I was at National Airport a couple weeks ago perusing the magazine stand for something to read on my flight to New Orleans when I spotted the new issue of Vanity Fair. There was a picture of a young Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the cover with the headline, “Romance of the Century.” The sub-head promised to reveal never-before-seen love letters from Dick to Elizabeth over the course of their two marriages and divorces, and, since I wouldn’t really know what it’s like to receive a love letter, my curiosity got the best of me.
So I read the entire cover story, and sure, it was titillating. Richard was very intelligent, passionate and well-versed in Shakespeare, so his love letters were quite well-written and intense. And I guess some of them could by considered romantic– if by romantic you mean scary and aggressive.
So here’s the love story in a nutshell: Liz meets Dick on the set of Cleopatra. She’s married, but he’s charismatic, so he shamelessly hits on her until their movie love scenes begin to bleed into real life. She leaves her husband after cheating on him and has this passionate love affair with Dick. They’re rich actors, so he buys her diamonds and takes her on lots of vacations and they drink too much when they together. Trust issues develop. She hates his excessive drinking, he’s afraid that she’ll have affairs on the sets of every movie she’s in because, well, that’s how their relationship started. He writes her a creepy, threatening letter while she’s on the set of her new movie in which he calls her “Twit Twaddle” and “Twitch”:
Dear Twit Twaddle etc.,
I have the shakes so badly that it would be fatal for me to come out to the studio. There is no power failure here so I am warm but still shaking. So come here tonight. I’m afraid that I had one drink but will drink no more until you come home. Try and make it early as we can then see the Cassius Clay fight together.… Also I love you and long to see you but I don’t want to shame you. I may even do—with trembling hands—some work. How about that? I love you and miss you and I think you to be the most desirable woman in the world and remember, NO KISSING WITH OPEN MOUTHS or breathless excitement and all that stuff. Otherwise, I will be down at the studio and certain girls will have a very rough time with certain husbands. I love you my little Twitch. —Husbs.
“I may even do some work with trembling hands– how bout that?” Or how bout you not drink yourself into a coma at work at then write to me about it, you dysfunctional scrub?
So Liz gets fed up with his shaking hands and obsessive letters. They get divorced. He threatens to kill himself, writing her more disturbing letters that say things like, “I worship you. There is no life without you, I’m afraid.”
A couple years pass, she can’t find anyone else who is willing to call her “Twit Twaddle” and buy her 20-carat diamonds and write her threatening, obsessive love letters, so they get back together. His drinking continues. They have loud, violent fights. They get divorced again, both of them remarry other people, and right before he dies of alcoholism, he sends her one final love letter that basically says, “It was you all along” (my paraphrase) to prevent her from ever fully moving on.
Now, is it just me, or is that definitely NOT the romance of the century? I mean, VF presents this story like it’s supposed to be the divine model for mortal relationships. Elizabeth Taylor, who’s really hot, we get it!, has this passionate, obsessive affair with an alcoholic coworker who writes her letters about how hot she is and then croaks, and we’re all supposed to swoon?
I’m sorry, that romance sounds pretty shitty to me. I don’t need my boyfriend to buy me the Hope diamond and then tell me he will beat up my male coworkers with his shaky hands. Love letters are great, but it’s really easy for them to border on creepy. One time I got the following Dick Burton-esque love text from a dude I had met the day before (after I ignored several of his previous texts): “Why are you playing distant goddess to my humble mortal?”
Yes, he seriously wrote that. But was I swept off my feet? No. I threw up in my mouth. Because he clearly had some severe mental problems.
No offense to Vanity Fair, but it’s definitely a sign of the times that they picked this particular relationship as the “romance of the century.” Couldn’t they have picked a couple that’s still together, maybe a couple that stood by each other through hard times and addictions and grave illnesses and severe weight gain?
John Travolta and Kelly Preston come to mind. He may or may not be gay, but at least they know what commitment means.