Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Tuesday 1st November 2011

And God Created Burton by Tom Rubython

Reading Tom Rubython’s Acknowledgements to this 812-page biography, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the product of a lifetime of scholarship. He complains about the poor job that the archive department of Swansea University has done of indexing and cataloguing Richard Burton’s papers and compliments his own “staff” for indexing and cataloguing his original research. “Thousands of hours were devoted to this task before I even wrote a word,” he says.

Is this the same Tom Rubython who, less than a year ago, published a 764-page biography of James Hunt? Either he’s exaggerated the seriousness of his approach or he’s some kind of promethean scholar – the Boswell of modern celebrity.

A clue is provided in Chapter 33 when Rubython refers to a memoir published by Rosemary Kingsland in which the author claims to have slept with Burton as a 14-year-old schoolgirl. At the time of the book’s publication in 2003, this story was widely dismissed as a fabrication, but Rubython is convinced it’s true.

Why? Because there are stories about Burton’s childhood that Kingsland recounts in her memoir that she couldn’t have known unless Burton had told them to her personally. For instance, the claim that Burton was sexually abused by his adoptive father. Rubython is quick to add that this was a “diabolical untruth”, but because it was “exactly what Burton would have said when he was drunk” it follows that “she simply could not have made that up”.

As should be clear from the above, Rubython’s notion of what constitutes evidence of a story’s truthfulness is somewhat flexible. If it corroborates his portrait of the Welsh actor as a sexually voracious alcoholic, he’s willing to believe it, no matter how implausible. As a journalist, he follows the advice offered by the newspaper editor in The Man Who Shote Liberty Vallance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Which isn’t to say that this doorstop of a biography is bad. On the contrary, because Rubython re-hashes just about every tabloid story ever told about Richard Burton, there’s scarcely a dull moment. We learn, for instance, that he slept with 2,500 women, including most of Hollywood’s leading ladies in the 1950s and 60s. He even made love to Jean Simmons while her husband, Stewart Granger, slept soundly beside her. This is because, as Rubython tells us, “Of all the men that have ever walked the planet, it is probably true to say that Richard Burton, between the years of 1948 and 1962, was the most attractive.” (Note the precision of the dates and the insertion of the word “probably”. Quite the scholar, this Rubython.)

I particularly enjoyed the stories about the sheer extravagance of Burton’s life with Elizabeth Taylor. To be fair, Rubython does allow that there is some doubt over the tale of how the Peregrina diamond came to be eaten by Taylor’s dog. But the question mark concerns the exact location of the incident – Caesars Place in Las Vegas or the Burtons’ private yacht? That the dog ate the diamond is beyond dispute.

Rubython does what most lazy journalists do when faced with the morass of apocryphal stories about a showbiz legend – he fashions them into a morality tale. He lovingly documents all Burton’s excesses, then, with even more relish, details his long and ignominious decline. God may have created the handsome young actor with the fiery temperament and mellifluous voice, but he forsook him in middle age.

Between 1971 and 1974, Burton made one box-office disaster after another, including The Assassination of Trotsky, the Battle of Sutjeska and a soft porn film called Bluebeard.

The chapter titles give you a flavour of just what a catastrophe Burton’s life became: ‘Trouble at the top: The year to forget’, ‘Return to Oxford: Fiasco amongst the spires’ and ‘Total career collapse: Four more turkeys’. A lowpoint was a TV miniseries called Divorce His, Divorce Hers. “From early on, it was clear it was going to be a disaster,” said the 34-year-old director. The Variety critic confirmed this prognosis: “Divorce His, Divorce Hers has all the joy of standing by at an autopsy.”

By the time Burton filmed the Klansman in 1974, his last Hollywood movie, he was drinking three bottles of Vodka a day. At lunchtime, on Burton’s first day on set, he and his co-star Lee Marvin drank 17 Martinis each. The film’s publicists let journalists loose on the set to witness his drunkenness at first hand. Robert Kerwin of the Chicago Tribune Magazine summed up their verdict: “On his face is a dazed grin as if he’s been shocked awake under those heavy lights in the midst of surgery.”

And God Created Burton is pure hack work, an 812-page cuttings job compiled by a gossip columnist. If it’s a racy beach read you’re after in which a talented young man squanders his gifts and gets his cummupance, this book is for you. But if you want some genuine insight into the greatest classical actor of the last century, you’re better off reading Melvyn Bragg’s official biography.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter In this week’s ⁦@calling_podcast⁩ ⁦@JamesDelingpole⁩ and I discuss the looming Coronavirus pandemic, whether there’… link  (3 hours ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film