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Nineteen Eighty Four
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Richard Burton, CBE (10 November 1925 – 5 August 1984) was a Welsh multiple award-winning actor. He was at one time the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in the village of Pontrhydyfen, Wales, UK, near Port Talbot. He grew up in a working-class, Welsh-speaking household, the twelfth of thirteen children. His father was a short, robust coal miner, a “twelve-pints a-day man” who sometimes went off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks. Burton later claimed, by family telling, that “He looked very much like me...That is, he was pockmarked, devious, and smiled a great deal when he was in trouble. He was, also, a man of extraordinary eloquence, tremendous passion, great violence”.
Burton`s mother, Edith, died after the last birth, before he was two years old. In 1927, his sister Cecilia `Cis` and her husband Elfed, in nearby Port Talbot (an English-speaking steel town) took him into her mining family where he was raised a Presbyterian and remained for many years. Burton said later that his sister became “more mother to me than any mother could have ever been...I was immensely proud of her...she felt all tragedies except her own”. His father would make occasional appearances at the homes of his grown sisters but was otherwise absent. Also formative in his early life was his older brother Ifor, nineteen years his senior, who became Burton`s idol and protector. A miner and rugby star, Ifor would continue to be a close companion later in Burton`s life.
Burton showed a talent for English and Welsh literature at grammar school, and demonstrated an excellent memory, though his consuming interest was sports—rugby, cricket, and table tennis. He later said, “I would rather have played for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park than Hamlet at Old Vic”. He earned pocket money by running messages, hauling horse manure, and delivering newspapers. He started to smoke at age eight and drink regularly at twelve. With the inspiration of his schoolmaster, Philip H. Burton, he excelled in school productions, his first being The Apple Cart. Philip could not legally adopt Burton because their age difference was one shy of the minimum twenty years required. Burton early on displayed an excellent speaking and singing voice and won an eisteddfod prize as a boy soprano. Burton left school at sixteen for full-time work. He worked for the local wartime Co-Operative committee, handing out supplies in exchange for coupons, but then considered other professions for his future, including boxing, religion, and singing. When Burton joined the Port Talbot Squadron of the Air Training Corps as a cadet, he re-encountered Philip Burton, his former teacher, who was the commander. Richard also joined a youth drama group led by Leo Lloyd, a steel worker and avid amateur thespian, who taught him the fundamentals of acting.
Philip Burton, recognizing Richard`s talent, then adopted him as his ward and Richard returned to school, and, being older than most of the boys, he was very attractive to some of the girls. Philip Burton later said, “Richard was my son to all intents and purposes. I was committed to him”. Philip Burton tutored his charge intensely in school subjects and also worked at developing the youth`s acting voice, including outdoor voice drills which improved his projection. In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Richard Burton (who had now taken his teacher`s surname), was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford for a special term of six months study, made possible because he was an air force cadet obligated to later military service. He subsequently did serve in the RAF (1944-1947) as a navigator. Burton`s eyesight was too poor for him to be considered pilot material.
In the 1940s and early 1950s Burton worked on stage and in cinema in the United Kingdom. Before his war service with the British Royal Air Force, he starred as Professor Higgins in a YMCA production of Pygmalion. He earned his first professional acting fees doing radio parts for the BBC. He had made his professional acting debut in Liverpool and London, appearing in Druid`s Rest, a play by Emlyn Williams (who also became a guru), but his career was interrupted by conscription in 1944. Early on as an actor, he developed the habit of toting around a book-bag filled with novels, dictionaries, a complete Shakespeare, and books of quotations, history, and biography, to stoke his mind and stimulate conversation. He was also an enthusiastic crossword puzzle solver. His Welsh love of language was paramount, as he famously stated years later, with a tearful Elizabeth Taylor at his side, “The only thing in life is language. Not love. Not anything else.”
In 1947, after his discharge from the RAF, Burton went to London to seek his fortune. He immediately signed up with a theatrical agency to make himself available for casting calls. His first film was The Last D
Full Name at Birth
Richard Walter Jenkins, Jr.
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Philip H. Burton
Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, David Niven, Jean Simmons, Stewart Granger, Montgomery Clift
Richard Burton, CBE (; 10 November 1925 – 5 August 1984) was a Welsh stage and cinema actor noted for his mellifluous baritone voice and his great acting talent. Establishing himself as a formidable Shakespearean actor in the 1950s, with a memorable performance of Hamlet in 1964, Burton was called "the natural successor to Olivier" by critic and dramaturg Kenneth Tynan. An alcoholic, Burton's failure to live up to those expectations disappointed critics and colleagues and fueled his legend as a great thespian wastrel.
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