Richard Burton

Definition

Theater

  • (Richard Walter Jenkins; 1925 - 84) British actor, whotook his stage name from his guardian Philip Burton. Born in Pontrhydyfen,South Wales, the twelfth of 13 children of a miner, he made his stagedebut at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, in Emlyn Williams's TheDruid's Rest (1944). During World War II the RAF sent him on ashort course at Oxford University, where he was discovered by thedon Nevill Coghill and appeared in an OUDS production of Measurefor Measure. When asked by the producer Binkie Beaumont if hewould return to acting after the war, Burton said, "I mightgo back to the mines. That's where I really belong."

    Instead, he returned to the boards in 1949 to star in TheLady's Not For Burning at the Globe Theatre. He was frequentlyin trouble with the management for his sexual escapades and practicaljokes. The following year, he made his Broadway debut with the playat the Royale Theatre. In 1951 Burton joined the Shakespeare MemorialTheatre company at Stratford to play Prince Hal in Henry IV."Burton is a still brimming pool, running deep", wrotethe critic Kenneth Tynan (who was later knocked down by Burton afterhe criticized an actress).

    After making several films in Hollywood, he joined the OldVic in 1953, giving audiences "a rugger-playing Hamlet"according to critic David Lewin. In 1955 his Henry V won the EveningStandard Best Actor Award and in 1960 his Broadway performanceas King Arthur in the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot wona Tony Award.

    He returned to Broadway in 1964 to star in John Gielgud'sproduction of Hamlet, giving a performance of "electricalpower and sweeping vitality" according to the New York Times.This became the most profitable Shakespearean production in Broadway'shistory, while Burton broke the record for successive performancesof Hamlet with 185.

    In 1966 he appeared with his second wife Elizabeth Taylorin an Oxford production of Marlowe's Dr Faustus to raise moneyfor OUDS; Burton later gave a further £50,000 to renovate theOxford Playhouse. Burton and Taylor were divorced in 1970and remarried briefly in 1975. The two appeared together again ina disastrous Broadway revival of Private Lives.

    Burton was once called "the Frank Sinatra of Shakespeare"because of his celebrity status, but most critics felt he never livedup to his early promise and blamed this on his addiction to alcohol.He often became bored on stage and claimed he only acted in Shakespeareas "a kind of duty". Once during his famous Broadway Hamlet,having been told that German adoption officials were in the audience,he began his "To be or not to be" soliloquy in German.During a performance of Camelot, seeing audience members leavingearly during a heavy snowfall, Burton came to the front of the stageand called, "Hey, book a cab for me too, will you?"

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