The start of the semester brought a tsunami of lectures by visiting faculty and other activities, aside from the full-time teaching load, that made watching any movie or television production impossible this week. But while reading a review of Richard Burton’s diaries in The New Republic, I had an idea for a screenplay that could rival My Week with Marilyn, which was a terrific movie in its own right, not simply because it is a behind-the-scenes production but also because we get to see Kenneth Brannaugh play Sir Laurence
It turns out that in 1970 Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor appeared as guest stars on “Here’s Lucy,” one of those sit-coms of whose appeal I could never really understand.
Here is what Burton wrote of the dreadful week with Lucille Ball:
Those who had told us that Lucille Ball was ‘very wearing’ were not exaggerating. She is a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humour. She is not ‘wearing’ to us because I suppose we refuse to be worn. I am coldly sarcastic with her to the point of outright contempt but she hears only what she wants to hear. She is a tired old woman [Ball was fifty-eight at the time] and lives entirely on that weekly show which she has been doing and successfully doing for 19 years. Nineteen solid years of double-takes and pratfalls and desperate up-staging and cutting out other people’s laughs if she can, nervously watching the ‘ratings’ as she does so. A machine of enormous energy, which driven by a stupid driver who has forgotten that a machine runs on oil as well as gasoline and who has neglected the former, is creaking badly towards a final convulsive seize-up. I loathed her the first day. I loathed her the second day and the third. I loathe her today but I also pity her.
If we can have a movie about the making of Psycho, we need a movie about Burton and Liz Taylor encountering Lucy. To see the interaction of the egos involved, to consider the gulf between an actor doing Hamlet and getting laughs on a jejune American show — the possibilities are endless. It is a movie that would be worth the price of two admissions.