The following letter can be found in the second volume of Letters of Note. Grab a copy here. And don’t forget: this Sunday, Lists of Note relaunches as a weekly newsletter. Sign up here.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were both already married when they fell in love on the set of Cleopatra in 1962 – she to fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, a singer, and he to actress Sybil Christopher. In 1964, with divorces finalised, they wed and became one of the most famous, bankable couples in Hollywood history: all told, they shared the screen in eleven films, including, in 1966, the multi-award-winning classic, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nine years after marrying, as their extravagant and famously tempestuous relationship crumbled, Taylor gave Burton his marching orders—this passionate letter, just one of many he sent to her during and after their union, was his response. A year after he wrote it, they divorced; sixteen months after that, they wed each other again. Their second marriage lasted just nine months.
June 25, 1973
So My Lumps,
You’re off, by God!
I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before. All I care about—honest to God—is that you are happy and I don’t much care who you’ll find happiness with. I mean as long as he’s a friendly bloke and treats you nice and kind. If he doesn’t I'll come at him with a hammer and clinker. God’s eye may be on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you. Never forget your strange virtues. Never forget that underneath that veneer of raucous language is a remarkable and puritanical LADY. I am a smashing bore and why you’ve stuck by me so long is an indication of your loyalty. I shall miss you with passion and wild regret.
You may rest assured that I will not have affairs with any other female. I shall gloom a lot and stare morosely into unimaginable distances and act a bit—probably on the stage—to keep me in booze and butter, but chiefly and above all I shall write. Not about you, I hasten to add. No Millerinski Me, with a double M. There are many other and ludicrous and human comedies to constitute my shroud.
I’ll leave it to you to announce the parting of the ways while I shall never say or write one word except this valedictory note to you. Try and look after yourself. Much love. Don’t forget that you are probably the greatest actress in the world. I wish I could borrow a minute portion of your passion and commitment, but there you are—cold is cold as ice is ice.
As passionate and crazy as we all knew they were.
What a letter!