Richard Burton: The Early Years
Richard Walter Jenkins, better known as Richard Burton, overcame a tough childhood to emerge as one of the greatest actors of his time. His teacher, guardian, and mentor, Philip Burton, is responsible for identifying his flair for acting and introducing him to theater. Thus, Burton became his namesake.
From a young age, Burton excelled in school, particularly in the arts. He had an articulate voice and was a skilled singer. His talents helped him to pass a scholarship exam. This made him the first in his family to attend secondary school. Here is where he first met the schoolmaster Philip Burton.
Burton dropped out of school at the age of sixteen. He began working to help support his family and joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. In the military, he reconnected with Philip Burton, who was serving as a squadron commander. The two became close, and at the age of eighteen, Richard became Philip’s legal ward. He then changed his name to Richard Burton.
His Acting Career
The RAF discharged Burton at the age of twenty-two. Shortly after, he moved to London to pursue his craft. A year later, he transitioned from the stage to the big screen debuting in The Last Days of Dolwyn. His performance landed him a contract with Fox studios. For the next two decades, Burton would go on to work on more than 40 films. This was in addition to keeping up his stage work with the Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare companies as well as on Broadway.
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
In the early 1960’s, Burton began his tumultuous relationship with Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor. The two met on the set of the 1963 film Cleopatra. They married for the first time just a year later. The duo went on to work on eleven films together, including some of Burton’s most famous roles in Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The famous couple was estranged by 1970. Then in 1974, they filed for their first divorce. A year later, they reconciled and remarried but divorced again in 1976. Despite his personal issues, Burton continued to pursue his craft on stage and on screen until his death in 1984.
During the early years of their whirlwind romance, Taylor gave Burton his now iconic Omega Constellation. The watch has an aesthetic that embodies the vibe of the 1970’s with a square face and 18-karat yellow gold case and bracelet. Due to the couple’s lavish trips abroad and quarrels in their Hollywood home, it’s likely this timepiece has some colorful stories to tell.
At his prime, Burton became wrapped up in a relationship that would come to define the man we know him as today. Taylor completely changed his life, but not necessarily for the better. In a lot of ways, their relationship eclipsed his acting career. Something about their connection seemed to take hold of Burton. It put him under a spell he could never seem to escape. Even as his legacy lives on, he’ll forever be remembered for his ties to Taylor instead of an individual with a memorable wit and natural talent.
Check out more Profiles in Time, like James Dean