monica () is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County, California, United ...
ceremony. After performing ''Camelot'' for six months, in July 1961, Burton met producer
Walter Wanger Walter Wanger (né Feuchtwanger; July 11, 1894 – November 18, 1968) was an American film producer active in filmmaking beginning in the 1910s, concluding with the turbulent production of ''Cleopatra (1963 film), Cleopatra,'' his last film, in ...
who asked him to replace
Stephen Boyd Stephen Boyd (born William Millar; 4 July 1931 – 2 June 1977) was a Northern Irish Northern Irish people is a demonym for all people born in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots dialects, ...

Stephen Boyd
as Mark Antony in director
Joseph L. Mankiewicz Joseph Leo Mankiewicz (; February 11, 1909 – February 5, 1993) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career, and set a record by winning a pair of writing and directing Academy Awards two yea ...
's
magnum opus 's ''The Creation of Adam ''The Creation of Adam'' () is a fresco Fresco (plural ''frescos'' or ''frescoes'') is a technique of Mural, mural painting executed upon freshly laid ("wet") lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the dry-po ...

magnum opus
''
Cleopatra Cleopatra VII Philopator ( grc-gre, Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ}; 69 BC10 August 30 BC) was queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, Egypt from 51 to 30 BC, and its last active ruler.She was also a diplomat, Ancient ...
''. Burton was paid $250,000 for four months work in the film (). The gigantic scale of the film's troubled production, Taylor's bouts of illness and fluctuating weight, Burton's off-screen relationship with the actress, (which he gave the sardonic nickname "Le Scandale") all generated enormous publicity; ''
Life Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities A bubble of exhaled gas in water In common usage and classical mechanics, a physical object or physical body (or simply an object or body) is a collection of matter within a ...
'' magazine proclaimed it the "Most Talked About Movie Ever Made". Fox's future appeared to hinge on what became the most expensive movie ever made until then, with costs reaching almost $40 million. During filming, Burton met and fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor, who was then married to Eddie Fisher. According to Alpert, at their first meeting on the set while posing for their publicity photographs, Burton said, "Has anyone ever told you that you're a very pretty girl?" Taylor later recalled, "I said to myself, ''Oy gevalt'', here's the great lover, the great wit, the great intellectual of Wales, and he comes out with a line like that." Bragg contradicts Alpert by pointing out that Burton could not stand Taylor at first, calling her "Miss Tits" and opined to Mankiewicz, "I expect she shaves"; he saw her simply as another celebrity with no acting talent. All that changed when, in their first scene together, Burton was shaky and forgot his lines, and she soothed and helped him; it was at this instance, according to Taylor, that she fell for him. Soon the affair began in earnest; both Fisher and Sybil were unable to bear it. While Fisher fled the sets for
Gstaad Gstaad ( ; ) is a town in the German language, German-speaking section of the Canton of Bern in southwestern Switzerland. It is part of the municipality of Saanen and is known as a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst high society an ...

Gstaad
, Sybil went first to Céligny and then headed off to London. Olivier, shocked by Burton's affair with Taylor, cabled him: "Make up your mind, dear heart. Do you want to be a great actor or a household word?". Burton replied "Both". ''Cleopatra'' was finally released on 11 June 1963 with a run time of 243 minutes, to polarising reviews. The ''Time'' magazine critic found the film, "riddled with flaws, ackingstyle both in image and in action" and that Burton "staggers around looking ghastly and spouting irrelevance". In a contradictory review, Crowther termed the film "generally brilliant, moving, and satisfying" and thought Burton was "exciting as the arrogant Antony".
Richard Brody Richard Brody (born 1957/1958) is an American film critic Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films and the film medium. In general, film criticism can be divided into two categories: journalistic criticism which appears regularly ...
of ''
The New Yorker ''The New Yorker'' is an American weekly magazine featuring journalism Journalism is the production and distribution of report Image:Hurt Report cover page.png, 220px, Example of a front page of a report A report is a document that pr ...

The New Yorker
'' commented positively on the chemistry between Burton and Taylor, describing it as "entrancing in the movie’s drama as it was in life". ''Cleopatra'' grossed over $26 million (), becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1963. It was not enough to prevent Fox from entering bankruptcy. The studio sued Burton and Taylor for allegedly damaging the film's prospects at the box office with their behaviour, but it proved unsuccessful. ''Cleopatra'' was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Visual Effects. The film marked the beginning of a series of collaborations with Taylor, in addition to making Burton one of the Top 10 box office draws until 1967. Burton played her tycoon husband Paul Andros in
Anthony Asquith Anthony Asquith (; 9 November 1902 – 20 February 1968) was a leading English film director A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay (or script) while guiding the technical crew and acto ...
's '' The V.I.P.s'' (1963), an
ensemble cast In a dramatic production, an ensemble cast is one which is composed of multiple principal actors and performers who are typically assigned roughly equal amounts of screen time.Random House: ensemble acting Linked 2013-07-17 Structure In contrast ...
film described by Alpert as a "kind of ''
Grand HotelA grand hotel is a large and luxurious hotel A hotel is an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short-term basis. Facilities provided inside a hotel room may range from a modest-quality mattress in a small room to large suites with b ...
'' story" that was set in the VIP lounge of
London Heathrow Airport Heathrow Airport (), originally called ''London Airport'' until 1966 and now known as London Heathrow , is a major international airport An international airport is an airport An airport is an aerodrome An aerodrome (Commonwe ...
; it proved to be a box-office hit despite mixed reviews. It was after ''The V.I.P.s'' that Burton became considerably more selective about his roles; he credited Taylor for this as he simply acted in films "to get rich" and she "made me see what kind of rubbish I was doing". Burton divorced Sybil in April 1963 after completing ''The V.I.P.s'' while Taylor was granted divorce from Fisher on 6 March 1964. Taylor then took a two-year hiatus from films until her next venture with Burton, ''
The Sandpiper ''The Sandpiper'' is a 1965 American drama film In film and television show, television, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or docudrama, semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humour, humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usu ...
'' (1965). The
supercouple are credited with defining the term ''supercouple''. A supercouple or super couple (also known as a power couple) is a popular or wealthy pairing that intrigues and fascinates the public in an intense or obsessive fashion. The term originated in ...
, dubbed "Liz and Dick" by the press, continued starring together in films in the mid-1960s, earning a combined $88 million over the next decade and spending $65 million. Regarding their earnings, in a 1976 interview with Lester David and Jhan Robbins of ''
The Ledger ''The Ledger'' is a daily newspaper A newspaper is a Periodical literature, periodical publication containing written News, information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a white or gray background. Newspapers can cov ...
'', Burton stated that "they say we generate more business activity than one of the smaller African nations" and that the couple "often outspent" the Greek business tycoon
Aristotle Onassis Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Lyceum (Cl ...

Aristotle Onassis
. In 1964, Burton portrayed
Thomas Becket Thomas Becket (), also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London and later Thomas à Becket (21 December 1119 or 1120 – 29 December 1170), was Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bish ...

Thomas Becket
, the
Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Cat ...
who was martyred by
Henry II of England Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189), also known as Henry Curtmantle (french: Court-manteau), Henry FitzEmpress or Henry Plantagenet, was King of England from 1154 until his death in 1189. He was the first king of the House of Plantagenet. ...

Henry II of England
, in the
film adaptation A film adaptation is the transfer of a work or story, in whole or in part, to a feature film. Although often considered a type of derivative work, film adaptation has been conceptualized recently by academic scholars such as Robert Stam as a dialo ...
of Jean Anouilh's historical play ''
Becket ''Becket or The Honour of God'' (french: Becket ou l'honneur de Dieu) is a 1959 play written in French language, French by Jean Anouilh. It is a depiction of the conflict between Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England leading to Becket's assass ...

Becket
''. Both Alpert and historian
Alex von Tunzelmann Alex von Tunzelmann (born 1977) is a British historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past ...
noted Burton gave an effective, restrained performance, contrasting with co-actor and friend
Peter O'Toole Peter Seamus O'Toole (; 2 August 1932 – 14 December 2013) was a British stage and film actor. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA ) is a drama school in London, England, that provides voc ...
's manic portrayal of Henry. Burton asked the film's director, Peter Glenville, not to oust him from the project like he had done for ''Adventure Story'' before accepting the role of Becket. Writing for ''
The Christian Science Monitor ''The Christian Science Monitor (CSM)'', commonly known as ''The Monitor'', is a nonprofit A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organ ...
'', Peter Rainer labelled Burton as "extraordinary".
Kenneth Turan Kenneth Turan (; born October 27, 1946) is an American retired film critic Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art used to simulate exp ...
of the ''
Los Angeles Times The ''Los Angeles Times'' (abbreviated as ''LA Times'') is a daily newspaper A newspaper is a containing written and is often typed in black ink with a white or gray background. Newspapers can cover a wide variety of fields such as , ...

Los Angeles Times
'' appreciated Burton's on-screen chemistry with O'Toole and thought his portrayal of Becket served as "a reminder of how fine an actor Burton was". The film received twelve Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for both Burton and O'Toole; they lost to Harrison for ''
My Fair Lady ''My Fair Lady'' is a musical theatre, musical based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play ''Pygmalion (play), Pygmalion'', with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower g ...
'' (1964). Burton and O'Toole also received nominations for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama at the
22nd Golden Globe Awards The 22nd Golden Globe Award The Golden Globe Awards are accolades bestowed by the 87 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is a non-profit organization A nonprofit organi ...
, with O'Toole emerging victorious. Burton's triumph at the box office continued with his next appearance as the defrocked clergyman Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon in
Tennessee Williams Thomas Lanier Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983), known by his pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author an ...

Tennessee Williams
' ''
The Night of the Iguana ''The Night of the Iguana'' is a stage play written by American author Tennessee Williams, based on his 1948 short story. First staged as a one-act play in 1959, Williams developed it into a full-length play over the next two years, staging two dif ...
'' (1964) directed by
John Huston John Marcellus Huston ( ; August 5, 1906 – August 28, 1987) was an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and visual artist. He travelled widely, settling at various times in France, Mexico, and Ireland. Huston was a citizen of th ...
; the film was also critically well received. Alpert believed Burton's success was due to how well he varied his acting with the three female characters, each of whom he tries to seduce differently:
Ava Gardner Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress and singer. She first signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, initialized ...

Ava Gardner
(the randy hotel owner),
Sue Lyon Suellyn Lyon (July 10, 1946 – December 26, 2019) was an American actress. She joined the entertainment industry as a model at the age of 13, and later rose to prominence and won a Golden Globe The Golden Globe Awards are accolades b ...
(the nubile American tourist), and
Deborah Kerr Deborah Jane Trimmer Order of the British Empire, CBE (30 September 192116 October 2007), known professionally as Deborah Kerr (), was a British actress. She was nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and holds the record f ...

Deborah Kerr
(the poor, repressed artist). The success of ''Becket'' and ''The Night of the Iguana'' led ''Time'' magazine to term him "the new Mr. Box Office". During the production of ''Becket'', Burton went to watch Gielgud perform in the 1963 stage adaptation of
Thornton Wilder Thornton Niven Wilder (April 17, 1897 – December 7, 1975) was an American playwright and novelist. He won three Pulitzer Prizes#REDIRECT Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online jou ...

Thornton Wilder
's 1948 novel, ''
The Ides of March The Ides of March (; la, Idus Martiae, Late Latin: ) is the 74th day in the Roman calendar, corresponding to 15 March. It was marked by several Religion in ancient Rome, religious observances and was notable for the Romans as a deadline for sett ...
''. There he was confronted by Gielgud who asked what Burton planned to do as a part of the celebration of Shakespeare's quatercentenary. Burton told him he was approached by
theatrical producer A theatrical producer is a person who oversees all aspects of mounting a theatre Stagecraft, production. The producer is responsible for the overall financial and managerial functions of a production or venue, raises or provides financial backing, ...
Alexander H. CohenAlexander H. Cohen (July 24, 1920 – April 22, 2000) was an American theatrical producer who mounted more than one hundred productions on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the only American producer to maintain offices in the West End as well as ...
to do ''Hamlet'' in New York City. Burton had accepted Cohen's offer under the condition that Gielgud would direct it, which he conveyed to Gielgud. Gielgud agreed and soon production began in January 1964 after Burton had completed his work in ''Becket'' and ''The Night of the Iguana''. Taking into account Burton's dislike for wearing period clothing, as well as fellow actor
Harley Granville-Barker Harley Granville-Barker (25 November 1877 – 31 August 1946) was an English actor, director, playwright, manager, critic, and theorist. After early success as an actor in the plays of George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (; 26 Jul ...

Harley Granville-Barker
’s notion that the play was best approached as a "permanent rehearsal", Gielgud decided for ''Hamlet'' to be performed in a 'rehearsal' version with an incomplete set with the actors performing wearing their own clothes. Unaccustomed to this freedom, the cast found it hard to select the appropriate clothes and wore different attire day by day. After the first performance in Toronto, Gielgud decreed that the actors must wear capes as he felt it "lacked colour". In addition to being the play's director, Gielgud appeared as the Ghost of Hamlet's father. According to Gielgud's biographer Jonathan Croall, Burton's basic reading of Hamlet was "a much more vigorous, extrovert" version of Gielgud's own performance in 1936. Burton varied his interpretations of the character in later performances; he even tried a homosexual Hamlet. When the play debuted at the
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (previously known as the Globe Theatre) is a Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United States (see American and British English spelling differences ...
in New York City, Burton garnered good reviews for his portrayal of a "bold and virile" Hamlet.
Howard Taubman Hyman Howard Taubman (July 4, 1907 – January 8, 1996) was an American music critic, theater critic, and author. Biography Born in Manhattan, Taubman attended DeWitt Clinton High School and then won a four-year scholarship to Cornell University ...
of ''The New York Times'' called it "a performance of electrical power and sweeping virility", noting that he had never known or seen "a Hamlet of such tempestuous manliness". A critic from ''Time'' magazine said that Burton "put his passion into Hamlet's language rather than the character. His acting is a technician's marvel. His voice has gem-cutting precision." Walter Kerr felt that though Burton carried "a certain lack of feeling" in his performance, he appreciated Burton's "reverberating" vocal projections. The opening night party was a lavish affair, attended by six hundred celebrities. The play ran for 137 performances, beating the previous record set by Gielgud himself in 1936. The most successful aspect of the production, apart from Burton's performance, was generally considered to be
Hume Cronyn Hume Blake Cronyn Jr., OC (July 18, 1911 – June 15, 2003) was a Canadian stage and screen Screen or Screens may refer to: Arts * Screen printing (also called ''silkscreening''), a method of printing * Big screen, a nickname associated with ...
's performance as
Polonius Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of the world ...

Polonius
, winning him the only
Tony Award The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre Broadway theatre,Although ''theater'' is the generally preferred spelling in the United Sta ...
he would ever receive in a competitive category. Burton himself was nominated for his second Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play but lost to
Alec Guinness Sir Alec Guinness, (born Alec Guinness de Cuffe; 2 April 1914 – 5 August 2000) was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including ''Kind Hearts and Coronets ...
for his portrayal of the poet Dylan Thomas. The performance was immortalised in a
film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pigmented liquid, liquefiable, ...
that was created by recording three live performances on camera from 30 June 1964 to 1 July 1964 using a process called
ElectronovisionElectronovision was a process used by producer/entrepreneur H. William "Bill" Sargent, Jr. to produce a handful of motion pictures, theatrical plays, and specials in the 1960s and early 1970s using a high-resolution videotape process for production, ...
; it played in US theatres for a week in 1964. The play was also the subject of books written by cast members William Redfield and Richard L. Sterne. Burton helped Taylor make her stage debut in ''A Poetry Reading'', a recitation of poems by the couple as well as anecdotes and quotes from the plays Burton had participated in thus far. The idea was conceived by Burton as a benefit performance for his mentor Philip, whose conservatory, the
American Musical and Dramatic Academy The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) is a private college conservatory for the performing arts located in New York City and Los Angeles, California. The conservatory offers both Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees and two-year Certificates ...

American Musical and Dramatic Academy
, had fallen short of funds. ''A Poetry Reading'' opened at the Lunt-Fontanne on 21 June 1964 to a packed house; the couple received a standing ovation at the end of their performance. Burton remarked on Taylor's performance, "I didn't know she was going to be this good." After ''Hamlet'' came to a close in August 1964, Burton and Taylor continued making films together. The first film after their marriage, ''The Sandpiper'', was poorly received but still became a commercially successful venture. According to Bragg, the films they made during the mid-1960s contained a lot of innuendos that referred directly to their private lives. Burton went on to star opposite Claire Bloom and
Oskar Werner Oskar Werner (born Oskar Josef Bschließmayer; 13 November 1922 23 October 1984) was an Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a landlocked Easter ...
in ''
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold ''The Spy Who Came in from the Cold'' is a 1963 Cold War spy fiction, spy novel by the British author John le Carré. It depicts Alec Leamas, a United Kingdom, British agent, being sent to East Germany as a faux Defection, defector to sow disinf ...
'' (1965), a
Cold War espionage 150px, Klaus Fuchs, exposed in 1950, is considered to have been the most valuable of the Atomic Spies during the Manhattan Project. Cold War espionage describes the Intelligence (information gathering), intelligence gathering activities during the ...
story about a British Intelligence agent, Alec Leamas (Burton), who is sent to East Germany on a mission to find and expose a mole working within his organisation for an East German Intelligence officer, Hans-Dieter Mundt (
Peter van Eyck Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick; 16 July 1911 – 15 July 1969) was a German-born film actor. He was perhaps best known (in English-language films) for his roles in the 1960s features ''The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (film), The Spy Who ...
).
Martin Ritt Martin Ritt (March 2, 1914 – December 8, 1990) was an American director and actor who worked in both film and theater, noted for his socially conscious films. Some of the movies he directed include ''The Long, Hot Summer'' (1958), ''The Black ...
, the film's director and producer, wanted Burton's character to exhibit more anonymity, which meant no display of eloquent speeches or intense emotional moments. Bragg believed this decision worried Burton, as he had generated his reputation as an actor with those exact traits, and wondered how the film's would turn out. Ritt, a non-drinker, was displeased with Burton's drinking habits as he felt it "lacked a certain discipline" and expected the same level of commitment from him as everyone else during filming. In spite of their differences, Alpert notes that the film transpired well. Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by
John le Carré David John Moore Cornwell (19 October 193112 December 2020), better known by his pen name John le Carré (), was an English author with Irish citizenship, best known for his spy fiction, espionage novels. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for ...
, ''The Spy Who Came in from the Cold'' garnered positive reviews, with Fernando F. Croce of ''
Slant Magazine ''Slant Magazine'' is an American online publication that features reviews of movies, music, TV, DVDs, theater, and video games, as well as interviews with actors, directors, and musicians. The site covers various film festivals A film festiva ...
'' describing Burton's performance as more of "tragic patsy than swashbuckler" and believed his scenes with Werner "have sharp doses of suspicion, cynicism and sadness".
Dave Kehr David Kehr (born 1953) is an American film critic. For many years a critic at the ''Chicago Reader The ''Chicago Reader'', or ''Reader'' (stylized as ЯEADER), is an American alternative weeklyAn alternative newspaper is a type of newspaper ...
of the ''Chicago Reader'' called the film "Grim, monotonous, and rather facile", he found Burton's role had "some honest poignancy". ''Variety'' thought Burton fitted "neatly into the role of the apparently burned out British agent". Burton also made a brief appearance the same year in
Clive Donner Clive Stanley Donner (21 January 1926 – 6 September 2010)Ronald Bergan]Obituary: Clive Donner ''The Guardian'', 7 September 2010 was a United Kingdom, British film Film director, director who was part of the British New Wave, directing fil ...
's comedy ''
What's New Pussycat? ''What's New Pussycat?'' is a 1965 French-American screwball comedy Screwball comedy is a subgenre of the romantic comedy Romantic comedy (also known as romcom or rom-com) is a subgenre of comedy and Slice of life, slice-of-life fiction, f ...
'' as a man who meets the womaniser Michael James (O'Toole) in a bar. In 1966, Burton and Taylor enjoyed their greatest on-screen success in
Mike Nichols Mike Nichols (born Igor Mikhail Peschkowsky; November 6, 1931 – November 19, 2014) was a German-born American film and theater director, producer, actor, and comedian. He was noted for his ability to work across a range of genres and for his ...

Mike Nichols
's film version of
Edward Albee Edward Franklin Albee III ( ; March 12, 1928 – September 16, 2016) was an American playwright known for works such as ''The Zoo Story 333px, ''The Zoo Story''; photograph from a Luxembourgish production ''The Zoo Story'' is a one-act play by ...

Edward Albee
's
black comedy Black comedy, also known as black humor, dark humor, dark comedy, morbid humor, or gallows humor, is a style of comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works inten ...
play ''
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' is a play by Edward Albee first staged in October 1962. It examines the complexities of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive ...
'', in which a bitter erudite couple trade vicious barbs in front of their guests, Nick (George Segal) and Honey (
Sandy Dennis Sandra Dale Dennis (April 27, 1937 – March 2, 1992) was an American actress. She made her film debut in the drama '' Splendor in the Grass'' (1961). For her performance in the comedy-drama film ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ''Who's Afrai ...
). Burton wanted Taylor for the character of Martha "to stop everyone else from playing it". He didn't want anyone else to do it as he thought it could be for Elizabeth what ''Hamlet'' was for him. Burton was not the first choice for the role of George.
Jack Lemmon John Uhler Lemmon III (February 8, 1925 – June 27, 2001) was an American actor and musician who was nominated for an Academy Award eight times, winning twice. He starred in over 60 films, such as '' Mister Roberts'' (1955, for which he won the ...
was offered the role initially, but when he turned it down, Warner Bros. president
Jack L. Warner Jack Leonard Warner (born Jacob Warner; August 2, 1892 – September 9, 1978) was a Canadian-American film executive who was the president and driving force behind the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California California is a U.S. sta ...
agreed on Burton and paid him $750,000. Nichols was hired to helm the project at Taylor's request, despite having never directed a film. Albee preferred
Bette Davis Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (; April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) was an American actress with a career spanning more than 50 years and 100 acting credits. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her pe ...

Bette Davis
and James Mason for Martha and George respectively, fearing that the Burtons' strong screen presence would dominate the film. Instead, it proved to be what Alpert described as "the summit of both Richard's and Elizabeth's careers". The film's script, adapted from Albee's play by
Ernest Lehman Ernest Paul Lehman (December 8, 1915 – July 2, 2005) was an American screenwriter. He was nominated six times for Academy Awards for his screenplays during his career, but did not win. At the 73rd Academy Awards in 2001, he received an Acad ...
, broke new ground for its raw language and harsh depiction of marriage. So immersed had the Burtons become in the roles of George and Martha over the months of shooting that, after it was wrapped up, he and Taylor found it difficult not to be George and Martha, "I feel rather lost." Later the couple would state that the film took its toll on their relationship, and that Taylor was "tired of playing Martha" in real life. ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' garnered critical acclaim, with film critic
Stanley Kauffmann Stanley Kauffmann (April 24, 1916 – October 9, 2013) was an American author An author is the creator or originator of any written work such as a book or play, and is also considered a writer. More broadly defined, an author is "the person w ...
of ''The New York Times'' calling it "one of the most scathingly honest American films ever made". Kaufman observed Burton to be "utterly convincing as a man with a great lake of nausea in him, on which he sails with regret and compulsive amusement", and Taylor "does the best work of her career, sustained and urgent". In her review for ''
The New York Daily News The New York ''Daily News'', officially titled the ''Daily News'', is a left-wing Left-wing politics supports social equality and egalitarianism Egalitarianism (), or equalitarianism, is a school of thought within political philos ...
'', Kate Cameron thought Taylor "nothing less than brilliant as the shrewish, slovenly. blasphemous, frustrated, slightly wacky, alcoholic wife" while noting that the film gave Burton "a chance to display his disciplined art in the role of the victim of a wife's vituperative tongue". However,
Andrew Sarris Andrew Sarris (October 31, 1928 – June 20, 2012) was an American film criticism, film critic, a leading proponent of the auteur theory of film criticism. Early life Sarris was born in Brooklyn, New York (state), New York, to Greek immigrant pa ...
of ''
The Village Voice ''The Village Voice'' is an American news and culture paper, known for being the country's first alternative newspaper, alternative newsweekly. Founded in 1955 by Dan Wolf (publisher), Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher, John Wilcock, and Norman Mailer, th ...

The Village Voice
'' criticised Taylor, believing her performance "lackgenuine warmth" but his review of Burton was more favourable, noting that he gave "a performance of electrifying charm". Although all four actors received Academy Award nominations for their roles in the film, which received a total of thirteen nominations, only Taylor and Dennis went on to win. Both Burton and Taylor won their first
BAFTA The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA, ) is an independent charity that supports, develops, and promotes the art forms of the moving image (film, television and games) in the United Kingdom. In addition to its annual awards ...
Awards for Best British Actor and Best British Actress respectively; the former also for his role in ''The Spy Who Came in from the Cold''. Burton and Taylor next performed a 1966
Oxford Playhouse Oxford Playhouse is an independent theatre designed by Edward Maufe, Sir Edward Maufe. It is situated in Beaumont Street, Oxford, opposite the Ashmolean Museum. History The Playhouse was founded as ''The Red Barn'' at 12 Woodstock Road (Oxfor ...
adaptation of
Christopher Marlowe Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe (; baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian rite of initiation, admission and Adoption (theology), adoption, almost ...

Christopher Marlowe
's '' Doctor Faustus''; the couple did the play to benefit the Oxford University Dramatic Society and as a token of Burton's gratitude to Nevill Coghill. Burton starred as the titular character, Doctor Faustus while Taylor played her first stage role as
Helen of Troy In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A bel ...

Helen of Troy
, a non-speaking part. The play received negative reviews but Burton's and Taylor's performances were reviewed constructively.
Irving Wardle John Irving Wardle (born 20 July 1929) is an English writer and theatre critic. Biography Wardle was born on 20 July 1929 in Manchester, Lancashire, the son of John Wardle and his wife Nellie (Partington). His father was drama critic on the ''Bol ...
of ''The Times'' called it "University drama at its worst" while the American newspaper columnist John Crosby, in his review for ''The Observer'', lauded Burton's speech where he asks God to be merciful, stating that: "It takes a great actor to deliver that speech without wringing a strangled sob of laughter out of one. But Burton did it." The play nevertheless made $22,000 dollars, which Coghill was happy with. ''Doctor Faustus'' was adapted for the screen the following year by both Burton and Coghill, with Burton making his directorial debut. He also co-produced the film with Taylor and Coghill; it was critically panned and was a box office failure. The couple's next collaboration was Franco Zeffirelli's lively version of
Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...

Shakespeare
's ''
The Taming of the Shrew ''The Taming of the Shrew'' is a Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592. The play begins with a Frame story, framing device, often referred to as the Induction (play), inducti ...
'' (1967). The film was a challenge for Burton, who had to chase Taylor on rooftops, noting that he was "permitted to do extreme physical things that wouldn't have been allowed with any other actress". Zeffirelli recalled that Taylor, who had no prior experience performing in a Shakespeare play, "gave the more interesting performance because she invented the part from scratch". Of Burton, the director felt he was, to an extent, "affected by his knowledge of the classics". ''The Taming of the Shrew'' also became a notable critical and commercial success. He had another quick collaboration with Zeffirelli narrating the documentary, '' Florence: Days of Destruction'', which was about the
1966 flood of the Arno The 1966 flood of the Arno ( it, Alluvione di Firenze del 4 novembre 1966) in Florence Florence ( ; it, Firenze ) is a city in Central-Northern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, ...
that devastated the city of
Florence Florence ( ; it, Firenze ) is a city in Central-Northern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of Italian Peninsula, a peninsula delimited by the Al ...

Florence
, Italy; the film raised $20 million for the flood relief efforts. By the end of 1967, the combined box office gross of films Burton and Taylor had acted in had reached $200 million. According to biographers John Cottrell and Fergus Cashin, when Burton and Taylor contemplated taking a three-month break from acting, Hollywood "almost had a nervous breakdown" as nearly half the U.S. cinema industry's income for films in theatrical distribution came from pictures starring one or both of them. Later collaborations from the Burtons like ''The Comedians (1967 film), The Comedians'' (1967), which was based on Graham Greene's The Comedians (novel), 1966 novel of the same name, and the Tennessee Williams adaptation ''Boom! (film), Boom!'' (1968) were critical and commercial failures. In 1968, Burton enjoyed a commercial blockbuster with Clint Eastwood in the World War II action film ''Where Eagles Dare''; he received a $1 million fee plus a share of the film's box office gross. According to his daughter Kate Burton, “He did that one for us kids, because we kept asking him, 'Can you do a fun movie that we can go see?" Eastwood thought the script "terrible" and was "all exposition and complications". He asked the film's producer Elliott Kastner and its screenwriter Alistair MacLean to be given less dialogue, later remarking "I just stood around firing my machine gun while Burton handled the dialogue." Burton enjoyed working with Eastwood and said of the picture that he "did all the talking and [Eastwood] did all the killing". Burton's last film of the decade, ''Anne of the Thousand Days'' (1969) for which he was paid $1.25 million, () was commercially successful but garnered mixed opinions from reviewers. Noted British film critic Tom Milne of ''Time Out'' magazine believed that Burton "plays throughout on a monotonous note of bluff ferocity". Conversely, Vincent Canby of ''The New York Times'' appreciated Burton's portrayal of the English monarch, noting that he "is in excellent form and voice—funny, loutish and sometimes wise". ''Anne of the Thousand Days'' received ten nominations at the 42nd Academy Awards, including one for Burton's performance as Henry VIII of England, which many thought to be largely the result of an expensive advertising campaign by Universal Studios. The same year, ''Staircase (film), Staircase'' in which he and his ''Cleopatra'' co-star Rex Harrison appeared as a bickering homosexual couple, received negative reviews and was unsuccessful.


Later career and final years (1970–1984)

In 1970, on his 45th birthday, Burton was ceremonially honoured with a Order of the British Empire, CBE at Buckingham Palace; Taylor and Cis were present during the ceremony. He attributed not having a knighthood to changing his residence from London to Céligny to escape taxes. From the 1970s, after his completion of ''Anne of the Thousand Days'', Burton began to work in mediocre films, which hurt his career. This was partly due to the Burtons' extravagant spending, his increasing addiction to alcohol, and his claim that he could not "find any worthy material that is pertinent to our times". He recognised his financial need to work, and understood in the New Hollywood era of cinema, neither he nor Taylor would be paid as well as at the height of their stardom. Some of the films he made during this period include: ''Bluebeard (1972 film), Bluebeard'' (1972), ''Hammersmith Is Out'' (1972), ''Battle of Sutjeska (film), Battle of Sutjeska'' (1973), ''The Klansman'' (1974), and ''Exorcist II: The Heretic'' (1977). His last film with Taylor was the two-part melodrama ''Divorce His, Divorce Hers'' (1973). He did enjoy one major critical success in the 1970s with Equus (film), the film version of his stage hit ''Equus (play), Equus'', winning the Golden Globe Award as well as garnering an Academy Award nomination. Public sentiment towards his perennial frustration at not winning an Oscar made many pundits consider him the favourite to finally win the award, but he lost to Richard Dreyfuss in ''The Goodbye Girl''. In 1976, Burton received a 18th Grammy Awards, Grammy Award in the category of Grammy Award for Best Album for Children, Best Recording for Children for his narration of ''The Little Prince'' by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His narration of ''Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds'' became such a necessary part of the concept album that a hologram of Burton was used to narrate the live stage show (touring in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) of the musical. In 2011, however, Liam Neeson was cast in the part for a "New Generation" re-recording, and replaced Burton as the hologram character in the stage show. Burton had an international box-office hit with ''The Wild Geese'' (1978), an adventure tale about mercenaries in Africa. The film was a success in Europe but had only limited distribution in the United States owing to the Monogram Pictures#Demise, collapse of the studio that distributed it. He returned to films with ''The Medusa Touch (film), The Medusa Touch'' (1978), ''Circle of Two'' (1980), and the title role in ''Wagner (film), Wagner'' (1983). His last film performance as O'Brien (Nineteen Eighty-Four), O'Brien in ''Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984 film), Nineteen Eighty-Four'' (1984) was critically acclaimed though he was not the first choice for the role. According to the film's director, Michael Radford, Paul Scofield was originally contracted to play the part, but had to withdraw due to a broken leg; Sean Connery, Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger were all approached before Burton was cast. He had "heard stories" about Burton's heavy drinking, which had concerned the producers. At the time of his death, Burton was preparing to film ''Wild Geese II'', the sequel to ''The Wild Geese'', which was eventually released in 1985. Burton was to reprise the role of Colonel Faulkner, while Laurence Olivier was cast as Rudolf Hess. After his death, Burton was replaced by Edward Fox (actor), Edward Fox, and the character changed to Faulkner's younger brother.


Personal life

Burton was married five times, twice consecutively to Taylor. From 1949 until 1963, he was married to Sybil Williams, with whom he had two daughters, Kate Burton (actress), Kate (born 1957) and Jessica Burton (born 1959). Burton's marriages to Taylor lasted from 15 March 1964 to 26 June 1974 and from 10 October 1975 to 29 July 1976. Their first wedding was at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal, Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal. Of their marriage, Taylor proclaimed, "I'm so happy you can't believe it. This marriage will last forever." Their second wedding took place sixteen months after their divorce, in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Taylor and Eddie Fisher adopted a daughter from Germany, Maria Burton (born 1 August 1961), who was re-adopted by Burton after he and Taylor married. Burton also re-adopted Taylor and producer Mike Todd's daughter, Elizabeth Frances "Liza" Todd (born 6 August 1957), who had been first adopted by Fisher. The relationship Burton and Taylor portrayed in the film ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' was popularly likened to their real-life marriage. Burton disagreed with others about Taylor's famed beauty, saying that calling her "the most beautiful woman in the world is absolute nonsense. She has wonderful eyes, but she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest, and she's rather short in the leg." In August 1976, a month after his second divorce from Taylor, Burton married model Suzy Miller, the former wife of Formula 1 Champion James Hunt; the marriage ended in divorce in 1982. From 1983 until his death in 1984, Burton was married to makeup artist Sally Burton, Sally Hay. In 1974, between his divorce from and remarriage to Taylor, he was briefly engaged to Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. In 1957, Burton had earned at total of £82,000 from ''Prince of Players'', ''The Rains of Ranchipur'' and ''Alexander the Great'', but only managed to keep £6,000 for personal expenses due to taxation regulations imposed by the then-ruling Conservative Party (UK), Conservative Party. As a result, he consulted with his lawyer, Aaron Frosch, who suggested he move to Switzerland where the tax payment was comparatively less. Burton acceded to Frosch's suggestion and moved with Sybil in January 1957 to Céligny, Switzerland where he purchased a villa. In response to criticism from the British government, Burton remarked: "I believe that everyone should pay them — except actors." Burton lived there until his death. In 1968, Burton's elder brother, Ifor, slipped and fell, breaking his neck, after a lengthy drinking session with Burton in Céligny. The injury left him paralysed from the neck down. His younger brother Graham Jenkins opined it may have been guilt over this that caused Burton to start drinking very heavily, particularly after Ifor died in 1972. In a February 1975 interview with his friend David Lewin he said he "tried" homosexuality. He also suggested that perhaps all actors were latent homosexuality, latent homosexuals, and "we cover it up with alcoholic beverage, drink". In 2000, Ellis Amburn's biography of Elizabeth Taylor suggested that Burton had an affair with Olivier and tried to seduce Eddie Fisher, although this was strongly denied by Burton's younger brother Graham Jenkins. Burton was a heavy tobacco smoking, smoker. In a December 1977 interview with Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Burton admitted he was smoking 60–100 cigarettes per day. According to his younger brother, as stated in Graham Jenkins's 1988 book ''Richard Burton: My Brother'', he smoked at least a hundred cigarettes a day. His father, also a heavy drinker, refused to acknowledge his son's talents, achievements and acclaim. In turn, Burton declined to attend his father's funeral after the elder Burton died from a cerebral haemorrhage in January 1957 at age 81.


Personal views

In November 1974, Burton was banned permanently from BBC productions for writing two newspaper articles questioning the sanity of Winston Churchill and others in power during World War II – Burton reported hating them "virulently" for the alleged promise to wipe out all Japanese people on the planet. The publication of these articles coincided with what would have been Churchill's centenary, and came after Burton had played him in a favourable light in ''The Gathering Storm (1974 film), A Walk with Destiny'', with considerable help from the Churchill family. Politically Burton was a lifelong socialist, although he was never as heavily involved in politics as his close friend Stanley Baker. He admired Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy and once got into a sonnet-quoting contest with him. In 1972, Burton played Leon Trotsky in ''The Assassination of Trotsky''. The next year, he agreed to play Josip Broz Tito in a Battle of Sutjeska (film), film biography, since he admired the Yugoslav leader. While filming in Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia he publicly proclaimed that he was a communist, saying he felt no contradiction between earning vast sums of money for films and holding left-wing views since "unlike capitalists, I don't exploit other people". Burton courted further controversy in 1976 when he wrote an unsolicited article for ''The Observer'' about his friend and fellow Welsh thespian Stanley Baker, who had recently died from pneumonia at the age of 48; the article upset Baker's widow with its depiction of her late husband as an uncultured womaniser. Melvyn Bragg, in the notes of his ''Richard Burton: A Life'', says that Burton told Laurence Olivier around 1970 of his (unfulfilled) plans to make his own film of ''Macbeth'' with Elizabeth Taylor, knowing that this would hurt Olivier because he had failed to gain funding for Macbeth (unfinished film), his own cherished film version more than a decade earlier. On his religious views, Burton was an atheist, stating, "I wish I could believe in a God of some kind but I simply cannot." Burton admired and was inspired by the actor and dramatist
Emlyn Williams George Emlyn Williams, CBE (26 November 1905 – 25 September 1987), known as Emlyn Williams, was a Welsh writer, dramatist and actor. Early life Williams was born into a Welsh-speaking, working class family at 1 Jones Terrace, Pen- ...

Emlyn Williams
. He employed his son, Brook Williams, as his personal assistant and adviser, and he was given small roles in some of the films in which Burton starred.


Health problems

Burton was an alcoholic most of his adult life. According to biographer Robert Sellers, "At the height of his boozing in the mid-70s he was knocking back three to four bottles of hard liquor a day." After nearly drinking himself to death during the shooting of ''The Klansman'' (1974), Burton Alcohol detoxification, dried out at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Burton was allegedly inebriated while making the movie, and many of his scenes had to be filmed with him sitting or lying down due to his inability to stand upright. In some scenes, he appears to slur his words or speak incoherently. Burton later said that he could not remember making the film. Co-star O. J. Simpson said "There would be times when he couldn’t move". According to his diaries, Burton used Disulfiram, Antabuse to try to stop his excessive consumption of alcohol, which he blamed for wrecking his marriage to Taylor. Burton himself said of the time leading up to his near loss of life, "I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder." He said that he turned to the bottle for solace "to burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage". The 1988 biography by Melvyn Bragg provides a detailed description of the many health issues that plagued Burton throughout his life. In his youth, Burton was a star athlete and well known for his athletic abilities and strength. By the age of 41, he had declined so far in health that by his own admission his arms were thin and weak. He suffered from bursitis, possibly aggravated by faulty treatment, arthritis, dermatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and kidney disease, as well as developing, by his mid-forties, a pronounced limp. How much of this was due to his intake of alcohol is impossible to ascertain, according to Bragg, because of Burton's reluctance to be treated for alcoholism. In 1974, Burton spent six weeks in a clinic to recuperate from a period during which he had drunk three bottles of vodka a day. He was also a Chain smoking, chain smoker, with an intake of between three and five packs a day for most of his adult life. Health issues continued to plague him until his death at the age of 58.


Death

Richard Burton died at age 58 from intracerebral hemorrhage on 5 August 1984 at his home in Céligny, Switzerland, where he was later buried. Although his death was sudden, his health had been declining for several years, and he suffered from constant and severe neck pain. As early as March 1970, he had been warned that his liver was enlarged, and he was diagnosed with cirrhosis and kidney disease in April 1981. Burton was buried at the Old Cemetery ("Vieux Cimetière") of Céligny with a copy of Dylan Thomas's poems. He and Taylor had discussed being buried together; his widow Sally purchased the plot next to Burton's and erected a large headstone across both, presumably to prevent Taylor from being buried there. Burton left an estate worth US$4.58 million (). The bulk of his estate consisted of real estate, investments in three countries and works of art. Most of his estate was bequeathed to his widow.


Honours

For his contributions to cinema, Burton was inducted posthumously into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013 with a List of actors with Hollywood Walk of Fame motion picture stars, motion pictures star located at 6336 Hollywood Boulevard. For his contributions to theatre, Burton was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, Theatre Hall of Fame.


Filmography, other works and awards

Selected works, based on award nominations


Notes


References


Bibliography

;Works by Burton * * ;Primary works * * * * * ;Secondary works * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* Shipman, D. ''The Great Movie Stars: The International Years'', Angus & Robertson 1982.


External links


Official website of Richard Burton
* * * * *
Richard Burton on the Dick Cavett Show
17 July 2009 , - !colspan="3" style="background:#C1D8FF;", Husband of
Elizabeth Taylor Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011) was a British-American actress. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema Classical Hol ...

Elizabeth Taylor
{{DEFAULTSORT:Burton, Richard 1925 births 1984 deaths 20th Century Fox contract players 20th-century American male actors 20th-century Welsh male actors Alcohol-related deaths in Switzerland Alumni of Exeter College, Oxford Best British Actor BAFTA Award winners Best Drama Actor Golden Globe (film) winners British expatriates in Switzerland Commanders of the Order of the British Empire David di Donatello winners Deaths by intracerebral hemorrhage Grammy Award winners New Star of the Year (Actor) Golden Globe winners People from Neath Port Talbot Richard Burton, Royal Air Force airmen Royal Air Force personnel of World War II Special Tony Award recipients Tony Award winners United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassadors Welsh adoptees Welsh atheists Welsh diarists Welsh male Shakespearean actors Welsh male film actors Welsh male stage actors Welsh-speaking actors 20th-century diarists