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

Roger Lewis details the actors’ legendary marriage in his new book, ‘Erotic Vagrancy’

<p>Trevor Humphries/Central Press/Getty</p> Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Trevor Humphries/Central Press/Getty

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s creative partnership had a particularly damaging dynamic, according to author Roger Lewis.

Ahead of the publication of his book Erotic Vagrancy: Everything about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, which comes out March 26 from Mobius, Lewis explains why he feels that the Cleopatra actress may have hindered the career of husband Richard Burton.

The book hews close to its title, offering a 600+ page, thoroughly researched look at one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples, who were married twice: once from 1964 to 1974, and then again from 1975 to 1976. Lewis takes readers into Taylor and Burton’s collaborations on screen, their infamous breakups and entourage and offers his own perspective on their dynamic.

<p>Harry Langdon/Getty </p> Richard Burton in 1981

Harry Langdon/Getty

Richard Burton in 1981

“One of the big things that happened when Burton met Taylor was that was the end of his career on the stage,” Lewis tells PEOPLE, acknowledging that Burton did take a few turns on the boards after he met his wife-to-be. “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 and Richard Burton Are Stunning in These Rare Photos, Plus More From New Book

Burton, who had made a name for himself in the on stage throughout the 1950s, was set to become the next great “Laurence Olivier-style Shakespearean actor,” Lewis says.

“By meeting Elizabeth Taylor, that destroyed him as a classical actor,” he continues. “On the other hand, all his roles in the movies he made, he's still got that wonderful voice and that wonderful presence and that great swagger of his.”

<p>API/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor

API/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Elizabeth Taylor

In contrast, the author says that Taylor thrived professionally within her marriage to Burton. Though Taylor was a child actress in films like 1944's National Velvet, she would become known for her later roles, such as in 1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and 1960's Butterfield 8, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress.

Lewis says the 1963 drama-comedy film The V.I.P.s, however, showcased her talent in a new way.

Related: Happy Birthday Elizabeth Taylor: Read These Books to Celebrate

“She's the one that becomes, in a way, a more serious actress,” Lewis says of the film, in which Taylor plays Frances Andros, an actress planning to leave her millionaire husband, played by Burton. “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."

<p>Mobius</p> 'Erotic Vagrancy' by Roger Lewis

Mobius

'Erotic Vagrancy' by Roger Lewis

One thing the couple did well together, according to Lewis, was go against what was expected of them. He pulls the book’s title from the Vatican, who, shocked by Taylor and Burton’s open proclamations of adultery, said they would end in "erotic vagrancy" in the Vatican newspaper in 1962.

“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,” Lewis explains. “Burton and Taylor just threw all that out.”

Related: Inside the Night Princess Margaret's 'Flirting' with Richard Burton Upset Wife Elizabeth Taylor

When it came time for films like the 1966 Mike Nichols-directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which starred both Burton and Taylor, as well as George Segal and Sandy Dennis, the couple largely excelled as a unit, Lewis says.

<p>FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty</p> Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

“I think they did learn from each other, and maybe detract from each other a bit, and added a bit to each other,” he says of their performance as husband and wife George and Martha. “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.”

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

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