Samara O'Shea

The Lascivious Letters of Liz & Dick


I devoured the July Vanity Fair last week. It features never-before-published letters between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (pictured above on the set of the movie Cleopatra). All this time, I’ve been thinking that Mike Todd was the love of her life. Todd was Taylor’s third husband, and he died tragically in a plane crash. Reading these, however, leads me to believe it may have been Burton. She did marry the man twice after all. (Would someone please ask Elizabeth who the love of her life was? She’s still around to tell us!) The Burton/Taylor love was glorious. It was as passionate and painful as love can be.

These letters are only a glimpse into what was surely a furnace of a relationship. The love making not to mention the fights must have gone way beyond boiling point.

First, the love making: From Richard to Elizabeth

December 27

Continued with the same gifted pen. It’s no use pretending you are an ordinary woman. Quite clearly, like this pen, you are not. I don’t mean, for a second, that you are in any way comparable with a pen. And yet you are, like this divine pen, heavy and light at the same time . . . How [to] watch the puritanical face relax into slow lust? How to watch that watch catch its breath, and, for a speck of a speck of a millionth of a second, become the animal that all men seek for in their women? And since we’re talking of pens and you, how to watch the ink splurge out of the pen . . . reaching out from the inner depth of the divine body. Will you, incidentally, permit me to fuck you this afternoon? Yours truly (you just have to come into the room), R.B.

Next up, the fights: Again, from Richard. This letter was written shortly after the first divorce became inevitable in the summer of 1973:

I love you, lovely woman. If anybody hurts you, just send me a line saying something like “Need” or “Necessary” or just the one magic word “Elizabeth,” and I will be there somewhat faster than sound. You must know, of course, how much I love you. You must also know, of course, how badly I treat you. But the fundamental and most vicious, swinish, murderous, and unchangeable fact is that we totally misunderstand each other . . . we operate an alien wavelengths. You are as distant as Venus—planet, I am—and I am tone-deaf to the music of the spheres. But how-so-be-it nevertheless. (A cliché among Welsh politicians.) I love you and always will . . . Come back to me as soon as you can. . .

Then comes the press release! Elizabeth sent it out. I love this. It’s so honest. Can you imagine celebrities today saying any more than the trite, “We’ve decided to separate. We remain close friends. Please respect our privacy during this difficult time.” Lizzy, on the other hand, told it like it was:

July 4, 1973

I am convinced it would be a good constructive idea if Richard and I separate for a while. Maybe we loved each other too much. I never believed such a thing was possible. But we have been in each other’s pockets constantly, never being apart but for matters of life and death, and I believe it has caused a temporary breakdown of communication. I believe with all my heart that the separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be—and that’s together. . . Wish us well during this difficult time. Pray for us.

And one day they reconciled:

October 10, 1975

Dearest Hubs,
How about that! You really are my husband again, and I have news for thee, there bloody well will be no more marriages—or divorces, either . . .

Yours truly, Wife

They divorced again on July 29, 1976.