Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the Residing of a Classic

“Exhilarating” is how Ernest Lehman described the well-known day of rehearsal on July 6, 1965. It started with the Burtons’ chauffeur-pushed, air-conditioned sad Cadillac limousine pulling as a lot as the Warner Brothers lot at ten a.m. Lehman—producer, diplomat, acting studio govt—become ready there to greet them. Out of the help seat stepped Elizabeth Taylor, long sad hair falling over her shoulders, carrying a broadcast silk costume and a finely woven straw sun hat, after which, Richard Burton in a white cardigan sweater. Elizabeth smiled and planted a polite kiss on Ernie’s cheek; Richard become extra effusive and, to Ernie’s surprise, gave him a generous hug. As Lehman escorted them to their dressing rooms, Elizabeth talked about that Natalie Wooden had taken the anguish to name her the evening earlier than, ecstatic to be taught that Elizabeth would be occupying her feeble dressing room. To Lehman’s reduction, the Burtons fetch been “ecstatic with their diggings.” Elizabeth beamed at Lehman’s gift of white lilies of the valley with white roses and the three bottles of Dom Perignon. “Any individual knows what I savor,” she stated. After reading Ernie’s card, she “came around and gave me a runt kiss,” he recorded in his journal, clearly besotted by the monumental name’s attention. The Burtons’ entourage had preceded them and sat ready in Richard’s dressing room: their brokers, Hugh French and his son, Robin French; the click agent, John Springer; their personal dressers, Bob and Sally Wilson; and the costume dressmaker, Irene Sharaff.

From Bettmann/Getty Photos.

Elizabeth and Richard did now not run, because it become already ten thirty a.m. and Mike Nichols become waiting for them on Stage Two. On the system over, Burton knowledgeable Lehman how mad he become about the script. “I savor it so worthy that it frightens me a runt,” he confessed. “Before it’s all around the place,” Lehman later hammed to the Dictaphone, “Richard will glean over both his liking all of it that worthy and his trouble too.”

Nichols had spent the old evening doing serious homework— listening to the complete Broadway solid album of Who’s Frightened of Virginia Woolf ?, attuning himself to the rhythm of the language and the emotional tenor of the stage actors’ voices whereas parsing out the incentive of the characters scene by scene. Nichols, mad and trepidatious in equal measure, now stood there talking to George Segal, who had arrived from Europe slow the evening earlier than and looked drained, if continental, in his olive gabardine swimsuit. Sandy Dennis become standing with them, too, “in something purple.” She had been in high spirits when Lehman known as her the evening earlier than and welcomed her to Los Angeles. She become joyful with the dwelling the studio had rented for her and grateful for the vegetation and the champagne that Ernie had despatched over. Already into her 2d glass of bubbly when he known as, she confessed on the phone that she had taken a tranquilizer for the sinful-country flight and given one every to her two dogs and her cat, turning the long time out along with her domestic menagerie into a nice magic carpet hasten. She had been taking a witness on the Virginia Woolf script and declared to Ernie that it become going to be “the image of the decade.”

There fetch been warm welcomes all around on Stage Two. The shut relationship between Nichols and the Burtons become evident at this time. Promptly, Nichols requested everyone to plan shut a seat around the immense table. Neatly laid out at every seat become a script, a pad, and pencils. Nichols greeted every actor by name, after which pointed to the two police officers stationed at both entrances, assuring the crew that it become a closed place of dwelling and there would be no interruptions from anybody who become in a roundabout draw linked with the manufacturing—neither the snooping press, nor errant autograph seekers, nor fellow actors savor Frank Sinatra or Marlene Dietrich shedding by to claim hi there.

“I word we sound savor an atom bomb undertaking,” Lehman later knowledgeable a reporter for the Saturday Night Put up. “Nonetheless, otherwise, it’d be a circus—we’re savor the Beatles! This draw we don’t embarrass Mike or render anybody nervous.” Burton, who become with Lehman on the time of the interview, chimed in, additional explaining the rationale. “Edward Albee is effectively acknowledged, Mike Nichols is effectively acknowledged and wished absolute protection, and Elizabeth and I are moderately effectively acknowledged—if we belch, they photo it. So, we’re fascinated about the present policy.”

From Archive Photos/Getty Photos.

Thus started the well-known read-by, with Taylor speaking Martha’s opening line—“Jesus H Christ.” For weeks, Lehman and Nichols had been fretting about the very phenomenon of Elizabeth Taylor, questioning if the imperatives of her popularity would short-circuit her ability to mine the depths of her character. Unless then, her expertise had resided in her sexy beauty. Her beauty become her forex. Her preparation ultimate to leave the dwelling required the ritual building of “Elizabeth Taylor” to present to the field—the splendor of her face, the mystique of her image, the delusion that become elevated than existence—whether or now not for the hide hide or for the overall public or ultimate going about her day-to-day existence. She had change into a efficiency, savor Marilyn Monroe. She had advance to query the very charisma of her beauty to raise her above—and insulate her from— everyone else, despite her occasional prefer to easily be her natural self among typical human beings. The studio had allotted an legit list to all manufacturing personnel at Warner Brothers titled “How it’s essential possibly per chance possibly possibly Contend with the Burtons.” Amount ten on the list immediate workers now not to address the Burtons except they initiated a greeting first. “I had by no system seen participants treated savor that,” Segal later marveled about the stage of reverence afforded them.

Yet the complete world-effectively-known glamour fell away that first morning of rehearsal as the four actors sat on the table on Stage Two reading their traces, every of them attempting on their roles for the well-known time, fumbling around to set their characters’ relationships with every other, whereas the script supervisor, Meta Rebner, interjected script directions as they went along. Lehman noticed a extra approachable Taylor seated there, closer to the girl Truman Capote depicted when he wrote about an detect along with her at an intimate luncheon in a socialite’s dwelling in New York: “Her legs are too short for the torso, the head too burly for the resolve in toto; however the face, with these lilac eyes, is a prisoner’s dream, a secretary’s self- story: unreal, unimaginable, on the same time timid, overly inclined, very human, with the flicker of suspicion persistently flaring in the help of the lilac eyes.”

From Bettmann/Getty Photos.

At one level, Mike and Ernie caught every other’s explore and nodded in approval—or become it reduction—as Elizabeth read her traces with a semblance of her character, Martha, coming by. Later, Taylor would negate Nichols that it become the well-known time in her film profession she had ever read the traces of a screenplay whereas seated at a table, all at one sitting. Basically, in twenty years and virtually three dozen films, she had by no system as soon as been requested to rehearse. She repeatedly prepped her traces with the director earlier than every narrate scene.

At noon, someone poured Bloody Marys all around, and everyone sipped their drinks as they persisted the read-by. It can possibly per chance be an hour earlier than they broke for lunch, when Ernie sat along with Elizabeth and Sandy. The two girls embarrassed him by evaluating their bellies. Elizabeth claimed that her mute belly become the everlasting outcomes of three caesarean births; Sandy disparaged her fetch belly, which, she declared, made her witness savor “a girl who’s been pregnant for twelve months.” Elizabeth took the 2d to confront Lehman about the edict he and Mike had issued her whereas peaceable in Europe to perform as worthy weight as she also can for the characteristic of Martha. She had “positively pressured” herself to position butter on her morning croissants and to eat elaborate French dishes with cream sauces and to indulge herself with chocolate mousse and crème brûlée. Now she become a minimal of ten pounds too heavy and blamed Lehman with a roughly mock annoyance. “I knowledgeable her that I mediate she looks ultimate apt for the characteristic of Martha,” Lehman wrote.

At some stage in 1 smash, Elizabeth pulled Mike and Ernie apart to query the incentive of George, Burton’s character. While she thought it become an efficient “‘gun in the drawer’ for him to claim, ‘ultimate don’t originate in on the bit’” to Martha—about their imaginary child—she didn’t mediate it tracked with the ending, when George claims to fetch killed off their child precisely due to Martha broke the guideline by “starting in on the bit.” Lehman agreed with Elizabeth and acknowledged his fetch reservation about it whereas writing the screenplay. In a while, Mike took Ernie apart and scolded him, telling him emphatically now not to plan shut aspects with any member of the solid with out talking to him first. Mike felt that the director and the producer wanted to be fully aligned in entrance of the actors. “I made what it’s essential possibly per chance possibly possibly also name a mistake,” Lehman reported in his journal, conceding that Nichols become possibly apt. “Nonetheless it absolutely does inhibit any expression I will also need.”

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