Liz Smith: Martin Scorcese to Film the Saga of Liz n’ Dick

Screen legend Richard Burton

And more from our Gossip Girl: whither Botox …. Jennifer Aniston’s new man … young royals migrate to the small screen

“THEY ARE wonderful memories, they are cherished memories, they are my memories.”

That was Elizabeth Taylor’s standard answer, when asked to delve deeply into the subject of Richard Burton. Elizabeth took most of her private life — her version of it — to her grave. She gave stock answers to stock questions over the years. She controlled her image while she could.

Now that she is gone, her life is up for grabs. First to hold on tight is the great director Martin Scorsese. He has optioned the book “Furious Love” by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger to be made into a film for Paramount. This book recounted the love affair and marriage of Taylor and Burton, a relationship that began in scandal — rocking the world from Hollywood to the Vatican. It ended in divorce. Twice.

I suppose a movie had to happen, and in Scorsese’s hands at least we know it will have some gravitas. But Elizabeth herself might just return from that big Chasen’s in the sky to put a stop to it. She had not been happy with “Furious Love,” a book that she originally thought was going to be about Richard, not about her and Richard. And the author’s tale of a “last letter” from Burton to Elizabeth, in which he suggests a reconciliation, is laughed off by Elizabeth’s inner circle. Kashner and Schoenberger claimed Elizabeth kept the letter “at her bedside” for over 20 years. “Never heard Elizabeth say anything like that, and I certainly never saw a letter on her bedside table, and I was at her bedside daily” says one of the late star’s assistants. (Elizabeth read an excerpt from the book in Vanity Fair magazine. Her reaction and language was … colorful.)

Burton’s widow, Sally Hay, has promised to cooperate with Scorsese, and the studio also has an agreement with Richard’s estate. They are looking to have similar cooperation from Elizabeth’s side. Good luck there, Marty!

* * *

SPEAKING OF Elizabeth, there was a recent article in the British press about the dangers of over-using Botox, especially by those who hardly need it — women in their twenties or even teenagers. Cosmetic specialist Darren McKeown wrote: “While Elizabeth Taylor was clearly always a beautiful woman from her teens onwards, arguably her looks did not reach their peak until she was in mid-thirties. Had Botox been available to Taylor in her early twenties would she have ever reached the same level of mature beauty for which she will now always be remembered? I suspect not.”

I concur. The Botox craze has resulted in a new generation of eerie looking people of no determinate age.

* * *

SOMEBODY AT InTouch really has it in for Jennifer Aniston. On the cover of a recent issue this headline ran: “Jen’s New Man: Trash Collector.” Inside we find that Miss Aniston is supposedly dating actor/writer Justin Theroux, who once said that he decorated his apartment with furniture he found in trash containers. Get it?

Justin is referred to as “another Mr. Wrong” for Jennifer. The press can’t be happy for her, ever.

* * *

SCARLETT Johansson and Sean Penn are no longer dating. I felt you should know.

* * *

JUST IN case you are not all “royaled-out,” the Hallmark Channel has a new movie coming about William and Kate, those two charming young people from across the pond who married so quietly about a month ago.

Hallmark chose Emmy-winning Linda Yellen to produce and direct “William and Catherine: A Royal Romance.”  (Yellen is perhaps best known as the producer of Arthur Miller’s Holocaust drama, “Playing for Time.”) This is not Yellen’s first visit to the House of Windsor. Years ago she did “The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana,” which became one of the most popular TV movies of all time.

For this one, Yellen corralled Jane Alexander to play Queen Elizabeth, Victor Garber as Prince Charles, and Jean Smart as Camilla Parker-Bowles. Alice St. Clair and Dan Amboyer — both quite new! — appear as Kate Middleton and Prince William.

Miss Yellen — who raved about her entire cast — admits the movie is a mix of fact and fiction, and “more than just a romance. There is the psychology of William’s memory of his mother, how he has chosen to live his life and how he decided to marry.”

Yellen met Princess Diana and was struck, as most were, by her luminosity and that ability she had to make one feel at ease, no matter the circumstances. “This movie is also a kind of tribute to her, as much as it is about Kate and William.” Yellen’s latest “Royal Romance” airs on August 27th.

And for those of you with a good memory — Linda Yellen did produce the moody 1989 TV movie of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth,” starring Elizabeth Taylor as the desperate, aging movie star Alexandra Del Lago.

Yellen, who had met Elizabeth as far back as the early 1970’s in Budapest (Linda was a globetrotting teen!) recalls working with Taylor: “The funny thing is, ‘Sweet Bird’ wasn’t typecasting at all. Elizabeth didn’t have those issues. I don’t think she ever worried about her career or her viability. She knew who she was.”
I’ll say she did! I’m telling you, Martin Scorsese, sleep with the lights on.


27 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    The Taylor-Burton story could make a great drama, the problem is it WON’T.
    Mainly because it will focus on the boring tabloid stuff that has been discussed ad nauseum. The aspects of their fame and what it did to them and their relationship that ARE interesting won’t be considered dramatic enough.

    The other big reason it won’t is because they can get away with finding somebody who looks reasonably like Burton and has his intensity and audiences will accept it. But who is going to play Elizabeth Taylor when she was at the height of her fame and beauty?
    Scorsese can’t get away with picking a Cate Blanchett who “acted” Kate Hepburn in his “The Aviator” despite her lacking Kate’s razor sharp patrician looks. And Marty picked poorly when he chose blandly pretty and pretty boring Kate Beckingdale (sp!) to play gorgeous Ava Gardner–who HAD a personality!
    So my hopes are not great to for him to pick a great “Liz.”
    Frankly, I don’t see the project happening… at least I hope it won’t happen…

  2. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Though this could most likely never happen, Dame Helen Mirren (cough) was pretty good at playing Queen Elizabeth, Wouldn’t she do it again? At her age, I doubt that she worries about stereotypical casting. If we MUST seen another William/ Kate film (a snoozer no doubt), then it would be nice to see a familiar face. This is just wishful thinking. The project could be a cartoon. We all know that the Price and Princess walk away into the sunset. Something on the lines of Cinderella. There is so much more latitude with cartoons. It would target both adults and children, alike, and still get its point (whatever that is) across. Oh well, I’m sure that I am alone in my opinion and something long, boring and drawn out will be ready for 2012. Giggle, Jennifer Aniston probably makes as many headlines as everyone else, but she is targeted so she is destined to be our most uneventful vulnerable screen characters in the tabloids. “Sweet Bird of Youth” was made somewhat (I believable) because Elizabeth was fat…but still beautiful. Too beautiful for this vehicle. I always questioned her reason for doing this. By this time, her career was laissez-faire so I guess this was as controversial as she wanted to be. It had all of her elements, Tennessee William and a very handsome leading man, Mark Harmon (she really wasn’t involved with anyone seriously at this point). The black mark: no one saw her as fading. And she didn’t beg for the role, I’m sure. Now, a Burton/ Taylor movie certainly could be told in two hours. According to the opinion of social media, Daniel Craig and Colin Farrell are in the lead for Burton, Colin may be a little too young but I approve of both. No one that we know can eclipse Elizabeth as a character (please don’t bring Sheryl Fenn in again), so my bet…it will have to be an unknown. Whoever plays Burton will have to spark an audience and carry the film. The subject matter will be familiar to those over 60 and an unknown actress for Elizabeth. The only known actress that may work is Angelina Jolie but is already playing in a ‘Cleopatra’ remake so that wouldn’t work. We will have to trust the powers -that-be. If they screw up Elizabeth (who needs to be completely three dimensional), then the movie will come and go. On my Foundation YouTube site, I am amazed but the younger people who only know her as an elderly ill woman, fighting for AIDS and being a friend of Michael Jackson. So there will be a lot on the Elizabeth’s character shoulders. In ‘Furious Love”…the book is really about Burton and taken straight from his own diaries 1960’s -1970’s. This alleged last letter? How romantic. Elizabeth went out with a bang. A nice ending.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Richard….actually Elizabeth was involved romantically during the filming of “Sweet Bird.”   She had taken Larry Fortensky home, after she found him during her second stay at Betty Ford. 

      I recall at the time the suggestions that she was indeed living at least that part Alexandra Del Lago’s life. 

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        Well, it was shown on TV on October 1, 1989…so I am assuming that it was made earlier that year. The Malcolm months.  According to Larry, he and Elizabeth were friends first…for about a year…before he moved into the estate. Even though she was with Larry, she didn’t realized how much that she loved him until April 1990, when she had pneumomia and blood sepsis for three months (after Malcom’s death). I think that you are most likely right, she considered herself and Larry a couple….but I think Liz kept her options opened until Malcolm died. I know Malcolm was gay but he had the bucks (for AIDS of course). Not once during the Malcolm months did we see Larry at an event. I think she chose “Sweet Bird of Youth” because her lead was a much younger man. That, and it was a Tennessee Williams adaptation, but it failed. She was the right age (57) but was just too beautiful to be a has been.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Richard…

          Elizabeth and Malcom were good for each others interests–his was publicity, hers was getting money from him for AIDS.   Never in a million years would she have married him.  If she kept options open they were not for Mr. Forbes.  

          As for “Sweet Bird” she looked fat and gorgeous.  She was also suffering still from the fall she’d taken months prior to the filming.  So she couldn’t even even walk properly.  Bad directorial decisions were made in how to film her.    But she has her moments.  And I think Tennessee would have approved of some of them.  (Although, let’s face it it–the role belongs to the great Geradine Page, just as Maggie and Martha belong to Liz.)

          • avatar rick gould says:

            Geraldine was certainly grandiose in “Sweet Bird” but I always thought Ava Gardner would have been awesome in the original film version… since Ava actually had that same self-doubt about her stardom, like Alexandra Del Lago, that it was all based on youth and looks. Whereas Liz never doubted her appeal with the public…each phase of her career, whether it was movie star, Broadway star, perfume promoter, AIDS activist…ET never worried whether her fame was fleeting 😉

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Rick…

            Ava would have been  incredible.  But at that point (1962)   Ava wasn’t quite ready to play out her own demons onscreen.  Tho she had already begun with “On The Beach” in ’59.  (“I’m such a fake.  Such a lot of meaningless words.”)

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I actually tend to believe the story about the “love letter in the nightstand” and I suspect if it had not been true she would have filed a lawsuit – she filed fewer and fewer lawsuits, which she never hesitated to file, as the years went by.

    Part of the film will of course deal with”The Widow Burton” saga which doesn’t really portray her in a very favorable light.  Reality is she was a little obsessed with Burton. A furious love without question. But also a little toxic.  But then they were human like the rest of us.

    I prefer to remember her as “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Warner” from Washington. A nice lady as they say. And she was a lady even when she “had at it” and could make a sailor blush. And a caring and loving human being who truly cared about other people. Earth Mother.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Baby…I tend to believe it didn’t happen.  Nor do I think Elizabeth gave that story.  But the book was released less than a year before her death.  She could not walk or hold her head up straight.  Lawsuits were not on her mind.  Trying to live was. 

      But…people want to believe it.  Either because it is “romantic” or else it fits into the selfish idea people have of her–snatching another husband, this time from the grave. 

      Or there’s the theory  the letter tale it was revenge on Elizabeth’s part.  Sally Hay was quite cruel in banning ET from Burton’s funeral, a move which backfired.  Elizabeth’s subsequent attempts to battle paparazzi and visit Burton’s grave, wiped out memory of Sally for good.  And when it came time for the London memorial service, it was Elizabeth who sat with Burton’s family.  Not his widow. By the family’s request. 

      Sally retailiated a few years later by releasing salient portions of Burton’s diary entries about ET–lots of references to drugs and drinking. 

      And I’m sure if a film is ever made, Sally will push that aspect of “Furious Love.”

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        Burton’s diaries were released before he was with Sally. They just went on forever from 1964 to 1973. Mostly containing their travels throughout Europe, and the toys that they bought, as well as, Richard’s eloquence regarding Elizabeth. I don’t think that Sally will even be asked for her opinion…or if she is, is won’t be a good one regarding Elizabeth. At the memorial, the Burtons had known Elizabeth for 22 years. Sally had barely been married to him for a year. In terms of drinking and drugging, that WAS part of the glue that kept the Burton’s together. There was no such letter or letters to him. Somehow, in the later part of their acquaintance…I don’t think neither of them wrote and letters (privately) to anyone.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Richard….

          Sally Hay released the most intimate passages to Melvyn Bragg, who wrote Burton’s biography in 1990. 

          It was in these entries he recorded his dismay at her substance abuse (while certainly owning up to his own!)

          • avatar rick gould says:

            From what I’ve read, Burton was an inveterate writer, both letters and his journal. And over the years, I’ve read a number of sweet comments from both famous and non-famous, about getting notes from Taylor on her lavender stationary.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I will point out that all these “insiders” weren’t “correcting” all of Liz Smith’s columns last year which I suspect is more a reflection on the “insiders” than on Liz Smith.

        And I will correct myself in terms of “Lady” Elizsabeth. Sometimes she wasn’t such a lady and the funeral is a case in point. That was when “The Widow Burton” saga started.  She was not the widow. His family was not the widow. Sally Burton was the widow. And she had the right to determine the arrangements. And that included determining who was welcome and who was not. And Elizabeth Taylor was not welcome. For the obvious reason. She turned it into a media circus. And suddenly it was about her. Not Richard Burton.

        Not her finest moment. But there were lots of moments to follow tha twere also not her finest moments. I  prefer to forget them. Unfortunately quite a few won’t.  No doubt Sally Burton among them.

        • avatar rick gould says:

          I’m with Mr. wOw on this one. I think Elizabeth handled herself just fine during Burton’s funeral/memorials. Taylor herself said she would have walked hand in hand with Sally Hay and I truly believe she meant it.

          But I’ve been involved with enough funerals to know that emotions run very high.

          And it’s all just a matter of opinion, anyway.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Taylor herself said she would have walked hand in hand with Sally Hay and I truly believe she meant it.


            How nice of her. And Sally Hay was Sally Burton at that point. And still is as a matter of fact. And that “offer” alone would have been sufficient reason to ban her from the funeral. Richard Burton was no longer Elizabeth Taylor’s to “share” with anyone.

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            When Burton died, Elizabeth (herself) said that she was glad that she was sober or she would have lost it, then and there. Sally announced her plans for the funeral and Elizabeth accepted it (who knows if she objected to it. If she did, there was nothing said to the public). Walking hand and hand with Sally would be such an act of arrogance. You might as well put Sybil and Suzy Hunt at the procession. But Elizabeth wasn’t stupid. She knew the zoo it would have caused. Days later at 4am, she (and Liza) went to the grave site with a group of body guards with umbrella’s to block her if the press was there. And the press was there. They never got the ‘money shot’ which was Elizabeth at Richards’s grave site for the first time…or for that matter, anytime. The umbrella’s shielded her as she left too. The memorial was for the public and it included Elizabeth’s closeness to the Burton family. They had known Elizabeth for twenty years so, of course, she was ‘family’. Since there was nothing (except Elizabeth) to target, there were just a bunch of photos of Elizabeth with certain family members. It was stated at her own funeral, there would be a public memorial and…As of yet…there has been nothing.

          • avatar RobinRR says:

            I find it strange that no one comments on why Sybil did not attend the funeral or any of the memorials from the time Richard Burton died to the present.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Baby…

          Unfortunately, it was never about Richard.  It was always about Elizabeth.  Richard would have understood and appreciated the madness that might have happened if Elizabeth had been allowed to attend his funeral.  He would not have been the famous Richard Burton if not for her.  He knew this. Although he hated the truth of it–that his relationship with Elizabeth had elevated him to the pantheon. 

          He would not have approved Elizabeth being barred from his funeral.  His family did not not approve.  But Mrs. Burton was adamant.  

          Had she been welcomed by the widow,  Elizabeth would  have been spared the agony of traveling to Switzerland alone, in an attempt to pay her respects.  

          • avatar rick gould says:

            Actually, I thought it WAS nice of her to make that sentiment… Elizabeth herself was once a young widow to a man much older (Mike Todd)…which I am sure was not lost on her.

            Two of Burton’s brothers wrote bios of Richard and both were fond of Elizabeth in general and wrote of her genuine grief and good behaviour during the drama of Richard’s funeral and memorial. Their take is good enough for me.
            There’s video of ET trying to visit his grave after the fact on YouTube and it’s rather sad.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            The only two who would know what he would have wanted and what he in fact wanted was Richard Burton. And Sally Burton. Like it or not they were married. And from all indications they would have remained married.  Richard Burton could have remarried Elizabeth during their “reconciliation” during the run of “Private Lives” and instead married Sally.  That says more than most want to admit.  Personally I think he was looking for the “domestic bliss” he might have had with Sybil and would never have had with Elizabeth. 

            Interesting comment about him. He would have reached the pantheon without Elizabeth. He wasn’t exactly an “unknown” when he played Anthony and is still regarded as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors that ever lived particularly since he was never even formally trained as such. It was something innate. Some in fact have said he would have reached beyond that pantheon without Elizabeth. Suddenly the art of acting no longer mattered to hiim. Only the money. 

            As for the gravside spectacle in Celigny she could have easily waited a couple of months and gone with all the children during Christmas – they always spent Christmas in Gstaad back then.  But then the photographers might not have been there.  And she wanted to be “The Widow Burton.” 

          • avatar rick gould says:

            This is exactly why I hope Hollywood DOESN’T make a movie about Taylor and Burton… Burton sold his soul for Hollywood and Liz… OR Burton dragged Taylor down with his ego and drinking. Very black and white. Whereas the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

            Burton was a brilliant talent. That was one of the things Elizabeth loved about him.
            The fact is, Taylor was his second chance in Hollywood. The first time Burton started off big, in the early ’50s but by the end of the decade he hadn’t really broken through and was doing dismal movies like “The Sea Wife,” “Bramble Bush,” and “Ice Palace” strictly for the pay check.

            When he teamed with Liz, she deliberately took the backseat while he did “Hamlet,” “Night of the Iguana,” “Becket,” and “The Spy Who Came in From The Cold.” That’s a matter of record, as the Burtons both commented on it.

            Burton was always frank about his desire to make money, as he was born into poverty. That can not be attributed to Taylor. Aligning with her helped him make far bigger paychecks.

            And Baby, you say only Burton knew what he would have wanted. Why don’t you give Elizabeth the same benefit of the doubt? After all, this is all just speculation, on all our parts…

  4. avatar rick gould says:

    If this film gets made, I can tell you right now it will be “Liz and Dick Dearest.”
    A campy cartoon of their lives…and I am sure that will amuse some people.
    Scorsese isn’t known for his subtlety. And wasn’t he all hot to make a bio about Sinatra a few years back, ANOTHER bad idea! I hope Taylor-Burton tale goes the same route.

    As far as Vanity Fair goes…they seem to have a cottage industry going when it comes to Elizabeth Taylor…and some of the stuff they’ve printed about her–the Liz, Brando, Jacko anecdote, the last love letter, etc.–gets taken as fact because it was in the esteemed Vanity Fair, which is more like People Magazine and sometimes closer to the National Star!

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Some would question “the esteemed Vanity Fair” which has always had a touch of the tabloids so to speak. But, well, they throw thatp arty once a year. And quite a few of the “victims” are there year after year after year. Feeding the hand that bit them so to speak.

      My favorite is still the story about “Freddie the Spaceman.” An inadvertent peek into the real life of one of America’s most photographed and itemed socialites.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Ooops. I meant to say an inadvertent peek into the real life of one of America’s most photographed and itemed socialites who despite the inadvertent peek is sitll always front and center at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Without her Oscar so to speak. 

  5. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    I can’t seem to wonder when Elizabeth wrote an intimate letters since 1949 (the ones that were just bought) and if there are such letters, someone would have kept them knowing they would be worth a fortune one day…if made public, which (of course) they would have. She wasn’t known for her literary skills, though there have been ‘thank you’ letters written by her to fans throughout her career. If any other letters were floating around, they would have been scooped up. The 1949 letters brought 47,000 dollars and she was a teen-ager when she wrote them. I think she has always been conscious of what she said, especially to the press or memorialize in letters about the deep details of her life. Now, Sally may have provided some such diary entries that Richard made after 1973. There were so many books about him and I’ve read them all. I remember one 1968 entry when the medication she took for pain after her hysterectomy that made her slightly psychotic, standing over his bed saying she hated him. Also, in 1968, there was a big to-do about bringing her dogs to England. In 1970, he talked about Lucille Ball. He hated her but she was a pro. In 1971 he went into Elizabeth’s hemorrhoid surgeries (in detail) and always revealed when they entered a health spa (rehab). He did count the days of each attempt at sobriety, but Elizabeth thought that he was a bore when sober. He went into great detail about Elizabeth’s 1972 40th birthday and the subject of Raquel Welsh being invited came up. He talked about a week-end at the Rothschild’s in France in 1971. I know I read this information somewhere. In one entry, he called Elizabeth ‘the ocean”. I think Sally was knowledgeable about the last few years of his life. I have never read a word for or against Elizabeth coming from her. Well, maybe about funeral plans. His years with Elizabeth are quite documented but I know very little about his life after 1976. Maybe this film will fill in the blanks.

  6. avatar Lila says:

    Botox. [Shudder]. Injecting a perfectly good forehead with poison to paralyze one’s expression into one resembling the vacant look of a blow-up doll.

    Today we look back on — or cross-culturally at — beauty treatments such as foot-binding, neck rings which deform the collarbones, crippling corsets, tribal scarification, and poisonous lead-based cosmetics, and we shake our heads in wonder… even as we make our appointments with our doctors to have dangerous and scarring liposuction or boob jobs, ridiculous lip injections and rhinoplasties that leave us with pert little noses that can barely breathe. Years from now, others will look at our era of surgically “enhanced” beauty and mock us for it. “What WERE they thinking??”

  7. avatar wilowist says:

    Please no film about Richard and Elizabeth. I could see Daniel Craig as Burton, but how could anyone possibly portray the iconic Elizabeth with the violet eyes?

    Rather than watch a parody or something done badly, I would rather it not done at all.