I wonder if I have ever had a great love affair. I’ve had great lovers. I’ve had great affairs. But I am not convinced I’ve ever had the two simultaneously. There was a man that I loved when I was younger, who might have fit the bill, but he couldn’t keep his trousers up. And he lied with a smile. Something I didn’t recognise back then, but that I can read from fifty paces now. An ability that has probably prevented both heartbreak and mad-fun in equal measure.
I used to try and save men. Put a sweet fellow with a sad story and major damage in a bar after midnight and I would laser in on him. Some months later we would part ways – him wiser, me wised up – but neither of us having learned a damn thing.
camparigirl and I occasionally remind each other of our follies and insanities. She was more of the grand gesture girlfriend – penning love letters and waiting at the window for a glimpse of her Pierre Bezuhov. Carefully planning their assignations down to the minute. I was more prosaic, but still influenced by the great Russians: I made many of my choices through vodka goggles.
I came across this letter today and had to reprint it for you. Theirs was undoubtedly a great love affair, these two people were both passionate, both talented, both artists and both drinkers. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love on the set of Cleopatra in 1962. By 1964, with divorces finalised, they had wed and became not only the most famous but also one of the most bankable couples in Hollywood history. Nine years later, their extravagant and tempestuous relationship had crumbled, and Taylor gave Burton his marching orders. He responded in a letter.
“June 25, 1973
So My Lumps,
You’re off, by God!
I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before. All I care about—honest to God—is that you are happy and I don’t much care who you’ll find happiness with. I mean as long as he’s a friendly bloke and treats you nice and kind. If he doesn’t I’ll come at him with a hammer and clinker. God’s eye may be on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you. Never forget your strange virtues. Never forget that underneath that veneer of raucous language is a remarkable and puritanical LADY. I am a smashing bore and why you’ve stuck by me so long is an indication of your loyalty. I shall miss you with passion and wild regret.
You may rest assured that I will not have affairs with any other female. I shall gloom a lot and stare morosely into unimaginable distances and act a bit—probably on the stage—to keep me in booze and butter, but chiefly and above all I shall write. Not about you, I hasten to add. No Millerinski Me, with a double M. There are many other and ludicrous and human comedies to constitute my shroud.
I’ll leave it to you to announce the parting of the ways while I shall never say or write one word except this valedictory note to you. Try and look after yourself. Much love. Don’t forget that you are probably the greatest actress in the world. I wish I could borrow a minute portion of your passion and commitment, but there you are—cold is cold as ice is ice.”
A year after he wrote this piece, the couple divorced. 16 months after that, they married each other again. That marriage lasted just 9 months. Postal history records no response from Richard Burton.
(This letter and many other greats can be found in the wonderful Letters of Note. Image of Mr Burton and Miss Taylor and image of Models found in the public domain.)