Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t needed in the London studio as the student cast recorded Dr. Faustus, but she decided to tag along with her husband, Richard Burton, anyway. The Oscar winner spent a day “making sandwiches for people, putting on the kettle and talking over coffee,” British actor David Wood tells Closer. “It all felt perfectly normal.”
In 1966, the lives of Elizabeth and Richard were anything but normal. Even after two years of marriage, photographers, reporters and fans followed their every move around the globe — making the couple’s agreement to star in an amateur production of Dr. Faustus at Oxford University for no pay a huge surprise. “We really didn’t believe they would come,” admits David, who writes about the experience in his new memoir, Elizabeth Taylor’s Kiss and Other Brushes with Hollywood.
Richard offered to appear in the production to thank his mentor, Prof. Nevill Coghill, for his kindness and encouragement when Richard was starting out. “It was an extraordinary gesture, but he wanted to do something to raise money for the Oxford University Dramatic Society,” says David, then a third-year student. “And Burton said to his wife, ‘Why don’t you play Helen of Troy?’ Elizabeth had never done a stage play before, but nevertheless she agreed to do it.”
They didn’t blend in though. The Rolls-Royce the couple rode around in and their entourage, which included Gaston, their chauffeur-bodyguard, drew attention. “Burton didn’t carry money. If we went to the pub and he was going to buy people a drink, Gaston would pay for everything,” recalls David, who adds that the chauffeur also held Richard’s cigarettes. “If he wanted a cigarette, he would put his hand behind his shoulder and almost click his fingers and d Gaston would come running!”
Elizabeth put on less airs, and her kindness knew no bounds. One night, she tended to David’s girlfriend after the girl had too much to drink at a party. “Elizabeth came over and whispered to me, ‘David, I cleaned her up. I think you’d better take her home,’” he recalls. The actress also gave David two of Richard’s sweaters after she noticed holes at his elbows. “I still have them,” David confesses of Elizabeth’s gifts. “I have never worn them.”
Today, the Burton Taylor Studio, which was created with proceeds from the show, is a popular venue for student productions at Oxford. David, meanwhile, fondly remembers the couple and the sweet kiss Elizabeth gave him on the night of his 22nd birthday. “It was the last time we would see them,” he says. “[Her kiss] seemed very natural in a funny sort of way.”