“She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. She … [was] famine, fire, destruction and plague … the only true begetter. Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires before they withered … her body was a miracle of construction … She was unquestionably gorgeous. She was lavish. She was a dark, unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much … Those huge violet blue eyes… had an odd glint… Aeons passed, civilizations came and went while these cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon.”
“During the first part of the 1800s, at the mouth of the Cuale River—then inhabited primarily by crocodiles—there were practically no human dwellers.” –Article on the History of Puerto Vallarta
By the early 1950″s not much had changed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. How then did this sleepy little place inhabited by overgrown lizards and little else, become a haven for artists and later the unfortunate “Girls Gone Wild” vacationers? There was only one way – Celebrities.
With little provocation celebs flocked to a hedonistic paradise, and popular culture followed…
….Meanwhile in the states… It was the early 1950’s and star power was everything.
When Richard met a pregnant Elizabeth, then Mrs. Michael Wilding, her first impression of Burton was that “he was rather full of himself. I seem to remember that he never stopped talking, and I had given him the cold fish eye.”
He too was married with children. But rumors were right, these two were indeed “soul mates”.
Both of them had spent years perfecting their public facades. He, a brilliant British actor of stage and film, she an American sweetheart turned silver-screen goddess.
When Burton was invited with other celebrities to visit Puerto Vallarta for the first time, the airport was still incomplete, and the high class visitors were surprised to find themselves riding donkeys into town through a rugged beach side terrain.
Around this time Burton and Taylor met again on the set of Cleopatra and fell instantly in love, left their partners and began what would become one of the most notorious love affairs in history.
- This is Elizabeth on her husband’s lap with Burton standing by.
They consummated their indecent life together in Puerto Vallarta, which blossomed into a vacation paradise around them.
The couple fell in love with Puerto Vallarta and Burton bought Casa Kimberley as a surprise birthday gift for Elizabeth’s 32nd birthday in February 1964, just a few months after filming completed and a month before their marriage.
I asked about the fight’s, one hears about? ” “They were very much in love, married people fight.” “You could always see they loved each other, just how they looked at one another.” – From an interview with the daughter of the maid at Casa Kimberly
- On the veranda at casa Kimberly.
“…there was some truth to the stories that still circulate today,of the couples tempestuous argument’s. Which as a rule would lead to Richard being band from the Casa, and sent packing across the pink bridge, that spans the street below, to the pool house across the road…”
That same year, 1964, Richard Burton’s Broadway production ofHamlet was a financial smash, achieving the longest run for the play in Broadway history at 137 performances. The run’s popularity was due in no small part to the attention Burton received for his romance with Elizabeth (whom he married while the production was in tryouts in Toronto), and crowds gathered outside the New York theatre just to get a glimpse of Burton, and sometimes Taylor, after the show.
They were actually married twice (15 March 1964 – 26 June 1974 and 10 October 1975 – 29 July 1976). The first marriage took place inMontreal.
But tragedy loomed. In 1968, she had to undergo a hysterectomy, squelching her hopes to one day have a child with Burton. “A child with Richard. I would have wanted that above everything in the world,” Taylor later said.
Elizabeth and Richard adopted Maria, a girl from Germany in late 1964.
As with most things so bright, this romance eventually burnt out. Their film roles echoed what their private life may have actually been like.
Elizabeth on acting with Richard: “Well, we got it all out on the set and we’d go home, have dinner with the children, play word games with them, and learn our lines after dinner, and go to sleep … It was very cathartic, too, because we would get all our shouting and balling out on the set and go home and cuddle.” Soruce: Larry King Show. Interview With Elizabeth
Burton was an insomniac and a notoriously heavy drinker. However, on-going back pain (apparently caused by his excessive alcohol intake crystallizing on his spine) and a dependence upon pain medications have been suggested as the true cause of his misery.
He was also a heavy smoker from the time he was just eight years old; and by his own admission in a 1977 interview, Burton was smoking 3–5 packs per day. Although his death was sudden, his health had been declining for several years and he suffered from a constant and severe pain in the neck. He had been warned that his liver was enlarged as early as March 1970, and had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and kidneys in April 1981.
On Aug. 2, 1984, Burton sat down to write Taylor a love letter in the library that she had bought for him. The following day he went out drinking with his friends, where he got in a fight and hit his head on the floor. He suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, dying on the operating table. He was 58 years old.
After Taylor went to Burton’s funeral she arrived back home and saw the letter from Burton postmarked a day before his death.
“And in it he told her what he wanted. Home was where Elizabeth was, and he wanted to come home,” the book says. “She’s kept that letter by her bedside ever since.”
Casa Kimberley was sold by Elizabeth in 1990. Rumor has it that the money from the sale was donated to Aids research.
The house in recent years, in decline and unkempt.
I asked, did either ever come back after the divorce? She claimed Liz had returned for a couple visit’s, the last being after Richard’s death. “She could not even spend the night in the casa. The memories were to painful”. – From interview with the daughter of the maid at Casa Kimberly
“When I last visited Casa Kimberley, I found it vacant, in sad disrepair… There was a pad lock on the entry door, and one could see, the casa had been vacant for some time.
As I stood outside the Casa Kimberly, and pondered it’s sad condition, I could almost hear the echoes of voice’s coming from this now quite home. Voices from long ago. A hearty Welch laugh, a soft sultry sigh… If wall’s could talk, the wall’s at Casa Kimberley would surely remind any passer by – this was once the home of star crossed lovers, Liz and Dick…”
Taylor sold the Casa Kimberley complex several years after Burton died in, saying the “memories made her too sad…” She could never bring herself to spend the night there again after he was gone. Hundreds of Burton’s books and letters were found, along with movie memorabilia, vintage 1960’s clothing and a collection of Taylor’s wigs.
Taylor comments in her book, My Love Affair with Jewelry, that a bejeweled Tiffany brooch in the shape of a dragon that Burton gave her for the premier of Night of the Iguana, “forever symbolized the early days of our marriage when we lived in Puerto Vallarta…”
More on their life in Puerto Vallarta:
The Burtons spent a lot of time in Puerto Vallarta over the years, bringing along the kids (she had three children plus the daughter she adopted with Burton), their movie star friends and Taylor’s ever present entourage.
Burton eventually purchased the house across the street, razed it and built another house around a large pool, connecting the two houses with a replica of The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, forever afterwards called “The Lover’s Arch”. Known as “The Pool House”, this adjoining second home also became Burton’s poker lair when high jinx buddies like Peter O’Toole were in town or “the dog house” when Elizabeth saw fit to lock him out of the main house. Hence the neighbor’s name for the “The Lover’s Arch”: El Puente de Reconciliación or the “Bridge for Making Up”.
Burton started a journal while living in Puerto Vallarta, using a typewriter on the upper terrace of the penthouse master suite at Casa Kimberley. This highly personal account of their everyday lives was later published into a fascinating biography titled Richard Burton: A Life by Melvyn Bragg.
The famous couple’s notoriety swept Puerto Vallarta into the world’s eye and was the genesis of the thriving tourism industry we know of today. Burton also made many charitable contributions to the city and just like so many others who came before and after him, was absolutely enchanted by the place and decided to live here.
- Statue of R&E graces El Del Puente Restaurant…
The Burton’s befriended many of the locals and took a special interest in the young nephew of their neighbor, clothing designer Xavier de la Torre, owner of the Villa Leonarda and friend of Rock Hudson. Sergio Toledano, now an award winning Mexican photographer, was at the time a precocious 12 year old boy who had recently lost his mother. Taylor had strong maternal instincts and she and Burton took the boy under their wing, standing in as god parents for his first communion and taking him on many trips around the world including on their yacht the Kalizma and to England while Burton filmed Anne of a Thousand Days.
The international paparazzi that gathered outside the gate at Casa Kimberley waiting for photo ops of the famous couple (a prelude to the current cultural obsession with celebrities) sent headlines around the world from Puerto Vallarta: “Liz to Adopt Another Child”.
Additional Information & Sources: