Before Brangelina, before Katie and Tom, there was the ‘Furious Love’ of Liz & Dick

Nancy Schoenberger

Nancy Schoenberger:  co-author of "Furious Love"

Decades ago, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were Hollywood royalty for a generation of moviegoers and star-gazers. Their relationship oozed an abundance of every conceivable titillating ingredient: beauty and talent, distrust and betrayal, booze and barbiturates, unrepentant self-destruction, scandal and pot-boiling passion.

You could say that Burton and Taylor waged a Furious Love.

That’s the title of the book by William & Mary English Professor and Director of Creative Writing Nancy Schoenberger and husband Sam Kashner, released to reviews that glitter like Taylor’s legendary diamonds.

Subtitled Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century, what propels this book light years beyond mere regurgitation of well-worn facts is the foundational use of scintillating and sweet exchanges between the foremost Shakespearean actor of his generation and the cinematic siren some claim to have been the most beautiful ever to walk the earth.

When they began the project three years ago, Schoenberger and Kashner were skeptical regarding how much cooperation—if any—they would receive from the ailing, aging Taylor. She didn’t give interviews, and she maintained a deep-rooted distrust of journalists. But decades-long hurdles were cleared after the authors told Taylor about a theatre student who had remarked, “I never knew Elizabeth Taylor was married to Tim Burton.”

“No offense to Tim Burton, who’s a fine director,” Schoenberger said, “but when that story was relayed to Dame Elizabeth, she was horrified. She realized that Burton’s legacy was in danger of being forgotten by whole generations of people.

“We consider this her final gift to him, because she always said she would never talk about that relationship…she didn’t feel like she had to share it with the public.”

Liz and Dick actually were married twice—from March 1964 to June 1974, and from October 1975 through July 1976. They met on the set of Cleopatra in 1963, at which time Burton, 37, was married to actress Sybil Williams, while Taylor,  31, was wed to singer Eddie Fisher. The two began an affair that ended those marriages and led them down the aisle a year later. The couple made 11 films together during the 13 years they were married. 

The lesson Schoenberger hopes the book teaches her William & Mary students is the most basic a young journalist can learn.

“Persevere, don’t assume someone’s not going to talk to you,” she said. “Go and find out. You have to talk to people. Don’t make any conclusions until you have talked to as many people as you can and have done as much research as you can. You’ll be surprised sometimes with what you end up discovering.”i