The real 'Liz & Dick' on Long Island
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"Liz & Dick," the Lifetime telefilm airing Sunday at 9 p.m. about the star-crossed romance of Elizabeth Taylor (played by Merrick's Lindsay Lohan) and Richard Burton (Grant Bowler), has no scenes set on Long Island. But Liz and Dick themselves had a few.
Taylor was on LI first, in 1958, filming part of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at a red brick estate in Muttontown. Then in 1964, a year after she and Burton met on the set of "Cleopatra," the couple spent a honeymoon weekend in Glen Cove, at a guesthouse of the now-demolished estate called Pembroke. Taylor returned in October 1966 to begin shooting "Reflections in a Golden Eye," for which director John Huston, before decamping to Italy for the bulk of production, filmed at Mitchel Field, the decommissioned Air Force base in East Garden City.
Taylor and Burton -- who were photographed dining at Rothmann's in East Norwich and would stroll the galleries of East Hampton -- sometimes stayed in Quogue, at the Shinnecock Road estate of their attorney and business manager, the late Aaron Frosch. Their most fateful visit began in June 1973, after the couple returned to America from filming in Italy. "The Burtons, who have been frequent guests at the Frosch home in recent years, arrived in Quogue together about three weeks ago," Newsday wrote early that July. "Shortly after her arrival, Miss Taylor caused a minor sensation when she walked into the A&P in Quogue and began buying groceries."
The couple played tennis together at the Quogue Field Club one weekend during that stay, but shortly afterward, Taylor departed for Los Angeles -- both to visit her sick mother but also, as her friend Roddy McDowall told author Michael Munn, "She was really just getting away from Richard."
Burton was supposed to join her but did not. When she flew back to New York on Sunday night, July 1, 1973, he met her at the airport and, according to differing sources, either argued or maintained stony silence in their limousine all the way back to Quogue. Burton and Frosch dined without her at the Casa Basso restaurant in Westhampton that night, as Taylor took the limo back to Manhattan and registered at the Regency Hotel. On Tuesday, July 3, she announced she and Burton were separating.
Reporters quickly converged on the Frosch guesthouse, where Burton secluded himself for at least two days before releasing his own statement, saying he didn't consider himself and Taylor "actually separated." Still, they divorced the following year before being briefly married a second time, from October 1975 to July 1976.
That bicentennial year, Taylor spent some days at Andy Warhol's summer home in Montauk. "She seemed quite nice," artist Claudia del Monte told author C. David Heymann ("Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor"). "We played softball and had a picnic." Calvin Klein was left with a different impression that summer. Broadway choreographer Michael Bennett had invited Taylor to Klein's waterfront home in the Pines section of Fire Island. "Elizabeth absolutely trashed the place," Klein's friend Edward Caracchi told Heymann. "Every towel in the house was covered with makeup and lipstick. When Calvin returned at the end of the weekend, he was horrified, as were the maids."
And it was on Long Island, as well, that Burton institutionalized his beloved but long-secret daughter, Jessica, who suffered from severe autism and schizophrenia. "It's terribly sad," her elder sister, actress Kate Burton, told a journalist in 2003. "But I'm incredibly grateful, and so was Dad, that [he] earned so much money that, if the rest of us went up in a puff of smoke tomorrow, Jessica would still get the very best care."
Richard Burton died in 1984, Taylor in 2011. And given the continuing number of books about them -- four in the past two years alone -- "Liz & Dick" will not be the last word.