Premieres and the red carpet in the Richard Burton Collection

The #ExploreYourArchive theme for this month is firsts, so we’re going to look at our namesake, Richard Burton, and some of his premieres a.k.a. first or opening nights! 

Some thoughts about first nights, stage and screen, are found in his diaries which form part of the Richard Burton Collection-  

‘We went to London for the opening night of [The Taming of the] Shrew. A huge success …’ (31 March 1967)

‘to London for the opening of [WhereEagles [Dare]. We shall fly on Wednesday morning … attend the opening on Wednesday night and fly back in time for her [Elizabeth Taylor] to work on Thursday’ (22 January 1969)

‘I couldn’t care less [about the opening night] but I like Kastner and it’s a chance to see Ivor.’ (16 January 1969)

‘The theatre, apart from the meretricious excitement of the first night and the sometimes interesting rehearsals has always bored me’ (16 June 1970)

‘The Richard Burton Diaries’, ed. Chris Williams
Selection of diaries – RWB/1/1: Diaries of Richard Burton, 1940-1983

His first performance in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot isn’t mentioned in his diary for 1960, although the show was ‘an enormous success … and he won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle award (a Tony) in 1961 for the best performance in a musical’ (‘The Richard Burton Diaries’, ed. Chris Williams, p.9). The pre-Broadway premiere was in the newly built O’Keefe Center, Toronto (now the Meredian Hall) and was a star-studded event. 

‘Camelot’ & O’Keefe Center Premiere, October 3, 1960, Toronto – Canada, copyright Rogo Productions / Vera Goulet

However, we can find out about his reprisal in the role of King Arthur, again at the O’Keefe Centre, Toronto, with a pre-Broadway run opening on 6 June 1980, and how his performance and the show was received in audiences across America: 

‘The show is a super smash hit [in New York] … We broke records week after week.’ (12 August 1980)

‘We have been here since Monday … The first night [in Chicago] […] was funereal. F. Dunlop and M. Merrick et al. All assured us that the mass was enjoying it and laughing etc. but there was no hint of it on the stage.’ (28 August 1980)

‘We opened last night and it went well. Christin, and Richard Muenz … were ‘up’ and so was I, … I took in the newspapers a couple of hours ago and saw a boxed announcement on one of them ‘Burton regal in Camelot.’ (29 August 1980)

‘The Richard Burton Diaries’, ed. Chris Williams

Discover the remarkable story of how Richard Jenkins, the boy from Pontrhydyfen and Tai-bach, Port Talbot, became Richard Burton, the international star of stage and screen in an exhibition at the National Museum Wales Cardiff. The exhibition features Burton’s diaries, papers and personal objects – displayed for the first time – from our Richard Burton Collection, as well as other items from around the world. Find out more and book your tickets for ‘Becoming Richard Burton’ and have a look at the accompanying online exhibition


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