“THERE WAS no letter. My lawyer talked to … other lawyers. And there was no ‘last letter.’”
That is Sally Burton, the fourth and last wife of Richard Burton. The widowed Sally never remarried after Richard’s death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1984. The letter to which Sally is referring is one that the authors of Furious Love — the bestseller about the grand passion between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard — claim Richard wrote to Elizabeth just before his death.
The note seemed to suggest they should get back together again. The authors said Elizabeth kept this letter “by her bedside” for twenty years. They claimed Elizabeth would not show it to them.
Some backstory: In the immediate aftermath of Richard’s death, it was his second wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who was treated by the media as Burton’s widow. It was Taylor’s collapse at her Bel Air mansion on the news … it was Taylor’s grief that the magazine and newspapers headlined. When Sally decided — in the face of the international frenzy — that Elizabeth should not attend Burton’s funeral, Elizabeth agreed. Then Sally changed her mind, but it was too late. When Elizabeth did finally visit Burton’s grave, it was the inevitable, terrible mob scene.
Sally has never spoken much about Richard and less about Elizabeth, but the subject of “the last letter” has clearly strained her patience. “I’m sorry,” Sally tells Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “I’ve felt it for some time. They were divorced twice so there seems to have been a bit of a problem. It’s a wondrously romantic story, but …”
There was never any love lost between Sally and Elizabeth. Richard married Sally during the calamitous run of “Private Lives,” a joint 1983 effort Elizabeth hoped would rekindle their love. Apparently the Noel Coward play had quite the opposite effect! But Sally doesn’t think Elizabeth was behind the tale of the infamous “last letter.” She believes it was a fiction devised by the writers.
I can’t say for sure. But I do know that one of Elizabeth’s very closest assistants called this office in some distress, after the publication of the book, to say that there “was no last letter, she never spoke of such a thing to me, ever. There is nothing resembling a letter by her bedside; she never said it.”
And though this aide didn’t say it, Elizabeth’s health, by the time she had contact with the authors, was extremely fragile. She was in constant pain. In fact, at the time, she had assumed the book was to be about Richard, only. Not a recounting of their affair and marriages.
When she read an excerpt of the book in a magazine, Elizabeth flung it to the floor and said, “What a fucking piece of trash.”
Some people thought the tale of the letter was “romantic.” Others were appalled. It was as if she was stealing Burton from yet another wife — this time from the grave.
Elizabeth never denied her love for Richard, and when she did speak of him, sometimes she’d say “maybe we might have tried again” — stressing her own sobriety as an impetus. (Her very last conversation with her stepdaughter, Kate Burton was about Richard — how much she still loved him and missed him.)
But Elizabeth Taylor was not a cruel woman. And I don’t believe she would have deliberately gone out of her way to hurt Sally Burton. Especially after over twenty years, and all that Elizabeth had suffered physically. Those sufferings changed her. For the better.
Even sans “the letter,” do I think Elizabeth and Richard might have tried for “third time’s the charm.” I honestly do, and this is no reflection on Sally Burton, who has set up scholarships in Richard’s name and kept the actor’s flame burning. As much as the chaos of Elizabeth’s life repelled Richard at times, he was inevitably drawn back to it, to her, and to the publicity. He always saw himself as the tragic figure of Faust and Elizabeth as his Helen of Troy. He even made a movie about it. And Elizabeth didn’t seem to mind that it was she who was seen pulling Faust down to hell, cackling madly.
I guess she figured, as long as they were together!
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CHELSEA HANDLER is the E! network’s raunchiest female star. She is host of late-night’s “Chelsea Lately” and often takes her own network to task for its programming. She is especially hard — and funny — about the Kardashians. Nobody in the public eye escapes her scathing ruminations. Not even herself (The title of her first book was, as you know, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea!)
Well, the powers at E! have a good sense of humor, apparently. Chelsea has been signed on for two more years and received a nice raise. She’ll earn a whopping $25 million. Vodka has been good to this girl.
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A WAY not to diet. Whenever you are tempted to reach for something fattening or sugary just stop and ask yourself, “Would the Duchess of Cambridge eat that?” I know someone who saw the newlywed Kate recently. She says the Duchess is so thin it’s unbelievable, especially when she looks healthy in her photos. Some feel she is too thin, all but emaciated in person. (I recall many felt she was too thin even at her wedding, though most people put that down to all brides wanting to be their slimmest on their big day.)
And yet, several of the supermarket tabloids are insisting Kate is five months pregnant, one magazine even ran a photo of Kate with her hand on her stomach, as if that really means anything.
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HARPER’S Bazaar tells us several things I never knew till now: Doctors in Florida take up 89% of all oxycodone sold in the U.S. … The Chinese buy 2,100,000 chopsticks from the state of Georgia’s Georgia Chopsticks. So do ABC’s “buy America” people know about that? … Seventy-five percent of Americans age 17-24 are ineligible to join the military … a typical good-looking U.S. worker ends up out-earning an ugly one by as much as $230,000 over a lifetime.
They say by the time you are 21, you have 99 friends, but from that moment on, you start losing them. At the peak, you have 13 best pals and 17 close friends and 70 acquaintances.
Ronald Reagan once declared that ketchup was a vegetable. Is that why French schools recently banned ketchup?!