EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures is finalizing a deal to develop a feature about the romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as a directing vehicle for Martin Scorsese. The film will be produced by Julie Yorn, Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff of Krasnoff Foster Productions, and Scorsese through his Paramount-based Sikelia banner. They are assembling the resources to tell Hollywood’s most famous star-crossed love story.
They’ve optioned Furious Love, the book by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger that was published by HarperCollins last year. At the same time, the producers have a rights agreement with Burton’s estate, and a pledge of cooperation from his widow, Sally Hay Burton, to make his library available as a resource. The filmmakers have also reached out to the estate of Taylor with the same hopes. A screenwriter will be hired shortly.
I’m told that Paramount made the book deal as other parties pursued the book, with other suitors including Oscar-winning Black Swan star Natalie Portman and The King’s Speech Oscar-winning scribe David Seidler. All this for a book that got 100 passes when initially shopped for a movie deal by the author’s reps, Justin Manask and David Kuhn. Film interest in the book — for which Taylor made available many of the love letters Burton wrote to her over the years — grew when Taylor passed away in March and reports focused on the relationship between Taylor and Burton.
The movie isn’t a Hollywood biopic. It focuses on a torrid and tempestuous romance that is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Taylor and Burton fell hard for each other on the set of Cleopatra, not long after Burton replaced Stephen Boyd as Marc Antony. Just as Cleopatra and Antony were a combustible match, onscreen chemistry between Taylor and Burton soon became something more. Taylor was 29 and had already shocked the world when she got together with her fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher, who left his wife Debbie Reynolds to be with Taylor. The 36-year-old Burton was married to Sybil Burton when he got to Italy to shoot the film. While movie star couples are now used to being haunted by paparazzi, it was a new phenomenon when the romance between Taylor and Burton became a worldwide scandal that had reporters and photographers haunting their every step. The Vatican condemned their affair because each was married. Taylor and Burton divorced their respective spouses, married in 1964, and divorced in 1974. They remarried the following year, only to divorce the second time in 1976. Though both moved on, they never got over each other, doomed, perhaps, by so much passion that it became too volatile to be together.
Scorsese has long been interested in Hollywood lore. He spent years developing a feature about Dean Martin and is currently working on a movie about Frank Sinatra that he will direct at Universal. Scorsese most recently directed Hugo Cabret, his first 3D film. He’s repped by WME and Rick Yorn. The project was brought into Julie Yorn by exec Patrick Walmsley.