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Richard Burton

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Biography

b. Richard Walter Jenkins, 10 November 1925, Pontrhydyfen, near Neath, Wales, d. 5 August 1984, Céligny, Geneva, Switzerland. Between leaving school and going up to Oxford University Burton appeared on stage in Liverpool, England. This was in 1943 and after service in the Royal Air Force, 1944-47, he returned to the stage and also made his first appearance in films. Almost always in straight dramatic roles, he built a secure reputation in the UK and also appeared on Broadway in 1950. In the early 50s he made his first Hollywood film and was in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Edinburgh Festival in 1953. He continued to appear on stage and in films in both the UK and the USA. His first role in a musical came in 1960 with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe’s Camelot. Opening at New York’s Majestic Theatre on 3 December 1960, the show ran with moderate success for a few months before a segment was performed on television on The Ed Sullivan Show. This boosted box-office bookings and the show ran for more than two years. Burton won a Tony Award as Best Actor In A Musical. Although not a singer, Burton’s mellifluous speaking voice allowed him to do wonders with the songs ‘Camelot’ and ‘How To Handle A Woman’, and his duet, with Julie Andrews, ‘What Do The Simple Folk Do?’. The original cast album was in the US charts for almost three years and spent six weeks at number 1. Through the 60s and 70s, Burton’s film career was dominant and as an international superstar he enjoyed celebrity. Elizabeth Taylor’s role in his divorce from his first wife was the subject of the song ‘After Burton, Who?’, by Louis Botto and Arthur Siegel. Celebrated he might have been, but he was rarely offered good dramatic roles in worthwhile films. In 1980 Burton reprised his role in an American touring production of Camelot, which went to Broadway in July that year.

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