A New Book on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Goes Deep on the Couple: 'It Was Real Love, Wasn't It?' (Exclusive)

Author Roger Lewis gives an extensive look into the lives of the Hollywood legends in his new book, ‘Erotic Vagrancy’

<p>Mobius; Courtesy of Roger Lewis</p> Roger Lewis and his new book,

Mobius; Courtesy of Roger Lewis

Roger Lewis and his new book, 'Erotic Vagrancy'

Much has been written about the legendary Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but there's plenty left to say. And soon, a new book will tackle the whole fascinating saga.

Author Roger Lewis’s biography of the couple, Erotic Vagrancy: Everything about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, is forthcoming March 26 from Mobius, and provides an extensive look at the Hollywood legends. First married from 1964 to 1974, and then again from 1975 to 1976, Taylor and Burton worked together in films like The V.I.Ps and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Perhaps just as interesting, and talked about, was their relationship beyond the screen and all it entailed: break-ups, adultery and an occasionally hedonistic lifestyle.

Lewis sat down with PEOPLE ahead of the book’s publication to discuss all things Erotic Vagrancy.

Roger Lewis' new book, 'Erotic Vagrancy'
Roger Lewis' new book, 'Erotic Vagrancy'

With so many books out there about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, how did you approach writing Erotic Vagrancy?
I really felt I wanted to really get under the surface there, get in deep about their psychology, almost like I was approaching it as a novelist might, exploring their mentality, their motivations.

The book began for me when I was quite ill with pancreas trouble and I had all these [sorts] of fevers and hallucinations. During my recuperation, I started watching things like Cleopatra, Taming of the Shrew, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, all their famous movies from the sixties. There was something almost a bit mad about them, and I rather loved that.

Related: Remembering Hollywood's Queen, Elizabeth Taylor, in Photos

How did you come up with the title for the book?
The pope gave me the title for the book. [Burton and Taylor] were in Italy making Cleopatra. Burton was married to this very nice Welsh lady called Sybil with two children, and Elizabeth Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher, whom she'd already stolen from Debbie Reynolds, so there was already controversy around her because of that.

<p>Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty</p> Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of 'Cleopatra'

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of 'Cleopatra'

So there they were, making this film where they were playing Antony and Cleopatra, and they sort of became Antony and Cleopatra. They were carrying on openly with their adultery in and out of nightclubs and restaurants, chased around by the paparazzi in Rome, 1962. And the pope was furious and issued this proclamation in the Vatican newspaper one Sunday accusing them of "erotic vagrancy," which of course created fabulous publicity for the film. Elizabeth Taylor said, "Can I sue the pope?," for making these remarks about her.

What was the most interesting thing you learned throughout the book's research process?

[With] Elizabeth Taylor, [it was] how absolutely beautiful she was when she was younger, when she was a child actress. She's fabulous in things like National Velvet and the Lassie movies, and all those Tennessee Williams films she made, like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8, for which she won an Oscar. Early on, she was just a classic Hollywood beauty.

Related: Snuggling in Bed and Playing with Those Famous Diamonds: Elizabeth Taylor's Granddaughter Shares Intimate Memories

The thing about Burton, which really struck me [while] reading his diaries, is what a sort of academic, scholarly figure he was. He really loved reading. He went to Oxford and he really knew about culture. He said towards the end of his life, "People think the great love of my life is women or booze or fame or money." He said, "No, the big love of my life is the English language.” I found that quite moving.

<p>William Lovelace/Express/Getty</p> Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

William Lovelace/Express/Getty

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Do you think there’s a couple that mirrors Taylor and Burton today?
No, I'm afraid I don't. People don't have the courage to be that unapologetically outrageous. There was Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, you had John Lennon and Yoko [Ono], you had Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon…You have these celebrity couples, but I think the Burtons were really the main ones, because they were like Punch and Judy. They were just battling the whole time.

Related: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Lived Like ‘Members of the Royal Family,’ Author Says (Exclusive)

Burton and Taylor, they're part of popular culture in this wonderful way that's never been superseded by anyone, and they were the first pair to be that brazen. Prior to that, everyone was behaving themselves in accordance to what the studios told them to do and told them how to behave, manufacturing their private lives for public consumption. Burton and Taylor just threw all that out.

With 20th Century Fox, they wouldn't have anything to do with any of their rebukes about their behavior. When the pope rebuked them, didn't make them change their ways one little bit.

<p>Bob Penn/Sygma/Sygma via Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton pose in casual wear

Bob Penn/Sygma/Sygma via Getty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton pose in casual wear

Do you think that Taylor and Burton helped or hindered each other throughout their time together?
One of the big things that happened when Burton met Taylor was that was the end of his career on the stage. I know later on he did Camelot, he did Equus and then made the movie of Equus…but basically that was it as far as his Shakespearean ambitions went.

Related: Elizabeth Taylor ‘Destroyed’ Richard Burton as a Classical Actor, Author Says (Exclusive)

As far as Elizabeth Taylor went, she's the one that becomes, in a way, a more serious actress. You can see Taylor is a really good actress now. She's not just beautiful in profile, wearing lovely furs or swimming costumes. She now has presence. She has command and depth. And just whatever it is that's sort of going on in her mind, you can kind of feel that through her presence as an actress. She gets to be really good.

I think they did learn from each other, and maybe detract from each other a bit, and added a bit to each other. They're in real harmony as artists. It's like their marriage there we're watching [in the film], but sort of in a stylized way. It's turned into art.

<p>Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty</p> Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

While researching, did you find out anything about Taylor that was particulary interesting to you?
She was a very good friend. If she decided that she liked you and trusted you, she was just an amazingly good, close friend. For example, Richard Burton had all these sisters in South Wales, and whenever Elizabeth Taylor finished with all her clothes, all her designer outfits, she'd package them all and send them to these little old ladies in South Wales. And every Christmas, she'd send them very lavish gifts. She was very generous.

Related: Elizabeth Taylor Would Have Turned 92 Today: 'Her Heart Was Huge,' Says Her Granddaughter

Do you think that Taylor and Burton could have ever made things work?
They might very well have got together again, because when they were divorced definitively for the second time, what did they do? They appeared on Broadway together in Noel Coward's Private Lives, which is a play about a divorced couple who can't live without each other. They can't live with each other, they can't live without each other. They were playing themselves at the end of their lives in the same way at the start of their lives together.

<p>Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Related: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Are Stunning in These Rare Photos, Plus More From New Book

When Burton died at only the age of 58, Elizabeth Taylor did not go to the funeral. She didn't want to upstage the event. Early hours of the morning a few days later, she visited the grave on her own with some of her bodyguards. And she said, when she was kneeling at the grave, "It's one of the few times Richard and I were alone."

It was real love, wasn't it? It was a love story.

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Erotic Vagrancy
hits shelves on March 26 and is now available for pre-order.

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