The Burtons with Zeffirelli

The Burtons with Zeffirelli
On the set of "Cleopatra" (1964), one of the most epic love affairs in history occurred between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The press followed their every move and the Vatican was quick to condemn their affair because Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher at the time. It was a mere eleven days after Taylor's divorce to Fisher that she married Burton on March 15, 1964. The press continued to follow their every move as a couple but none of the headlines could accurately capture the scintillating passion between the two actors. With starring in Zeffirelli's film, "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967), the public could watch it all themselves as the two actors portrayed a romance of equal devotion and fury.

Originally the film was a vehicle for Italian goddess Sophia Loren and actor Marcello Mastroianni when suddenly the director Franco Zeffirelli wanted fiery real-life couple Elizbath Taylor and Richard Burton. Columbia Pictures was nervous to say the least. Three years prior, 20th Century Fox nearly went bankrupt funding the box office disaster "Cleopatra" (1964), and the studio feared they might share the same fate.

Although this was Zeffirelli's debut film, the man who had a brilliant resume of delivering one successful lavish opera after another, convinced the studio otherwise. And according to Zeffirelli's memoir, "Zeffirelli: An Autobiography" when he first met the Burton's in their hotel room, they seemed to be already living the roles of Petruchio and Katherine. With Taylor chasing a pet bush baby and Burton completely ignoring the situation, instead talking to Zeffirelli, the couple would snap at each other throughout the meeting.

After the meeting, the Burtons and Zeffirelli found they could make the film together. Richard Burton was especially fond of working with the director because of his deep passion for opera and theater. The actors even sacrificed their own salaries in order to make a personal investment in the film and opted to take a percentage of the gross when the film debuted. Their financial and artistic gamble would be met when the film did very well at the box office and was given a warm reception by critics.

According to a short interview with Zeffirelli that is periodically shown on Turner Classic Movies channel, that while on set Taylor was famous for being late to the set because she would be touching herself up. It was only Burton who would be able to get Taylor out of her dressing room, but once Taylor was on set, she became the hardworking actress she is known for being in her work.

In the same interview, the director was confident, that while the film sacrifices most of the dialogue from the original play, his adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew" delivers the boisterous Italian atmosphere for Shakespeare's play. And he would be right.

After the film, Burton and Taylor would divorce after ten years of marriage. Then they would be married once more in the autumn of 1975 but subsequently divorce again in July 1976. Although divorced, they made 10 films together including the classic "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966). Their love affair continued even after Burton's death when one of Richard's poems was read as a eulogy at Elizabeth's funeral in 2011. She was buried with Burton's last love letter to her.

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