Richard Burton was already a familiar stage presence, having mastered both classical and modern acting styles. His talents ran from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Hamlet, which he performed to great acclaim in London, to the tuneful melodies of Lerner and Lowe’s musical Camelot on Broadway.
A charming seducer, with untidy brown hair and a melancholy face, Burton was devoid of traditional good looks but was blessed with a superlative voice, which compelled audiences to listen to him.
Although he starred in the hugely successful film, The Robe, Burton hated the cinema because it magnified his acne-scarred appearance. The loquacious thespian needed to be convinced that he was not being courted for the lead role of Reverend Shannon in The Night of the Iguana merely for his name value, important though it was to the movie and to his immense ego.
At first, Burton had no idea of the enormity of his involvement with Taylor, nor did he anticipate the negative reaction it would cause by cheating on his own wife, as well as breaking up Taylor’s marriage to the singer Eddie Fisher.
By violating the sanctity of marriage and disrespecting the vows of the Roman Catholic Church, Burton and Taylor incurred the wrath of religious leaders and politicians. For many observers it represented a breakdown in morality, a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
Richard Burton in The Robe