Richard Burton - Hollywood and Later Career

Hollywood and Later Career

In 1952, Burton successfully made the transition to a Hollywood star; on the recommendation of Daphne du Maurier, he was given the leading role in My Cousin Rachel opposite Olivia de Havilland. Burton arrived on the Hollywood scene at a time when the studios were struggling. Television's rise was drawing away viewers and the studios looked to new stars and new film technology to staunch the bleeding. 20th Century Fox negotiated with Korda to borrow him for this film and a further two at $50,000 a film. The film was a critical success. It established Burton as a Hollywood leading man and earned him his first Academy Award nomination and the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the YearActor. In Desert Rats (1953), Burton plays a young English captain in the North African campaign during World War II who takes charge of a hopelessly out-numbered Australian unit against the indomitable Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (James Mason). Mason, another actor known for his distinctive voice and excellent elocution, became a friend of Burton's and introduced the new actor to the Hollywood crowd. In short order, he met Judy Garland, Greta Garbo, Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr, and Cole Porter, and Burton met up again with Humphrey Bogart. At a party, he met a pregnant Elizabeth Taylor (then married to Michael Wilding) whose first impression of Burton was that "he was rather full of himself. I seem to remember that he never stopped talking, and I had given him the cold fish eye."

The following year he created a sensation by starring in The Robe, the first film to premiere in the wide-screen process CinemaScope, winning another Oscar nomination. He replaced Tyrone Power, who was originally cast in the role of Marcellus, a noble but decadent Roman in command of the detachment of Roman soldiers that crucified Jesus Christ, who, haunted by his guilt from this act, is eventually led to his own conversion. Marcellus' Greek slave (played by Victor Mature) guides him as a spiritual teacher, and his wife (played by Jean Simmons) follows his lead, although it will mean both their deaths. The film marked a resurgence in Biblical blockbusters. Burton was offered a seven-year, $1 million contract by Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox, but he turned it down, though later the contract was revived and he agreed to it. It has been suggested that remarks Burton made about blacklisting Hollywood while filming The Robe may have explained his failure to ever win an Oscar, despite receiving seven nominations.

In 1954, Burton took his most famous radio role, as the narrator in the original production of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, a role he would reprise in the film version twenty years later. He was also the narrator, as Winston Churchill, in the highly successful 1960 television documentary series The Valiant Years.

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