Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Library to exhibit Burton letters

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra
Richard Burton met Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra

Letters written by screen legend Richard Burton to an old friend are being exhibited for the first time.

The letters and telegrams to Dennis Burgess are being shown at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth later this month.

They include an invite to Burton's 50th birthday party in 1975 from his then wife Elizabeth Taylor.

The letters, some written on location, mostly relate to Burton's efforts to help his friend's acting career.

They also illustrate how Burton's children encouraged him to appear in the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare, a celebrated thriller in which Burton starred alongside Clint Eastwood.

I kill seven of my wives in various fiendish ways
Richard Burton on his Bluebeard role

"I was instructed to find a film in which I killed a great many people like J Bond and remain alive at the end," wrote Burton.

He writes about finding Burgess a part in the 1972 film Bluebeard, and details his own blood-thirsty role in the movie.

"I kill seven of my wives in various fiendish ways," he told his old school friend.

The library bought the letters, which included one to Burgess from actor Sir John Gielgud, for around 800 from Bloomsbury Auctions.

There is also a telegram from Elizabeth Taylor, then Elizabeth Burton, inviting Burgess and his wife to Burton's 50th birthday party at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

The invite says the party is in the hotel's Orchid Suite and the dress code is "formal or informal".

The library said it was "delighted" to have acquired the letters, which are from the late 1960s and early 1970s although some do not carry dates.

Richard Burton
Richard Burton narrated Dylan Thomas' radio play Under Milk Wood

"The library's archives boasts numerous items related to Burton and we are more than happy to add to this growing collection of ephemera related to one of Wales' most famous sons," said a spokesperson.

Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in Pontrhydyfen on 10 November, 1925, the 12th of 13 children.

The Jenkins family was working class and Welsh speaking, and his father worked in the mines.

He took the stage name Burton in honour of one of his teachers, Phillip Burton, who helped him win a scholarship to Oxford at the age of 16.

He was one of Wales' best-known actors in the 20th Century and was famously twice married to Taylor.

Burton's film career included Cleopatra and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - both co-starring Taylor - The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Night of the Iguana.

He was nominated six times for an Academy Award for best actor and once for best supporting actor but never won.

His stage career included Shakespeare seasons at the Old Vic in London as well as playing King Arthur in Camelot on Broadway.

Equally well known for his speaking voice, he was the narrator in the original production of Dylan Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood, and took the same part in the later film of the play.

He married Taylor at the height of her fame and became one of the biggest names in Hollywood in his own right, at one time being its highest-paid star.

He died in Switzerland, where he lived at the end of his life, in 1984 at the age of 58.

• The letters will be shown at the library's recent acquisitions exhibition which runs from 28 February to 27 March.

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