RIP Elizabeth Taylor, the last great Hollywood film goddess…As the world says farewell to the actress-philanthropist, who died today at age 79, we also say goodbye to a kind of glamor that simply does not exist today. Here is a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor’s world when she was at her very peak, and Marilyn Beck shared an adventure.
November 11, 1963
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Find Paradise On ‘Night of the Iguana’ Shoot
By Marilyn Beck
PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO — Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have discovered paradise – and they freely admit it.
In this tiny, tropical village they have found their heaven on earth, where they can openly display their love for each other, freer than they have ever been from notoriety and criticism.
In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Burton explained that he and his Elizabeth are now in process of buying a home in Puerto Vallarta, that they have found contentment here that has thus far eluded them in the other places they have traveled.
“Half the people here,” he explained, “have never heard of Elizabeth. The other half might have heard of her, but couldn’t care less about her behavior. The natives allow us to live our lives, to act ourselves.”
He grinned disarmingly, as if unaware his statements were newsworthy, and explained, “Elizabeth and I have already put in an offer on one home. It was on the market for $40,000. Unfortunately, when the owner discovered we were the bidders he jacked up his price to $60,000 and we backed out. I am sure of this, however, If we keep looking we will find another home here that pleases us. “This much we’ve decided: we do want to live in Puerto Vallarta. It’s paradise.”
It is understandable that both he and Miss Taylor should have fallen so in love with this tropical village. For here they have been able to act much like honeymooners blissfully in love.
Local cab drivers point out to tourists “Casa Kimberley,” the luxurious villa nestled high on a rocky hillside where the famous couple live together
Each morning a candy-striped jeep, boldly inscribed on its side with the words “Casa Kimberley” calls for Burton at the entranceway of the house. The actor jumps in beside the driver and, as the jeep makes its perilous way down the cobblestone streets, narrowly avoiding pigs, burros, and half-naked children, Burton will turn to wave a last goodbye to Elizabeth, standing smiling down at him from the balcony of their home.
Around noon, the jeep will return for Miss Taylor and drive her to the beach where she will board their boat, “The Taffy,” to make the 6-7 [corrected] mile trip down coast to Mismaloya, the location site of Burton’s film, “Night of the Iguana.”
After spending the afternoon with him, on the set, they will board the boat together shortly before dusk to return to Casa Kimberley.
During the evenings, the couple will dine alone at home or will join friends in one of the six restaurant-bars in town.
Even to one spending just a few days in Puerto Vallarta, it becomes obvious that the charm of this tropical land has had its magical effect on Liz and Burton. Where they tried deliberately not to be seen in public in both Rome and London, here in Mexico they make almost a show out of publicly acting like a couple in love. Their attitude seems to say: “We adore each other and are proud of it. We want the whole world to know how we feel.” There is not a soul in Puerto Vallarta who could remain oblivious to that fact.
I first became a witness to their love while standing on my hotel balcony one evening, mesmerized by the glories that nature was unfolding before me. The heavens seemed to be on fire. The sky, grey with the promise of night, had been touched by unseen fingers of fire and turned shades of gilded red and gold. The sun, resting briefly atop a low hanging cloud before its final descent, spilled a trail of liquid amber along the tropical waters, then slid silently into the sea.
It was twilight in Puerto Vallarta, one of the most thrilling spectacles offered anywhere in the world. The coconut trees lining the shore were now bathed in partial darkness and swayed to the rhythm of the surf as a mild tropical breeze arose.
Unexpectedly, from the horizon, a ship approached, killed its motors about a hundred feet from shore, and drifted silently, lifted gently and unprotestingly by the gentle push of the waves. The ship was the “Taffy” and from its cabin Elizabeth Taylor emerged, climbed to the bow where she poised for a moment, then disappeared into the sea, cutting the water with an expert and graceful dive. A moment later she surfaced and waved to Burton who stood at the stern of the craft. He called, “I’ll see you on shore, luv,” and made a motion to the native captain to resume the progress of the boat.
It seemed but moments later when the actress’ powerful stroke had carried her to the beach. There, like a child confident she is safe from unseen eyes, she pranced upon the sand, shaking her head to free the sea water held captive in her hair. She stood for a moment, her arms outstretched in a gesture of abandoned happiness, then skipped back into the surf, laughing with delight as the waves playfully slapped at her legs.
“Elizabeth,” Burton’s voice broke the stillness as he came trotting down the beach to meet her. They embraced, clung to each other for a moment, then walked arm in arm to an awaiting jeep. They were going home.
“Elizabeth is very happy here,” Burton confessed to me the following day. “We both feel we’ve found heaven.”
He proceeded to explain why. “Here in Puerto Vallarta we can be ourselves. Last Sunday, for instance, we decided to take the boat and spend the day with Lisa on a deserted beach along the coast. At least we thought it was deserted. After dropping our gear on the sand and spreading out our towels, we looked up and noticed several families of natives watching us from halfway up the mountain. I waved and they immediately began to approach, friendly and unafraid. They paid almost no attention to Elizabeth and myself. It was apparent that they didn’t have the vaguest notion who we were. But Lisa, they fell in love with her. Even with my limited knowledge of Spanish, I could understand that they were telling us how beautiful she was, saying that she looked, with her deep copper tan, like a Mexican Niña.
When lunchtime came, I asked our visitors if they’d care to share our sandwiches. They were delighted, even happier to sample our tequila. Then it was time for them to treat us. They invited us up to their hut, to share their tortillas and beans – and their local brew. Elizabeth and I sat on the dirt floor of the thatched hut, sharing the simple food that the women prepared for us over an open fire. And, while Elizabeth and I basked in those golden moments of anonymity, Lisa enjoyed herself playing tag in the jungle outside the hut with our host’s children.”
For over two hours Burton talked of the life he and Elizabeth have found in Mexico. Never did he say “I”. His statements always began with “we.” Charming and suave and very much a man of the world, he none-the-less gave the impression of a person as overwhelmingly in love as a teenager smitten with his first affair of the heart.
Sitting with him in the thatched roofed bar at Mismaloya, little more than a clearing out of a lush forest overgrown with wild banana and coconut trees, he pointed in the direction of the Taffy, at anchor in the breakwater. “You know, of course,” he offered, “that Elizabeth named the boat after me. Remember the rhyme, ‘Taffy was a Welshman. Taffy was a thief? …’” His blue eyes shone with pride and he seemed all at once like a boastful small boy, proud of his mischievous behavior.
This impression remained as Burton continued to speak. Charming, a marvelous story teller, he seemed bent on disclosing the intimate little details of his affair with Elizabeth Taylor. “She is my woman,” his attitude proclaimed.
Yet, though Elizabeth Taylor might be a woman in love, a woman who is now acting like an ecstatic bride, she proved a few hours later that, like women everywhere, she has her moments of annoyance with her man, when anger and possessiveness can erase all other feelings.
On that particular day, because only a half days shooting was scheduled, she had decided not to make the trip to Mismaloya. Instead, she waited for Burton at “Casa Kimberly, expecting him to arrive home by two o’clock in the afternoon.
He, however, chose that day to rebel. A terribly gregarious person who seems complete only when he is surrounded by people, he sat talking with me for several hours, though he knew Elizabeth was waiting at home. Then, urged y his secretary who warned in whispers, “Miss Taylor will be upset,” he reluctantly arose and offered me a ride back to the mainland on his boat. We had begun to leave the bar when he spied Director John Huston and Ava Gardner at a corner table and made his way over, “Just to say hello.” It was more than an hour later when the frantic secretary finally persuaded him to board the boat and it was past 6 p.m. when we finally docked at Puerto Vallarta. Elizabeth’s houseboy, sent down to the water’s edge to try to locate Burton, rushed up to him and explained nervously in Spanish that Miss Taylor was very upset, had sent him to the beach three times earlier that afternoon to find him.
If Burton was worried over Elizabeth’s apparent wrath he gave no indication, just smiled, bestowed a kiss upon my cheek as he bid me farewell and said he’d probably see me later in town.
As it turned out, we did see each other again. That evening he and Elizabeth appeared together at the Hotel Rio, in the center of town. Whatever disagreement they may have had over Burton’s tardiness obviously resulted in no more than a lover’s quarrel for she sat beside him now, her face glowing with adoration as they sipped their cocktails and made love with their eyes. When they left a short time later, it was arm and arm, walking to the jeep that would take them down the cobblestone streets to their home.
Neither Richard Burton nor Elizabeth Taylor will discuss the possibility of their securing divorces from their present mates, yet there in Mexico such complications seem something that bothers them little. They are honeymooning. They have found their Shangri-la and if there is an Eddie Fisher and a Sybil Burton giving statements to the press in the United States – well, such things belong to another world, cannot penetrate the blissful state that has enveloped them.
Honeymooners are not uncommon in Puerto Vallarta. Its beauty and picturesque setting make it a lover’s paradise. Perhaps this is why the local citizens seem to be able to take Liz and Burton’s actions in stride. They point with pride to ‘Liz’s house, the Casa Kimberley.’ They comment on Lisa’s beauty. Yet they seem highly unconcerned with the notoriety that has surrounded Liz and Burton in other parts of the globe.
In a blue negligee she stands, waving to her lover as he leaves for a day’s work. In the neighborhood grocery shop she will wander, seeking some delicacy to delight her man when he returns home at night. In a picturesque cantina she sits, her eyes never leaving the face of the man with whom she is sharing paradise. Her hand reaches out to find his and she smiles, her violet eyes alight with rapture. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have found their heaven on earth. It’s possible that they feel they can cling to it forever here in this Eden-like village. They will buy a home high in the hills overlooking the sea where few will see and no one will are about their behavior. And if they must return to civilization – to a curious press, to demands from estranged mates, to a society shocked that they won’t conform to acceptable behavior — their return will only be a temporary one. And they will be able to tolerate it, knowing that they will return to the heaven they have found on earth where they can openly acknowledge their love. And where no one will judge them.