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Before there was "Brangelina" there was "Liz and Dick", as in Taylor and Burton. Their affair, which had begun during the shooting of Cleopatra in 1963 had become the world's most publicized marriage - and dynamite at the box office. To capitalize on the media frenzy surrounding them, producer Martin Ransohoff wrote an original story of a minister falling in love with a free-spirited artist. Based on W. Somerset Maugham's Miss Thompson, and scripted by former blacklisted screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson, it became The Sandpiper (1965).
Elizabeth Taylor remembered it a little differently in her autobiography: "A lot of people, because the plot involves an illicit romance between a bohemian artist and a minister, may think that The Sandpiper was written specifically for Richard and me in order to capitalize on our notoriety. I did feel it necessary to see a rough cut and take out anything so pertinent to us that I would just die. Actually, the script had been knocking around for several years and at first they didn't ask Richard to be in it. Then, I had to talk him into doing it. We never thought it would be an artistic masterpiece. We were playing two people in love, so it was not particularly difficult. I must say, when we looked at each other, it was like our eyes had fingers and they grabbed hold, and perhaps something special did happen."
While working with her husband came easily for her, the film did call for Taylor to move beyond her comfort level, physically. "I did a scene - very reluctantly - in which for a split second I'm nude to the waist but covering myself with my hands so it's actually about as nude as a low halter neck. When I did the scene, I had somebody standing in front of me with a towel while I covered myself with my hands. I turned puce from head to foot. I won't even go swimming in a bathing suit in front of strangers, that's how much of an exhibitionist I am!"
Director Vincente Minnelli was chosen to direct after William Wyler turned down the project. He later wrote, "Richard [Burton] was appearing in New York in his much-acclaimed Hamlet, and I flew back to see him and Elizabeth [Taylor]. Though I found the premise of the story ludicrous and dated, it being an updated version of Reverend Davidson and Sadie Thompson, with superficial philosophizing thrown in, I let the Burtons' enthusiasm color my judgment. I wanted the opportunity to work with them, and I accepted the assignment. We were trying to suffuse the picture with these elements, but the more Dalton Trumbo worked on the story, the more we all realized it was too ponderous and pretentious. Michael Wilson's additions to the script didn't solve the difficulty either. As we prepared to start filming, I was still plotting ways to improve the script. And then a brouhaha sidetracked these plans. Elizabeth suggested Sammy Davis [Jr.] to play the sculptor in the film. Neither Ransohoff nor Trumbo liked the idea, for this would add the suggestion of an interracial romance to the already overburdened story. I agreed with them. When the dispute was ended, with Charles Bronson cast in the part, it was time to start the picture."
"Because of the Burtons' tax situation, they could only work four weeks in the United States and not at all in England. The shooting at Big Sur [in Northern California] would take that much time. From there we would go over to the Boulogne-Billiancourt studios in Paris. The name of their game, as the press insisted on repeating, was money, and they were getting a lot of it for The Sandpiper. [Taylor made a cool million, Burton $500,000 and they both got a percentage of the profits.] Metro [MGM] hosted a cocktail party for the company at the Georges Cinq. One hundred photographers, all of them maniacs, descended on Richard and Elizabeth. Denise [Minnelli's wife] and I were caught in this torrential movement toward the Burtons. I was afraid we would all be killed. Richard and Elizabeth, however, took it in their stride. We were pushed with them into a small office near the ballroom where the party was held, and the four of us had drinks with each other before going back to brave the mob. It was constant terror during our stay in Paris. Whenever we went out with the Burtons, there was this frenzy of attention that I couldn't cope with. We did take them one night for a quiet dinner at Elie Rothschild's, but everywhere else we went had a built-in cast of thousands."
The Sandpiper made $14,000,000, ten percent of it going to Taylor. Audiences flocked to see "Liz and Dick" despite the roasting the film took from the critics, most notably by Judith Crist, who wrote "Miss Taylor and Mr. Burton were paid $1,750,000 [sic] for performing in The Sandpiper. If I were you, I wouldn't settle for less for watching them." While the film may not have become a classic, the theme song did. The Shadow of Your Smile, written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster, won an Academy Award.
Producer: Martin Ransohoff
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Martin Ransohoff (story), Irene Kamp, Louis Kamp, Dalton Trumbo, Michael Wilson
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Urie McCleary
Music: Johnny Mandel
Film Editing:David Bretherton
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Laura Reynolds), Richard Burton (Dr. Edward Hewitt), Eva Marie Saint (Claire Hewitt), Charles Bronson (Cos Erickson), Robert Webber (Ward Hendricks), James Edwards (Larry Brant), Torin Thatcher (Judge Thompson), Tom Drake (Walter Robinson), Peter O'Toole (voice cameo, uncredited).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Elizabeth Taylor: An Informal Memoir by Elizabeth Taylor.
I Remember it Well by Vincente Minnelli with Hector Arce.