The image most people have of Richard Burton is that of a brilliant thespian, a heavy drinker and an even heavier womanizer. Critics may argue that Grant Bowler doesn't create a vivid interpretation of the Welsh actor in Lifetime's TV movie "Liz and Dick" (Sunday night at 9), but Burton's charisma comes across clearly in "The Richard Burton Diaries" (Yale University Press, $35), a lively collection of the star's diary entries written between 1939 and 1983 and compiled by Chris Williams. (Missing, unfortunately, are any entries between July 1960 and Jan. 1, 1965, which would have covered his first meeting with Elizabeth Taylor and the media circus that evolved on the set of their 1963 megabomb "Cleopatra.")
The daily musings of Taylor's hubby Nos. 5 and 6 also reveal a profound thinker who read as heartily as he drank, was devoted to his family and loved politics ("My hatred of Tories is unabated by long-term membership of the rich class, and I hope they howl in the wilderness another five years," he muses of the 1970 general election in England).
Burton's pen also skewers several of his colleagues with the might of a sword. Of Laurence Olivier, he writes: "He has the most contrived voice, all affectation. . . . As Othello, I couldn't look at him."
Marlon Brando isn't spared either: "Have you honestly ever understood a word he said?"
As for Lucille Ball, whom he worked with on an episode of "Here's Lucy," he writes on May, 14, 1970: "She is a monster of charmlessness and monumental lack of humor. . . . I loathed her the first day. I loathed her the second day and the third. I loathe her today, but now I also pity her."
And then there's Taylor, whom he writes about passionately, whether they've just made love or engaged in one of their many drunken quarrels, which could always be forgotten with a nice little bauble like the 127,000 ($201,000) diamond ring Burton bought her simply "because it was a Tuesday. I enjoy being outrageous with Beth."
As if the ring weren't outrageous enough, there was this Sept. 30, 1967, purchase: "I bought Elizabeth the jet plane we flew in yesterday. It costs, brand new, $960,000. She was not displeased."