There is no other way to describe the scope of the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton effect on Quogue during their first marriage other than to say, they put Quogue on the map.
Living in their smallish rented “country home” had people all over the world wondering how to pronounce the word Quogue. Do you remember the first time you saw it in print? For me it was then. Historians record Quogue as the first “boarding room” Hamptons location due to the Long Island Railroad line ending there in 1840 connecting the city to the Quogue ocean-front community then serving as the gateway to the Hamptons.
When the 34-year-old Richard Burton met the then 29-year-old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Cleopatra” he boasted he would bed the married (to Eddie Fisher) star “within the first two days,” but it reportedly took five hard days efforts to get it done. Richard then started bragging right on the set of his conquest. What Richard Burton didn’t realize at the time was what sort of an affair he had started.
The early 1960s in American history is known as the age of Camelot with Jackie Kennedy and John F. Kennedy sitting on the throne. But Camelot ended with the events in Dallas that fall of 1963 with the visions so horridly recorded by Abraham Zapruder’s notorious film clip. The void was soon filled by “Liz and Dick,” perhaps the founders of the modern superstar international celebrity power couple after they officially married (for the first time) on March 15, 1964. When they were having their pre-marriage affair even the Vatican was taking notice with a comment.
They brought their Rolls Royce, huge diamond 38-plus carat ring (then known as the Taj Mahal diamond) and 40-carat diamond necklace, butlers, make-up artist and an entourage (which they supported) that reportedly numbered in the high forties to the East End. When they would show up at homes to play tennis, or “cocktail party,” the whole world somehow knew.
Elizabeth Taylor, the English-born southern Californian (her parents were Americans), had a history of vacationing with Eddie Fisher on their 90’ yacht off Fire Island in the late 1950’s. Judy Lynn McDowell of East Hampton, then in her teen years remembers seeing both Elizabeth Taylor by boat and Marilyn Monroe with husband Arthur Miller via seaplane on Fire Island. Judy still visualizes Ms. Monroe’s numerous freckles. So Taylor understood the beauty of the East End and steered Richard Burton, born Richard Walter Jenkins in the village of Pontrhydyfen, Neath Port Talbot, Wales to Quogue.
I am sure hearing him pronounce Quogue his first time with that famous “Welsh” baritone accented voice would have been memorable. Yet he loved the hamlet, sometimes actually kidnapping drunk buddies in New York City saloons in the middle of the early morning via $100 plus cab rides to see the sun rise at his “cottage.” The cottage was actually a carriage house that now rests on the Shinnecock Road property of Joan Hollander.
In the summer of 1967 in a pre-Internet, pre-cable-TV news world, the couple of “Liz and Dick” practically monopolized the limited media time of a still developing television industry just actually beginning to broadcast all shows in color. They of course dominated the glamour printed media with photo’s everyone paused to look at. On the east end, there in the local Quogue supermarket (now IGA) would appear Liz Taylor, the world’s most famous woman with her distinct voice asking, “In what aisle are the cheeses?” Although, let it be known, she actually loved to have others do everything. They invented the zoo like atmosphere that Madonna, Paris Hilton, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt now seem to occupy. But it was Liz Taylor and Richard Burton who perfected the fanfare procedures the want-to-be’s all clamor for.
In recent days post Ms Taylor’s death there has been much notice of the failed 1973 reconciliation efforts of their agent that took place in Quogue in June 1973. Author Kitty Kelley in her book, “Elizabeth Taylor the Last Star,” in detail reportedly describes the saga of June 1973 when Taylor took private jets from California to the Quogue home of their (Taylor and Burton’s) joint attorney Aaron Frosch for a last attempt of reconciliation amongst numerous charges of Burton infidelity, even homosexuality. Within hours of heavy drinking the good will drowned. The reconciliation failed and they were divorced officially a year later in June of 1974. What followed was Elizabeth Taylor saying her famous quote, “Maybe we loved each other too much — I never believed such a thing was possible. Pray for us.”
They remarried again October 10, 1975, but divorced the second and last time ten months later in July 1976. Burton died at the age of 58, on August 5, 1984, and is buried in Wales. Elizabeth Taylor passed away March 23, 2011, at the age of 79 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, near L.A. However, I suppose, they are now forever together in the lore of the first big international celebrity love. Their days in Quogue perhaps were their best, with ocean breezes, spectacular sunsets, and the views of the sand dunes that define the south shore of this East End.