by Roger Lewis
Thirteen years in the writing, Erotic Vagrancy doesn’t only surpass every other biography of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton yet to appear, this rich, vital and passionately articulated book, which is as extravagant and wayward as its two subjects, is also about celebrity, creativity, being flawed, being brilliant, sexuality, the intermingling of a low and a highbrow existence, pride, insecurity, attraction and repulsion, and devilry.
We see Taylor the child actress exchanging dogs and horses for husbands. We see Burton emerging from the mists and brimstone of Wales to be the greatest theatrical animal of his generation. The pair come together in Rome during the making of Cleopatra, which gives Lewis the opportunity for a major farcical set-piece. We then enter a world of jewels and private jets, vodka, yachts and furs – the splendid vulgarity of the Sixties, where the narrative of Taylor and Burton becomes a Pop Art story.
Then, inevitably, it all goes wrong, with alcoholism, violence, recrimination and divorce ( twice ) – with Burton, whom Lewis depicts as a Faustus figure, damned by fame, dead at fifty-eight.