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Richard Burton

At our Welsh Sale auction we are regularly honoured to offer to market memorabilia relating to Wales’ most famous sons and daughters. And in this November’s Welsh Sale we are excited to be offering at auction collectables relating to Wales’ most celebrated actor – Richard Burton.

The items have been consigned from a major collection of autographs and celebrity memorabilia. Included are a signed cheque, a contract and a portrait photograph by Angus McBean.

Signed War of the Worlds



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Richard Walter Jenkins (Richard Burton) was born on 10th November 1925 in the mining village of Pontrhydyfen, situated in the Afan Valley in South Wales. He was the tenth of eleven children. After his mother's death when he was only two years old, he went to live at the home of his eldest sister and her husband, Cecilia ('Cis') and Elfed James, in nearby Taibach, Port Talbot. He passed the scholarship for Port Talbot Secondary School and started there in the autumn of 1937. He was a keen sportsman, particularly talented in and enthusiastic about rugby, and was a regular member of his local Youth Centre, whose pivotal point was its drama group. At the age of seventeen, he moved into the home of Philip Burton, his English teacher and mentor. Philip Burton later became Richard's legal guardian and Richard subsequently adopted his surname.

Portrait by Angus McBean



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Burton's first professional stage appearance occurred after he auditioned successfully for a small part in Emlyn Williams's play, The Druid's Rest, which opened at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool in November 1943. After leaving school, he entered Exeter College, Oxford to read English Literature and Italian. Here he met and became friends with fellow actor Robert ('Tim') Hardy and Nevill Coghill, Fellow in English Literature and Director of the Friends of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Burton followed a compressed six month course, offered by the University during wartime for those proceeding to military service, and afterwards joined the Royal Air Force.

After de-mobilisation at the end of the war, Burton moved to London and performed in a handful of supporting roles in the West End under the patronage of the influential theatre manager, Hugh ('Binkie') Beaumont. He made his film debut in 1948 in another Emlyn Williams's play, The Last Days of Dolwyn. His performance as Prince Hal in the 1951 production of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon earned him glowing notices from critics, including - significantly - Kenneth Tynan.

Richard Burton Cheque



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After a brief spell in Hollywood, during which he received his first Oscar nomination for his role in the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel My Cousin Rachel, Burton returned to London, playing Hamlet and Coriolanus in the 1953/4 London Old Vic Season and then Henry V and Othello/ Iago in their 1955/6 Season. He was presented with the Evening Standard Drama Award for his performance as Henry V and was hailed by Tynan among other critics as 'the natural successor to Olivier'.

In 1957 Burton bought a villa, which he named 'Le Pays de Galles', and set up residence in Celigny, Switzerland. Here he began to accumulate a personal entourage of agents, lawyers and assistants, including Aaron Frosch, Valerie Douglas, Pierre Folliet. His relationship with the actress Elizabeth Taylor, whom he had met on the set of Cleopatra in 1961, became the subject of an international scandal, attracting a relentless media scrutiny which was to become a pervasive and frequently oppressive presence throughout Burton's life. Their marriage in 1964 was also the start of a number of onscreen collaborations, including perhaps most notably Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


Old Vic Signed Programme


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After the move to Switzerland, Burton turned his attention increasingly to screen acting. In the mid 1960s, he attained the zenith of his box office power. This period resulted in such critically acclaimed films as Becket, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,The Night of the Iguana and The Taming of the Shrew, as well as a number of indifferent productions. He was nominated for an Oscar seven times but never awarded one. His last film role was as the Party leader, O'Brien, in an adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four, which was also made in 1984, the year of Burton's death. Burton made various recordings for radio, including famously as the Narrator in Douglas Cleverdon's production of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, and also performed in a handful of television dramas, including the epic serial Wagner in 1983, although he had little regard for television as a medium. His theatre career also included two runs on Broadway as King Arthur in the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot (1960 and 1980-1). His last stage appearance was with Elizabeth Taylor in a 1983 production of the Noel Coward comedy, Private Lives.


Richard Burton signed letter


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Burton was married five times: to Sybil Williams in 1949, to Elizabeth Taylor in 1964 and again in 1975, to Susan Hunt in 1976 and lastly to Sally Hay in 1983. He had two daughters, Kate and Jessica, with his first wife Sybil, three step-children, Michael and Christopher Wilding and Liza Todd, and one adopted daughter, Maria. He died on 5th August 1984 from a cerebral haemorrhage.


Signed exclusive rights contract


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